The Google Walkout ran on Gmail, and that makes Google nervous

One of the principles underlying this newsletter is that email
is good. Email is based on an open standard, letting many
interested parties build on top of it. It’s an asynchronous
form of communication, letting you ignore messages until you’re
ready to deal with them. And if you want to get a bunch of your
coworkers together to bring down your employer, their names are
already in your Gmail directory!

That last lesson proved particularly important last year to
thousands of Googlers, who had grown frustrated with their
bosses over defense contracts, expansion into China, sexual
harassment, and various other labor issues. When their bosses
failed them,
Bloomberg reported today
, Gmail remained at their side. And
the Google Walkout was born:

Google’s employee email system played a pivotal role in the
organizing for that protest, he said, with more than a
thousand workers joining an email list used to plan it. Given
that employees are spread around the globe and don’t have
most co-workers’ personal emails, he said, company email is
key to facilitating workers’ ability to mobilize.

Google’s official public position on the Google Walkout is that
it was the most beautiful coming together of cherished
colleagues in the history of corporate America. “Even in
difficult times, we are encouraged by the commitment of our
colleagues to create a better workplace,”
CEO Sundar Pichai said at the time
. “That’s come through
very strongly over the past few weeks.”

At the same time, however — in a weird little case that was
skillfully unearthed Thursday by Bloomberg reporters Josh
Eidelson, Hassan Kanu, and Mark Bergen — the company was
working to take away labor protections from anyone who wanted
to email 20,000 colleagues about the next walkout.

The details of the case are intricate, and
the Bloomberg story is worth reading in full
. The gist is
that an unnamed Googler received an undisclosed punishment
after posting conservative views on Google+. (I have a notes
file called “Times Google Accidentally Owned Itself By Building
Google+,” to which this story makes a fine addition.)

Afterward he filed a complaint with the National Labor
Relations Board. In defending itself against the complaint,
Google’s lawyers said various sensible things about wanting to
create a diverse and inclusive workplace, and that oh also by
the way the board should invalidate an old case known as “the
Purple Communications standard,” which protects
employees’ right to start petitions and organize themselves via
workplace email.

Bloomberg tells us the rest:

Google has denied the NLRB’s allegations of wrongdoing. In a
filing responding to the NLRB, it says the employee it
disciplined had committed misconduct which “interfered with
Google’s lawful interest in maintaining an inclusive
workplace for women and minorities that is free of unlawful
bias, discrimination, and harassment.” Google also wrote that
the NLRB should reverse some of the legal precedents being
used against it, including the Purple Communications
standard. It is not uncommon for companies to challenge legal
precedents being used in cases against them.

The protection established in Purple Communications is
“pretty fundamental” given the centrality of email to modern
workplace communications, said Wilma Liebman, who chaired the
NLRB during Obama’s first term. Given Google’s rhetoric about
“the free exchange of ideas, and itself as a purveyor of
mechanisms for communications,” she said, “That’s an irony
that Google, of all companies, would take such a narrow

At The Verge, Russell Brandom
talks to labor activist Yana Calou
, who works with
organizers at, about the case. “Google is
weaponizing this internal harassment to limit workers rights,”
Calou says:

Labor groups are worried that Google’s strategy for
short-term victory could post a longer-term threat to
organizers. Google won the Damore case without overturning
any broader precedents, and organizers say it shouldn’t be
necessary here either. “The Damore case established that
talking about working conditions doesn’t give you the right
to question your coworkers for immutable characteristics like
race or gender,” Calou says. “They’re separate issues and the
fact that Google would use that as a foil is really sad.”

Of course, when it comes to mounting defenses of their clients,
lawyers are not exactly known in their restraint. This is
essentially Google’s excuse — as a spokeswoman told Bloomberg,
the whole never-email-your-colleagues-to-complain-about-us
thing was simply “a legal defense that we included as one of
many possible defenses.” Infinite lawyers, typing on infinite
typewriters, generating infinite defenses!

