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The Tech Worker Handbook (techworkerhandbook.org)
333 points by giuliomagnifico 3 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 101 comments

> The Signals Network, the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that compiled these legal considerations, is one of these actors. The Signals Network enables whistleblowers and international journalists to work seamlessly together to hold powerful interests accountable

A word of advice: Don't get your legal advice from the same journalists that want to use your story, and maybe also your name, to further their own career.

There's an inherent conflict of interest between someone who wants to use your leak to further their own agenda (be it activism or simply writing a juicy news story) and your own interests as someone with potentially massive legal liability. When the legal wheels start turning, it's not the journalist who is putting their finances and freedom at risk. It's the employee.

Leaking company documents or even violating NDAs you signed as part of your employment should not be taken lightly, no matter how friendly sites like this make it sound. Always engage with legal representation that is not affiliated with the journalists who want your story. Never let a friendly journalist talk you into divulging information that could expose you until you've worked through the legal ramifications, no matter how much they encourage you to push forward.

To be fair, some have said this leaker from Facebook is quite vulnerable to being sued or even prosecuted and are probably wondering why Facebook is not taking legal action against her. The most obvious guess is that she is effectively protected by the press that Facebook is receiving at the moment. Without that publicity, i.e., the help of "conflicted" journalists, her legal arguments for protection seem rather weak.

The Senate subcommittee also made quite clear that they'd be protecting Haugen against any legal, or other, threats, in yesterday's testimony.

How substantive that promise is I'm not sure, but i was made and is part of the record.

I strongly encourage listening if you have the time. Excellent information and discussion.


According to WSJ, her NDA permits disclosure to Congress, regulatory bodies like the SEC, and law enforcement. The disclosure to the press (the public) however is a different question.

Transcript as alternative to YouTube


Thanks very much for the transcript.

Relevant quote (mangled grammar in original):

We will do anything and everthing to protect and stop any retaliation against you in any legal action the company may bring or anyone else, with that made very clear in the course of these proceedings.

At the 1:35 a.m. timestamp.


I imagine they might haul Zuckerberg before the committee and spend a few hours asking him variations on "Why are you retaliating against Haugen?"

Yeah. The promise of protection would ring less hollow if it were made by the executive branch (and even then, that kind of promise often lasts until the next administration...).

How likely is it that Congress or any regulatory body would be asking for whistleblowers if none ever talked to the press?

Press is the fourth estate, even if news as a profit center has tainted their motives of late.

I think she didn't leak novelties. Most of it is common sense or already known.

She is protected by the Democrats who want to install Internet censors at strategic corporations. Then the Democrats control all mainstream media and the mainstream web.

The big actual problem is of course massive data collection on everyone. That should be addressed, but won't, because the swamp needs the data.

Do you honestly view this as a partisan effort? There’s definitely a bipartisan interest in reining in “Big Tech,” though the rationales differ.

When a corporation begins to infringe on a government’s ability to manage its citizens you can be sure that there will be a concerted effort to limit those efforts.

This seems pretty fluffy. I read through the "Legal Handbook" and it doesn't seem as much like a handbook as it does a long article about what it's like to be a whistleblower, along with some very high level stuff about what it's like to engage a lawyer.

Like, a really basic thing here is that the legal advice starts by asking people to evaluate whether the misconduct they're thinking about violates laws. But it provides little guidance on what those laws might be. Obviously, they'd say that the first step here is to retain counsel. But that's an expensive and difficult first step, and more workers will need to qualify what they're observing carefully before taking that step.

Did anyone else read this more closely and reach a different conclusion?

The security stuff seems especially weak. Like, basic things you'd want to see headlined are the types of corpsec measures that large tech companies have deployed to trace leaks, and what they're likely to find if they image all the devices your contract with them allows them to image.

