- Boeing admitted that it knew of a safety issue with its 737 Max 8s, the model involved in both the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes, and did not report it until after the Lion Air accident.
- Boeing discovered that many of its Max 8s did not have a key safety feature that determined when the plane was receiving conflicting data from its sensors, because the company had made that feature an optional premium add-on.
- The company claims this feature is not essential, but others argue that it could have prevented the crashes because conflicting sensor data caused both planes to repeatedly nosedive after an automated system was triggered.
Boeing released a statement Sunday saying that the company was aware of a problem with a safety feature in its 737 Max 8s in 2017, but did not disclose the issue to regulators or airlines until after a Max 8 operated by Lion Air crashed in October 2018, killing 189.
The announcement also comes nearly two months after another Max 8, operated by Ethiopian Airlines, crashed just outside of Addis Ababa. That crash killed all 157 people on board.
According to the statement, within a few months of delivering the Max 8 planes to buyers, Boeing’s engineers found a problem with an essential warning light. The feature, which is called an Angle of Attack (AOA) Disagree alert, tells pilots if the sensors on either side of the plane are giving contradictory information about the direction of the plane’s nose.
Boeing intended for this feature to be on all the Max 8 models as it had been a feature on the previous generations of 737s. However, after months of delivering the planes, their engineers found that the sensors only worked on Max 8’s where buyers had also purchased a separate, optional safety feature.
This basically means that a key safety feature that the company thought was standard was actually optional– sort of like a premium add-on.
Following the discovery, a review was launched after the engineers discovered the problem. “That review, which involved multiple company subject matter experts, determined that the absence of the AOA Disagree alert did not adversely impact airplane safety or operation,” according to company’s statement.
Boeing said it reported the problem to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) a year after they knew about it. The FAA determined that the problem was “low-risk,” but still told Boeing they should have informed them earlier.
Boeing also reported the problem to the airlines that operated the planes. However, only 20 percent of buyers had purchased the optional indicator, according to the New York Times, which meant that an important warning light did not work on most of the 737s.
Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines
Unsurprisingly, neither of the two flights that crashed had that indicator.
Immediately, after the Ethiopian Airline crash, people began drawing lines between the Lion Air crash off the coast of Indonesia just four months earlier. In addition to the fact that both planes were Max 8, the pilots of both planes reported issues and requested to return to the airports they took off from but did not make it back.
Following the incident, tons of countries grounded their Max 8 planes until Boeing investigated the situation. Numerous pilots also came forward to say that they had not been fully informed about software changes to the MAX 8’s autopilot and that they had not been trained to use the new software
The pilots specifically referenced a new feature that causes the plane to automatically correct the planes level if it’s sensor’s think it is flying at an angle that puts it at risk of stalling. Investigations from both the Lion Air and the Ethiopian Airlines crashes found that this software was engaged, and that it caused the noses of both the planes to be pushed down repeatedly.
Boeing initially responded to the pilots by arguing that there should not be a problem as long as pilots followed procedures. Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, later said that the company would update the Max 8’s software and provide training.
However, throughout the whole process, Boeing executives have denied that there is anything wrong with the planes.
The Debate Goes On
Boeing still maintains that this feature is not essential.
“Neither the angle of attack indicator nor the AOA Disagree alert are necessary for the safe operation of the airplane,” the company said in Sunday’s statement. “They provide supplemental information only, and have never been considered safety features on commercial jet transport airplanes.”
Others disagree. If AOA sensors on the Max 8 think that the nose of the plane is too high, the automated control system forces the nose of the plane down automatically. That is exactly what happened to both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines planes.
In fact, investigators of both crashes found that a faulty sensor gave the system incorrect data, which then forced the nose of the plane down repeatedly. Logically, experts say, it seems like if those two flights had this safety feature that Boeing itself said tells pilots when sensors are giving contradictory information, this would likely not have happened.
Boeing is still refusing to draw that line. The combination of the lack of knowledge that their planes did not have key safety feature and the fact that they didn’t disclose their knowledge of this issue for a year just add to Boeing’s problems.
In their statement Sunday, Boeing also pushed back on the criticism that the aircraft certification system Boeing and the FAA have in place is flawed, which is the subject of congressional inquiries, a Department of Transportation panel, and a criminal investigation.
During a Congressional hearing in March, Daniel Ewell, the acting head of the FAA, stated that the agency’s certification procedures “are extensive, well-established and have consistently produced safe aircraft designs for decades,” also adding that the FAA was “fully involved” in certifying the 737 Max.
However, this was contradicted by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who said the FAA has allowed plane manufacturers to help certify that their own aircraft meets safety standards.
Boeing’s management of the Max 8’s design has continually come under fire, which in turn has resulted in strained relations with airlines and customers, several federal investigations, and huge financial losses.
Still, time and time again, Boeing has continued to essentially skirt responsibility, even as the Max 8, which was the fastest-selling plane in the company’s history, remains grounded world-wide.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (New York Times) (Washington Post)
New York Times Staff Stage First Major Walkout in 40 Years
Executives recently projected total adjusted operating profits of up to $330 million by the end of the year, and many workers want a bigger cut of that success.