It’s unclear to me whether, knowing what they know now, Google
lawyers will remove this particular defense from their quiver.
Labor relations inside tech companies across the country are
changing rapidly, and it can be difficult for associates to
stay on top of management’s latest position. To work in
harmony, the lawyers must coordinate. They must communicate.

They must email.


The fight over Europe’s internet just got even

Google has been putting significant pressure on the European
Union not to pass the Copyright Directive — and now it’s in
limbo. That pressure appears to have been successful, as the
legislation is now in limbo, James Vincent reports:

Strangely, the points being debated haven’t changed
substantially since last year. While most of the Copyright
Directive contains commonsense updates to laws written in
2001, there are two regulations that are causing trouble:
Articles 11 and 13, which critics have dubbed the “link tax”
and “upload filter.”

Article 11 gives publishers the right to charge a fee when
platforms like Google or Facebook show snippets of their
articles, while Article 13 makes these platforms directly
liable for user-uploaded content that infringes copyright.
The reason the latter is referred to as the “upload filter”
is that it would likely be enforced by scanning content
before it’s uploaded. Think of it like YouTube’s
Content ID, but preemptively covering most of the internet.

Microsoft’s Bing Accessible in China After Hours of

went down in China
, sparking fears that the regime was
about to block it for good. But then it came back online, and
China blamed the whole thing on a technical error.

Advocacy groups are pushing the FTC to break up

Consumer advocates are putting new pressure on the Federal
Trade Commission over competition, Makena Kelly reports:

Groups like Open Market Institute, Color of Change, and the
Electronic Privacy Information Center
wrote to the Federal Trade Commission
today requesting a
major government intervention into how Facebook operates. The
letter outlined several moves the FTC could take, including a
multibillion-dollar fine, reforming the company’s hiring
practices, and most importantly, breaking up one of the most
powerful social media companies for abusing its market

The Tech Revolt

California Sunday interviews a bunch of mostly anonymous
current and former tech workers about many of the issues we
discuss here. Here’s a former Facebook designer on why they

The Boz memo
was indicative of how executives really
thought about Facebook. It basically said, “Bad things will
happen on our platform. People will get bullied, people will
get hurt, but it’s OK because we have this larger goal.” To
me, that’s just not right. We should make sure that people
aren’t harmed by our service because we want to grow and
expand. This growth-at-all-costs manifesto pervaded
everything in the company. There was a product where we would
help businesses scan latent Bluetooth signals so that if a
consumer came in, the business owner would pick up their
signals on their own phones, and we would know where they
were. We were asking business owners to help us track their
customers without being upfront about our tactics to either
them or our users.

Inside Google’s Team Fighting to Keep Your Data Safe
From Hackers ($)

Robert McMillan profiles Google’s Threat Analysis Group and its
leader, Shane Huntley. It’s an in-house counter-espionage group
responsible for unearthing all manner of nefarious
state-sponsored activity:

Last summer, Mr. Huntley’s team stopped an allegedly
Iranian-backed disinformation campaign by pulling dozens of
YouTube channels that were using fake accounts to push
misleading political stories primarily about the Middle East.
Disinformation, especially around elections, is a new focus
for Mr. Huntley’s team.

The 27-person team tracks more than 200 hacker groups that
pose a threat to Google and its users, analyzing hacking
techniques and clues to the groups’ identities to head off
attacks. It leverages access to data across widely used
Google products like Gmail, with more than 1.5 billion
accounts world-wide, and to a database of attack code called
VirusTotal managed by another arm of Google-parent Alphabet

YouTube Is Still Struggling To Rein In Its
Recommendation Algorithm

Caroline O’Donovan and Charlie Warzel test YouTube’s rabbit
holes to see how quickly the algorithm nudges them from normal
videos to radicalizing trash. The distance is … not far:

Between January 7 and January 9, 2019, BuzzFeed News ran
queries on the day’s most popular Google trending terms as
well as major news stories, including Donald Trump’s
primetime address on the border wall and the swearing in of
the new members of the 116th Congress.

