4 Crazed Ways Tech Companies Made People's Lives Hell
We're forever hearing about tech companies doing shitty things. These qualms generally fall into one of two categories: not paying their workers a decent wage, or giving a platform to white supremacists.
Then there are these boneheads, who make all of the bleakest 1980s dystopian cyberpunk look like modern society's vision board ...
Neighborhood Watch Apps Are Hotbeds of Racial Profiling
The world is a scary place right now, and just as smart surveillance systems like Ring have become vogue in the 'burbs, so too have community apps like Neighbors and NextDoor. They allow neighbors to share local knowledge, arrange events like BBQs, or, uh, vent their racial biases in broad daylight?
As journalists have noted, while these apps were ideally designed to let neighbors bring civic engagement into the future, they just slapped a coat of fresh paint on shitty old thinking. Instead of helping people find their lost dog/Frisbee/nana, residents have chosen to freak out whenever a person of color even so much as looks at their property. As one woman recalled to Splinter, she was waiting for some friends to come over when their neighborhood watch group started blowing up about a group of "suspicious" men lingering in their street, looking in locked cars, and checking out houses. Confused, she checked outside ... and found that everyone was making crap up about her friends, who they apparently thought were here to kick off that "race war" your weird uncle keeps talking about on Facebook.
In another case, when Motherboard reviewed a random selection of 100 posts about "suspicious" characters filed within a five-mile radius of their offices, they found that the majority were cybersnitching on people of color. This included a group of six "gang members" who someone recorded on video "going to the roof" to "smoke crack." You know what the video actually shows? Six young people just walking up a flight of stairs. There was nothing to suggest drug or gang activity, but you can't be too careful with "gang members," huh?
While it's possible the people making these posts aren't being consciously racist, that doesn't matter. In replies, other users will often urge the person freaking out to call the police "just to be safe." A concept that can and has ended with people of color getting shot for no reason other than them making a white busybody feel uncomfortable.
WeWork Poisoned Its Tenants For Months
In 2019, WeWork, aka: "the Uber of Offices," imploded as a result of having the worst CEO in the entire world.
Before that, the company was flying high thanks to successfully launching a line of custom-made phone booths placed in offices all across the country. The concept was for them to serve as places where people renting space from WeWork could take important/sensitive calls without random strangers listening in. Though if you're renting a WeWork, you have to expect these things, and need to also realize that no matter how much you want it to be true, no one gives a damn about stealing your app idea.
Soon after launching these booths, however, residents of a WeWork in New Jersey started complaining that they had an odd smell. After ruling out the smell being New Jersey itself, WeWork had the booth tested. They found that it was saturated in formaldehyde, an industrial chemical that, in short-term doses, can cause respiratory damage, and in long-term doses can cause goddamn cancer.
On learning about this problem, the company launched into action. After learning about the issue in August and (correctly) figuring that it affected the 2,300 booths they'd distributed across the country, they rushed to ... inaction. It took them until October, THREE MONTHS later, to warn officer workers not to use the booths -- during which time, residents continued to hit them up multiple times a day.
While WeWork eventually got around to removing the booths in November, it's still a mystery how the company, Premier XD, contracted to make them managed to screw up so badly. And they aren't likely to ever find out, as Premier XD closed up shop in September.
Uber Created Separate Bathrooms for "Drivers" and "Employees"
Despite their entire business model relying on them, Uber's drivers aren't "employees." They're classified as "independent contractors," a nifty bit of legalese that allows them to get away with not giving their drivers things like benefits. They're apparently so anti-driver that at an Uber driver service facility (read: office) in Rhode Island, drivers who needed to pee couldn't use the bathroom labeled "employees." No, no, no, they had to use the bathroom labeled "drivers" because what's the point in having thinly-veiled contempt for your workforce if you don't let them know over the most minuscule bullshit?
When asked about their bathroom bullying, Uber apologized and said that this was the work of a rogue office whose actions were "totally unacceptable" and "not appropriate." Presumably, they meant "unacceptable" that they said the quiet part out loud because not a few weeks later, it was revealed that this exact same arrangement was common practice at a Uber facility in LA, with Porta Potties.
Tesla Harassed, Defamed a Whistleblower
In the last few years, Tesla has had ... issues, to put it lightly. There's the faulty vehicles, the whole thing with their stocks, and of course, the neverending slew of reports about how Tesla's factories are employee danger-zones. It's the sort of environment that breeds whistleblowers, but if any employee does decide to betray Elon Musk, oh boy, is their life going to start to suck.
In June 2018, Business Insider reported that due to some managerial screw ups, the company's battery manufacturing facility, codenamed (ugh), the "Gigafactory," had been forced to scrap nearly half its raw materials. It was a move that cost the company a cool $150 million, a figure that came courtesy of an "unnamed source" inside Tesla. The company denied the report, and the world moved on because who gives a shit about batteries when there's Avengers: Infinity War to watch?
Elon Musk. Elon Musk gave a shit. More specifically, he gave a shit not about batteries, but about who leaked that figure -- about a story that, according to Tesla, um, didn't happen -- to the press.
After consulting his cadre of shady private investigators, Musk hired two security professionals to hunt down the whistleblower and put the squeeze on them. They didn't have to work very hard, though. When the duo consulted the company's security logs, only one employee had recently accessed the data necessary to come up with that number. That employee was Martin Tripp -- an assembly line worker who had written to Musk several times complaining about how the Gigafactory (ugghh) was a messy goddamn nightmare. To his credit, Tripp didn't deny his whistleblowing and wholly admitted it. He was subsequently fired (duh), and the world went back to normal because who gives a shit that hard? Elon Musk.
Soon enough, Musk started spreading conspiracies about how Tripp had shared the data not just with BI, but with, "Unknown third parties want Tesla to die." (Where do we sign up?) Musk then sued Tripp for $167 million, alleging that he'd stolen trade secrets by leaking that data, which was a straight-up lie because it's no secret that Musk is a lousy manager. The lawsuit was filed, and the world went back to normal because who gives a shi-- Elon Musk; okay, the answer to this question is always Elon Musk.
On the day Tesla publicly announced they were suing Tripp, Tripp was contacted by his local sheriff's department. Why? Because someone at Tesla had issued a BOLO warning workers and local residents that Tripp was armed, dangerous, and about to shoot up the Gigafactory.
Later that day, when police picked up Tripp, he was sobbing, depressed, and very much unarmed. The sheriff tossed out the tip figuring that someone, somewhere had gotten their wires crossed, and contacted Tesla to give them the 4-1-1. Regardless, Tesla started telling journalists how they, "Received a phone call telling us that Mr. Tripp would be coming to the Gigafactory to 'shoot the place up,'" despite that being provably untrue.
In a completely unrelated tangent, this is precisely how swatting works -- which, if you don't know, is when assholes call in police reports about people they don't like in the hope that when the SWAT team bursts through their door. Hence, "swatted." We just thought that was interesting. Words are fun!
After his ordeal, Tripp not only sued Tesla alleging slander but also filed a formal whistleblower complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission over his actions and his subsequent harassment by Musk and Tesla. On the plus side, though, at least he didn't get called a "pedo." Is that a win? It feels like it, although it probably shouldn't.
Top image: Steve Jurvetson/flickr