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Amazon’s HR problem

The Amazon logo on a building

Good morning! This Thursday, there's a potential reckoning at Amazon over discrimination claims, Google may face another monopoly lawsuit over advertising, and Ian Rogers describes his path from Apple to crypto.

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The Big Story

Amazon's big HR problem

Amazon is facing a potential reckoning over mounting allegations that its culture fosters an environment of discrimination and sexual harassment.

  • Several women have filed public lawsuits against the company, including individuals that remain employed by the tech giant.
  • And after hundreds of AWS employees recently signed a petition alleging that the internal process to review such claims is not "fair, objective or transparent," Amazon solicited an outside firm to conduct an investigation into the cloud giant.

Attention may now turn to the top brass at Amazon. While much of the blame so-far seems centered on the company's human resources department, Protocol yesterday reported that in at least one instance a recommendation from that HR team is said to have been overruled by senior Amazon execs.

  • In 2019, a Black female AWS employee filed a complaint against Joshua Burgin, then chief of staff to engineering legend and senior vice president Charlie Bell, claiming that he made discriminatory comments to her, two sources familiar with the incident told Protocol.
  • Those complaints were investigated and the resulting report suggested that Burgin be terminated. A meeting of top executives — including Bell, as well as HR leaders Ian Wilson and Beth Galetti — took place to discuss what, if any, remedial action should be taken, the sources said.
  • The group opted to loop in Andy Jassy (then the CEO of AWS, now the CEO of Amazon) before any final decision was made. But before a second meeting with Jassy could be held, Bell interjected and held a private discussion with Jassy, per the sources.
  • Ultimately, Jassy made the decision to keep Burgin, according to the sources, who now serves as the general manager for AWS Outposts.

Amazon did not dispute any of the facts in our reporting when it was presented with a detailed account of the events described here. Instead, the company responded with an emailed statement:

  • "We take all allegations of discrimination seriously and investigate them fully. In this instance, we conducted a thorough investigation and took what we believe was the appropriate corrective action."
  • The company declined to disclose what corrective action was taken. Neither Burgin nor Bell, who left Amazon in August, responded to requests for comment.
  • Famed women's rights attorney Gloria Allred is now representing the employee involved in the Burgin case, sources previously told Protocol. Allred, who was also presented with a detailed account of the events, declined to comment.

The parameters of this case are similar to others filed by current and former AWS executives.

  • For example, Charlotte Newman, who remains employed by Amazon, alleged in her own suit a culture of discrimination rooted in both sexism and racism.
  • AWS executive Cindy Warner also filed a case against the company alleging that she was terminated for hiring a lawyer after reporting her manager for making homophobic and sexist comments.

And employees are increasingly speaking out about the allegedly problematic cultures that exist internally — not just at Amazon, but at other tech companies like Apple and Salesforce.

  • As more of these cases come forward, corporations are likely going to be forced to respond, including introducing new measures to not only prevent future incidents but also to punish those who are found to violate anti-harassment and discrimination policies.

Once that momentum begins to impact sales or recruiting, you can be sure that bigger changes are bound to come.

— Joe Williams (email | twitter)


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People Are Talking

Restricting Huawei doesn't make the United States any safer or stronger, company board member Catherine Chen said:

  • "In fact, these moves have undermined the competitiveness of U.S. companies."

On Protocol | Fintech: Ledger's Ian Rogers has picked some interesting career paths through the years. His latest bet is on crypto:

  • "To me, the pandemic represented a huge turning point for crypto. Pandemic, stimulus — this is it."

The European Parliament likes South Korea's new app store bill, but member Andreas Schwab thinks there should be a global standard for regulation:

  • "If the Americans do something and the Europeans do something and the South Koreans do something, that's not what makes markets grow, that makes bureaucracy and that's not what is useful."

Keep your guard up this weekend, because the FBI and CISA say there's a greater risk of ransomware attacks:

  • "Malicious cyber actors have launched serious ransomware attacks during other holidays and weekends in 2021."

Making Moves

Mina Hsiang is the new head of the U.S. Digital Service. She's the first woman and first Asian-American in the role, Axios reported, and fills the spot left by Matt Cutts.

Samsara confidentially filed for an IPO. The Andreessen Horowitz-backed software company was valued at $5.4 billion last year.

WhatsApp was fined 225 million euros. It failed to explain to EU residents how it was using (and sharing) their data, the Data Protection Commission in Ireland found.

Vans (yes, the shoe company) wants to be part of the metaverse. The company is introducing "Vans World" in partnership with Roblox.

Anne Raimondi is Asana's new COO. She was previously a board member for the company, and before joining Asana she held senior roles at companies like Guru and Zendesk.

In Other News

  • Apple made another big App Store concession. Apps like Spotify and Netflix, the "reader apps" that have picked fights with Apple for years, can now show users who download the app a link to sign up on the web. The change comes in response to an investigation by Japan's Fair Trade Commission, but Apple said it applies globally.
  • Google may face another monopoly lawsuit over its digital ads business, according to Bloomberg. The Justice Department started to look more closely at the company's ad practices in June, and officials could file the lawsuit as soon as the end of the year.
  • On Protocol: Governments shut down the internet hundreds of times over the last decade, according to a new report. The outages are costly for countries that impose them, and people connected to the report said they're dangerous for those affected.
  • Read the letters sent to dozens of tech companies earlier this week by the House Select Committee on January 6. Thirty-five companies, including some right-leaning platforms like Gab and Parler, received a letter.
  • Twitter launched Super Follows, which lets users charge for subscriber-only content, beginning with a group of U.S. users. If you want the feature, there are some requirements — and you need at least 10,000 followers. It's also trying out Safety Mode, a feature that will automatically block accounts for seven days based on "the likelihood of a negative engagement."
  • Apple wants to know its U.S. employees' vaccination status, though vaccines still aren't required. The company is asking workers to "voluntarily" send in their vaccination status by mid-September, even if they're working remotely.
  • How is Amazon addressing its driver shortage? In part by telling its delivery partners to make sure everyone knows they don't screen applicants for marijuana use, according to Bloomberg. The company announced it would stop screening applicants for the drug in June.

One More Thing

John Carreyrou's last words on Theranos

John Carreyrou's book, "Bad Blood," has been around for a few years. But now, as the Elizabeth Holmes' fraud trial begins, the former Wall Street Journal reporter is explaining the last bits of the Theranos scandal in a podcast called "Bad Blood: The Final Chapter."

For a glimpse of the series, give the first two episodes a listen. The first talks about how Holmes could play the sympathy card during her trial, and the second looks at how Theranos may have handled the COVID-19 pandemic if it had still been around. All great background for when testimony finally starts.


Trusted since 2011, there are over 75M Wallets that have transacted $1T+ in crypto. Whether you want to trade, earn, custody, or access full-stack institutional solutions, is a market leader in retail and institutional crypto products.

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