One query BuzzFeed News ran on the term “impeach the mother”
— a reference to a
remark by a newly sworn-in member of Congress
President Trump — highlighted Up Next’s ability to quickly
jump to partisan content. The initial result for “impeach the
mother” was a CNN clip of a White House press conference,
after which YouTube Up Next recommended two more CNN videos
in a row. From there, YouTube’s recommendations led to three
more generic Trump press conference videos. At the sixth
recommended video, the query veered unexpectedly into
partisan territory with a clip from the conservative site
Newsmax titled “Bill O’Reilly Explains Why Nancy Pelosi Will
Fail as House Leader.” From there, the subsequent clips
YouTube recommended escalated from Newsmax to increasingly
partisan channels like YAFTV, pro-Trump media pundit Dinesh
D’Souza’s channel, and finally channels like True Liberty and

Twitter bans, then restores, Beto O’Rourke parody

It can be very hard for a social network to determine what is
an allowable, good-natured parody and what is sinister
misinformation. I’m sympathetic to Twitter here:

In most circumstances, parody accounts do not violate the
rules so long as there is a disclosure in the bio or in the
user name stating that the account does not belong to the
person it’s satirizing. @BetosBlog’s bio read, “On the road
of life,” and nothing else to identify whether it was a
parody account.

#BuildTheWall data visualizations & high-volume
influencer networks

Erin Gallagher has some nice data visualizations of high-volume
Twitter accounts propping up various pro-Trump hashtags during
the government shutdown.


How a Vermont social network became a model for online

Make time for this one: My colleague Andrew Liptak profiles the
Vermont social network Front Porch Forum, which has become a
useful online community for the state while remaining
resolutely focused on local communities. Jack Dorsey (re)tweeted
a link to it:

Front Porch Forum had come to Moretown just months before,
but the site had spread throughout much of the state, town by
town, since it was founded in 2000 in Burlington. The site
looks like a relic from another era; its website is clean and
minimal, without the pictures, reaction buttons or comment
fields that most social platforms have implemented today.
Users register using their real name and address, and gain
access to the forum for their town or neighborhood. This
network of 185 forums covers each town in Vermont, as well as
a handful in neighboring New York and New Hampshire. While
most towns possess their own forum, the more populated areas
of the state, such as the cities of Burlington and
Montpelier, are split up into more manageable districts.
During normal times, people might use it to alert their
neighbors about everything from
runaway Roombas
to notices about garage sales or public
meetings. But in a pinch, it proved essential when it came to
coordinating disaster relief.

Trapped in a hoax: survivors of conspiracy theories
speak out

Ed Pilkington talks with people who have been targeted by
conspiracy theorists, such as this man, who was falsely accused
of being the Parkland shooter on 4chan:

From there, Alex Jones’s conspiracy theory site, Infowars,
leapt into the fray. Its “reporter” lifted Fontaine’s photo
directly from 4chan and, without any attempt at verification,
ran with it on the front page. “Shooter is a commie. Alleged
photo of the suspect shows communist garb,” the outlet
screamed. The false rumor quickly spread from Miami to

Fontaine was horrified. “I knew a lot about the Alex Jones
fanbase – that they were radical extremists who believe every
word he says, and that a lot of them hold firearms. I knew my
life was at risk.”

Twitter account that amplified Covington Catholic D.C.
march video appears linked to California teacher

The Covington Catholic story gained traction thanks to an early
viral tweet from a Twitter account that some speculated might
belong to a foreign agent. But the account appears to belong to
a woman who may have used banned automation methods to promote
her tweets in the hopes of becoming an influencer, Brandy
Zadrozny reports:

The account, which had over 41,000 followers, was run by a
woman who identified herself as “Talia” and used a fake
profile photo, belonging to a Brazilian blogger and model.
Talia tweeted criticism of President Donald Trump and also
used the account to sell teaching materials.

