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Entrepreneurs: Sign the Pledge

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

http://alenaae.blogspot.com/2008/12/first-they-came-by-martin-niemller.html

In case you didn’t see this in BuzzFeed, a group of techs got together and made a pledge.

A group of nearly 60 employees at major tech companies have signed a pledge refusing to help build a Muslim registry. The pledge states that signatories will advocate within their companies to minimize collection and retention of data that could enable ethnic or religious targeting under the Trump administration, to fight any unethical or illegal misuse of data, and to resign from their positions rather than comply.

Not luminaries, but people like you.

As of 10:30 pm Pacific Wednesday there were 1215 signatures.

The full text is at the pledge link (above) as are the instructions on how you can sign. There are also links if you want to be a more active participant or just want more information.

Why should you do it?

The words of Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor and rabid anti-Nazi, who spent seven years in a concentration camp explain it best.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Actively or passively; loudly or quietly you need to speak out over the next two years.

And in two years it will be up to you to help take back Congress.

Image credit: Karen

Ducks in a Row: Anything—As Long As It Pays…

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pimkie_fotos/2673197411/Edward Snowden’s revelations made people hyper-conscious of government snooping, while the proliferation of mobile and connected devices has made snooping easier, not to mention very profitable.

And profit is what’s behind the rise of global cyber-arms dealers that sell human suffering and death as surely as their real-world counterparts sell weapons.

Last summer, Bill Marczak stumbled across a program that could spy on your iPhone’s contact list and messages—and even record your calls. Illuminating shadowy firms that sell spyware to corrupt governments across the globe, Marczak’s story reveals the new arena of cyber-warfare.

Marczak’s stumble revealed three zero-day exploits (“Zero days” refers to the amount of time—i.e., none—a target has to fix an entirely new kind of hack before damage can be done.).

It’s called a jailbreak and the ability to do it remotely is every hacker’s dream.

… the ability to hack remotely into the digital brains of the world’s most popular hardware—the desktops, laptops, tablets, and especially the mobile phones made by Apple. And not just break into Apple devices but actually take control of them. It was a hacker’s dream: the ability to monitor a user’s communications in real time and also to turn on his microphone and record his conversations.

In a superhuman effort, Apple patched all three exploits in just 10 days.

It’s an uplifting story, but the fact is Apple and other computer-makers are fighting a losing battle. As long as there are hackers, they will continue to find ways to hack any device that interfaces with them. These dangers were highlighted this fall when a New England company found itself the target of a mass denial-of-service attack from millions of non-computer “zombie devices” connected to the Internet—most notably baby monitors.

“What these cyber-arms dealers have done is democratize digital surveillance,” says the A.C.L.U.’s Chris Soghoian. “The surveillance tools once only used by big governments are now available to anyone with a couple hundred grand to spend.” In fact, they may be coming to your iPhone sometime soon.

Hat tip to KG for sharing the Vanity Fair article about Marczak.

Flickr image credit: Pimkie

Ducks in a Row: Facebook — Racist or Just Dumb?

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

Considering it’s 2016 the unbelievably racist targeted advertising choices offered by Facebook are hard to swallow.

facebook-screenshotHarder still are their explanations.

First, they claim to prohibit this kind of ugly targeting.

Facebook says its policies prohibit advertisers from using the targeting options for discrimination, harassment, disparagement or predatory advertising practices.

They claim that advertisers won’t misuse these options.

“We take a strong stand against advertisers misusing our platform: Our policies prohibit using our targeting options to discriminate, and they require compliance with the law,” said Steve Satterfield, privacy and public policy manager at Facebook. “We take prompt enforcement action when we determine that ads violate our policies.”

But their worst excuse is the old A/B test.

Satterfield said it’s important for advertisers to have the ability to both include and exclude groups as they test how their marketing performs.

Hence my question.

Is Facebook really so naïve they actually believe that the so-called “affinity choices” won’t be abused or, in the name of profit, do they just not care?

Image credit: Facebook via Pro Publica

Ignoring Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jbrazito/8401682695/

It is said, “as you sow so shall you reap.”

If you had any doubts the results of our educational system over the last five decades should end them.

It’s too bad politicians, especially those in the GOP, ignored (and continue to ignore)  the words of one of the truly great Republicans.

Abraham Lincoln.

Teach the children so it will not be necessary to teach the adults.

“Children” is plural and, since there is no modifier, inclusive.

Something the US educational system isn’t.

Or perhaps that’s what our politicians want.

An ignorant and unthinking population.

Poor Abe.

He must be spinning in his grave like a top.

Image credit: JBrazito

Golden Oldies: Hate, Intolerance and Responsibility

Monday, September 5th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time. It’s been four years since I wrote this, but it could have been anytime in the last several decades. The time difference wouldn’t have been that noticeable, except that what I described just keeps getting worse. I find it both sad and disgusting that we humans seem incapable of growing and, instead of moving forward, we move backwards. Read other Golden Oldies here

my-way-hwyAnyone reading the news—local, national or global—knows that hate and intolerance are increasing at an alarming rate everywhere.

