All posts by JenThorpe

Ubisoft Announced Staff Departures After Internal Investigation



Ubisoft released a statement (PDF) announcing departures of staff and a reaffirmation of its commitment to implementing significant change in its workplace culture. This comes after Ubisoft conducted an internal investigation in June.

“Ubisoft has fallen short in its obligation to guarantee a safe and inclusive workplace environment for its employees. This is unacceptable, as toxic behaviors are in direct contrast to values on which I have never compromised – and never will. I am committed to implementing profound changes across the Company to improve and strengthen our workplace culture,” said Yves Guillemot, CEO and Co-Founder of Ubisoft. “Moving forward, as we collectively embark on a path leading to a better Ubisoft, it is my expectation that leaders across the Company manage their teams with the utmost respect. I also expect them to work to drive the change we need, always thinking of what is best for Ubisoft and all its employees.”

According to Ubisoft, Serge Hascoët “has chosen to resign from his position as Chief Creative Officer, effective immediately”. He will be replaced by Yves Guillemot, CEO and Co-Founder of Ubisoft in the interim.

Yannis Mallat, Managing Director of Ubisoft’s Canadian studios, will be stepping down from his role and will leave the company, effective immediately. The press release described the reason as: “The most recent allegations that have come to light in Canada against multiple employees make it impossible for him to continue in this position.”

Cécile Cornet has decided to step down from his role and a new Global Head of HR will be appointed to replace him.

If you are wondering what those allegations are, you may want to read an article on Kotaku which provides some details about the misconduct that allegedly took place.

It is good that Ubisoft is “cleaning house” and implementing changes that are intended to stop the toxic behaviors of some employees from negatively affecting the experience of other employees. This gives Ubisoft the opportunity to hire or promote good people who can help make Ubisoft a safe and inclusive workplace.


Linux Team Approved Neutral Language for Old Terminology



Linus Torvalds, the developer of the Linux kernel, has approved new terms that will replace the master/slave terminology, and the blacklist/whitelist terminology, ZDNet reported. The newly approved terms are neutral language.

The trend to clean-up insensitive language from source code, tools, and tech documentation began after Black Lives Matter protests erupted in the US, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020.

The primary goal of these efforts is to make tech products and IT environments more welcoming to people of color.

This change comes after GitHub (which is owned by Microsoft) started working on replacing the term “master” with the term “main”. Gizmodo reported that GitHub was working on letting users choose their own default branch name.

Some of the alternatives proposed by the Linux team include:

  • primary/secondary
  • main/replica or subordinate
  • initiator/target
  • requester/responder
  • controller/device
  • leader/follower

In addition, there are proposed alternatives for blacklist/whitelist. These are outdated and racially insensitive terms that need a replacement. Techspot explained reported that blacklist is used to describe a list containing banned, disallowed, or undesirable elements, such as passwords, spam emails, websites, and applications. A whitelist contains everything that is allowed.

The problem with the color coding of these terms is that it associates “whitelist” with good, safe, desirable things, and “blacklist” with bad, unsafe, or undesirable things. The Linux Team proposed that people replace blacklist/whitelist with denylist/allowlist or blocklist/passlist.


Facebook Might be Considering a Ban on Political Ads



Bloomberg reported that Facebook is considering imposing a ban on political ads on its social network in the days leading up to the November election. This is according to “people familiar with the company’s thinking”. I find this surprising.

Recently, an independent audit found Facebook lacking in several important areas. The summary of the audit pointed out many ways that Facebook needed to improve. Here are just a few points from the summary:

  •  The Auditors noted that Facebook’s definition of protecting free speech meant allowing harmful and divisive rhetoric that amplifies hate speech and threatens civil rights. “When it means that powerful politicians do not have to abide by the same rules as everyone else does, a hierarchy of speech is created that privileges certain voices over less powerful voices.”
  • The auditors have “grave concerns that the combination of the company’s decision to exempt politicians from fact-checking and the precedents set by its recent decisions on President Trump’s posts, leaves the door open for the platform to be used by other politicians to interfere with voting. If politicians are free to mislead people about official voting methods (by labeling ballots illegal or making other misleading statements that go unchecked for example) and are allowed to use not-so-subtle dog whistles with impunity to incite violence against groups advocating for racial justice, this does not bode well for the hostile voting environment that can be facilitated by Facebook in the United States.”