A much more fundamental problem I have with this "handbook" is that it seems geared towards getting people to leak things to the press and regulators. But that's not the limit of what tech workers can do to respond; a simple thing that the handbook doesn't talk much about is "when to quit", let alone when and how to engage in concerted action with other team members, and what the risks/benefits of that are.

> I read through the "Legal Handbook" and it doesn't seem as much like a handbook as it does a long article about what it's like to be a whistleblower, along with some very high level stuff about what it's like to engage a lawyer.

I looked through the "Media Handbook" and had the same conclusion: The advice doesn't really seem to be written with the tech worker's best interests in mind. It's more of an advertisement for journalists to collect stories.

The Media section reads like a promotional piece for a media platform called Lioness ( https://www.lioness.co/ ) and its founders. Instead of providing actionable advice about how employees should protect themselves, it mostly glorifies past whistleblowers and encourages the reader to do the same.

A truly worker-focused handbook would begin with a long section about whether or not going to the media is a good idea as well as propose some anonymous alternatives. Traditional whistleblowing may not involve the media at all, especially when government intervention (and the resulting rewards if fines are collected) are at stake. Encouraging employees to go straight to the media is reckless, IMO. There is a time and place for whistleblowing, but this is clearly written as a feeder publication for journalists.

The more I read this website, the more it feels like a promotional piece for the authors and their budding media outlets than an actual advice book for workers.

> a simple thing that the handbook doesn't talk much about is "when to quit", let alone when and how to engage in concerted action with other team members, and what the risks/benefits of that are.

That may be because often trotted out as a convenient solution to any sort of wrongdoing by a lot of privileged people who themselves have their pick of jobs in US companies.

It's a convenient null hypothesis that could be the substitute for any remedy in this guide. Harassed by your boss? Quit. Company you work for is engaging in wildly illegal stuff? Quit. Facing racism? You guessed it.

That's not to say that quitting is not a convenient and probably the easiest option for a lot of people. I have used it myself. It's just not the one this guide is meant for.

So I think that asking for a "when to quit" part of this guide would be like asking for a "when to know you should just give up and buy a new car" section in a car repair manual [1]. But if you want a lot of people to be good at repairing cars, I would hazard that including a "when to quit and just buy a new car" section wouldn't be high on your list of things to add.

As for the concerted action bit, I have to agree - adding them would be good. My guess is that it would be unionization lite, and those are a non-starter in the US for a million reasons.


[1] I have to admit I am not particularly clear on this point in reality, because I have never seen a car repair manual. Ouch. Anyone here who has actually seen one? Make me eat my words!

I can't resist this bikeshed, but you've written the Maximum Hacker News aside of the week. I have several car factory service manuals. They do not include cost benefit analyses on when to remove a vehicle from service. Instead, they are full of flow charts on how to diagnose problems. Each flow chart ends with a "If nothing failed a test, but the symptom persists, replace the entire part/assembly."

The goal is to pinpoint which piece of an assembly might have failed and only repair or replace that one piece. eg bad wiring harnesses, a single controller in a complex system such as antilock brakes, a single fuse, etc.

The decision whether to keep attempting to repair an ailing car, or stay in a role that supports a company doing "wildly illegal stuff" is beyond what tech writers can determine for you--even given thousands of pages of information in dozens of PDFs.

This kind of aside is what keeps me here, so I'll thank you for it :)

> Each flow chart ends with a "If nothing failed a test, but the symptom persists, replace the entire part/assembly."

I suppose this kind of does refute my point a little bit. Maybe the Tech Worker Handbook should have rules of thumb on when to quit – e.g. if the estimate for legal fees is going to be more than 1% of your salary, evaluate if makes more financial sense to quit your job and look for a new one instead.

Of course, circumstances differ wildly between individuals, so anything more than a rule of thumb is not possible.

"Change your company or change your company" is an oft-repeated phrase that pairs up with the suggestion in the car repair manual nicely.

That is a compelling takedown to somebody's comment, but it's not responsive to mine; I'm not saying quitting is the only remedy to problems at giant tech companies, only that it is an important remedy.

