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Human Capital: Uber’s Black employee base shrinks

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Welcome back to Human Capital, where I break down the latest in diversity, equity and inclusion, and labor in tech.

TL;DR: This week, Apple announced its third head of diversity and inclusion in four years, Uber’s Black employee base shrunk despite the company committing to anti-racism and Reddit brought on its second Black board member this year. 

Meanwhile, Facebook’s content moderators spoke out against the company for forcing some of them to work in the office during a pandemic and a new report from Silicon Valley Rising showed 63% of blue-collar tech workers are Black or Latinx. 

Sign up here to get this as a newsletter in your inbox every Fridays at 1 p.m. PT. However, I’m taking next week off so you won’t be hearing from me until December 4.

Facebook content moderators demand better protections and benefits

A group of more than 200 Facebook  content moderators, as well as some full-time employees, demanded the tech company “stop needlessly risking moderators’ lives,” they wrote in an open letter to Facebook and the company’s contractors that manage content moderators, Accenture and Covalen. The demands came after The Intercept reported how some Facebook content moderators — who deal with things like sexual abuse and graphic violence — were required to come back into the office during the pandemic. Shortly after they returned to the office, a Facebook content moderator reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

Facebook later defended its decision to bring some content moderators into the office, saying it’s “not able to route some of the most sensitive and graphic content to outsourced reviewers at home,” its VP of Integrity Guy Rosen said on a press call. “This is really sensitive content. This is not something you want people reviewing from home with their family around.”

Turo commits $1 million to addressing wealth inequality

Car-sharing marketplace Turo teamed up with Kiva to offer interest-free loans to Black people and folks from traditionally underserved communities to buy cars and then share them on Turo. The $1 million commitment aims to address the issue of wealth inequality in the United States.

Called the Turo Seed Initiative, those who are eligible can raise up to $15,000 via crowdfunding and Turo’s matching program. In order to raise money on Kiva, folks must use the funding for business purposes, which includes car sharing on Turo. Through Kiva, they can raise up to $7,500 and Turo will then match up to $7,500. From there, they can buy a car and list it on Turo.

Tech’s cafeteria workers, security officers, etc. are predominantly Black or Latinx

A Silicon Valley Rising report recently showed about 63% of blue-collar tech workers are Black or Latinx. These are the workers who cook and serve food in tech company cafeterias, drive tech shuttles or work as security officers or custodians.

Also this week, a group of cafeteria workers who formerly worked inside Verizon Media’s offices protested outside its CEO’s home in San Francisco. These workers were laid off by Verizon Media contractor Compass in September. Meanwhile, LinkedIn stopped paying more than 260 food service workers at the end of June and Tesla laid off 280 janitors and bus drivers in April

Transitioning from Trump to Biden: Now is not the time for complacency 

On this week’s episode of TC Mixtape, we spoke with Y-Vonne Hutchinson of Ready Set about DEI and what a new administration means for the work she and so many others are doing. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:

While I’m optimistic and so thrilled at the prospect that we’re not going to see harm like we did under the Trump administration, I also remember the Obama administration. This isn’t like these structures that got spun up — this didn’t happen out of the blue.

I hope that we have learned some really valuable lessons when it comes to the impact that not just like lack of diversity inclusion, because that feels so milk toast to say, but like these exclusionary and harmful organizations, platforms, powerful people in our industry, like I hope we’ve learned from our mistakes there. But I think that there’s always going to be a temptation to say, ‘well, we got Trump out and the work is done’ [or] feel a little bit complacent. I worry about that complacency. Because, you know, the dirty, nasty undercurrents, all of that stuff that got us to where we are today — all of that’s still there, all that festering toxicity.

We still have work to do, and I’m not saying that everybody’s a bad actor and you know, get rid of it. But I think that we really need to be critical and think about what accountability looks like for our industry and make sure that we’re not falling into the same bad habits that we did that got us here in the first place. So I’m kind of waiting to see how that plays out.

Apple announces a new head of D&I 

Apple recently announced Barbara Whye, former head of D&I at Intel, will be joining them as its VP of inclusion and diversity in early 2021. The announcement came after its former head of D&I, Christie Smith, left the company in June “to spend time with her family,” an Apple spokesperson said at the time. Smith had been in the role since late 2017, after Denise Young Smith, the company’s first-ever VP of diversity and inclusion, left after only being in the role for six months.

