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September 24, 2021

Silicon Valley businesses can’t seem to hold onto their secrets.


The Wall Street Journal aired loads of dirty laundry leaked from Facebook in a series investigative articles last week. The stories, sourced from internal documents, covered everything from how the company bends the moderation rules for VIPs, to how it knowingly poisoned the minds of teens on Instagram. This week wasn’t any better: The New York Times piled on with an exposé about the company’s secret plan to pump positive stories about itself on its users’ feeds.


Facebook, while exceptionally embattled, isn’t alone in its struggles. Apple has suffered constant leaks related to upcoming products, like the iPhone 13. In addition to the secret-spillage, litigation from workers is flying. In August, an Apple senior engineering program manager filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board that alleges workplace harassment. Another employee, a software engineer, followed suit soon after with a complaint that the iPhone maker has been suppressing labor organization.


While it’s impossible to separate the ill social effects of COVID-19 from secular trends affecting the technology industry (increasingly negative public sentiment, ramped up government animus) there may be some truth to the pandemic casting workers adrift. White collar employees used to work in offices, where corporations could keep close tabs on, indoctrinate, and placate them. As companies—especially tech giants—have embraced remote work, are their corporate cultures suffering?


Perhaps the widespread disaffection is not unique to tech. Industry watchers are calling this moment a “Great Resignation,” as many people, especially younger generations, reevaluate their lives and quit their jobs in droves. A recent Gallup survey across industries found that the percentage of “actively disengaged” workers has ticked steadily upward during the past three years, to 15% in June 2021 from 13% in 2018. Of course, it only takes one disgruntled rogue with access to sensitive information to cause a business problems.


What is Big Tech doing about it? Facebook has appointed Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, a full-throated Facebook booster, as its tech chief. Mike Schroepfer, who currently has that title, announced this week—following all the negative news articles—that he will step aside next year. Schroepfer was often publicly sympathetic to criticism of Facebook; Facebook’s former “civic integrity lead” described him as an “ally” on matters of societal import. Boz, on the other hand, has a reputation for being a boisterous proponent of the party line.


Beyond Facebook, other tech firms are trying to quash dissent in their ranks too. Apple is attempting to quell an uprising of employees who are seeking more transparency about pay. The iPhone-maker’s CEO is also sending out warnings that it plans to root out secret-leakers. Google and Amazon are, meanwhile, amping up invasive surveillance tactics to keep their workforces in line—and under their thumbs—amid a series of continual leaks and whistleblower cases.


In these tense times, expect the conflicts—and crackdowns—to continue.


Robert Hackett
@rhhackett
robert.hackett@fortune.com


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NEWSWORTHY


Cracking the whip-o, whacking the crypto. Chinese regulators are banning crypto. Really, they're banning crypto this time. China is serious! What's different about this pronouncement versus past ones? Earlier this year, China outlawed Bitcoin "mining." Now it says all domestic cryptocurrency transactions are to be considered illegal—and any overseas companies that offer crypto-trading services will be breaking the law. The move can be interpreted as part of the Communist Party's tech-wide clampdown, and it is poised to make way for the country's digital yuan. Crypto prices slumped across the board on the news, with Bitcoin dropping as much as 7% from $45,000 to $41,000. The price has since rebounded a bit to $42,650.


I need some SpaceX. After three years together, Elon Musk and Grimes, the musical artist born as Claire Boucher, have split up. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO told the New York Post's Page Six column that the two, who have a 1-year old son named X Æ A-Xii Musk, are "semi-separated but still love each other, see each other frequently and are on great terms." Work got in the way, apparently. Also, Musk says the widespread computer chip shortage plaguing the tech and auto industries is a temporary problem that'll be over by next year.


Come sail Huawei. Detained in Canada for three years, Huawei chief financial officer (and daughter of the company's founder) Meng Wanzhou has now reached a deal with the U.S. Justice Department, the Wall Street Journal reports. The agreement will allow the telecom executive to return to China, as long as she admits to some wrongdoing. Wanzhou has been fighting an extradition request by the U.S. government for allegedly evading sanctions to do business with Iran. China maintained that she was held as a political prisoner. 


One more thing... After securing what can primarily be considered a victory in a legal battle over in-app payments, Apple said it will not reinstate Fortnite or any of its foe Epic Games's video games in the App Store—that is, until all courtroom appeals have concluded. The timeline could take as long as five years. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney is none too pleased about the blacklisting: "Apple lied. Apple spent a year telling the world, the court, and the press they’d 'welcome Epic’s return to the App Store if they agree to play by the same rules as everyone else,'" he tweeted Wednesday. "Epic agreed, and now Apple has reneged in another abuse of its monopoly power over a billion users."


FOOD FOR THOUGHT


Will the real Dread Pirate Roberts please stand up? A shady character who goes by the online alias DeSnake claims to be reviving the AlphaBay black market, which the Feds took down in 2017. The guy, who says he was formerly the No. 2 at the previous iteration of AlphaBay, gave a series of interviews to Wired's Andy Greenberg. He says he has adopted an extreme operational security regimen to protect his identity. DeSnake's ambition is to evade law enforcement while fully decentralizing the marketplace, allowing it to run peer-to-peer, making it harder to shutter, he says. 


From the article:


"The biggest reason I am returning is to make the AlphaBay name be remembered as more than the marketplace which got busted and the founder made out to have committed suicide," DeSnake writes. Cazes was found dead of an apparent suicide in a Thai jail cell a week after his arrest; like many in the dark web community, DeSnake believes Cazes was murdered in prison. He was driven to rebuild AlphaBay, he says, after reading about an FBI presentation on the circumstances of Cazes' arrest that he deemed disrespectful. "AlphaBay name was put in bad light after the raids. I am here to make amends to that."


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT


A new generation of climate fintech startups by Ambreen Ali


Biden urges eligible Americans to get COVID booster shots ASAP by Lauran Neergaard and Mike Stobbe


The great generational shift within venture capital by Lucinda Shen


‘We want to be in control’: Frustrated carmakers upend industry after chip shortage shatters their faith in suppliers by Christiaan Hetzner


Microsoft and Roku are the latest tech companies to hunt for real estate in New York City by Natalie Wong


How sustainable altcoins aim to challenge Bitcoin’s dominance by Declan Harty


Will Robinhood force crypto trading to go ‘no-fee’? By Robert Hackett and Declan Harty


Remitly CEO on his money-transfer company’s 10-year journey to an IPO by Rey Mashayekhi


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BEFORE YOU GO


"Engineers figured out how to cook 3D-printed chicken with lasers." Yep, that's it. That's the story. Why am I suddenly hungry?


See you all next week. 


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