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Data Sheet—Tech Industry Condemns Migrant Child Separation Policy. But What Will They Actually Do About It?

June 20, 2018, 1:04 PM UTC

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If you happened to be watching The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC last night around 9:58 p.m. or so, you might have witnessed a rare sight. Trying to read the first sentence of this appalling story from the Associated Press, Maddow broke down, near tears, and could not finish her show. An indelible moment in the history of live news and a sign of where we are in America in 2018.

The immoral and widely condemned policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the border has also flared up as another battlefield between tech companies and their employees. Just a few weeks ago, Google said it would not seek to renew a contract with the Pentagon to use AI to help analyze drone video footage. Some 4,000 Google employees had signed a petition opposing the company’s participation to “build warfare technology.”

In recent days, many tech leaders including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Google’s Sundar Pichai have criticized the child separation policy. But it was Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, himself an immigrant from India, who got tied into a bit of a knot about the issue. It seems the Redmond software giant was bragging about its work with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the very group tasked with carrying out the abhorrent policy, in a blog post in January. That prompted some Microsoft employees to call for dropping the ICE contract.

Nadella, in an email to employees, tried to have it both ways. Calling the border policy “cruel and abusive,” he said the company would lobby in favor of legislation to end the separations. But he also refused to end Microsoft’s work with ICE, saying the company was not working on “any projects related” to the child removals, only “supporting legacy mail, calendar, messaging and document management workloads.” How does Nadella think ICE officials are planning and executing their new policy? To recount one of the darkest chapters in the history of the technology industry, IBM supplied the system used to organize the Holocaust. To be sure, the current U.S. moral crisis is no holocaust and IBM’s deep involvement in customizing its punch card technology for the Nazis stands out like a red flag compared to a simple government cloud services contract. But when ethics become slippery, we find ourselves sliding down into the morass. And the tech industry may find that its workers won’t go there.


Adam incorrectly wrote on Tuesday that shares of Chinese e-commerce giant trade on the NYSE. is a Nasdaq-listed company. He also said Google has been blocked from selling ads in China. While that’s largely true, it isn’t completely right. The Silicon Valley company sells ads in China for businesses to grow their export businesses, and Google’s AdMob advertising platform for app developers has a presence in China.

Aaron Pressman


Can't find you. In a setback for creepiness, the major wireless carriers agreed (somewhat vaguely) to stop selling realtime location data about their customers to third party information brokers. The moves by Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint follow revelations that some companies were selling location data to law enforcement agencies without requiring search warrants and that hackers could access the data pretty easily over the web. Senator Ron Wyden had also queried the carriers about their location data sales practices.

Can't avoid you. Craving more autoplay video ads? Facebook has the answer. The company is testing adding the annoying feature to its Facebook Messenger app. “Top priority for us is user experience, so we don’t know yet," Messenger ad chief Stefanos Loukako said at the Cannes Lions conference on Tuesday.

Why didn't you come to me first. A software update that bricked some iPhones has turned into a costly legal glitch for Apple. In 2015, Apple pushed out an update that rendered some iPhones that had been repaired by third parties unusable. The Federal Court in Australia on Tuesday ordered Apple to pay a fine of $6.6 million.

But her emails. Cybersecurity startup CrowdStrike raised $200 million of venture capital backing in a deal that valued the company at more than $3 billion. The company's big claim to fame is being the first to publicly link Russia to hacking the Democratic National Committee in 2016.

Calculated turnover. Venture capital firm Social Capital is experiencing significant high-level turnover after CEO and founder Chamath Palihapitiya doubled down on his data-driven investment approach, Fortune reports. Partner Arjun Sethi, growth equity chief Tony Bates, and vice chairman Marc Mezvinsky are all leaving. Sethi may raise a new fund on his own focused on cryptocurrency and blockchain companies.

Modest intentions. Following Apple by a few years, Google launched its own podcast listening app for Android on Tuesday. Going by the less-than-creative moniker Google Podcasts, the app incorporates an AI algorithm to recommend new shows to users. Product manager Zack Reneau-Wedeen humbly tells The Verge that the native app “could as much as double worldwide listenership of podcasts overall.”


In the evolving world of brand advertising, the class of new "influencers" who have cropped up on social media can't be ignored. But picking which "influencers" actually have influence isn't easy. Taylor Lorenz at The Atlantic digs into the hotel industry's conundrum in dealing with the hoards of Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube stars vying to get free stays and other perks in return for potentially valuable viral social posts.

Kate Jones, marketing and communications manager at the Dusit Thani, a five-star resort in the Maldives, said that her hotel receives at least six requests from self-described influencers per day, typically through Instagram direct message.

“Everyone with a Facebook these days is an influencer,” she said. “People say, I want to come to the Maldives for 10 days and will do two posts on Instagram to like 2,000 followers. It's people with 600 Facebook friends saying, ‘Hi, I'm an influencer, I want to stay in your hotel for seven days,’” she said. Others send vague one-line emails, like “I want to collaborate with you,”with no further explanation. “These people are expecting five to seven nights on average, all inclusive. Maldives is not a cheap destination.” She said that only about 10 percent of the requests she receives are worth investigating.


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Complaining about New York City has been a thing since, probably, the birth of New York City. But writer Kevin Baker thinks the latest wave of uber-gentrification and catering to the wealthy have rendered the metropolis something new: boring. I'm not sure I agree, but it's an interesting take on what makes a big city vibrant or stagnant.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.