One way you know that my comment doesn't make the point you're arguing against is that you managed to agree with it in the last sentence of your own rebuttal.

I don't really view mine as a rebuttal or takedown either.

I'm simply offering what I think is a compelling reason for them to not include instructions in this guide to the important remedy that you describe, i.e. quitting. Citing the fact that the "Just quit" advice tired shibboleth is sort of a broadside against our profession in general, not your comment in particular. I did think about including a disclaimer about this, but decided not to.

It's quite possible that you and other commenters think it's not compelling; let me know why!

The simplest way to defang your criticism of "just quit" is to say that people who aren't privileged enough to quit and land in a comparable role elsewhere simply shouldn't quit. The people who do have that privilege, though, should indeed consider it. There are a lot of them.

“Just quit” seems to be a much broader response of people to ill feelings about employment and not distinctive to tech workers. An example is the broad cultural impact of David Allen Coe’s “Take this Job and Shove It” [0] which went on to be recorded in diverse genre’s (country, punk, rap), a movie, Simpsons plot and a snowclone.

0. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Take_This_Job_and_Shove_It

Looking around the site, the handbook is by Ifeoma Ozoma, one of the Pinterest "whistleblowers" who went on a raging PR campaign and (seemingly) has now parlayed it into this consulting company. And here's what they're doing.

It's utterly unserious content by a grievance-driven person.

That's an interesting interpretation.


> grievance-driven person

Radical solution: don't discriminate against people at work and then they won't have any grievances.

Are grievance-driven persons more or less likely to produce serious content than, say, greed-driven persons?

I think perfect is the enemy of good with something like this. I'm glad someone has done this - even with its flaws.

I'm sure there will be more versions of the handbook over the years.

Unionizing would have no need for such a "handbook"

Regulating big tech is a democratic issue. It’s not up to the individual tech worker to do so, and I’m not convinced that all these movements aren’t “soft-solutions” organised by big tech to avoid people working on real solutions. Solutions like legal intervention from the EU and whatever government you are under.

Poor working conditions are solved by forming unions. In Denmark we have strong unions, and while their power is weaning (in parts thanks to big tech platforms jbecoming the middle men and taking 25-50%) our unions are the sole reason we have some of the best working conditions in the world.

Because here’s the secret to good working conditions. If you and everyone else in your line of work stops working, along with anyone working jobs that somehow support your lone of work, things change overnight.

Just ask MCD why they pay the now famous $22 and hour (or however much it was) when they initially didn’t want to. It’s because it’s hard to sell burgers when the dock workers refuse to unload your bread and the truckers refuse to deliver it.

So I’m all for the ideals behind these things, but they need to think bigger if they want to change anything. We shouldn’t need whistleblowers and bad PR to keep Facebook away from our children, it should simply be illegal with mega business ending consequences. When that happens you can be fairly sure that business will start to actually regulate itself, because if there is one thing enterprise businesses care about it’s actual risk.

That example of dock workers striking or truckers stopping work to support McDonalds workers is outlawed in Australia. It is called industrial pattern bargaining. So it is not that union can do much always, depends on the country.

For the most part poor working conditions are not the problem at big tech. Unethical decisions surrounding wellness of users are.

You can still use unions to fight unethical decisions though

>For the most part poor working conditions are not the problem at big tech. Unethical decisions surrounding wellness of users are.

A reasonable point. However, it seems to me that those unethical decisions can create poor working conditions.

If I know that the work I'm doing is actively harming others, that, as someone with a conscience, directly affects my working conditions for the worse.

I guess it's a matter of perspective.

I do like the perspective that programmers with a conscience forced to do bad things to the world are adversely affected, but it seems off to me to call that poor working conditions, because it seems to misidentify the people who the actions are hurting. I don't see anyone feeling sorry for the investment bankers of the '80s for having to go through a debaucherous, morally corrupt lifestyle.

