Nov 2023: Our thoughts on the OpenAI palace intrigue

Last month’s drama around Sam Altman, OpenAI’s non-profit governance, and the palace intrigue within its walls, speaks to the enormously high stakes being played out behind closed doors in Silicon Valley and Redmond.

Despite all the reporting, we know almost nothing about who is doing what and how in the Big Tech generative AI companies. Despite the potential consequences – both good and bad – there is almost no transparency. The public is not aware of what is going on.

Just weeks ago, AI safety, accountability and transparency looked promising. After months of inaction, policymakers around the world raced to regulate. The White House issued an executive order, and the U.K. hosted the world’s first major global summit on AI safety. Meanwhile, the E.U. has been ironing out its AI Act.

While welcomed, these efforts are missing a key ingredient to effective AI regulation: internal checks and balances that allow workers to safely blow the whistle when they witness wrongdoing or potential harm.

It’s a rule of accountability: Real change doesn’t happen until an insider comes forward and reveals the truth.

Consider, for example, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen who, in 2021, exposed how the social media giant downplayed the harms its products caused, including worsening body image issues among teenagers and rampant misinformation worldwide. Haugen’s disclosures prompted public outrage, government investigations and increased pressure on lawmakers to act.

In 2022, former Uber executive Mark MacGann leaked a trove of documents showing how the company muscled its way into markets and lobbied governments around the world to the detriment of drivers’ rights and physical safety. His revelations sparked protests and inquiries worldwide, and MacGann has since testified to lawmakers in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the European Parliament.

It is not ideal that we need to rely on courageous insiders to help hold power to account. But time and time again, it was necessary. If we really want to know what’s happening at OpenAI or any of the major AI companies, we need to strengthen the power and potency of whistleblowers. We all benefit from the light they shine when they do.


Speaking out safely

At The Signals Network, we work every day to help people feel safe to speak out about wrongdoing. Earlier this fall, we added U.K. and Ireland tech worker guides to the already published U.S. guide. This series of guides provides legal, security and communications information for those considering coming forward. If you haven’t already, please share the guides with your networks.


The courage to speak truth to power


In our latest video, we explore what it’s like to be a whistleblower.

Behind each revelation is a human being. In their words, they tell us why they risked everything to come forward. They also tell us about the legal peril, personal trauma and other challenges they faced after speaking out.

50 years of whistleblowing


Who can you trust these days? Unfortunately, government and industry malfeasance has eroded trust. In many cases, the only way we learn the truth is through courageous whistleblowers who step out of their government or industry role to help us know the facts and build pressure to change for the public good.

In early November, we released a video highlighting some of the whistleblowers who’ve changed the world for the better over the past 50 years, from governments to tobacco companies, Big Tech and health insurance providers.

Whistleblower news roundup

Whistleblower News

  • Sam Lebovic examines Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Daniel Ellsberg and “the myth of the lone whistleblower” for The Boston Globe.
  • Sarah Basford Canales for The Guardian: “War crimes whistleblower” David McBride reveals why he went to the media.
  • Cyprus Confidential, ICIJ’s latest global investigation via a data leak, reveals how Cypriot financial enablers helped Russian oligarchs and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allies shield their assets and avoid Western sanctions.
  • Wirecard whistleblower Pav Gill argues in Retail Banker International whistleblower programs are “essential tools in exposing and preventing financial misconduct, thereby ensuring corporate accountability.”
  • Patrick Svitek for The Texas Tribune: After a judge allowed their three-year-old lawsuit to proceed, whistleblowers have asked to order Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his aides to sit for depositions.
  • Leo Shane III for Military Times: U.S. Veterans Affairs officials promised a full investigation into the operations of their suicide prevention hotline a day after whistleblowers told Congress that some unstable callers may be getting ignored or lost in the system.
  • Wilson Criscione for InvestigateWest: How an Idaho children’s facility got away with firing whistleblowers of child abuse.

P.S. … Do you have a friend or colleague who is interested in holding power to account? Help us grow our mailing list! They can sign up for our newsletter here.


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