Facebook is shutting down its Moments app

Moments has been abandonware for years now, which surprised me:
you’d think Facebook would be motivated to hoover up as many of
its users’ personal photos as possible, if only for the purpose
of training machine-vision systems. Anyway it’s going to be
officially dead soon, Rich Nieva reports:

“We’re ending support for the Moments app, which we
originally launched as a place for people to save their
photos,” Rushabh Doshi, director of product management for
Moments, said in a statement. “We know the photos people
share are important to them so we will continue offering ways
to save memories within the Facebook app.”

Facebook said it wants to let people retrieve their photos
from the app before it’s killed. Here’s how to do that:
Starting Thursday, people will be able to go to a
website Facebook has set up
, where they can go through
their photos and export them either to their computers or the
camera rolls on their phones. That option will be available
until May.

Facebook ‘sorry’ for distressing suicide posts on

The BBC reports that it was able to easily find content related
to self-harm on Instagram, where it is supposed to be banned.
One family reports that their daughter followed several
self-harm related accounts before committing suicide. Facebook

“If it’s there to sensationalise and glamourise, of course it
has no place on our platform, it shouldn’t be on our
platform. And if we need to work harder to make sure it isn’t
on our platform then we certainly will.”

Instagram “troll” charged with taunting and threatening
the families of Parkland shooting victims

Adi Robertson reports that Brandon Fleury has been charged with
using Instagram to impersonate the killer in last year’s attack
on a school in Parkland, Florida, taunting the friends and
family of students who died in the shooting:

Fleury had apparently chosen people with large social media
followings or ones involved in political activism, attempting
to gain notoriety from the harassment. (Guttenberg’s father
is a prominent gun control advocate.) The affidavit says that
Fleury “did not show remorse for posting the comments but
explained that he would not follow through on the threats he

Instagram Meme Accounts Are Pretty Now

Taylor Lorenz explores Instagram as if it were a giant mansion
full of hidden chambers, just waiting for someone to stumble
across an entrance barely visible on the Explore page. Today
she tells us about TEEN MEME-AND-THEME accounts, which is so
much fun to say out loud:

At first glance, a meme-and-theme page looks a lot like a
aesthetics account
, a type of page dedicated to posting
on a
single color scheme or theme
, like a digital
mood board
. Themes rotate frequently, but can be
something as simple as all
color-washed photos
pictures, or any set of images that are
visually similar. Administrators find the pictures on the
image-sharing service We Heart It or through Google image
searches. Many teens follow a set of aesthetics accounts that
post photos related to their interest or the season: fall
themes to get excited for Halloween, or Christmas themes for
the holiday season.

But teenagers also love memes, and meme-and-theme pages merge
these two genres
into one
. While a meme-and-theme page looks like an
aesthetics account, below the surface it’s teeming with
memes. Like
thread accounts
, meme-and-theme pages take advantage of
feature: Administrators keep their grids
looking pretty by uploading on-theme photos as the first post
in each carousel. But when a user swipes left, a series of
memes is revealed.

Instagram get hacked? Good luck getting it

You could write this story at any time about any tech platform
and it would be true. But in a world where people feel so
closely tied to their social accounts, it feels insane that
account recovery is still largely a prayer-based enterprise.
Karissa Bell:

What Instagram doesn’t say is that account remediation (the
company’s official term for reuniting hacking victims with
lost accounts) can take weeks or months to resolve, and some
users are never able to regain access to their accounts.

In a tweet, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri told Mashable: “This
is definitely an area we need to do better, and we’re
currently working on making it easier for people to get their
accounts back.”

HQ Trivia will run some games without cash

HQ is playing around with other ways for players to win,
including a way to accumulate points over time:

There will continue to be games with cash rewards, says
Brandon Teitel, SVP of programming and partnerships at HQ.
The company recently began dividing the almost month-long
runs of the show into seasons, and Teitel says the season
that began on Monday — season two — will give away more cash
than the last.

