The Technology 202: Two former Pinterest employees allege racial discrimination at the company
with Tonya Riley
Two black women who until recently served in key public policy roles at Pinterest are making their claims of racial discrimination at the company public.
Ifeoma Ozoma, who as Pinterest’s public policy and social impact manager was widely credited for leading its efforts to combat misinformation about vaccines, says she was unfairly paid during her time at the company.
Ozoma also took to Twitter to accuse her manager of “racism, gaslighting and disrespect” and slammed the company’s response to online harassment at the hands of another employee. The ex-colleague sent her personal information, including her cellphone number, to a rightwing activist group that then “shared my personal information on just about every dark corner of the Internet,” Ozoma told The Technology 202.
Aerica Shimizu Banks, who served in federal government relations for the company, said on Twitter she received “disparaging comments about my ethnicity in front of my team.”
Banks described her tenure at Pinterest as “marked a period of glaringly unfair pay, intense discrimination, and terrifying retaliation.”
They are taking their complaints public as Silicon Valley’s support of Black Lives Matter draws broad skepticism.
Pinterest is one of many tech companies that publicly voicing its solidarity with the protests against racism and police violence. But their declarations are also drawing a spotlight on tech companies’ own lack of diversity and racial inequities.
Ozoma and Banks tell me that the company’s public comments do not match up with their personal experiences at the company.
Ozoma began raising concerns about mistreatment to the company in January 2019, she said. Both Ozoma and Banks ultimately left the company in late May of this year.
“After dealing with it for that long, then being doxxed, all while publicly representing the company and not being able to tell anyone about what was going on – to then see the absolutely hypocritical statement from them was incensing,” Ozoma said in an interview. “And I know that there are black employees, many of whom have reached out to me today, who were scared to say anything.”
Banks felt a similar frustration: “Reading their statement on Black Lives Matter felt like a slap in the face and a total insult when I literally left the company days before because they treated my Black life and the Black lives of my other colleagues like they didn’t matter,” Banks said in an email.
“I am taking this personal, professional, financial, and reputational risk because if not now, in this moment, when?” Banks said. “So many Black people, especially Black women are silenced by these risks all the time. I want them to know that they are not alone and they are not crazy. We hear them, we see them, we affirm them. I’m here to support any Black woman going through this at their workplace.”
Pinterest says it investigated the former employees’ concerns when they were raised.
“We took these issues seriously and conducted a thorough investigation when they were raised, and we’re confident both employees were treated fairly,” Pinterest spokeswoman Malorie Lucich said in a statement. “We want each and every one of our employees at Pinterest to feel welcomed, valued, and respected. As we outlined in our statement on June 2nd, we’re committed to advancing our work in inclusion and diversity by taking action at our company and on our platform. In areas where we, as a company, fall short, we must and will do better.”
Banks said her manager made “disparaging comments” about her ethnicity, which she reported to human resources. A report on the incident compiled by Pinterest Human Resources, shared with The Technology 202, confirms that that Banks, who is half Japanese, reported that a supervisor “made comments to you about the origin of ramen noodles as a result of a bias towards you.”
The company investigated and concluded that these comments “do not indicate bias on their own and are not a violation of our Code of Conduct,” according to internal emails.
Ozoma says the company’s inadequate response to the online harassment forced her to hire social media intelligence agency Storyful and enlist the help of former coworkers at Google and Facebook to monitor and protect her information. Pinterest declined to discuss any specifics of her claims or actions it took in response.
I’ve seen examples of genuine contrition and even *reparation* this past week from others. I hope @Pinterest takes this opportunity to “express not only [their] solidarity but also [**follows through** on their] commitment to taking action.” 9/https://t.co/jSovO0qleC
— Ifeoma Ozoma (@IfeomaOzoma) June 15, 2020
The complaints could be a blow to Pinterest’s reputation, which is broadly seen as a leader in diversity in the tech industry.
The company has a reputation of being more aggressive in addressing harmful content in many instances than other social networks.
Yet Ozoma says her recommendations for Pinterest to stamp out racist content were met with criticism. Ozoma recommended that the company stop promoting content that romanticizes weddings at former slave plantations, a move that was widely praised in the media. Yet documents shared with The Technology 202 show that her supervisor criticized her for not providing more options to consider, other than an outright ban.
Like other Silicon Valley companies, Pinterest has struggled with diversity among its own ranks. Only 4 percent of all Pinterest employees are black, and black people make up only 1 percent of leadership at the company, according to a diversity report released in 2020.
From Karla Monterroso, the chief executive of the diversity-focused nonprofit Code 2040:
I’ve thought so much about this thread today. By all accounts Pinterest has pioneered what it means to incorporate an inclusion into product. And here is another example of a tech company failing to set the boundaries that keep employees safe from blatant racism. https://t.co/q0KuueR3mA
— Karla Monterroso #BlackLivesMatter (@karlitaliliana) June 15, 2020
Color of Change, a civil rights organization that has fought against discrimination in Silicon Valley, is calling on Pinterest to at a minimum provide Ozoma and Banks with “due compensation” and apologies.