>it seems to misidentify the people who the actions are hurting.

Huh? How so? How does acknowledging that people of conscience may be distressed and appalled at the harm their company is doing (making their workplace an uncomfortable place) diminish recognition of that harm?

I'm not suggesting that we should care only about such workers, I'm suggesting that should care about everyone. Why is that, in your view, inappropriate?

In order to avoid confusion, it requires more specific language than "poor working conditions". Perhaps "morally-injurious working conditions"?

>In order to avoid confusion, it requires more specific language than "poor working conditions". Perhaps "morally-injurious working conditions"?

A reasonable point. I guess it really depends on how you define "poor" in this context.

Whether you use adjectives like "poor", "morally-injurious", "stressful" or anything similar, the underlying idea is the same.

That said, I appreciate your take on this. It definitely helps to explicate my thought. Thanks!

It makes light of the personal responsibility that they have for the things that they do

>It makes light of the personal responsibility that they have for the things that they do

I take your point, and it is a valid one.

That said, there's a continuum here. Let's take Clearview AI[0] as an example. The end result of Clearview's activities are absolutely harmful, and I personally wouldn't work for them.

At the same time, not every employee (tech staff or not) is as culpable for the harms caused by Clearview AI's products as others.

What's more, each individual's situation informs their level of comfort/need WRT their employment. Is the dev responsible for front-end UI as culpable as the dev working on the actual facial recognition back end? How about the sales/marketing folks who approach governments and corporations to use their products?

If you have the means/ability to move away from an employer who is causing harm, assuming you see the harm (as the old saw goes, "it's hard to make someone understand something that their paycheck depends on them not understanding.") at all.

Clearview AI is an extreme example, selected specifically for that reason. but in many other cases, "harm" isn't as clear cut. Uber and GrubHub are great examples of that.

Those companies, in some cases, do provide some value, but they do so by extracting (in my view) a level of profit both undeserved based on the service provided, and exploitative of those actually providing real value (rides, food service and deliveries).

Is every Uber or GrubHub employee responsible for that? Should we blacklist them for shirking their "personal responsibility"?

As I said, I take your point, and it is valid it a bunch of cases. But I think there's a continuum here that you're ignoring. Perhaps I misunderstand you, in which case my apologies. If you'd care to expand on your point, I think it would add to the discussion.

[0] https://www.theverge.com/2021/2/4/22266055/clearview-facial-...

Tech workers are very well paid yet complain the most and often have unchecked egos. Code will not fix the world. People fix the world.

> For the most part poor working conditions are not the problem at big tech

...until you look for signs of burnout and ageism.

> It’s not up to the individual tech worker to do so

Correct! The handbook puts all focus on the individual and "forgets" to recommend collective action. I wonder why.

Curious what is the cost of a big mac meal with fries and a coke?

According to The Economist's Big Mac Index, the Big Mac is more expensive (at market exchange rates) than in the US in Norway and Sweden by some 10%, but cheaper in Denmark by some 16% (though much cheaper (>50%) in Hong Kong, South Africa, Indonesia, Romania, Turkey, Russia).

At GDP adjusted prices, Norway and Sweden are still more expensive, and Denmark cheaper than the US.


Other people have answered your question directly, but I just wanted to add this: One of the things I have learned since starting and seriously optimising a consumer-focused full time business last year is that consumer discretionary spending, at least in the current era of opulence and advertising, does not follow the laws of economics in the same way that it does for commodity businesses.

Unless you're doing something really wrong, the labour cost to produce most consumer goods is both much smaller than the gross profit from the sale, and largely uncorrelated to the price.

Generally that's true in the consumer space but the food business has few barriers of entry so it's very competitive and low margin. Most restaurants barely make 30% gross margin after labor and COGS, before rent and marketing.

