Chinese Big Tech's new fear: crowdsourced, sharable docs

Tech workers are creatively using sharable files to fight exploitation.

A woman walks outside the headquarters of Tencent while looking at her phone.
SHENZHEN, CHINA - AUGUST 19: A woman walks outside the headquarters of Tencent on August 19, 2020 in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province of China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)
VCG / Contributor/ Getty Images

A crowdsourced spreadsheet with a blacklist of bad managers at big Chinese internet platform companies went viral on Chinese social media earlier this week.

Screenshots of the shared Tencent Sheets, the Tencent equivalent of Google Sheets (banned in China), named and shamed managers of specific teams in Chinese Big Tech, detailed working conditions and team dynamics, and included advice for those looking to land jobs on the teams.

The criterion for judging a bad manager is whether they are a so-called "pick-up artist," or PUA. In China, PUA is now a commonly known term referring to the superior in a relationship who gaslights and suppresses their subordinate. For positions that the blacklist didn't recommend, the advice was crisp and urgent: Run! (快逃).

There's no way to verify the authenticity of the information, and Chinese media has reported that the shared spreadsheet was promptly reported for violations and is now inaccessible.

Shared docs have had a banner year in China. Chinese netizens' creative use of shared documents has allowed simple spreadsheets to become a crowdsourcing tool for mutual aid in times of crisis and a self-organizing tool for tech workers seeking to expose grueling working conditions.

Just last month, thousands of white collar Chinese tech workers participated in another collaborative project they called "Worker Lives Matter," sharing their extended work hours, exposing tech companies that still adopted a "996" schedule and workplace cultures. A few weeks later, tech giants from ByteDance to Tencent announced they would strictly follow an 8-hour, 5-workday schedule, in compliance with China's labor laws. It's unknown whether workers' online expose prompted BigTech to abolish a brutal overtime policy that tech workers had long criticized.

This past summer, shared docs played a key role in disaster relief in the flood-stricken Zhengzhou, the capital city of Henan province. Thousands of residents crowdsourced relief assistance over a 48 hour period through a single Tencent doc, rescuing those awaiting rescue. The document contained information including contact information for official and unofficial rescue teams, relief resources, shelter locations, phone-charging stations and online medical consultations.

Grassroots digital crowdsourcing efforts in China first made an impact during the initial COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020. Citizens started shared documents to help catalog reliable news coverage about the epidemic, to list outpatient clinics across Hubei province and to create tools for procuring medical supplies from abroad and clearing customs. Volunteers also raced to archive censored media coverage and threatened personal accounts of those suffering from disease or injustice. In a restrictive media and information environment like China, these shared docs have been essential for Chinese citizens to access reliable information in times of crisis and communicate with wider communities.


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Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

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The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.

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Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.


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Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

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Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

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