Color Of Change is proud to work with and support the Black people in tech who use their positions to advance justice for our communities. Like so many tech companies that are posting messages of solidarity with #BLM, @Pinterest’s actions undermine the company’s own words. https://t.co/5DtNE6Ytgk
— ColorOfChange (@ColorOfChange) June 15, 2020
Other tech experts praised the contributions that Ozoma and Banks made to the tech industry in their roles. From Kate Starbird, associate professor of human centered design and engineering at University of Washington.
Ifeoma put Pinterest in a place of leadership in the industry for developing and implementing policies to address issues like medical misinformation. This thread regarding her treatment by the platform (and her thoughts on their performance BLM bs) is another gut punch this week. https://t.co/meK87dMQVn
— Kate Starbird (@katestarbird) June 15, 2020
Our top tabs
The European Union has launched two antitrust probes into the Apple’s payment service and the App Store.
If found guilty, Apple could have to pay a fine of up to 10 percent of its annual revenue and make changes to its business practices, the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Michaels and Sam Schechner report. It’s the latest salvo in the bloc’s long-running tensions with the smartphone maker.
Apple rivals, including music streaming service Spotify, have filed complaints with the EU over Apple’s rules for developers in the App Store. The complaint has brought attention to the company’s practice of taking a 30 percent cut of sales through the store.
Separately, others have complained that Apple has abused its position to force developers to use Apple Pay rather than other payments services. The European Commission will probe how Apple allows only its own Apple Pay service to use the no-contact payment system built into its devices.
“It’s disappointing the European Commission is advancing baseless complaints from a handful of companies who simply want a free ride, and don’t want to play by the same rules as everyone else,” Apple told the Journal.
Six former eBay employees were charged with cyberstalking after allegedly sending a bloody pig mask to online critics.
The alleged harassment campaign, which also involved sending a fetal pig, started in 2019 after a Massachusetts couple published an article about a lawsuit involving eBay on their e-commerce site, Rachel Lerman reports.
The eBay employees, which included James Baugh, former senior director of safety, and David Harville, former director of global resiliency, harassed the couple at their home by sending them a book about surviving the loss of a spouse to the couple and posted a fake Craiglist ad with their address soliciting sex. One of the employees also sent vulgar and harassing messages to one victim and used the fake account to criticize the newsletter.
Ebay said in a statement it was investigating the incident and fired all of the employees charged as well as the company’s chief communications officer. The company said there was no evidence that former chief executive Devin Wenig, who left the company in September, knew in advance or authorized the actions.
Employees at Apple, Google and Microsoft raised $4 million for the wrong Black Lives Matter organization.
It’s a prime example of the confusion that the “Black Lives Matter Foundation,” a California-based charity working on bringing police and communities together, has caused online donors in recent weeks, Ryan Mac and Brianna Sacks at BuzzFeed News report. Other donors found the organization searching for “Black Lives Matter” on GoFundMe or through the misguided tweets of equally confused donors.
The founder of the group, Robert Ray Barnes, claims that the Black Lives Matter movement, which gained national attention during the 2014 Ferguson protests, stole his name. A representative for Black Lives Matter told BuzzFeed the foundation is improperly using its name.
GoFundMe says it froze donations to the California foundation earlier this month, and it will refund money to any donors who sent money to the foundation in error. Several other platforms also froze payments to the foundation after being contacted by BuzzFeed.
Benevity, another fundraising portal used by some tech companies, also listed the foundation. The foundation was eligible for Apple’s two-to-one match for the month of June and was cited in letters from chief executives at Google and DropBox as an approved charity.
Benevity said it has not yet distributed the funds and planned to offer donors the option to reroute their funds. The company deactivated the foundation’s page.
Barnes declined to share his foundation’s earnings with BuzzFeed News, but public tax filings show the group’s fundraising has increased with the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Local police had never heard of the organization.
Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos may be willing to testify in front of Congress as part of an antitrust probe into the tech industry.
A letter sent by Amazon’s lawyers Sunday expressed that the company is open to sending Bezos under certain circumstances, Tony Romm reports. The company was formerly resistant to demands from the House Judiciary Committee, which is conducting an antitrust probe, that Bezos appear to testify. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
“Of course, we will need to resolve a number of questions regarding timing, format, and outstanding document production issues, all necessarily framed by the extraordinary demands of the global pandemic,” Amazon lawyers said in the letter obtained The Post. “In addition, we think it bears emphasizing that other senior executives now run the businesses that are the actual subject of the Committee’s investigation.”