Over 1,100 Workers Go on Strike
More than 1,100 New York Times employees staged a 24-hour walkout Thursday, the first major work stoppage at the paper in over 40 years.
The union, which is part of the News Guild of New York and claims around 1,400 members, set a contract deadline last week for midnight Dec. 8.
“Today we were ready to work for as long as it took to reach a fair deal, but management walked away from the table with five hours to go,” the union tweeted Wednesday.
“It is disappointing that they are taking such an extreme action when we are not at an impass,” the company said in a statement.
The striking employees include journalists, ad sales workers, designers, news assistants, comment moderators, and security guards. They have wrangled with management for months over pensions, health benefits, remote work requirements, and above all pay.
While the union demanded a 5.5% pay raise in 2023 and 2024, the company countered with a 3% increase, according to The Times.
The parties are also at odds over minimum starting salaries, which the union wants to set at $65,000, and retrospective bonuses for the period since the last contract expired in March 2021.
The Times’ executive editor Joseph Kahn said in an email to staff obtained by Axios that the company “will produce a robust report on Thursday,” but said “it will be harder than usual.”
Media Industry Rocked by Financial Difficulties and Labor Unrest
Several media companies have laid off hundreds of employees in recent weeks due to financial challenges, including CNN, Buzzfeed, and Gannett, but The New York Times is widely considered to be exceptionally successful.
In their latest earnings call, executives projected a total adjusted operating profit of up to $330 million by the end of the year.
Many employees of the outlet argue that they deserve a bigger share of those profits, pointing out that much of it goes toward executive compensation, share buybacks, and dividends.
Thursday’s strike came amid a wave of labor unrest this year at big brands like Amazon, Starbucks, and Apple, as well as other smaller news outlets.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette are currently on open-ended strikes.
On Nov. 4, over 200 union journalists across 14 Gannett-owned news outlets including the Desert Sun in California and New Jersey’s Asbury Park Press participated in a one-day strike.
In August, nearly 300 Reuters journalists in the United States, also represented by the NewsGuild of New York, staged a 24-hour strike as the union negotiates with the company for a new three-year contract.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Reuters)
Tech Ethicist Tristan Harris Talks Council For Responsible Social Media, TikTok, Twitter, and More
Harris is part of a bipartisan group that is aiming to reform social media for good.
The Council For Responsible Social Media
Tristan Harris, the co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, understands why many people view TikTok as a harmless app with jokes and dances. Harris, however, sees the Chinese-owned platform as a national security risk.
“During the Cold War, would you have allowed the Soviet Union to control television programming for the entire western world, including Saturday morning cartoons, the ‘Teletubbies’ and ‘Sesame Street?’” he said during an interview with Rogue Rocket.
That’s what he argues is happening with TikTok. The app, which is the most downloaded in the world, is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese tech company with ties to the Chinese Communist Party. Harris says we are “effectively outsourcing our media environment to, in the case of the United States, the number one geopolitical competitor.”
National security issues with TikTok, the extreme polarization caused by Facebook and Twitter, and a slew of other issues are among the reasons Harris and several other bipartisan leaders formed The Council For Responsible Social Media last month.
Co-Chaired by former congressman Dick Gephardt and former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts Kerry Healey, the group was made in partnership with the nonprofit IssueOne. Other members include Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, former Sen. Claire McCaskill, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Harris.
It aims to pressure tech companies and politicians to make social media less harmful in every facet.
“What are the wins we can get on the scoreboard?” Harris explained. “Things like, frankly, banning TikTok or otherwise forcing a total sale of TikTok?…Can we do things like pass the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act?”
The TikTok Problem
When it comes to TikTok, the idea of banning it is not new. Former president Donald Trump attempted to do so in 2020, and earlier this month, a Federal Communications Commission official urged the U.S. to do away with it.
In Harris’ eyes, the threat posed by TikTok looms much larger than just mindless entertainment.
“When we outsource our media environment to a CCP-controlled company, we are effectively outsourcing our voting machine to the CCP,” Harris said. “How do you know who to vote for? Why is it that you know more about Marjorie Taylor Greene and [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] than the other hundreds of members of Congress? Because the attention economy rewards certain people to rise to the top.”
Social media apps, TikTok included, favor people that are more likely to be divisive, on either end of the political spectrum. Harris referred to this as “amplifiganda,” something the CCP can use to interfere with another nation’s political and cultural happenings.
“It’s strategically amplifying who are the voices I want to hear from and who are the voices I don’t want to hear from,” he added. “Without firing a single shot, without creating a single piece of new propaganda, I can simply amplify the politicians and videos that I want you to be seeing.”
In China, domestic users receive what Harris calls the “spinach” version of the app, that largely includes educational content, science experiments, and patriotism videos. He says it is very different from the scroll-for-hours version the U.S. and other international markets receive.
Harris, however, does not think this was part of “a deliberate plan” or that there’s a “large mustache that’s being twirled somewhere in China.” Rather, this is just an after-the-fact consequence of TikTok succeeding at being highly addictive, and China simply regulating it for itself.