McDonalds is a special case though, both because of its franchise model and because its corporate owned restaurants are largely real estate plays. The latter have a much more complex pricing model that takes into account property taxes, available borrowing terms, VAT, etc along with the usual labor and cost of materials. A McD's in a cheap part of El Paso, Texas might be paying 2% property taxes on its prime real estate while an equivalent location in an expensive part of Denmark might pay a lower .92%. Meanwhile the latter is appreciating at thrice the speed and passing more of the tax burden onto the customer in the form of a 20% VAT that doesn't appear in the sticker price.

>Generally that's true in the consumer space but the food business has few barriers of entry so it's very competitive and low margin. Most restaurants barely make 30% gross margin after labor and COGS, before rent and marketing.

Not an expert in this area, but I'd be shocked if McDonalds' books looked anything like a typical restaurant's - real estate investments aside.

Considering this is extremely unhealthy and bad for the environment, I'd say "not enough".

Burgers are both more affordable by a larger slice of the population (due to great equality and better low-end wages and working conditions) and people have more time to enjoy them (due to the shorter working hours and good GDP-per-hour-worked of the Nordics).

Probably the same as anywhere. From [0]:

> Menu prices vary from each McDonald’s location, so it’s a little difficult to say exactly how much an American would pay for a Big Mac while visiting Denmark. Anecdotally speaking, we checked menu prices via meal-delivery services (UberEats for the United States and JustEat for Denmark) to see how much this popular burger costs in their respective countries. At a McDonald’s location in Copenhagen, for example, this burger cost 30.00 kr (about $4.73). At a McDonald’s location in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a Big Mac costs $4.82.

> This single example lines up with the Big Mac Index, an interactive tool from the Economist that compares Big Mac prices around the world. According to the Big Mac Index, “a Big Mac costs DKr30.00 in Denmark and US$5.66 in the United States.” When adjusted for GDP, the Economist found that “a Big Mac costs 13% less in Denmark (US$4.90) than in the United States (US$5.66) at market exchange rates.”

[0]: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/big-mac-cost-denmark/

This describes itself as a handbook for tech workers, but it’s just about leaking confidential info and likely losing your job? Huh??

Whistleblowing seems to be where everyone's faith is these days. Training people on whistleblowing is supposed to be an internal matter. By that I mean companies can have whistleblowing programs to identify problems proactively. This is generally how the US military (and the government more widely) use theirs. This should shield the company from responsibility if they at least attempt to act, not to mention it would probably buy trust from the public.

I've worked in big tech for a bit now and I've seen a lot of open door policies, but never a whistleblower program.

Goes by other names. You probably have an anonymous ethics line

Whistle-blowing and public pressure does help in improving working conditions for all workers at tech companies. Example Article highlighting lack of benefits for contract workers at Google https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/28/technology/google-temp-wo... Result- Google instituted new policies for contractors who now get full-time like benefits including healthcare, sick and parental leave https://www.wired.com/story/google-require-suppliers-give-be.... That's 120,000 workers that didn't have benefits now get benefits.

That's great, but these benefits shouldn't come from the workplace.

> sick

As a contractor, you don't need to report time to the company you didn't work due to being sick. If Google is requiring this, they are statutory employees. That is the real problem. Providing 'benefits' to 'contractors' is just a bandaid. Either the benefits ought to be provided through other means, or the contractors are really employees and that needs to be fixed.

Not sure if anyone related to the Handbook are here, or posted this, but if you are you is there a way to download material covered in the Handbook? A git repo, torrent, etc.

It's good of you to inform users

> That said, I do NOT advise accessing this from a company device. Your employer can, and will likely, track visits to a resource like this Handbook.

But something even better than that would be facilitating a way to ingest the data or consult it without having to access the site each time.

As a side note, this should be a single page or, at least, an epub.

Scattering the text across many little articles discourages a comprehensive reading.