Uber’s D&I efforts fall short this year

Uber recently released its latest diversity report, showing a decline in the overall representation of Black employees in the U.S. despite an increased focus on racial justice this year in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. In 2019, Uber was 9.3% Black while this year, only 7.5% of its employees are Black.

Uber attributes the decline in Black employees to its layoffs earlier this year, where about 40% of its employees in community operations were laid off, Uber Chief Diversity Officer Bo Young Lee told TechCrunch.

“As a company that has so publicly stated its stance on anti-racism, that’s not acceptable,” she said.

That unintentional decline in the Black population at Uber “led to a lot of soul searching,” she said. “Dara was certainly upset by it. Every leader was. It reinforced how easy it is to lose some ground after all the work you’ve done.”

Reddit adds another Black director to the board

Reddit has appointed Paula Price, who has served on the board of six public companies, including Accenture and Deutsche Bank, to its board of directors. Price’s appointment makes her one of two Black directors on the company’s board.

“Paula’s vast experience as a world-class financial leader and strategic advisor will be a tremendous asset to us in the years ahead,” Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said in a statement. “Best of all, she embodies the two qualities most important to us for this Board seat: expertise leading companies through periods of transformative growth and real passion for Reddit’s mission.”

Before Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian stepped down from the board and urged the company to appoint a Black director to take his place, Reddit had zero Black board members. Reddit took Ohanian’s advice and appointed Y Combinator Michael Seibel to the board.

LAPD bans commercial facial recognition

Following an inquiry from Buzzfeed regarding officers’ use of Clearview, the LAPD has banned the use of commercial facial recognition programs. That’s not to say LAPD won’t continue using facial recognition that compares images to suspect booking records but it will no longer use facial recognition tools that rely on social media and other websites. 

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Alibaba vies for a piece of China’s booming EV market

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There’s no lack of news these days on China’s tech giants teaming up with traditional carmakers. Companies from Alibaba to Huawei are striving to become relevant in the trillion-dollar auto industry, which itself is seeking an electric transition and intelligent upgrade as 5G comes of age.

State-owned automaker SAIC Motor, a major player in China, unveiled this week a new electric vehicle arm called Zhiji, in which Alibaba and a Shanghai government-backed entity are minority shareholders. The tie-up comes as Chinese EV startups like Xpeng and Nio and their predecessor Tesla see their stocks soaring in recent months.

Alibaba’s ties with SAIC can be traced back to 2015 when they jointly announced a $160 million investment in internet-connected cars. The partners moved on to form a joint venture called Banma (or ‘Zebra’) and Alibaba has since developed a slew of auto solutions for the Banma platform to enable everything from voice-activated navigation to voice ordering coffee, which is, of course, linked to the Alipay e-wallet.

Alibaba is certainly not SAIC’s exclusive supplier, as it’s also worked closely with the likes of BMW and Audi as well over the years.

For SAIC’s new EV brand, Alibaba will continue to be its “technology solution provider,” an Alibaba spokesperson told TechCrunch.

The other tech giant making big moves in auto is Huawei. Just this week, the telecoms equipment and smartphone maker announced it would fold its smart car unit into its consumer business group, which previously focused on handsets. The expanded group will continue to be steered by Richard Yu, regarded as the man who helped grow Huawei from an underdog in the mobile industry to a leading global player.

Huawei’s ambition in auto is “not to manufacture cars but to focus on developing ICT [information and communications technology] to assist automakers in producing cars,” the firm asserts in the statement, addressing rumors that it wants to encroach on traditional carmakers’ turf.

Huawei’s phone business has taken a hit since U.S. sanctions hobbled its supply chain. It sold its budget phone brand Honor recently in the hope that the spinoff, independent from Huawei, will be free from trade curbs.

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Gift Guide: Black Friday tech deals that are actually worth checking out

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Black Friday approaches! In a year where asking Alexa what day today is feels totally normal, this Black Friday seems like it came out of nowhere.

