Corporate Surveillance

“So every purchase initiated or prompted by a recommendation you make raises your Conversion Rate. If your purchase or recommendation spurs fifty others to take the same action, then your CR is x50. There are Circlers with a conversion rate of x1,200. That means an average of 1,200 people buy whatever they buy. They’ve accumulated enough credibility that their followers trust their recommendations implicitly, and are deeply thankful for the surety in their shopping. Annie, of course, has one of the highest CRs in the Circle.

The Circle, p. 252

In May 2017 I invited Adrian Hon, entrepreneur, author and futurist, to our speaker series at Mozilla. I’d read his book, A History of The Future in 100 Objects, after hearing him read from it at The Long Now, and I fell in love with the approach of giving retrospectives from an imagined (and well-informed) future vantage point. As we discussed what scenarios could be most relevant and meaningful for us at Mozilla, we decided to arrive on surveillance as a focus.

Specifically, Adrian presented from the perspective of someone in 2027 looking at us then (in 2017), in awe of how readily everyone accepted ongoing, intimate surveillance in the home through devices from Amazon and Google, after buckling so strongly in response to CCTVs in the 1990s.

It’s two years later and nothing freaky has happened with Siris or Alexas (yet). But we have gotten less trusting of surveillance in the home as we continue to learn more about the implications of our data; surveillance capitalism is emerging from academia to the mainstream.

That is, we’re more aware and (legitimately) wary of how our personal data can easily be misused in consumer free and commercial services. But what about surveillance in the workplace?

This screenshot is not from the Circle. It’s an enterprise tool licensed by major companies to encourage their staff to post content about their company on a business-social network.

It is opt in, and the marketing doesn’t suggest companies tie job performance to these dashboards (though…their client endorsers advocate using them to exert social pressure among teammates). And, in fairness, corporations have been able to monitor at least some of their staff’s activity for a long time (though…maybe not quite to the extent that technology offers today. At all).

As the past few years certainly remind us, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Guess we’ll see.

p.s. just came across this Quartz piece – from two years ago – lamenting the advent of corporate surveillance (and echoing my fears of Slack). la la la.

Women Do Tech

Cross-posted from Mozilla

This June, two of my worlds collided beautifully when my employer, Mozilla, announced its sponsorship of a prize for the most privacy-respecting Women Startup Challenge finalist in the EU. On the side, I’d been volunteering with the organizers, Women Who Tech, for three years. So how did this all come together? And why?

When I joined Mozilla in 2011 to help run WebFWD, I was excited to support open source startups and their founders. The role was a great marriage of my experience with venture and startups, along with my desire to support innovation globally. As my role at Mozilla has evolved, my passion to support technologists globally has grown; today in my day job, I get to help our own developers around the world be more productive; and I’m still helping others “outside” Mozilla, as a mentor with WXR Fund and Hackers/Founders.

In 2015 when I met the organizers on a shared dist list, they were (and have since remained) focused on solving one big, persistent problem: less than 2% of all venture funding goes to women-led startups. Note that’s in the U.S.; the EU is a bit better, at 11%, but still far from ideal.

Compelled by the scope (and maddening nature) of the problem (and the tenacity and skill of the Women Who Tech team), I raised my hand. First, I helped recruit some online event panelists, including Julie Wainwright and Rebecca Eisenberg. Later, I helped design the startup challenge and have acted as an online and in-person judge. There I saw firsthand the caliber of the participating teams, which made me further lament the wasted opportunity that the current funding environment poses — not only for women founders, but for all the people they could serve if they only had the funding. Everyone loses.
Judging the first Women Startup EU Challenge in May 2017 @ London City Hall

When a broad mix of humans are behind technology, it leads to better outcomes, both in product and people. And, if you read through Mozilla’s Manifesto, you’ll see that Mozilla cares deeply about not just technology, but how technology impacts humans. While funding is hardly the only disparity between men and women in tech, it is significant, as it determines who will be driving what solutions for our future. For all of these reasons and more, I’m thrilled to see the visions of Mozilla and Women Who Tech come together.