Google kept quiet about executives that harassed

The New York Times wrote a report about something that happened quietly, at scale, at Google for years that's sickening to read: it enabled sexual misconduct of high-level executives, like Andy Rubin, often touted as the 'father' of Android: 

What Google did not make public was that an employee had accused Mr. Rubin of sexual misconduct. The woman, with whom Mr. Rubin had been having an extramarital relationship, said he coerced her into performing oral sex in a hotel room in 2013, according to two company executives with knowledge of the episode. Google investigated and concluded her claim was credible, said the people, who spoke on the condition that they not be named, citing confidentiality agreements. [...] Google could have fired Mr. Rubin and paid him little to nothing on the way out. Instead, the company handed him a $90 million exit package.

It's a sickening read with a number of other accusations along the same lines. Andy Rubin went on to found Essential, which raised $300 million to create a unique Android manufacturer from scratch, but the report says he was paid more than $90 million to leave Google quietly. 

For a little more context, Rubin actually took a leave of absence from Essential last year when this story started trickling out and never acknowledged the reason he was required to leave Google. The New York Times, however, is detailing that this was not uncommon.

I was curious if he had accepted that the story was out there now and might have apologized, so I found myself on his Twitter profile this morning expecting silence. But, I instead found him denying the claims as a "smear campaign to disparage me during a divorce and custody battle."

Regardless of what he claims, the complaint was filed and the company's investigation found it serious enough to fire him... quietly. It casts extremely poorly on Google as complicit in enabling harassers, given enough power internally to justify doing so, and keeping it quiet even when the person is fired. 

The same report details a similar firing of a search executive, who then became head of engineering at Uber before a report pulled up the accusations just weeks later and he was fired for not disclosing it. 

Sundar Pichai, Google's current CEO, sent out a company-wide letter that made its way out saying that it's taken a harder line on harassment in recent years with "48 people have been terminated for sexual harassment, including 13 who were senior managers and above." It doesn't address the issue that such a high-level of harassment claims in the senior ranks is a problem.

You might be wondering how this is strictly technology related, but I believe these issues are the root cause of many of the industry's issues today because they're inescapably intertwined with the way products and services are built. 

It's easy to write off these claims as HR problems, but they're not: systematic cover-ups of harassment affect hundreds of people because those in power that get away with it are enabled in the future. It's time we stopped accepting silence as normal, and demand better.


Breaking DRM is legal again

A huge decision handed down from U.S. authorities will allow average people to break DRM, or hack their own devices, if they're repairing or maintaining them. It applies to smartphones, tractors, smart home devices and much more.

This is a big deal, because we were coming dangerously close to a situation in which average consumers were denied the right to replace parts on perfectly functional hardware. The tractor hacking scandal, detailed by Vice, was one great example of this: 

"If a farmer bought the tractor, he should be able to do whatever he wants with it," Kevin Kenney, a farmer and right-to-repair advocate in Nebraska, told me. "You want to replace a transmission and you take it to an independent mechanic‚ÄĒhe can put in the new transmission but the tractor can't drive out of the shop. Deere charges $230, plus $130 an hour for a technician to drive out and plug a connector into their USB port to authorize the part."

The new rules essentially say that if a laptop, air conditioner or whatever else has a software lock that prevents repair, users can legally circumvent it to repair the device. Previously, the cracker may have faced criminal charges under the US' Computer Fraud law, but now they're protected as long as it's in the name of repair.

The fight isn't entirely over, particularly because companies like Apple are having U.S. authorities go after those creating aftermarket device parts, but it's a good start toward making our things last as long as they should.


Tab Dump

Twitter loses millions of users, but stock soars
Weirdest result ever: Twitter's monthly active users fell this quarter, but the market didn't care because advertising results were strong. Twitter has been fighting for years to break the industry's obsession with monthly active results, which will never reach Facebook's, and it might be working.

UK fines Facebook the maximum it can: £500,000 
The country's information office wanted to fine it more over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but it wasn't allowed due to when it happened. The maximum fine would have been £17 million under GDPR law, but it only just dodged it as the law came into play later. There may be other issues, though, with EU parliament now calling for a 'full audit' of Facebook.

Cathay Pacific data breach leaks 9.4 million identities
Um, happy Friday.