As we say pretty much every year, a lot of Black Friday deals are… not that good. While there are certainly deals to be found, there’s also a lot of hand-waving going on to help retailers and manufacturers clear out the old models and get that Q4 numbers boost.

It can also be a day where it’s way too easy to buy junk just because it’s got a 40% off tag on it. With that in mind, we’ve tried to limit this list to the stuff we’d recommend even when it’s not on sale. If we see anything else worthwhile over the next day or two, we’ll add it — so feel free to check back in.

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

A few tips to keep in mind today:

  • If you see something is on sale and want to check if the “sale” price is really any better than normal, pop it into a price tracker like camelcamelcamel. If the price suddenly increased last week only to be “reduced” by whatever percent this week, you know somethings up.
  • Be at least a little wary of TV deals. There are TV deals to be had, for sure — but the most eye-popping deals tend to be surplus panels with a new model number slapped on them. Google the model number; if that specific TV seems to only exist for the sake of Black Friday, think twice.

 

Apple

Airpods Pro

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Once unheard of, Apple deals on Black Friday are now a little easier to find. They tend to go fast though!

  • Both Amazon and Walmart are selling AirPods Pro for $170 — a super steep discount from the usual $250. The stock seems to be coming and going fast, so this one might be tough to get.
  • The 40mm, GPS version of the latest Apple Watch (Series 6) is down to $379 from $399 on Amazon right now. While that’s only a drop of $20, these things only just hit the shelves back in September.
  • Best Buy has some pretty solid deals on the latest (8th gen) iPads, like a 10.2″ 32GB model for $280 (usually $330), or the 128GB model for $360 (usually $430.)

Amazon

Image Credits: Amazon

With people already flocking to Amazon on Black Friday, the company usually offers some pretty massive discounts on its Amazon-branded devices as a means of seizing the moment and getting more people into their ecosystem. Sure enough:

Google

google nest hub

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Google tends to go pretty big with the Black Friday discounts, and this year is no exception. Some examples:

  • The Nest Hello doorbell is down to $179, normally $229.
  • Nest Hub is down to $50 (normally $90), and its bigger brother the Nest Hub Max (pictured above) is down to $179 (normally $229.)
  • The latest generation of the Nest Mini smart speaker is $19, down from $50. The beefier Nest Audio speaker, meanwhile, is down to $85 each (usually $99) with the catch that you’ve got to buy two.
  • Stadia Premiere Edition — effectively a starter kit for Google’s gaming-in-the-cloud service Stadia, including both a Stadia controller and a Chromecast Ultra — is down to $70 from $100. The controller alone would normally cost you $70, so if you were already considering giving Stadia a spin it’s sort of like getting a free Chromecast Ultra?

Roku

Image Credits: Roku

Roku’s new Streambar — basically a Roku box and a soundbar crammed into one package — is going for $100 today, down from its normal price of $130.

Sonos

Sonos Move 11

If you’re going to expand your Sonos system (which, hey, is sort of the point of having a Sonos system), Black Friday is usually a good day to do it. Alas, this years Sonos sales are a bit limited, but there are still savings to be found. Amazon has the portable Sonos Move down to $299 (normally $399) and the Sonos SUB down to $599 (usually $699), while Sonos itself is also selling its Beam Playbar for $299 (usually $399.)

Hulu

Image Credits: Hulu

If you don’t mind ads, Hulu is slashing the price of its ad-supported plan from $6 a month to $2 a month for 1 year. Sadly, no deal for the ad-free plan, which is still at its normal $12 a month — but if you were planning on checking out the ad-supported plan anyway, you might as well save a couple bucks.

Calm

Image Credits: Calm

Calm, the popular subscription-based meditation/sleep sounds service, is offering up a pair of promos: they’ll cut the price on a one year membership down by 50% (from $70 to $35), or a lifetime membership by 60% ($399 to $159.)

Video Games

You probably won’t be finding any deals on this year’s new Xboxes or Playstations because… well, they already couldn’t keep up with demand. This year’s best deals are going to be on games, services, and in a few cases, accessories.

Hell, the same goes for the Nintendo Switch. Even without a new hardware release this season, Nintendo’s console is flying off the shelves. If you’re looking for big savings on a Switch itself this year, know that the inventory is incredibly low — any retailer offering a Switch deal is really just doing it to get your hopes up and get you on the site. We’re having a hard time finding any in stock even at full price.

