The two things you can count on from tech (and many other) companies these days are promises to keep us safe against COVID-19 and proclamations in support of Black Lives Matter. Both are important, but
merely stating your commitment is not enough. You have to do something.
Clearly there are sincere efforts on both fronts. If you ask Amazon’s Alexa “do Black lives matter,” she will tell you that Black lives matter and that “I stand in solitary with the Black community in the fight against systemic racism and injustice.”
If you say “hey Google” on an Android phone you’ll get a similar message of solidarity.” Siri simply says “Yes, Black lives matter.” The CEOs of Uber, Facebook and many other companies have issued statements in favor of Black Lives Matter. I even got an email from Citibank in support of the movement. Amazon put a Black Lives Matter message on its home page and when a customer canceled an order and posted an obscenity-laced complaint about it on social media,” CEO Jeff Bezos shared it publicly saying “This sort of hate shouldn’t be allowed to hide in the shadows,” responding “you’re the kind of customer I’m happy to lose.”
While there is nothing funny about racism, I did chuckle at Jimmy Kimmel’s response to Johnson & Johnson’s Instagram post that they will release “a range of bandages in light, medium and deep shades of Brown and Black skin tones that embrace the beauty of diverse skin,” saying they ” stand in solidarity with our Black colleagues, collaborators and community in the fight against racism, violence and injustice. Kimmel quipped. “They are literally putting a Band-Aid on the problem of racism.”
This support is, I’m sure, welcome but it’s not enough. Tech companies are notorious for a lack of diversity in their workforce. In 2019, Google’s workforce was only 3.3% Black with only 2.6% of leadership positions filled by people identified as Black. Only 3.8% of Facebook’s U.S. workforce is black, and that number shrinks to only 1.5% when it comes to technical employees who are among the highest-paid workers in Silicon Valley. Women are also underrepresented in these companies, especially in technical jobs.
All the major tech companies have initiatives to hire more people of color and women, with some recent success, and the fact that they publish diversity statistics is a positive sign, but they have a lot more work to do to show that having Black employees really matters.
All of these companies are donating some money to organizations fighting racial inequality, and that’s a good thing. Amazon, Google and IBM, Microsoft and Amazon have all pledged to not provide facial recognition software to law enforcement.
Last week, Microsoft President Brad Smith said “We will not sell facial-recognition technology to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights, that will govern this technology.”
Amazon announced a one-year moratorium on police use of Amazon’s facial recognition technology,” though the company “will continue to allow organizations like Thorn, the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and Marinus Analytics to use Amazon Rekognition to help rescue human trafficking victims and reunite missing children with their families.”
In a letter to several members of Congress, IBM said that it “firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency.”
The other big story is, of course, COVID-19 safety with many states seeing an increase in the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Just about every business I’ve ever interacted with has sent me one or more emails on how they are protecting their customers and workers. Amazon has a FAQ on how it’s responding. Google and Facebook routinely publish links to credible sources of information on the disease while vowing (with some but not complete success) to discourage people from consuming false information. Facebook has a COVID-19 Info Center, but there are still plenty of false stories about the disease being posted by users. I’ve seen several posts claiming that it’s either a hoax or greatly exaggerated.
As states start to allow businesses to open, it’s important for consumers to know which are safe to visit.
Yelp on Tuesday announced that it’s “launching a new COVID-19 section on Yelp business pages, which features important updates, including details on health and safety measures the business has implemented and updates to their service offerings.” That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. Dr. Yaneer Bar-Yam, who is a pioneer in the field of complex systems science and an expert in the origins of pandemics, including Ebola, has called for Yelp, Google and other sites that rate businesses to extend their ratings to COVID-19 safety. This would give customers and employees a place to weigh in on how the business is doing in its efforts to protect customers and workers. You can watch my full interview with Bar-Yam at Larrysworld.com/covidratings/.
Do your homework
I like social media but I don’t rely on it for actionable information. Instead, I go to reliable sources from reputable news sites and sites operated by experts I trust. I used to rely on government sites, but in today’s highly politicized climate, some sites operated by federal, state or even local government agencies, are bending to the political will of politicians in power rather than experts. For example, the Florida Department of Health site was once an excellent place to get accurate COVID-19 statistics from that state until they fired the department’s geographic information systems manager, Rebekah Jones. Jones now operates the independently run Florida’s Community Coronavirus Dashboard, where she posts available information for every county in Florida, including Duval County, where President Trump plans to make his acceptance speech for the 2020 Republican Presidential nomination on August 27.
Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.
Published at Thu, 18 Jun 2020 14:00:42 +0000