People

Google wants ties to HBCUs. Their leaders want Sundar Pichai to treat them with respect.

Five HBCU presidents will meet with Google executives Friday to discuss company culture.

Google wants ties to HBCUs. Their leaders want Sundar Pichai to treat them with respect.

Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai will meet with five HBCU presidents to discuss instances of discrimination at Google.

Photo: AaronP/Getty Images

Google's Sundar Pichai will meet with the leaders of five historically Black colleges and universities on Friday afternoon to discuss company culture in response to the still-simmering outrage over Google's firing of leading AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru and other alleged instances of racial discrimination.

"We would like to know more about the atmosphere that we're sending our students into and want to ensure that students coming from Morgan are going into an environment that is going to prompt them to flourish," said Morgan State University President David Wilson. "We want to get [Pichai's] assessment on what we've been hearing publicly, and we want to make sure that we are getting feedback from him about if Google is looking at their internal environment, and I'd like for him to share about it."

Along with Morgan State, the leaders of North Carolina A&T, Prairie View A&M, Howard University and Florida A&M will attend the meeting, which was coordinated by the president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

Over the last year, tech companies like Google and Apple and industry donors such as MacKenzie Scott and Michael Bloomberg have made public investments and commitments to HBCUs, mostly as part of their racial justice efforts in the wake of the George Floyd protests. Though commitments have been unusually well-publicized this year, many HBCUs have had relationships (to varying degrees) with a range of tech companies over the past several years. Several HBCU leaders told Protocol they are also seeing new interest in further investments and partnerships in the coming year.

More than money or recruiting goals, the nation's largest producer of Black engineering graduates wants tech companies, and Google in particular, to treat it and its students with respect. North Carolina A&T wants to be considered for the merits of its programs and its students, not lumped into a conversation about all HBCUs (of which there are more than 100 nationwide).

For Robin Coger, the dean of engineering at North Carolina A&T, the university's relationship with Google grew productive when the company saw A&T as a partner, rather than a means to meet recruitment goals or burnish reputation. "While Google's perspective may be we want to expose students to Google for recruiting goals, our point of view has always been that Google needs to understand the quality of our students," Coger said.

"When you work with Stanford, you work with Stanford. When you work with North Carolina A&T, you work with us. The one-size-fits-all mentality is the opposite of collaboration," she added.

The early years of North Carolina A&T's partnership with Google were a bit rocky. "It was through quite a bit of discussion and conversation and time that ultimately we began to work together. But it required so much effort, on our side, really, because it really is up to the institution to define for the company whether or not this is acceptable," Coger said. Now, the school's computer science department has hosted a Google engineer-in-residence for the last three semesters, in what she called a mutually-beneficial learning relationship.

Morgan State's partnership with Google began about five years ago, after Wilson attended a meeting with tech execs in Silicon Valley that focused on diversifying the industry. Wilson also takes a positive view of the partnerships, and he's even hoping that the school will be able to add another person-in-residence and a Google-sponsored innovation lab.

But before that can happen, Wilson and the other HBCU leaders need to address the controversies swirling around Google. "We're not meeting to question any personnel decisions. But there were public comments made involving our institution and our students. And we just want to talk about the culture within Google," he said.

Google did not respond to request for comment about the meeting.

Protocol | Workplace

Instacart workers are on strike. How far can it get them?

Instacart activists want a nationwide strike to start today, but many workers are too afraid of the company and feel they can't afford a day off of work.

Gig workers protest in front of an Amazon facility in 2020.

Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Starting today, an Instacart organizing group is asking the app's gig workers to go on a nationwide strike to demand better payment structures, benefits and other changes to the way the company treats its workers — but if past strikes are any indication, most Instacart users probably won't even notice.

The majority of Instacart workers on forums like Reddit and Facebook appear either unaware of the planned strike or don't plan to participate because they are skeptical of its power, afraid of retaliation from the company or are too reliant on what they do make from the app to be able to afford to take even one day off of the platform. "Not unless someone is going to pay my bills," "It will never work, you will never be able to get every shopper to organize" and "Last time there was a 'strike' Instacart took away our quality bonus pay," are just a few of the comments Instacart shoppers have left in response to news of the strike.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

The way we work has fundamentally changed. COVID-19 upended business dealings and office work processes, putting into hyperdrive a move towards digital collaboration platforms that allow teams to streamline processes and communicate from anywhere. According to the International Data Corporation, the revenue for worldwide collaboration applications increased 32.9 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching $22.6 billion; it's expected to become a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.

"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Protocol | China

WeChat promises to stop accessing users’ photo albums amid public outcry

A tech blogger claimed that popular Chinese apps snoop around users' photo libraries, provoking heightened public concerns over privacy.

A survey launched by Sina Tech shows 94% of the some 30,000 responding users said they are not comfortable with apps reading their photo libraries just to allow them to share images faster in chats.

Photo: S3studio via Getty Images

A Chinese tech blogger dropped a bombshell last Friday, claiming on Chinese media that he found that several popular Chinese apps, including the Tencent-owned chat apps WeChat and QQ, as well as the Alibaba-owned ecommerce app Taobao, frequently access iPhone users' photo albums in the background even when those apps are not in use.

The original Weibo post from the tech blogger, using the handle of @Hackl0us, provoked intense debates about user privacy on the Chinese internet and consequently prompted WeChat to announce that it would stop fetching users' photo album data in the background.

Keep Reading Show less
Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. She can be reached at shenlu@protocol.com.

Protocol | Enterprise

As businesses struggle with data, enterprise tech is cleaning up

Enterprise tech's vision of "big data" largely fell flat inside silos. But now, an army of providers think they've figured out the problems. And customers and investors are taking note.

Corporate data tends to settle in silos that makes it harder to understand the bigger picture. Enterprise tech vendors smell a lucrative opportunity.

Photo: Jim Witkowski/Unsplash

Data isn't the new oil; it's the new gold. And in any gold rush, the ones who make the most money in the long run are the tool makers and suppliers.

Enterprise tech vendors have long peddled a vision of corporate America centered around so-called "big data." But there was a big problem: Many of those projects failed to produce a return. An army of new providers think they've finally figured out the problem, and investors and customers are taking note.

Keep Reading Show less
Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Protocol | Policy

What Frances Haugen’s SEC complaint means for the rest of tech

Haugen argues Facebook misled investors by failing to disclose its platforms' harms. If the SEC bites, the rest of tech could be next.

The question is whether the SEC will find the contents of Haugen's complaint relevant to investors' interests.

Photo: Matt McClain-Pool/Getty Images

Whistleblowers like former Facebook staffer Frances Haugen have pretty limited options when it comes to actually seeking redress for the harms they've observed and documented. There's no federal privacy law in the U.S. to speak of, Section 230 protects platforms for online speech and companies like Facebook are under no obligation to share any information with lawmakers, or anyone else, about what's happening on their sites.

But there is one agency that not only governs all publicly-traded companies, including in tech, but also offers whistleblowers like Haugen the opportunity for a payout: the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Latest Stories