Xbox Deals:

  • Microsoft is selling Xbox controllers (which will work with the next-gen Xbox Series consoles!) for $40, down from the usual $60.
  • Best Buy is selling 3 months of Xbox Game Pass (Microsoft’s Netflix-style game subscription service) for $23, down from the usual $45.
  • Gears 5 is $5 (usually $40) at Best Buy, Doom Eternal is $20 (usually $60) at GameStop, and Microsoft is taking $10 off the newly remastered Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2.

Playstation Deals

  • Sony is selling 12 months of Playstation Plus (its service that lets you play multiplayer games online) for $45, down from $60.
  • Amazon is selling Last of Us Part II for $30 (normally $60), and GameStop and a number of other retailers have Ghost of Tsushima going for $40 (normally $60). Sony has the oh-so-hard-but-oh-so-addicting Cuphead for $15, down from $20. Most retailers will also have sales on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Watch Dogs Legion, and Star Wars Squadrons.

Switch Deals:

  • Nintendo is selling Luigi’s Mansion, Super Mario Maker 2, Yoshi’s Crafted World, Mario Tennis Aces, and Zelda Link’s Awakening for $40 (normally $60) through Amazon and most other retailers. All of these are fantastic!

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Facebook’s latest ad tool fail puts another dent in its reputation

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Reset yer counters: Facebook has had to ‘fess up to yet another major ad reporting fail.

This one looks like it could be costly for the tech giant to put right — not least because it’s another dent in its reputation for self reporting. (For past Facebook ad metric errors check out our reports from 2016 here, here, here and here.)

AdExchanger reported on the code error last week with Facebook’s free ‘conversion lift’ tool which it said affected several thousand advertisers.

The discovery of the flaw has since led the tech giant to offer some advertisers millions of dollars in credits, per reports this week, to compensate for miscalculating the number of sales derived from ad impressions (which is, in turn, likely to have influenced how much advertisers spent on its digital snake oil).

According to an AdAge report yesterday, which quotes industry sources, the level of compensation Facebook is offering varies depending on the advertiser’s spend — but in some instances the mistake means advertisers are being given coupons worth tens of millions of dollars.

The issue with the tool went unfixed for as long as 12 months, with the problem persisting between August 2019 and August 2020, according to reports.

The Wall Street Journal says Facebook quietly told advertisers this month about the technical problem with its calculation of the efficacy of their ad campaigns, skewing data advertisers use to determine how much to spend on its platform.

One digital agency source told the WSJ the issue particularly affects certain categories such as retail where marketers have this year increased spending on Facebook and similar channels by up to 5% or 10% to try to recover business lost during the early stages of the pandemic.

Another of its industry sources pointed out the issue affects not just media advertisers but the tech giant’s competitors — since the tool could influence where marketers chose to spend budget, so whether they spend on Facebook’s platform or elsewhere.

Last week the tech giant told AdExchanger that the bug was fixed on September 1, saying then that it was “working with impacted advertisers”.

In a subsequent statement a company spokesperson told us: “While making improvements to our measurement products, we found a technical issue that impacted some conversion lift tests. We’ve fixed this and are working with advertisers that have impacted studies.”

Facebook did not respond to a request to confirm whether some impacted advertisers are being offered millions of dollars worth of ad vouchers to rectify its code error.

It did confirm it’s offering one-time credits to advertisers who have been ‘meaningfully’ impacted by the issue with the (non-billable) metric, adding that the impact is on a case by case basis, depending on how the tool was used.

Nor did it confirm how many advertisers had impacted studies as a result of the year long technical glitch — claiming it’s a small number.

While the tech giant can continue to run its own reporting systems for b2b customers free from external oversight for now, regulating the fairness and transparency of powerful Internet platforms which other businesses depend upon for market access and reach is a key aim of a major forthcoming digital services legislative overhaul in the European Union.

Under the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act plan, the European Commission has said tech giants will be required to open up their algorithms to public oversight bodies — and will also be subject to binding transparency rules. So the clock may be ticking for Facebook’s self-serving self-reporting.

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