Bezos has never appeared in front of Congress. But he could appear alongside a slate of tech chief executives including Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai if the demands of House lawmakers are met. It’s unclear whether the other three companies have agreed to send their chief executives, and they did not respond to requests for comment.
The currently unscheduled hearing would cap off a year-long investigation by the committee into anti-competitive practices by tech companies. Meanwhile, European regulators are expected to issue charges against Amazon for using third-party seller data to undermine its competition as soon as this week.
Rant and rave
T-Mobile’s network went out yesterday, bumping the company to the top of Twitter’s trending list.
Our engineers are working to resolve a voice and data issue that has been affecting customers around the country. We’re sorry for the inconvenience and hope to have this fixed shortly.
— Neville (@NevilleRay) June 15, 2020
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said he wants answers about the outage:
The T-Mobile network outage is unacceptable. The @FCC is launching an investigation. We’re demanding answers—and so are American consumers.
— Ajit Pai (@AjitPaiFCC) June 16, 2020
DDoS, which is shorthand for “denial of service” attack, also trended after some anonymous hackers took credit for the outages. But it’s not exactly clear that’s what happened. Matthew Prince, CEO of cybersecurity firm Cloudflare and a DDoS expert, explains:
There’s a lot of buzz right now about a “massive DDoS attack” targeting the US, complete with scary-looking graphs (see Tweet below). While it makes for a good headline in these already dramatic times, it’s not accurate. The reality is far more boring. 1/X https://t.co/4wDIlKnfQg
— Matthew Prince 🌥 (@eastdakota) June 15, 2020
Second, there is no spike in traffic to any of the major Internet Exchanges, which you do see during actual DDoS attacks and definitely would during one allegedly this disruptive. 6/X pic.twitter.com/5zZCRwjsWo
— Matthew Prince 🌥 (@eastdakota) June 16, 2020
Except T-Mobile, which is having a bad day almost certainly entirely of their own team’s making. So, please, #hugops. And don’t worry, this is one thing that does not need to get added to the list of craziness that has been 2020. 8/8 pic.twitter.com/VONBSSlhLG
— Matthew Prince 🌥 (@eastdakota) June 16, 2020
The Trump administration is preparing a $1 trillion infrastructure package that would set aside funds for 5G wireless and rural broadband.
The proposal is part of its efforts to revive the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, Bloomberg reports. Trump is scheduled to discuss rural broadband access at a White House event on Thursday.
The Trump administration will allow U.S. companies to work with Huawei on 5G standards.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross signed off on the change, which is essentially a carve-out from a ban on U.S. companies working with the firm that officials have accused of spying for China, Reuters’s Karen Freifeld and David Shepardson report.
Last year the United States banned U.S. companies from partnering with Huawei. But the rule caused confusion over whether they could participate in international discussions setting technical standards for 5G and Artificial Intelligence with blacklisted companies such as Huawei. That gave Huawei a strong voice in discussions and put the United States at a disadvantage, companies and lawmakers argued.
“The United States will not cede leadership in global innovation,” Ross said.
The U.S. Transportation Department will launch an online data platform for tech companies and governments to share safety and testing data on autonomous cars.
The effort, meant to shore up public trust in the technology, comes as legislation to regulate the technology continues to stall, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. So far nine companies, including Uber, and eight states have signed onto the voluntary initiative.
Inside the industry
An overwhelming majority of Americans support the removal of false or misleading health information from social media platforms, a new poll finds.
Similarly, 81 percent of Americans support removing intentionally misleading information on elections or other political issues, a new report from Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight foundation finds.
But those opinions clash with Americans’ overwhelming support for freedom of expression online. Almost two-thirds of the polled Americans say they support keeping Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law that shields tech platforms from liability for content posted to their sites. President Trump and some members of Congress have pushed to change the law.
Researchers also found that while 8 in 10 Americans don’t trust Big Tech to moderate their content, even fewer trust the government to decide what should be removed. Instead, 81 percent of Americans favor the idea of independent content oversight boards – so long as they’re diverse and transparent.
More industry news:
“And at least 87 days since I last went on a date. So when I saw a viral TikTok over the weekend from a girl who paid an Etsy psychic to draw her soulmate, I knew I needed to follow suit.”
- Jim Baker joined Twitter as deputy general counsel. He was formerly director of national security and cybersecurity at the R Street Institute.
- George Washington University’s Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics will host a virtual forum on the coronavirus and social media disinformation on today at 10 a.m.
- The House Financial Services Committee will host a hearing on how cybercriminals are exploiting the covid-19 pandemic on today at noon.
- The Energy and Commerce Committee will host a hearing on online disinformation on June 24. The hearing will cover disinformation related to covid-19 and the recent racial unrest.
Before you log off
John Oliver explains the controversy behind facial recognition.