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Activision Blizzard isn’t coming totally clean yet

February 9, 2022, 6:15 PM UTC

More evidence of a rotten workplace culture at video game studio Blizzard came to light Wednesday, with Fortune publishing a deeply-sourced investigation that documented extensive harassment and discrimination against women spanning decades.

The report, based on interviews with 29 current and former employees of Blizzard and its parent company, Activision Blizzard, adds to the ever-growing mountain of gender-based complaints against the video game giant. The Call of Duty and World of Warcraft publisher, which Microsoft agreed to purchase last month for $68.7 billion, has faced three government investigations and several Wall Street Journal reports suggesting that top executives mishandled numerous complaints by female employees.

Activision Blizzard officials told Fortune that the events and processes described in Wednesday’s article “are not a reflection of today’s Blizzard—nor have they been for years.” 

They added that 37 employees have left the company and 44 staffers have been disciplined since July, when claims of widespread misconduct first became public. Activision Blizzard also has announced numerous changes over the past several months, including a zero-tolerance policy for harassment, commitments to hire more women, and a 10-year, $250 million pledge to “foster expanded opportunities in gaming and technology for under-represented communities.”

Those adjustments are certainly laudable, albeit far too late for the hundreds of women who have lodged complaints of mistreatment.

But there’s a missing component to Activision Blizzard’s rehab campaign: a commitment to publishing results of internal and independent investigations.

As Activision Blizzard faced an avalanche of complaints in July, the company recognized the need for an outside review, hiring high-profile law firm WilmerHale to probe its corporate culture. 

While Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick didn’t outline a time frame for the investigation, he wrote in a letter to employees that the inquiry “will begin immediately.” Kotick did not commit to publicly sharing any findings from the probe—and we’ve seen nothing to date directly from the law firm.

Admittedly, the publication of internal investigation findings can be a bit fraught. The release could imperil employees who brought forth complaints (Kotick promised staffers that their outreach to WilmerHale officials “will be kept confidential”). Activision Blizzard certainly knows, too, that any public information could provide ammunition to federal and state investigators probing the company.

Still, if Activision Blizzard is fully committed to understanding the scope of its ignominious history and ensuring those responsible are held accountable, the company should name individuals guilty of misconduct and document the extent of their misdeeds. 

These steps would allow the public and Activision Blizzard employees to gauge whether the company’s leadership is adequately addressing its foundational issues. A public airing also would ensure that former staffers forced out of Activision Blizzard can’t easily jump to another company without facing appropriate scrutiny. 

A Journal report last month suggests Activision Blizzard officials know the value of this type of transparency, but they remain reluctant to shoulder the backlash. 

The report, citing sources familiar with the situation, stated that Activision Blizzard planned to release a summary of disciplinary actions taken against dozens of employees, but Kotick held it back late last year because “it could make the company’s workplace problems seem bigger than is already known.” An Activision Blizzard spokeswoman denied the claim in response to the Journal.

Activision Blizzard might be cleaning up its dirty culture, but it still isn’t using every tool at its disposal. After all, sunlight still remains the best disinfectant.

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Jacob Carpenter

NEWSWORTHY

Some heavy-duty laundry. Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that they have recovered $3.6 billion worth of stolen cryptocurrency, the Justice Department’s largest-ever financial seizure, as part of an investigation into a married New York City couple. Investigators arrested Ilya “Dutch” Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan, who bill themselves as tech and crypto entrepreneurs, on charges that they laundered more than 100,000 Bitcoin stolen in a 2016 hack of the Bitfinex platform. Federal officials have not yet recovered all of the nearly 120,000 Bitcoin purloined in the hack, which was valued at about $70 million in 2016 but is now worth about $4.5 billion.

Hiring extra security? Microsoft has started discussions with cybersecurity company Mandiant about a potential acquisition that would boost the software giant’s cloud safety credentials, Bloomberg reported Tuesday. Details about a target price point for a purchase haven’t been disclosed, and it isn’t yet clear whether the two sides will reach an agreement. Mandiant shares are up 20% since news of the talks broke Tuesday afternoon, bringing its market cap to $4.4 billion.

On the sunny side. Meta’s stock freefall over the past week could actually help the company avoid more antitrust scrutiny that Congress is considering for Big Tech giants, CNBC reported Tuesday. With Meta’s market cap now hovering around $600 billion, down roughly 30% from last week following an awful earnings report, the Facebook and Instagram parent sits right near the $600 billion cutoff point that the U.S. House has set for designating companies as “covered platforms” under proposed antitrust legislation. The bill, which could still undergo changes, specifies that covered companies must take steps to ensure competition on their platforms and limits their ability to acquire rivals.

Getting ahead of the news. Tesla disclosed Wednesday that the electric-vehicle automaker expects California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing plans to file a racial discrimination and harassment lawsuit against the company, Reuters reported. Company officials said the lawsuit appears to stem from allegations of misconduct between 2015 and 2019 at its Fremont factory, where about 30,000 employees work. Tesla denied claims of systemic racism and harassment, calling the allegations “unfair and counterproductive.” California employment officials didn’t respond to a request for comment by Reuters.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Circumvention in Canada. When blockchain bulls argue that cryptocurrency takes authority away from too-powerful corporate interests, here’s a prime example of the idea in action. Supporters of the so-called “Freedom Convoy,” a band of protesters marching across Canada in opposition to the Great White North’s vaccine requirements for cross-border truckers and nationwide COVID restrictions, have pledged more than $500,000 in financial support through Bitcoin after online fundraising platform GoFundMe banished an $8 million trucker campaign from its site. The GoFundMe page came down after the company determined that “previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity.”

From the article:

“HonkHonkHodl” is a group of four—Greg Booth, Jeff Foss, and two men who go by online pseudonyms “Nobody Cariboo” and “BTC Sessions,” according to Canadian publication The Star—who created a crypto crowdfunding campaign on the platform Tallycoin as an alternative funding portal for the “Freedom Convoy.”

“Legacy financial infrastructure…can be politicized and clamped down upon,” the group wrote on their Tallycoin fundraising page. “Bitcoin is truly censorship-resistant. Don’t allow your voices to be silenced.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Europe is taking a crowbar to its own rules to tackle the global semiconductor chip shortage, by Christiaan Hetzner

Peloton CEO John Foley’s departure is latest example of founders hitting a wall during crisis, by Phil Wahba

Peloton is in freefall. These are the companies most likely to buy it, by Tristan Bove

Pandemic-fueled rush to link digital and physical shopping powers payments firm Adyen to record growth, by Jeremy Kahn

Donald Trump’s opinions, Joe Rogan’s racial slurs, and Neil Young’s activism: Here’s the latest in the wild Spotify saga, by Andrew Marquardt

A Florida home to be auctioned as an NFT has attracted more than 7,000 potential bidders, by Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez

BEFORE YOU GO

The little victories. Sometimes, an emoji is worth a thousand words. Tesla CEO Elon Musk reveled in a modicum of triumph Tuesday, tweeting a sunglasses-wearing emoji and nothing else in response to his most powerful adversary, President Joe Biden, publicly acknowledging the company as America’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer. The pro-labor president’s reluctance to spotlight progress by Tesla—far less union-friendly than many other automakers—has become a point of annoyance for Musk and Tesla devotees. Maybe Elon will return the favor by calling Biden something nicer than a “damp sock puppet in human form,” as he has in the past.

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