‘Do the right thing’: ads on Facebook and Google seek big tech whistleblowers

Initiative by not-for-profit Fight for the Future offers employees of Silicon Valley firms a way to organize and leak information

By Sam Levin — The Guardian

Silicon Valley activists have launched a whistleblower campaign to help workers organize against “unethical tech”, including ads on social media platforms targeting the employees of those companies.

Fight for the Future, a not-for-profit digital advocacy group, unveiled an initiative Tuesday to provide support for tech employees seeking to blow the whistle on their companies’ harmful products and practices. A new website, SpeakOut.Tech, encourages workers to safely leak information and organize their colleagues and includes a video ad that the group is promoting by using the micro-targeting ad features of Facebook and Google.

“It’s really awesome that tech workers are pushing back against their employers,” said Jelani Drew, campaigner for Fight for the Future. “People are really fired up.”

The campaign comes at a time when Silicon Valley’s most powerful firms have faced growing internal backlash and outside scrutiny surrounding the potential damage caused by their technology and their ethically dubious government partnerships.

Last year, Fight for the Future pushed a campaign against Salesforce, the cloud computing technology firm which has a controversial contract with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The law enforcement agency is responsible for implementing Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and uses Salesforce technology to “manage border activity” and “modernize” its recruiting process. Microsoft and Palantir have also faced protests surrounding immigration contracts.

The disclosures from a whistleblower at Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm, also launched a scandal surrounding Facebook’s privacy practices and use of people’s personal information, prompting investigations and regulatory scrutiny across the globe last year. Cambridge Analytica shut down as a result.

Tech activism further had a dramatic impact last year at Google, where workers successfully organized global walkouts following revelations about the company’s $90m payout to an executive accused of sexual misconduct. The movement led to some policy changes at the Mountain View company. Google also chose not to renew a controversial military contract following worker backlash.

The new whistleblower campaign provides information about SecureDrop, a tool that allows people to send confidential and encrypted tips to the media and other organizations. Fight for the Future is also crowdfunding to support advertising for the video, with the goal of reaching workers at the big Silicon Valley firms.

“You have the power to speak out. You can do the right thing,” the video says.

“We want to get it in front of as many tech workers and as many people in Silicon Valley as possible,” said Drew, adding that the message to tech workers was: “There are people who are 100% behind you … We can’t organize if we don’t know what’s happening.”