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EPIC director leaves after backlash over handling of COVID-19 test

EPIC's staff told the board that Marc Rotenberg came to work and held meetings after his doctor directed him to take a test that later came back positive.

Marc Rotenberg

EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg is leaving his position.

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center is leaving the organization, the chair of EPIC's board said in a statement Tuesday. The news comes after members of EPIC's staff told the board that their boss, Marc Rotenberg, came to work and held meetings after his doctor directed him to take a COVID-19 test that later came back positive. The allegations were first reported by Protocol last week.

In a statement posted to EPIC's website, board chair Anita Allen wrote that "the time has come for new leadership at EPIC."

"Marc has contributed tremendously as a scholar and advocate to a powerful global movement in support of privacy, freedom of expression and democratic values," Allen wrote. "He has helped shape EPIC's values-driven policy and advocacy related to the internet, artificial intelligence and government surveillance." Rotenberg has recently been an outspoken critic of invasive surveillance efforts to address the spread of COVID-19.

EPIC's general counsel, Alan Butler, was named interim executive director while the organization looks for a permanent replacement. Neither Allen nor Rotenberg immediately responded to requests for comment.

Last week, Protocol reported on the staff's concerns, citing interviews with several current and former employees, as well as internal documents and Rotenberg's own letter to the staff. According to the letter, Rotenberg's doctor instructed him to take a COVID-19 test on March 6, just before Rotenberg was set to take off on a flight to Miami for the weekend. Rotenberg, who said he had not been symptomatic, continued on his trip and took the test when he returned to Washington, D.C., the following Monday.

Rotenberg went to work that Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning, leaving the office as soon as he received a call telling him his test came back positive. But he didn't inform his employees of any of this until that Thursday, a day after EPIC's D.C.-based staff got a call from the public health authority informing them they were exposed to someone with the virus. Rotenberg later said in his letter that he had followed protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On March 20, EPIC employees wrote to the board, asking its members to take action.

Allen's statement on Tuesday didn't directly address the staff concerns or whether Rotenberg's departure was based on the board's decision. In an email obtained by Protocol that was sent to EPIC's board of advisers over the weekend, Allen wrote that the board had been working closely with Rotenberg and EPIC employees to address the issue since March 12. Allen also assured the board of advisers that EPIC was "financially sound."

"Rest assured that we are doing our jobs, and that Marc has, over the past six weeks, accountably provided the board with the detailed information we requested," Allen wrote in the email.

Protocol | Workplace

In Silicon Valley, it’s February 2020 all over again

"We'll reopen when it's right, but right now the world is changing too much."

Tech companies are handling the delta variant in differing ways.

Photo: alvarez/Getty Images

It's still 2021, right? Because frankly, it's starting to feel like March 2020 all over again.

Google, Apple, Uber and Lyft have now all told employees they won't have to come back to the office before October as COVID-19 case counts continue to tick back up. Facebook, Google and Uber are now requiring workers to get vaccinated before coming to the office, and Twitter — also requiring vaccines — went so far as to shut down its reopened offices on Wednesday, and put future office reopenings on hold.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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Protocol | China

Livestreaming ecommerce next battleground for China’s nationalists

Vendors for Nike and even Chinese brands were harassed for not donating enough to Henan.

Nationalists were trolling in the comment sections of livestream sessions selling products by Li-Ning, Adidas and other brands.

Collage: Weibo, Bilibili

The No. 1 rule of sales: Don't praise your competitor's product. Rule No. 2: When you are put to a loyalty test by nationalist trolls, forget the first rule.

While China continues to respond to the catastrophic flooding that has killed 99 and displaced 1.4 million people in the central province of Henan, a large group of trolls was busy doing something else: harassing ordinary sportswear sellers on China's livestream ecommerce platforms. Why? Because they determined that the brands being sold had donated too little, or too late, to the people impacted by floods.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.
Power

The video game industry is bracing for its Netflix and Spotify moment

Subscription gaming promises to upend gaming. The jury's out on whether that's a good thing.

It's not clear what might fall through the cracks if most of the biggest game studios transition away from selling individual games and instead embrace a mix of free-to-play and subscription bundling.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Subscription services are coming for the game industry, and the shift could shake up the largest and most lucrative entertainment sector in the world. These services started as small, closed offerings typically available on only a handful of hardware platforms. Now, they're expanding to mobile phones and smart TVs, and promising to radically change the economics of how games are funded, developed and distributed.

Of the biggest companies in gaming today, Amazon, Apple, Electronic Arts, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nvidia, Sony and Ubisoft all operate some form of game subscription. Far and away the most ambitious of them is Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass, featuring more than 100 games for $9.99 a month and including even brand-new titles the day they release. As of January, Game Pass had more than 18 million subscribers, and Microsoft's aggressive investment in a subscription future has become a catalyst for an industrywide reckoning on the likelihood and viability of such a model becoming standard.

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Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
Protocol | Policy

Lina Khan wants to hear from you

The new FTC chair is trying to get herself, and the sometimes timid tech-regulating agency she oversees, up to speed while she still can.

Lina Khan is trying to push the FTC to corral tech companies

Photo: Graeme Jennings/AFP via Getty Images

"When you're in D.C., it's very easy to lose connection with the very real issues that people are facing," said Lina Khan, the FTC's new chair.

Khan made her debut as chair before the press on Wednesday, showing up to a media event carrying an old maroon book from the agency's library and calling herself a "huge nerd" on FTC history. She launched into explaining how much she enjoys the open commission meetings she's pioneered since taking over in June. That's especially true of the marathon public comment sessions that have wrapped up each of the two meetings so far.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

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