Empowering Tech Workers

On October 5th 2021, many of us who care about Big Tech’s impact on our lives watched as the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen sat in the US Senate Commerce Committee hearing room. She explained what she described as a “frightening truth” to our nation’s most powerful lawmakers. News spread all over the world, raising the public’s attention to the global debate about one of the most powerful companies of our time: Facebook

Frances didn’t start out as a whistleblower. In fact, she worked for several Big Tech companies. But she saw a “frightening truth” that the company she worked for was not only causing harm, it knew it was causing harm and wasn’t doing enough –or anything, really—to change. Frances was the latest in a recent line of tech whistleblowers –often young women, who came forward to reveal wrongdoing. Sophie Zhang, Dr. Timnit Gebru, Ifeoma Ozoma, and many more are challenging the power of corporations and holding them accountable for their damaging impact on the public.

The Signals Network (TSN) launched its Tech Accountability Project in 2021 to support these brave whistleblowers. Originally founded in 2017, TSN supports whistleblowers and facilitates international media investigations focused on corporate misconduct and human rights abuses. We connect whistleblowers with pro-bono legal support, help in job searches for those who have left their companies, and even provide temporary safe housing in cases where someone’s life is in danger.

The Tech Accountability Project (TAP), a partnership between The Signals Network and Amnesty International, represents a new chapter for our work. In this Big Tech industry with unprecedented power, it is crucial to not just support those already speaking out, but proactively empower workers at all levels of these companies. This started with drafting the legal section of the Tech Worker Handbook, and continues with our collaborations to update and create new tech worker resources on collective action; working with Congress; content moderation; gig working, and others. We see it as especially important to redistribute power to workers from communities who have historically held less power since they are not only discriminated against and often left out of the insular decision making process but are also the ones who recognize how these technologies and practices will affect people like them. In light of this, we are working to build relationships with workers and organizers from these communities to see how we can support their work and increase our collective impact.

With this mission in mind, TAP consists of four key steps:

  1. Empower tech workers and allies of tech workers through geographical and sector specific information on their rights and best practices.
  2. Support whistleblowers who have shared public interest information with the press and conscientious objectors through legal counsel, psychological counsel, safe-housing, press, and career support.
  3. Coordinate media outlets across countries to collectively investigate wrongdoing committed by powerful interests in the tech industry.
  4. Advocate for greater overall tech accountability through partnerships with coalitions of agencies, activists, and associations.

While The Signals Network is uniquely suited to support those who speak out against current power structures, we fully believe our work exists in an ecosystem of dedicated people and organizations working in the same direction and we want to contribute to solidarity in the mission.

So, join us. Reach out. We are happy to partner with all sorts of stakeholders.

  1. Tech workers: Share your questions and concerns securely. We can help you get answers on speaking out and your questions will help inform our resources.
  2. Tech Organizers: Work with us to organize events and create resources to support your movement.
  3. Journalists: Refer sources in tech to us so they may receive legal, psychological and other support. Also, come join our network of journalists to coordinate stories based on whistleblower revelations.
  4. Lawyers: Support whistleblowers in need and join our community of legal experts.
  5. Civil society: Coordinate campaigns with TSN to message our network, work with media, develop products, and other actions.
  6. Donors: Fund TSN’s support for people who risk everything to protect the public interest.

In her recent testimony on Artificial Intelligence in front of the European Parliament, AI scientist Dr. Timnit Gebru used her opening statement not to suggest regulation around technical or transparency specifications, but to give voice to the need for worker power.

“If we want to reduce the harms of AI,” she said, “we need to increase worker power and curb the power that these multinational organizations have. That’s the only way we can have checks and balances.” – Dr. Timnit Gebru

Never before has the technology controlling and managing our humanity been so concentrated in the hands of so few. 2022 will be a crucial year for those of us in this fight. With employees speaking out more frequently, worker organizing rising, and regulation taking form across continents, we have a real opportunity to make a difference. We seek to empower those who develop the technology and speak out about wrongdoing, at all levels of their organization, to raise their voices and hold power accountable.

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