Banning the app is not the only solution, Harris noted. Officials could also attempt to force a purchase of TikTok. A similar case happened in the past with Grindr. After a U.S. foreign investment commission said the app’s Chinese ownership was a security risk, the dating app was sold to a U.S.-based group.
“And now it’s not that the company is partially in China or partially in the U.S., or the data is on an American server while the design decisions are made in Bejing, it’s not like that,” Harris explained. “They forced the entire sale.”
“Anything less than that with TikTok would be insufficient.”
Despite the numerous issues posed by nearly every social media platform, enacting meaningful change will be no small feat. The Council For Responsible Social Media has outlined several steps it plans on taking, including awareness campaigns and hearings that could inspire action.
On the legislative front, this could involve the passage of the aforementioned Platform Accountability and Transparency Act, which was introduced by bipartisan senators last year and would “require social media companies to provide vetted, independent researchers and the public with access to certain platform data.”
Harris does not think this bill is a cure-all, he does think it should be a no-brainer for politicians to pass.
“It won’t change the DNA of the cancer cell that is social media, it’ll be more like the cancer cell is printing quarterly reports about what it is doing to society, but that’s still a better world than having a cancer cell where you don’t know what it’s doing,” he said.
Many advocates believe transparency is key when it comes to reforming social media, as it educates the general public about what these apps are really doing.
The Future of Twitter
Harris thinks education about social media has inadvertently grown over the last several weeks as billionaire Elon Musk took over Twitter. The process has proven to be quite chaotic, but it has also forced people to learn about Twitter’s problems.
“Twitter has already been a chaos-making, inflammation-for-profit machine. Elon buying Twitter doesn’t change that, he’s just running the inflammation-for-profit machine,” Harris said.
Musk’s acquisition has created a substantial financial bind and forced the mogul into a position where he has to turn engagement and revenue up. This has involved cutbacks on content moderation and laying off staff that worked on trust and safety.
“He has to figure out a way to lower costs and increase revenue, which unfortunately basically moves the whole system into a more and more dangerous direction,” Harris claimed, though he did say he does not view this as a character flaw on Musk’s part, rather just the reality of how these apps operate.
When it comes to fixing the root problems at Twitter, Harris thinks Musk has his eyes on the wrong target by focusing on censorship and free speech.
“It has to do with Twitter being a bad video game in which citizens earn or score the most points by adding inflammation to cultural fault lines,” he explained.
“If we’re playing a video game, and you earn the most points by finding a new cultural war faultline and inflaming it better than some other guy, you’re an inflammation entrepreneur,” he continued. “Turning citizens into inflammation entrepreneurs for profit is how we destroy democracies.”
Harris said that if Musk wants to change Twitter for the better, he has to “change the video game of what Twitter is” so that people are not rewarded for inflammation, but for consensus.
Meta Fined $24.7 Million for Campaign Finance Violations As Profits Fall 50%
A judge found the company violated Washington State’s campaign finance law more than 800 times since 2020 despite having previously settled a lawsuit for identical violations in 2018.
Judge Fines Facebook
A judge in Washington state slapped Meta with a $24.7 million fine on Wednesday after finding it had intentionally violated the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws.
In a statement, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson described the judgment as “the largest campaign finance penalty anywhere in the country — ever.”
According to the judge, Meta violated Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act 822 times. Each count carries a maximum fine of $30,000.
The law, which was passed in 1972, requires entities that sell political ads to make certain information public, including the names and addresses of ad buyers, the targets of the ads, how the ads were financed, and the total number of views. While TV stations and newspapers have followed this law for decades in Washington, Meta has continually refused to comply with the law, even arguing unsuccessfully in court that the act is unconstitutional because it “unduly burdens political speech” and is “virtually impossible to fully comply with.”
The matter has been a long, ongoing battle for Meta. In 2018, when Meta was still Facebook, Ferguson sued the platform for violating the same law. As part of a settlement, the social media network agreed to pay $238,000 and commit to transparency in political advertising.
At the time, Facebook said it would rather stop selling ads in Washington state than adhere to the law, but it continued to sell ads while also still refusing to comply. Ferguson responded by filing another suit in 2020, which resulted in the Wednesday ruling.
Meta’s Financial Woes
Although $24.7 million may seem like pocket change to a multi-billion dollar corporation, the fines come as Meta is facing unprecedented financial troubles.
Also on Wednesday, the company reported a 50% drop in profits for the third quarter of 2022. The decline follows a recent trend as Meta’s earnings continue to suffer from slowing ad sales, fierce competition from platforms like TikTok, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to spend massive amounts of money on developing the metaverse.
In July, the tech giant posted its first-ever sales decline since becoming a public company. Meta’s stock has also nose-dived over 60% this year. The market reacted poorly to the reported drop in profits Wednesday, sending the stock down nearly 20%.
Despite the fact that the past year has been one of the worse ever for the business following Zuckerberg’s decision to rebrand as Meta and go all-in with the metaverse, his commitment remains fervent.
According to reports, during a call with analysts Wednesday, the CEO argued that people would “look back decades from now” and “talk about the importance of the work that was done here” in regards to the metaverse and virtual reality.