Since the title is not particularly informative, I'll share the first paragraph:

> The Tech Worker Handbook is a collection of resources for tech workers who are looking to make more informed decisions about whether to speak out on issues that are in the public interest. Aiming to improve working conditions, direct attention to consumer harms, or otherwise address wrongdoing and abuse should not be a solo or poorly resourced endeavor.

Yeah I’ve gotta say the naming choice is not very good. It looks like they’ve put quite a bit of effort into this, but I’d never have guessed that it is what it is based on its name.

> ... So-called “employee handbooks,” provided to workers at the beginning of employment, are ubiquitous within the tech industry. They are filled with the information an employer wants a worker to know, but are void of the content workers need to protect themselves.

The Tech Worker Handbook is not a how-to, set of instructions, checklist, or call to action to whistleblow. Whistleblowing — the act of speaking up in order to improve a situation for others — is an individual decision that should be made after a careful consideration of risks, options, and intended outcomes. My hope, though, is that those who do decide to take great risks in coming forward — for all of us — are better prepared and supported.

^ Excerpt from TFA. IMHO it's a good idea, cool resource. Not everyone has Frances Haugen's gumption and foresight.

"Employee hand books" are useful to employees as it defines what various procedures and rights are.

Procedures and policies, yet. Rights, not so much, at least beyond those disclosures and documents they are legally required to share.

As an example: it is a legally-protected right in many jurisdictions for employees to share compensation information with each other, or even externally. Many (most?) employers strongly discourage this practice, however, and will usually omit the notice that there are legal restrictions on their response in case employees choose to do so. Ditto labor organizing, many types of guaranteed leave, and most whistleblowing protections.

The information asymmetry between most large employers and their employees w.r.t. legal rights is large, and the company's incentives are almost never aligned towards voluntary disclosure.

Yes you have valid points but it does help when you have to take legal action - break your own procedure on grievance / discipline and you tend to lose in court.

Which is why it's sometimes necessary to go above the court and take the information straight to the people.

Whistleblowing and Employee hand books are two separate things

Ah, so employee handbooks inform their employees of their right to unionize (or refrain from unionizing) without threatening, interrogating, spying on pro-union employees, or promising benefits if employees forget about forming a union?


Why would anyone making salary in the 1% (top 0.001% globally) range in the US want to unionize? I don’t get this whole anti tech thing from tech.

Why not George Clooney is a member of SAG (actors union) as is Daniel Craig.

That's just an example of an argument people make against unions. No matter what Clooney or Craig thinks they have no choice but to be a member of the SAG.

Unions are not “anti-tech”, they are “pro-worker”. Who else is?

Because wealth and morality are independent concepts.

I don't really understand why we keep being told that these insiders who got rich at surveillance-tech companies are the ones we now have to rely on to fix the monster they've belatedly come to fear.

What is there to learn from these so-called "whistleblowers"?

I think their viewpoint is that the battle is already lost and expecting the situation to be fixed by regular means is unrealistic.

Whistleblowers become these little Prometheuses bringing out some fire to fight the giants.

I deeply disagree but can empathize with the pessimism, given how dire the situation has got.

A lot? I personally don’t remember a major whistleblower—in the legal usage of the term—who asked to be the sole savior who can fix the problem they identified.

It’s quite easy to lose sight of the whole picture while you are siloed working on a portion of the whole. I commend anyone who makes the public aware of bad corporate or governmental actors, even if it took them a while to come around to making their decision. That they may have profited in the past is immaterial. That’s an ethical dilemma they will need to resolve on their own.

I mean, if a company is doing bad things, and particularly if it's breaking the law, it is not usually going to announce the fact to the world. Whistleblowing is very often how the truth gets out; how many more people would have had junk medical results if not for the Theranos whistleblowers, say?

Perhaps in an ideal world, the government would have perfect clarity on the bad things that companies were doing through regulatory oversight. But in practice we're not in that world and a nefarious company can quite effectively hide all sorts of wrongdoing for a long time.

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