Also, because there have been/will be so many elections around the world this year ‘leadership’ is in the news even more so than usual.

What responsibility do leaders—business, political, religious, community—bear in fostering hate and intolerance?

A lot.

Not just the age old race and gender intolerance, but the I’m/we’re-RIGHT-so-you-should-do/think-our-way-or-else.

The ‘we’re right/you’re wrong’ attitude is as old as humanity and probably won’t ever change, but it’s the ‘do-it-our-way-or-else’ that shows the intolerance for what it really is.

And leaders aren’t helping; in fact, they are making it worse.

During my adult life (I missed being a Boomer by a hair) I’ve watched as hate and intolerance spread across the country masked by religion, a façade of political correctness or a mea culpa that is supposed to make everything OK, but doesn’t.

Various business, political, religious and community leaders give passionate, fiery talks to their followers and then express surprise and dismay when some of those same followers steal trade secrets, plant bombs, and kill individuals—whose only error was following their own beliefs.

We are no longer entitled to the pursuit of happiness if our happiness offends someone next door, the other end of the country, or the far side of the globe.

I remember Ann Rand saying in an interview that she believed that she had the right to be totally selfish, where upon the interviewer said that would give her freedom to kill.

Rand said absolutely not, in fact the reverse was true, since her selfishness couldn’t impinge anyone else’s right to be selfish.

Leaders aren’t responsible; we are, because we go along with it—as did the Germans when Hitler led them down the hate and intolerance path.

That about sums up my attitude

What’s yours?

Image credit: Street Sign Generator

If the Shoe Fits: the Wrongest Way to Close a Company

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn June we learned the right way to close a company and last month we got a lesson in the wrong way to do it.

Right, wrong; what’s left?

(Allegedly) crooked.

How crooked?

Penny Kim is a marketing professional who relocated from Dallas in July to work for WrkRiot (formerly known as 1for.one and apparently also known as JobSonic) for $135,000 a year plus equity and a $10,000 signing bonus for relocation expenses,

It ended with her dismissal in August after she filed a complaint with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement over failure to properly pay her

If you wonder whether she’s just another disgruntled employee, she’s not.

Not when the CEO gives everyone faked documentation of wage payment.

“Thursday, August 4th was D-Day … That afternoon in the office, Michael emailed each employee a personalized PDF receipt of a Wells Fargo wire transfer with the message: ‘Here is the receipt. It has been calculated for the taxes on your semi-monthly salary and signing bonus. The money is arriving either today or tomorrow. I am sorry about the delay.'”

But the receipts were fake.

Al Brown, former CTO and one of the founders, confirmed much of her account, even the most outrageous accusation: The CEO she dubbed “Michael,” whose LinkedIn profile identifies him as Isaac Choi, gave employees fake receipts for money wire transfers to convince them the company had paid their back wages when in fact it hadn’t.

Not even a good fake, since the photoshopped receipts said 2014.

Even after that two employees lent the company an additional $65K.

All told, Choi burned through $695,000 (his own initial $400,000, Brown’s $230,000 and the borrowed $65,000) in less than a year.

A comment on Hacker News should serve as a bona fide caveat emptor for everyone in the global startup world, not just in Silicon Valley.

“Welcome to the club. It’s pretty much a rite of passage here to spend some time with a psychopath VC, a completely self absorbed CTO with a rich investor dad that fuels his fantasies, or an idiotic CEO with an ego problem, and to pay the price for it (just time if you’re lucky, time+money if you’re not).”

This isn’t a warning not to join, just a note to do so with your eyes open.

There’s a reason it’s called “due diligence” and it’s as much for employees as it is for founders and investors.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: Business, Responsibility and Ethics

Friday, April 1st, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAs a founder, do you have an ethical or moral responsibility to consider the ramifications of your product on society — globally, not just locally?

In Numbers, a TV show that ran from 2005 to 2010, the central character, Charlie Eppes, was a young, prodigy mathematician. One storyline forced him to question his long held belief on his responsibility in innovation.

I always believed it was my duty to develop numerical tools and someone else’s to use them wisely.

Is that what you think?

In your drive for sales would you sell to any who could pay or would you scrutinize them to assure ethical usage?

Some companies do just that.

Data analysis powerhouse Palantir has been ultra-careful since it was founded.

Palantir can afford not to sell to just anybody — you have to believe in its values, too (…)  Palantir once turned down a partnership with a tobacco company “for fear the company would harness the data to pinpoint vulnerable communities to sell cigarettes to,” CEO Alex Karp told Fortune.

Jad Saliba, Magnet Forensics’ founder/CTO and ex-cop is emphatic on the subject.

 “The two areas I care most about are combating terrorism and child exploitation,” he says, adding that he hopes to keep his company on the side of the angels. “We spend a lot of time validating who we sell to … We sell to people who are going to use it ethically.”

Big Data in all its forms has enormous potential for good — and even larger potential for abuse.

And AI even more so.

From man’s earliest days, every new discovery has been a two-edged sword — fire can bestow life or death.

And while the final, future outcome of an innovation can’t be predicted, it should still be the responsibility of its creator, whether individual or company, to work to assure whatever it is is used responsibly.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ducks in a Row: Do People Count?