I want to believe that Facebook read the audit, and came away from it realizing that refusing to fact-check the posts made by politicians, and allowing politicians to break Facebook’s rules, was a bad idea. The company has done political ad blackouts before elections in other countries – but this would be the first time (to my knowledge) that Facebook is considering doing that before the U.S. 2020 election.

One thing to keep in mind is that Bloomberg is not reporting that this ad blackout is going to happen. It appears to be something Facebook is considering. That doesn’t mean it will become policy.

The other thing to consider is that, as Bloomberg points out, Facebook’s political advertising is a very small part of Facebook’s business. It is possible that Facebook is considering this small change – for a very limited time-span – so it can act like it did something in regards to the audit. Banning political ads is not going to undue the damage already done by politicians who post misinformation.


Amazon Tells Workers to Delete TikTok in Email Sent in Error



Amazon apparently sent its workers an email asking them to remove TikTok from their mobile devices. This was first reported by The New York Times, and several news sites have since posted about it as well. Later, Amazon changed its mind and said that the request had been sent in error.

Taylor Lorenz, a reporter for The New York Times Fashion and Style section, posted a tweet with a screenshot of the email that Amazon sent to its employees. The email was titled: “Action required: Mandatory removal of TikTok by 10-Jul”.

Hello,
Due to security risks, the TikTok app is no longer permitted on mobile devices that access Amazon email. If you have TikTok on your device, you must remove it by 10-Jul to retain mobile access to your Amazon email. At this time, using TikTok from your Amazon laptop browser is allowed.

According to The Verge, the email was obtained and independently published by multiple reporters on Twitter. Later, an Amazon spokesperson told The Verge: “This morning’s email to some of our employees was sent in error. There is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok.”

To me, this seems a little bit strange. Why would a company as big as Amazon write a very specifically worded email telling its employees that TikTok was no longer permitted on mobile devices that access Amazon email… only to walk that back after the email was posted on Twitter? Did someone at Amazon accidentally send that email earlier than planned? Or was Amazon unhappy that the email became public knowledge?

What we do know is that the U.S. Navy banned TikTok from government-issued mobile devices because the app represented a “cybersecurity threat”. U.S. Army cadets were also asked not to use TikTok. Some members of Congress expressed that they think TikTok poses “national security risks”.

Amazon appears to have had enough of a security concern with TikTok to tell its employees to delete it. Later that same day, Amazon seems to have changed its mind about that. One cannot help but wonder what happened behind the scenes.


Facebook Failed its Civil Rights Audit



An independent audit of Facebook’s policies and practices was led by Laura W. Murphy, a civil rights and civil liberties leader, along with a team from civil rights law firm Relman Colfax, led by Megan Cacace.

The audit, which began in 2018 at the behest and encouragement of the civil rights community and some members of Congress, proceeded with Facebook’s cooperation. The purpose of the audit is to help Facebook identify, prioritize, and implement sustained and comprehensive improvements to the way it impacts civil rights.

At the start, the audit was to focus on voter suppression and voter information, building a civil rights accountability infrastructure, content moderation and enforcement (including hate speech and harassment), advertising targeting and practices, diversity and inclusion, fairness in algorithms, and the civil rights implications of privacy practices. They later added the topics COVID-19 and the 2020 census.

Here are some areas where Facebook failed its audit:

  •  In September of 2019, Facebook’s Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications, Nick Clegg, said that Facebook would continue to exempt politicians from its third-party checking program. He also announced the company had a standing policy to treat speech from politicians as newsworthy that should be seen and not interfered with by Facebook unless outweighed by the risk of harm.
  •  In October of 2019, Mark Zuckerberg gave a speech at Georgetown University in which he amplified his prioritization of a definition of free expression as a governing principle of Facebook. In the speech, he doubled down on the company’s treatment of politicians’ speech.
  •  The Auditors noted that Facebook’s definition of protecting free speech meant allowing harmful and divisive rhetoric that amplifies hate speech and threatens civil rights. “When it means that powerful politicians do not have to abide by the same rules as everyone else does, a hierarchy of speech is created that privileges certain voices over less powerful voices.”
  •  The audit summary points out that Facebook “has no qualms about reining in speech by the proponents of the anti-vaccination movement, or limiting misinformation about COVID-19, but when it comes to voting, Facebook has been far too reluctant to adopt strong rules to limit misinformation and voter suppression.”
  •  The summary also says: “Facebook’s failure to remove the Trump voting-related posts and close enforcement gaps seems to reflect a statement of values that protecting free expression is more important than other stated company values.”

