Jun 28, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

A picture is worth a thousand words, which means that I really could have just added one more picture and skipped the 990 words (< 4 minute read) I used writing today's Login.

1 big thing: Concerns over Facebook contractors

Content moderators work at a Facebook office in Austin, Texas. Photo: Ilana Panich-Linsman for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Reports of poor working conditions at Facebook contract facilities are casting a fresh spotlight on Silicon Valley's longstanding yet risky reliance on a two-tiered workforce, Axios' Scott Rosenberg reports.

Driving the news: Contract workers issued a letter on an internal forum Thursday calling for better pay and changes to non-disclosure agreements to ensure they can talk to outside therapists about issues they encounter at work. And those protests have been building for a while.

Details:

  • A Facebook contractor in Austin recently lost his job after protesting working conditions, according to The Washington Post.
  • In a story by Casey Newton in The Verge, former workers at Facebook's Tampa content moderation center, operated by subcontractor Cognizant, described filthy working conditions, long shifts involving exposure to graphic and violent content, indifferent management and other problems.
  • When one worker died from a heart attack at his workstation, managers discouraged coworkers from discussing what happened, according to The Verge.
  • Newton previously documented poor working conditions at a site in Phoenix, and Adrian Chen wrote in Wired about content moderators in the Philippines.

The big picture: It's common for tech companies to rely on a large army of contractors for work that's unglamorous or unrelated to their core focus.

  • But some experts are beginning to suggest that Facebook made a strategic error in thinking of content moderation as a marginal or ancillary task.
  • Given Facebook's core business of connecting people and giving them a communications platform, policing the platform might be one of the most important jobs in the company.

And while every dominant tech company relies on contractors, they've also all run into problems. Microsoft lost a major case brought by contractors in the '90s, and Google has faced challenges more recently over its two-tiered system.

Where it stands: Facebook execs told The Verge that a variety of reforms are underway to improve the environment for its content moderators, who must view a stream of disturbing postings and make tough judgment calls relying on a constantly changing rulebook.

Our thought bubble: CEO Mark Zuckerberg has frequently said Facebook intends to develop artificial intelligence filters to perform this function at the vast scale Facebook needs.

  • But if AI ever gets good enough to do that well, it will take a long time.
  • Meanwhile, Facebook is putting its users at risk and its contract workers through hell.
2. The end of the Jony Ive era at Apple

Longtime Apple design chief Jonathan Ive, right, with Tim Cook. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Jony Ive won't be completely going away from Apple when he ceases being an employee later this year. And his role in product design had already been on the wane for some time.

Still, his exit is a big deal.

Why it matters: Ive has had a hand in all of the company's most iconic products of the last two decades, including the iMac, iPod and iPhone. He is also the strongest remaining tie to the Steve Jobs era of product design.

Yes, Apple has a kitchen table full of talented designers, but none with Ive's clout or history — as evidenced by the fact design duties are being split among two executives who will report not to CEO Tim Cook, but to COO Jeff Williams.

What they're saying: Opinions ranged from those predicting doom to those who suggested that Ive really hasn't had a big direct impact on Apple's products since shifting roles in 2015. Here are some other voices...

  • Loup Ventures' Gene Munster and Andrew Murphy: "After Steve Jobs's death in 2011, no single person could fill his shoes. They were filled by Tim Cook's business leadership and Jony Ive's design leadership. Since then, Jony has instilled Steve's design-first thinking in his entire team — and the entire company. He will be missed, but Apple's core competency in the area won't suffer due to his departure."
  • Motherboard's Jason Koebler: "He leaves a legacy of pushing its products toward disposability and unrepairability, a choice that has reverberated across the consumer electronics industry."
3. Twitter's plan for rule-breaking politicians

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Twitter announced Thursday that it will add warning screens to tweets that violate the platform's rules but that aren't being taken down because the service determines they are "a matter of public interest."

What's new:

  • According to a Twitter blog post, the warning screens will only apply to verified governmental officials or candidates with more than 100,000 followers.
  • Twitter says it won't add the flag to past tweets and expects to use the feature rarely.
  • The flag could limit the distribution of some politicians tweets, but will likely fuel debates on whether those politicians are being "censored."
  • A warning notice will temporarily cover the tweets in question, much like existing warnings for graphic content, and will require users to physically click "view." Posts with the flag will also see less algorithmic promotion by Twitter and won't be included in users' recommendations or feed when viewing by "top tweets."

What we're hearing: I asked followers on Twitter to share their thoughts on the move. Here are some of those reactions...

  • Chris Malby-Tynan: "I think this is ridiculous. Everyone should be held to the same standards, regardless of their race, creed, religion or profession."
  • Dustin Alin: "It's something but not enough. Abuse is abuse and should not be tolerated on the platform. Also, I don't have faith that they will apply this to Trump."
  • Liz Weeks: "This is almost certainly Trump-specific. Rules tailored to one use case often apply badly across all other use cases. Twitter needs better general rules, not more specific ones."

Go deeper: How Jack Dorsey plans to change Twitter

4. "No one is making money in esports"

There were plenty of interesting tidbits at the Players Technology Summit that Bloomberg hosted on Thursday.

Details: The event was packed with NBA players and professional investors. But one of the more interesting insights came from Yvette Martinez-Rea, CEO of esports company ESL North America.

"No one is making money in e-sports," she said. "Yet."

Between the lines: This has some in the industry worried about a bubble, Axios' Kendall Baker wrote earlier this week.

  • Still, Martinez-Rea said the fact that there are millions of fans willing to pack stadiums around the globe to watch professional video gamers has plenty of companies willing to invest.
5. Take Note

On Tap

Trading Places

  • In addition to announcing Ive's planned exit (see story above), Apple said it's promoting 24-year company veteran Sabih Khan to be SVP of operations.

ICYMI

  • People and companies are forking over big bucks to "reputation consultants" who help bury content they would rather not show up in search results. (BuzzFeed)
  • Creators of DeepNude have pulled the app, which turned photos of clothed women into nude pictures. (CNET)
6. After you Login

I think we all need to hear Cookie Monster singing "Take me out to the ball game."

Ina Fried