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

800px-The_protectors_of_our_industries

I’ve written a lot about the 1099 economy and its poster boy Uber; none of it particularly flattering.

Why?

Because the way the drivers are treated they are not “independent contractors” as described by the Feds.

They are revolting in the best way — by becoming the competition.

That was back at the end of February and in tech three weeks can be a lifetime.

The new news is that Talmon Marco founder of Viber six years ago and sold for $900 million two years later, is the guy behind Juno, Uber’s newest competitor — but a competitor that values it’s people.

“What Uber left out in the process of building their company is that they completely and totally forgot about the people who do the work, the drivers. Imagine a company where all the employees hate management; that is not a good place to be.”

And there lies the problem for most of the 1099 crowd.

Unlike most other 1099 businesses, full-time Juno drivers will be employees, not contractors, receive stock quarterly and have the potential to build  “as much equity as the founders.” according to Marco.

Remember the robber barons of the late 19th-arly 20th Century?

A robber baron is a wealthy, powerful businessman who employs practices including exerting control over natural resources, influencing high levels of government, paying subsistence wages, squashing competition by acquiring competitors, creating monopolies and raising prices  [emphasis mine], and schemes to sell stock at inflated prices to unsuspecting investors.

Even the inflated stock seems familiar when you consider that Uber’s unicorn valuation is based on funds raised, not revenue, and it’s losing hundreds of millions each year.

Robber barons indeed.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Ducks in a Row: You Get What You Pay For

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/37254648@N07/5000767635/

The way you treat your employees affects more than your retention rate.

It can have a major impact on your company’s trainsecurity.

Banks are an excellent example. They are notorious for the low pay,  haphazard training and opportunities and iffy managers that frontline employees, i.e., tellers, endure.

But it is the pay that is especially erroneous.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for tellers in 2014 was $25,760, a salary that prosecutors say does not match the high-risk nature of their jobs.

Raising a family and paying bills on $25K a year is beyond difficult, which increases temptation, yet these are the people who have the most access and opportunity to rip off customers.

And many of them are doing just that.

Rich and elderly bank customers are particularly at risk, prosecutors say, when tellers and other retail-branch employees tap into accounts to wire funds without authorization, make fake debit cards to withdraw money from A.T.M.s and sell off personal information to other criminals. Accounts with high balances and those with direct deposits of government funds, like Social Security payments, are especially coveted.

If you haven’t already guessed, the banks don’t want to spend to fix the problems.

Despite their importance, tellers and many low-level bank employees are not subjected to rigorous background checks. (…)  Kevin Streff, managing partner at Secure Banking Solutions, a security consulting firm, said the sluggish controls came, in part, from banks’ outdated view that tellers handled only low-risk transactions. (…)  Despite the warnings, progress has been slow. “There is a reluctance to provide real oversight, rigor or even security training because it costs time and money,” Mr. Streff said.

What will banks do?

Reimburse you for money actually taken, but that does nothing if your personal information has been shared or sold.

Based on their actions, as opposed to their words, executive attitude in many banks, insurance companies and others in the financial services industry seems be one of keep costs low, bonuses high and caveat emptor for customers.

That attitude is deeply embedded in their cultural DNA, which means changing it isn’t going to be simple — or quick.

Which means you had better embed caveat emptor in your DNA.

Flickr credit: Daz

The Long Tail of Arnnon Geshuri

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2016-01-13/News_and_notes#/media/File:Arnnon_Geshuri_-_January_2016_by_Myleen_Hollero.jpg

Some bad actions seem to have a much longer tail than others and are more personal.

The length of the tail also seems related to how much the breach affects “people like me.”

The proof of this is happening right now and playing out in social media. It started with the addition of a Wikipedia board member.

Nearly 200 Wikipedia editors have taken the unprecedented step of calling for a member of the Wikimedia Foundation board of directors to be tossed out. (…)  “In the best interests of the Wikimedia Foundation, Arnnon Geshuri must be removed from his appointment as a trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation Board.”

Geshuri played a central role in the “no poach” scandal (where a number of top companies, like Apple and Google, agreed not to recruit from each other) that has had lasting effects on countless careers.

Although I’ve said many times that past performance does not predict the future and I firmly believe in second chances there are caveats.

One is that the the person agrees it was wrong, takes responsibility for their share of the action and accepts some kind of punishment — whether a monetary fine, jail time or just a public statement.

When it’s an ethical lapse, as in this case, I consider if the person should have known better — which Geshuri should have.

However, this wasn’t just an ethical lapse; both the scheme and his actions were illegal.

And there is no question that as a high ranking HR professional he did know it was both illegal and unethical and was in an excellent position to assess the long-term damage it would do.

Geshuri was actively involved along with facilitating others.

Therefore, I tend to agree with the editors that he doesn’t belong in an organization that runs of pure trust.

But I am just as sure he still has a great career path in most of corporate America, where they would understand (and in some cases even condone) what he did, as well as in politics, where both the criminal and civil breaches would just be business as usual.

Image credit: Myleen Hollero / Wikimedia Foundation

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