The auditors have “grave concerns that the combination of the company’s decision to exempt politicians from fact-checking and the precedents set by its recent decisions on President Trump’s posts, leaves the door open for the platform to be used by other politicians to interfere with voting. If politicians are free to mislead people about official voting methods (by labeling ballots illegal or making other misleading statements that go unchecked for example) and are allowed to use not-so-subtle dog whistles with impunity to incite violence against groups advocating for racial justice, this does not bode well for the hostile voting environment that can be facilitated by Facebook in the United States.”


Sony Announced $250 Million Investment in Epic Games



Sony Corporation and Epic Games Inc. announced that Sony has agreed to make a strategic investment of $250 million to acquire a minority interest in Epic though a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony. The investment cements an already close relationship between the two companies and reinforces the shared mission to advance the state of the art technology, entertainment, and socially-connected online services.

The investment allows Sony and Epic to broaden their collaboration across Sony’s leading portfolio of entertainment assets and technology, and Epic’s social entertainment platform and digital ecosystem to create unique experiences for consumers and creators. The closing of the investment is subject to customary closing conditions including regulatory approvals.

Venture Beat reported that the relationship between Epic and Sony was strengthened when Epic first showed the Unreal Engine 5 graphics running on a PlayStation 5. Previous to Sony’s investment, Epic raised $1.58 billion in three previous rounds of funding. In 2012, Epic received a $330 million investment from Tencent for a 40% ownership stake.

Epic Games is the developer and publisher of Fortnite, a game that is incredibly popular. This popularity was enhanced by Ninja (Tyler Blevins) who started streaming Fortnite on Twitch, then moved to Mixer, and then moved to YouTube. Fortnite, according to Hollywood Reporter, has 350 million registered users.

So, what is Epic getting from the Sony investment? Business Insider reported that Sony’s $250 million investment puts Epic’s current valuation at just under $18 billion.

What is Sony getting from this investment? Hollywood Reporter suggests that Sony will benefit from Epic’s Unreal real-time gaming engine, which is growing in use in Hollywood animation, VFX and production communities. Unreal was used in Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian. So, the collaboration between Sony and Epic could benefit Sony Pictures.


Microsoft Announced Together Mode



Microsoft announced Together mode, a new feature in Microsoft Teams. This is one of many new features that are designed to make working remotely more streamlined, inclusive and engaging. It is also designed to reduce meeting fatigue.

It makes sense for Microsoft to have enhanced Microsoft Teams with new features. In March of 2020, Microsoft sent out an email to approximately 50,000 Microsoft employees in the Seattle area that instructed them to begin working from home. At the time, many companies were assuming that the COVID-19 pandemic would be over in a month or two.

Months later, it became apparent that the United States was unlikely to quell the pandemic anytime soon. In that timeframe, Microsoft created features that would make Microsoft Teams better.

Together mode is a new meeting experience in Teams that uses AI segmentation technology to digitally place participants in a shared background, making it feel like you’re sitting in the same room with everyone else in the meeting or class. Together mode makes meetings more engaging by helping you focus on other people’s faces and body language and making it easier to pick up on the non-verbal cues that are so important to human interaction.

Microsoft says that Together mode with auditorium view is rolling out now and will be generally available in August. The company has plans to bring more views to Together mode in the future.

It is my understanding that some people who have been working from home for months are beginning to miss the office. They want to be in the same physical space as their co-workers again. Unfortunately, that simply isn’t safe to do as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

I think Microsoft’s Together mode could make some people, who feel lonely at home, a bit happier. There is something about visually seeing everyone together online that can feel like you are actually together. Anyone who has played video games that require teams of players to focus on the same goal has experienced this.