Twitter's Ethical AI lead, Rumman Chowdhury
Photo: Rumman Chowdhury

When AI ethics gets 'ugly'

Protocol Enterprise

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Enterprise! Today: how an AI ethics startup became embroiled in an ownership and control dispute, why zero-trust security is important and overhyped, and a new law proposes banning the sale of smartphone location data.

An AI ethics startup dispute ‘could get ugly’

Twitter’s AI ethics director is locked in a legal battle with the CEO of the algorithmic auditing tech company she founded.

An influential AI ethics researcher and practitioner, Rumman Chowdhury — currently the director of Twitter’s ML Ethics team — handed Parity’s reins in June to Liz O’Sullivan, another well-known figure in the AI ethics community who has called Chowdhury a “friend.”

  • O’Sullivan filed a legal complaint in a Delaware court on May 27 claiming that Chowdhury and others at Parity, including its investment firm Propell Group, used “strong-arm and intimidation tactics” to “seize control of the company and its assets.”
  • There has been a flurry of aggressive actions from both sides.
  • After O’Sullivan was removed temporarily from her CEO post in May, she demanded that Parity CTO Jiahao Chen restore her access to her company accounts. Chen refused; O’Sullivan fired him the next day.
  • Soon after, Chen attempted to move Parity’s corporate funds into a different bank account, but the transfer was blocked.

O’Sullivan and Chen both remain in their original positions today. A primary point of contention in the dispute is who was on the company’s board and when, and how many controlling shares they own.

  • Whether the legal dispute is simply a matter of a CEO looking for a fair exit without losing equity in a company that was on the verge of being acquired or a necessary action taken by company stakeholders who saw no other way to wrest power from a CEO blocking the acquisition process from moving forward remains to be seen.
  • And it’s quite possible the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

If anything, the lawsuit is an unfortunate distraction for a community and emerging AI auditing tech sector that aims to integrate much-needed ethical principles into a largely unaccountable and freewheeling AI industry.

An expedited trial in the Parity case will begin August 1.

Read the full version of this story here.

— Kate Kaye (email | twitter)

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Trust no one

Last week at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, I had the chance to sit down with Jay Chaudhry, the founder and CEO of Zscaler, to discuss "zero trust" security — as well as the fate of the network security vendors that are being disrupted by it.

You've spoken before about how you believe network security vendors are misappropriating the term "zero trust." Do you think it’s getting any better?

It's getting worse. Eventually, it'll start to get better. But currently, it's not. And it's not surprising. When a new technology area becomes popular, it disrupts incumbents. So every incumbent has to try hard to embrace it — if not in products, then in PowerPoints and marketing material. Because building products takes a lot more time.

What's your super brief definition of true zero-trust security?

Zero-trust security says: Connect the right user to the right application or service using a business policy — not networking rules. It's independent of the network.

What does not count as zero-trust security?

Firewalls and VPNs all try to claim they are zero trust. But zero trust was created to overcome the network architecture. Firewalls and VPNs, versus zero trust, are fundamentally opposite.

If the "network perimeter is dead," as many in the industry are saying now, what does that mean for the network security vendors?

I think legacy companies need to pivot. If they can, they'll succeed. Otherwise [think of] Siebel, who dominated CRM systems for the on-prem data center world. Then Salesforce.com came as a cloud-native, multi-tenant architecture. And you know what happened. PeopleSoft used to dominate HR systems; then came Workday.

[Zero trust] is an architectural change. This is like going from internal combustion engine cars to electric cars. You open the hood — everything is different. That's the kind of change that's happening.

— Kyle Alspach (email | twitter)

Around the enterprise

Democratic lawmakers proposed new legislation that would ban the sale of smartphone location data, which came under scrutiny last month with the pending overturn of Roe v. Wade but also provides good-faith researchers with valuable data.

China’s chip industry ordered more equipment than any other market for the second consecutive year, frustrating the Biden administration’s attempts to cut down on that industry and amid long-delayed legislation designed to spur chip industry spending in the U.S.

Snowflake launched an application-development platform that could allow customers to build apps on top of their existing Snowflake data warehouses.

Microsoft customers that want to train AI models on their own infrastructure can now use Azure Arc to tap into Microsoft’s machine-learning tools on their own servers.

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Thanks for reading — see you tomorrow!

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