Two Write Ups X Ray High Tech Practices Ignoring Management Micro Actions

June 9, 2021

This morning I noted two widely tweeted write ups. The first is Wired’s “What Really Happened When Google Ousted Timnit Gebru”; the second is “Will Apple Mail Threatened the Newsletter Boom?” Please, read both source documents. In this post I want to highlight what I think are important omissions in these and similar “real journalism” analyses. Some of the information in these two essays is informative; however, I think there is an issue which warrants commenting upon.

The first write up purports to reveal more about the management practices which created what is now a high profile case example of management practices. How many other smart software researchers have become what seems to be a household name among those in the digital world? Okay, Bill Gates. That’s fair. But Mr. Bill is a male, and males are not exactly prime beef in the present milieu. Here’s a passage I found representative of the write up:

Beyond Google, the fate of Timnit Gebru lays bare something even larger: the tensions inherent in an industry’s efforts to research the downsides of its favorite technology. In traditional sectors such as chemicals or mining, researchers who study toxicity or pollution on the corporate dime are viewed skeptically by independent experts. But in the young realm of people studying the potential harms of AI, corporate researchers are central.

What I noted is the “larger.” But what is missed is the Cinemascope story of a Balkanized workforce and management disconnectedness. I get the “larger”, but the story, from my point of view, does not explore the management methods creating the situation in the first place. It is these micro actions that create the “larger” situation in which some technology outfits find themselves mired. These practices are like fighting Covid with a failed tire on an F1 race car.

The second write  — “Will Apple Mail Threaten the Newsletter Boom?” — up tackles the vendor saying one thing and doing a number of quite different “other things.” The write up is unusual because it puts privacy front and center. I noted this statement:

All that said, I can’t end without pointing out the ways in which Apple itself benefits from cracking down on email data collection. The first one is obvious: it further burnishes the company’s privacy credentials, part of an ongoing and incredibly successful public-relations campaign to build user trust during a time of collapsing faith in institutions.

Once again the big picture is privacy and security. From my point of view, Apple is taking steps to make certain it can do business with China and Russia. Apple wants to look out for itself, and it is conducting an effective information campaign. The company uses customers, “real journalists,” and services which provide covers for other actions. Like the story about Dr. Gebru and Google, this type of Apple write up misses the point of the great privacy trope: Increased revenues at the expense of any significant competitor. In this particular case, certain “real journalists” may have their financial interests suppressed. Management micro actions create collateral damage. Perhaps focusing on the micro actions in a management context will explain what’s happening and why “real journalists” are agitated?

What’s being missed? Stated clearly, the management micro actions that are fanning the flames of misunderstanding.

Stephen E Arnold, June 9, 2021

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