Andy Jassy at the AWS Summit, 2017.
Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

AWS concludes it’s a good place to work

Protocol Enterprise

Today: why AWS might be kidding itself if it thinks the results of a recent workplace investigation solved a problem, how one quantum computing entrepreneur wants to protect your data from, like, the future and a disappointing week for Microsoft’s sustainability leader.

Please move along, nothing to see here

When Andy Jassy took the keys to the Amazon kingdom from Jeff Bezos after leading AWS for 18 years, employees were cautiously optimistic that the newly minted great and powerful Oz would improve diversity at the Emerald City’s biggest employer.

Despite being a long-time champion of the cause internally, Jassy appears to have done little to move the needle as CEO in terms of increasing representation at the highest levels of the organization.

But last month, Jassy’s former unit scored a key win in its ongoing battle with employees who allege a culture of bullying, discrimination and harassment at AWS: an outside investigation into the troubled ProServe division found no evidence to back up such claims.

  • The probe was sparked by protests from hundreds of employees. And workers had hoped the results, while only addressing a small portion of the vast workforce, would help spur broader change within AWS as a whole.
  • Instead, it may have just validated the despicable behavior that workers allege has festered openly within the company for years.
  • Amazon’s treatment of all its employees, especially those that aren’t white males, has been the subject of a number of revealing reports, union battles and stinging criticisms from political leaders.
  • And AWS in particular has had to deal with an escalating number of complaints alleging a toxic workplace.

Unfortunately, the results of the Oppenheimer report are unsurprising in today’s corporate environment. No matter how appalling the allegations, no matter how many voices chime in to echo them, no matter the magnitude of the actions that workers take to draw attention to the issues, when businesses investigate themselves — or hire someone else to — everything is perfect.

But details of the Oppenheimer probe are telling. Investigators talked to 92 current and former ProServe employees, according to an email sent to employees. Overall, the division has thousands of workers.

  • While no one would expect Oppenheimer or AWS to talk to everyone, fewer than 100 employees is a very small sampling — especially considering that the investigation was launched a year ago.
  • The more than 550 employees who signed the letter that spurred the investigation represent more than five times the number on Oppenheimer’s call sheet.
  • As is usually the case with Amazon, there’s more to the story. Amazon said “all AWS ProServe employees were invited and encouraged to participate in the Oppenheimer investigation.”
  • But according to reports and internal sources, Amazon has no problem deploying aggressive corporate intimidation tactics on those unwilling to play by its rules. It locks employees with whom it’s reached settlements into iron-clad non-disclosure agreements that are strictly enforced.
  • There’s a lack of trust in the formal HR system — one that, for some cases, includes probes by outside firms similar to Oppenheimer — that employees have said deters individuals from filing claims.

Still, this is Amazon’s victory. Facing legal and reputational challenges, the company can now point to a report from a law firm led by Amy Oppenheimer, an experienced employment attorney, declaring that nothing is amiss.

It also helps shield Jassy from uncomfortable questions like, how much and what did he know? And what did he do to try to address it?

  • There are some out there whose hatred of Amazon is so feverish that they would settle for nothing less than a complete gutting of the company.
  • And while the number of “true believers” may be dwindling as Amazon ages and its stock price drops along with everyone else’s, there are many employees who continue to trust in the company.
  • For good reason: It remains one of the world’s most successful and important businesses.

However, the Oppenheimer report will in no way close the door on this issue for Amazon.

  • If anything, it could spur more people to speak out.
  • Even the most powerful companies can only keep a lid on internal scandals of a certain magnitude for so long. And Amazon is already a hot pot waiting to explode.

— Joe Williams (email | twitter)


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Quantum fear sells

Cyber spies from the future are coming for your data. It sounds like a B-movie plot, but it’s what Jack Hidary, founder and CEO of SandboxAQ, is banking on to sell his quantum startup.

“It’s like watching a science fiction time-machine movie,” Hidary told me this week. “Your data today is retroactively broken from the future.”

The company, an Alphabet spinoff with financial backing from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Marc Benioff's TIME Ventures and others, wants to help customers shield themselves from quantum computing capabilities that Hidary believes will break the technologies used to secure secret chemical formulas and sensitive customer transaction data today. To prepare, Sandbox is selling automated software that assesses the systems enterprises have in place now to determine what types of encryption they use, and whether vendors run those systems on hard drives in the cloud or on-premises.

Hidary calls this “the discovery phase.” He hopes companies will buy into the notion that they should launch a multiyear overhaul to gear up for the inevitable day when quantum computers can crack today’s encryptions in milliseconds.

One important caveat: “We don't believe anyone has built such a scaled quantum computer,” Hidary said, noting that SandboxAQ’s inventory software does not require a quantum computer to run. (Phew!)

“Even though quantum computers at scale are still a number of years away, if you don't move your core communications and data storage now, your data today is vulnerable because the adversaries get your data today. That's the problem. They get it today, and therefore they could read it a number of years from now.”

Hidary added, “It's a bit of a trippy idea.”

— Kate Kaye (email| twitter)

A cloudy ruling

It was a “disappointing week” for Elisabeth Brinton, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Sustainability. On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court limited the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ability to regulate carbon dioxide or greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal- and natural gas-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act, the 1970 federal law that regulates air emissions.

A key issue that Microsoft’s legal counsel is investigating, according to Brinton, is what the ruling means in terms of the SEC’s proposed rule changes, unveiled in March. The new rules would force public companies to make certain climate-related risk disclosures, including their greenhouse gas emissions, to provide greater transparency for investors.

“Now, I am not a lawyer, but from a practical perspective, investors actually have been driving the SEC in terms of how they look at climate disclosures based on risk,” Brinton told Protocol. “The precedent … around risk and the authority of the SEC around capital markets … and disclosures in terms of understanding how a company stands in its valuation, to me is very solid ground.”

In any case, certain large multinational companies such as Microsoft and financial institutions doing business or investing capital in Europe still face sustainability requirements under European Union rules, even if they’re U.S.-based, according to Brinton.

“The EU taxonomy and the rules around sustainability apply,” she said. “The EU made their jurisdictional authority for sustainability very similar to GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] and privacy. So the market and where we have to go in terms of enabling not only carbon emissions reductions, but then across ESG [environmental, social and governance] more broadly, actually flows through and across to the U.S. companies that are global. It does impact, like GDPR, your operations holistically. It touches down into your cost centers, regardless of where they are.”

For its part, “Microsoft's commitment to doing the right thing for the planet stands regardless of regulation,” Brinton said. “We started on a journey for sustainability over a decade ago and continue to march forward.”

— Donna Goodison (email | twitter)

Around the enterprise

Cybersecurity experts have some questions about Microsoft’s recent report on activity in Ukraine, and whether or not the company stretched the truth to further its commercial interests.

Taiwan joined the parade of people urging Congress to pass the long-delayed Chips Act, hoping to get subsidies for new construction in Arizona.

Microsoft Azure’s capacity problems are back,according to the Information, which reported that servers are scarce in several countries even after Microsoft rushed to improve capacity during the early days of the pandemic, when it was forced to ration computing instances in some countries.


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Thanks for reading — see you Tuesday!

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