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Apple employee activism sparked over ex-Facebook hire (and dismissal)

May 13, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

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Apple’s corporate employees have been relatively silent when it comes to most controversial topics. But that seems to have changed after the tech giant hired a former Facebook product manager who previously made comments tinged with sexism and racism.

Employees circulated a petition, obtained by the Verge, that demanded the tech giant investigate the hiring of Antonio García Martínez. García Martínez, who was reportedly expected to join Apple’s advertising platforms team, published a book called Chaos Monkeys in 2016 in which he characterized “most women in the Bay Area” as “soft and weak” and “generally full of shit.” He also calls East Palo Alto “the local slum that once had the highest murder rate in the Bay Area,” then follows the characterization with a parenthetical explanation that says, “two of the local schools are named after César Chávez and Ron McNair, an African American astronaut.”

Employees addressed the petition to Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet software and services, and inclusion and diversity “champions.”  In the note, employees say they are “profoundly distraught” about the hire, which they say opposes Apple’s commitment to inclusion and diversity.

“We demand an investigation into how his published views on women and people of color were missed or ignored, along with a clear plan of action to prevent this from happening again,” the petition reads.

The petition, along with public tweets from employees, are one of the boldest statements to come from Apple’s corporate workforce. And it comes at a time when tech workers across the industry are feeling more empowered to speak out against their employers.

For example, last summer Facebook employees staged a virtual walkout to protest how the company handled inflammatory posts from former President Donald Trump. And earlier this year, Alphabet employees formed a minority union and denounced the “retaliation” against Margaret Mitchell, the Google Ethical A.I. co-lead who was later fired. The group also called out the search giant’s failure to address misinformation and hate on YouTube.

Employee activism in Big Tech hasn’t always yielded results. Facebook didn’t drastically change how it treated Trump until the riot at the U.S. Capitol about seven months later, and a bid to unionize at Amazon recently failed. But at Apple, the backlash seems to have made a difference—quickly. Just hours after the petition received media attention, Apple confirmed that it cut ties with García Martínez.

“Behavior that demeans or discriminates against people for who they are has no place here,” an Apple spokesman told Bloomberg. That makes the iPhone-maker’s employees the latest group to publicly speak out against their tech giant employer, and to hold it accountable.

Is the episode an anomaly, or a harbinger of more activism to come?

Danielle Abril
@DanielleDigest
danielle.abril@fortune.com

***
Virtual reality (VR) is no longer futuristic fantasy; it’s a growing market across many industries, from gaming to education. In healthcare, doctors, nurses and therapists are immersing patients in computer-generated, interactive environments and are finding it, while no silver bullet, to be powerful medicine. Studies show VR can improve health outcomes in many situations, whether in labor and delivery, managing chronic pain, or for treating conditions like depression and anxiety.  
On today’s Brainstorm, Michal Lev-Ram and Brian O’Keefe explore how VR works therapeutically and what the limitations are. Listen to the podcast here.

NEWSWORTHY

An epic compromise? U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers seems to be noodling a compromise that could resolve the issues between Epic and Apple, according to Bloomberg. After listening to an economist testify as an expert witness for Apple, the judge asked a question that gets at the crux of the case: What’s so bad about giving consumers a choice in how they make in-app purchases? It’s likely too soon to make any judgements on how Gonzalez Rogers is leaning, though she did ask Epic CEO Tim Sweeney what his backup plan is if he loses. The question sheds light on how she's approaching the issue. Perhaps she will ask the two companies to meet in the middle?

Waygone from Waymo. Two more Waymo leaders are leaving the company following the departure of former CEO John Krafcik last month. Ger Dwyer, Waymo’s chief financial officer, and Adam Frost, head of automotive partnerships and corporate development, will exit the company this month as the company reorganizes under co-CEOs Tekedra Mawakana and Dmitri Dolgov, according to TechCrunch. The two join a growing list of leaders leaving the autonomous vehicle company owned by Alphabet. Other recent departures include chief safety officer Deborah Hersman, head of manufacturing and global supply Tim Willis, and treasurer Sherry House.

A choice error. Instagram and Twitter are apologizing for what they claim were technical errors that deleted posts from Palestinians claiming they faced possible eviction. The issue comes as Palestinian protesters continue to clash with Israeli police in Jerusalem. Palestinians who mentioned the possible eviction said their posts were removed on Instagram and that their accounts were suspended on Twitter. Both services have said the actions were errors and all content and accounts were reinstated. Critics worry that “discriminatory” algorithms are the culprit.

De die in Diem. Facebook’s digital currency entity Diem is making more changes. The project withdrew its application for a Swiss payment license, opting instead to partner with California state-chartered bank Silvergate. Diem plans to relocate to Washington, D.C., from Geneva, as it works on Diem USD, a stablecoin tied to the U.S. dollar. Silvergate is expected to be the exclusive issuer of the new currency. Everyone seems to be high on cryptocurrency lately. Why note add another so-called stablecoin to the mix?

The tech-demic. Cybersecurity experts from Accenture, HP, MedSec, and The University of Texas at Dallas will join Data Sheet's very own Robert Hackett for a virtual event exploring how the pandemic is leaving IT systems vulnerable. Things you'll learn from the discussion include: How to keep a distributed workforce safe and how to avoid losses from extortion, theft, fraud—and ransomware.  Get the lowdown from 1 to 2 p.m. ET on Thursday, May 20. Registration is open

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

In November, I covered the rapid rise of Rumble, a YouTube rival popular among conservatives. At the time Rumble had 80 million users, double the amount it had three months prior. And monthly visits continue to be in the tens of millions, according to a Wired article by investigative journalists Ellie House, Alice Wright, and Isabelle Stanley. But the service has a big problem the journalists say: It’s riddled with misinformation that it recommends to users more often than not. Rumble is “just the worst possible things about YouTube amplified,” says the daughter of an avid Rumble user.

“If you search ‘vaccine’ on Rumble, you are three times more likely to be recommended videos containing misinformation about the coronavirus than accurate information. One video by user TommyBX featuring Carrie Madej—a popular voice in the anti-vax world—alleges, ‘This is not just a vaccine; we’re being connected to artificial intelligence.’ Others unfoundedly state that the vaccine is deadly and has not been properly tested.

Even if you search for an unrelated term, ‘law,’ according to our research you are just as likely to be recommended Covid-19 misinformation than not—about half of the recommended content is misleading."

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

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What is Internet Computer? A guide to the latest buzzy cryptocurrency By Danielle Abril

It’s the scooter money wars By Lucinda Shen

How to hire A.I. talent in a red-hot market By Jonathan Vanian

Why Stitch Fix CEO Katrina Lake capped the ‘most challenging year’ with a new role By Fortune Editors

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BEFORE YOU GO

I’m a little late to this news, but if you’re like me, you missed it the first time around. Fans of Frito-Lay’s Flamin’ Hot Cheetos will soon get to see how the popular snack came to be in a new biopic about Richard Montañez, a former janitor who later became an executive at PepsiCo after inventing the treat.

The biopic will be directed Eva Longoria and produced by Fox Searchlight. Last week, the production announced that actors Jesse Garcia and Annie Gonzalez of the Netflix show “Gentefied” will play Montañez and his wife Judy. Filming is slated for later this year.

I would save a bag of Hot Cheetos for the occasion, but I have no self-control!

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