Players will also be able to compete for points over the
course of a season. “We look at it as another way to win HQ,”
Teitel says. “I think a lot of people traditionally have
thought it’s really hard to win HQ, and it is. Not everyone
is going to win the game, but getting credit for the
questions that you got right feels really good.”


Twitter testing ‘Original Tweeter’ tag to distinguish
who started a thread

Here’s a feature that feels inspired by something similar on
Reddit. It’s … fine? Most of the threads I read aren’t very
long and don’t generate much confusion about who started them.
It might be useful in longer threads featuring lesser-known
tweeters, though.

WhatsApp Business adds quick replies, filtering, and
labels to desktop and web apps

Business features of WhatsApp have migrated from the mobile app
to the desktop, Aatif Sumar reports:

WhatsApp also dropped a new statistic: over 5M small
businesses now use the app regularly (larger organizations
use the
Business API
). In many parts of the developing world,
WhatsApp has been a boon for facilitating commerce. From lead
generation and promotion to after-sales service and
collection, WhatsApp has served as a CRM and customer-facing
website rolled into one — there are even
dedicated to making selling over WhatsApp
easier. All this means we should expect new features to keep
making their way to the app, and in my opinion,
of WhatsApp Business seems like a much
better option than adding
to the largely-unused Status section.


The Facts About Facebook ($)

Here Mark Zuckerberg offers the extended dance remix of
“Senator, we sell ads.”

I believe everyone should have a voice and be able to
connect. If we’re committed to serving everyone, then we need
a service that is affordable to everyone. The best way to do
that is to offer services for free, which ads enable us to

I Cut Facebook Out of My Life. I Missed It

Kashmir Hill got rid of Facebook for a while and she missed it
so much!

It’s the proverbial double-edged sword: I feel both out of
touch when not on these channels, but like I’m worse at being
in touch because they exist.

Funnily enough, reading a draft of this story convinces one
of my editors, who has never had Facebook or Instagram, to
join the latter because he realizes he doesn’t have a way to
show cool things “to a bunch of people I know at the same
time without texting them [when] they’re not really worth
texting over.”

Never Tweet

Farhad Manjoo’s column on whether most people — or especially
the media — should spend much time on Twitter generated a lot
of discussion on Twitter, as you might expect. (One thing it
disconuts too heavily, in my opinion: Twitter is often very
entertaining!) I can’t imagine writing this newsletter without
Twitter, but this characterization of its current incarnation
feels basically right to me:

But Twitter is not that carefree clubhouse for journalism
anymore. Instead it is
the epicenter of a nonstop information war
, an
almost comically undermanaged
gladiatorial arena where
activists and disinformation artists and politicians and
marketers gather to target and influence the wider media

The FTC’s Facebook fine should target Mark Zuckerberg
and other executives.

Almost any fine against the company would be a slap on the
wrist, April Glaser argues — unless regulators get creative.

And finally …

‘The Other Two’ and the Reality of Internet-Famous

Do you ever wake up in a cold sweat that someone you’re dating
is famous on Instagram? Because I am going to, now:

It got to the point where I was like: Okay so I’m going
to mute you on Instagram; I want to see you at the end of day
and not really know that you know you were emotional over
this and over that.
At first she was very okay with
that. And then as it got further into the relationship she
said listen, I think I should be with someone that’s
encouraging me to put content out.
And I was like:
well, that’s not me. There’s videos of her at 4
o’clock in the morning eating a hamburger dancing to the
music and thinking you know why, what are you doing?

After we broke up, all my friends would start sending me her
stories like a dude did you see this today. After we broke up
I was in her story, she said “oh I just went through a mini
breakup” and that was an absolute nightmare.

If my next breakup is featured in an Instagram story I am
calling the police!

Talk to me

Send me tips, comments, questions, and your secret NLRB
lobbying documents:

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