Gun control advocates confront a man passing by from the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center on May 28, 2022 in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Less talk, more action

Source Code

Good morning and happy Sunday! Here’s your roundup of the week that was.

Corporate values tested

Joe here! Each Sunday I’ll be taking over Source Code. Got an idea, feedback or tip? Email me: JoeWilliams@protocol.com

Salesforce proved this week that, in times of national crisis, even the most progressive tech companies are ultimately beholden to their bottom lines.

After the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Salesforce employees pushed the company to stop its work with the NRA, an ethically dubious organization that has arguably served as one of the main barriers to any real gun control reform in the U.S. in the past decade, one in which gun violence has soared. Salesforce’s message to employees was clear: The company’s values stop when a customer hands us money.

“I don't want to get into the business position where we're deciding which customers are allowed to use our platform,” co-CEO Bret Taylor said in a recording of the all-hands obtained by Protocol. “I think that would violate our principles and violate our principles of trust.” Salesforce declined to make Taylor available to further explain those principles.

Salesforce ending its relationship with the NRA will not stop mass shootings. But the hypocrisy of providing technology to an organization actively blocking gun reform is becoming increasingly glaring with every mass shooting.

The message flies in the face of the so-called “stakeholder capitalism” that Marc Benioff and others routinely preach. Despite those attempts to reframe capitalism as a force to improve the lives of everyone, most Americans are still skeptical. The upside? CEOs are trusted by the public more than politicians and the media, which should theoretically give them a stronger platform to push for change.

Salesforce’s recent decision also seems to run afoul of the company’s own moral stance, which is plastered across its website: “Salesforce has sought to change the world for the better through technology that builds stronger relationships,” reads one page.

Or listen to Benioff at Davos in 2021: “There has been a mantra for too long that the business of business is business, but today the business about business is improving the state of the world.” How has the NRA’s ability to build stronger relationships with its target audience helped change the world for the better? How has Salesforce’s relationship with the NRA improved the state of the world?

To be clear: Salesforce is not the only company guilty of this. Employees at Google, Microsoft and other technology companies have all raised similar complaints about working with the NRA, ICE and other customers that have, by and large, been ignored.

To Salesforce’s credit, the company has been at the forefront of corporate activism on some of the significant social issues of our time. The company underwent several compensation overhauls to address gender pay discrepancies. Benioff also famously pushed back against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Indiana.

And you can point to the decision that a number of tech giants have made to provide employees access to abortion care in places where reproductive rights have been severely curtailed or stripped away completely as a sign that corporations can sometimes do the right thing. But they are just simply limited by a powerful force called Wall Street, regardless of how tough of a pill that is to swallow. While investors are increasingly putting more weight in so-called ESG metrics, at the end of the day shareholders want a return. And that means companies like Salesforce are limited in the actions they can take that might undermine business.

As hot-button topics like gun control drive even deeper divisions in the U.S., corporations are going to need to take more of a firm stance or risk making everyone mad. Meanwhile, 19 kids are dead. And before another crazed gunman litters a school with bullets, as has happened 27 times so far this year, we’re asking for someone, anyone, to do something, anything, that could drive change.

No one is arguing that businesses shouldn’t be able to make money. And yes, cherry-picking customers based on the preferences of employees would open any company up to a potential disaster scenario. But CEOs across corporate America talk ad nauseam about culture and the importance of being a mission-driven organization, so it makes perfect sense for workers to expect their employers to act accordingly in moments of crisis.

A MESSAGE FROM TRUSTED FUTURE

At the same time that the pandemic demonstrated all that is possible in an interconnected world, we saw in new and increasingly stark ways how certain communities continue to be marginalized and harmed by a persistent digital divide and how effectively that divide exacerbates our society’s other inequities.

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The best of Protocol

Want the best software engineers? Stop looking at Stanford and Berkeley. — Anna Kramer

A computer science degree from an Ivy League school doesn’t necessarily mean a prospective employee is the best possible coder. Anna dug into the data and found that coders who graduated from lesser-known CS programs beat Stanford and Ivy League grads on a key test of coding skills, proving that employers should diversify their hiring.

Want VC money for your startup? Make your employees come to work. — Allison Levitsky

Some VCs are investing only in startups that require in-person work, claiming that going to the office can foster camaraderie and help a startup move through its early stages more quickly. Allison talked to VCs who are prioritizing IRL companies to fund.

Khan wants the FTC to tackle privacy, with or without Congress — Ben Brody

FTC Chair Lina Khan has an aggressive tech agenda in her second year on the job. She chatted with Ben Brody about why she’ll be prioritizing data privacy regulations, why mergers and acquisitions will get a closer look when it comes to how workers will be affected and why the FTC has its eye on the video game industry.

'People are getting scammed': A top California regulator has major crypto worries — Ben Pimentel

Suzanne Martindale, head of California’s Division of Consumer Financial Protection, is worried about the potential for scams in the crypto business. She talked to Ben Pimentel about why regulating crypto has become critical and challenging, given the industry’s rapid expansion, and how California can play an important role in this effort.

Unity CEO: The killer app of the metaverse will be more like TikTok than Fortnite — Janko Roettgers

According to John Riccitiello, the future of the internet is the metaverse. But the metaverse won’t be avatar-centric like Fortnite or Meta’s Horizon Worlds. Riccitiello told Janko what he thinks the metaverse will really look like: some combination of “social, interactive, persistent and 3D.”

Twitter vowed to change its world leaders policy. Then came Elon. — Issie Lapowsky

A year ago, Twitter said it was planning to rethink its entire policy on the accounts of world leaders, and sought public input about it through a global survey that garnered some 49,000 responses in a month. But so far, nothing has come of these efforts. After Elon Musk’s acquisition, will anything change? Issie explains how it started and how it’s going.

With Delta Lake, Databricks sparks an open-source nerd war and customer confusion — Kate Kaye

Databricks, a competitor to Snowflake, insists its Delta Lake database technology is open source. But in spirit, it’s not, critics say, potentially costing time and money. Kate Kaye explains that this could all be a part of the company’s playbook amid its bid to go public.

A MESSAGE FROM TRUSTED FUTURE

There is so much more we need to do to make sure our future is more equitable and inclusive and maximizes America’s potential. It is not enough just to ensure everyone is connected. We also need to extend the full scope of digital opportunity to the people, the communities, and the institutions.

Learn more

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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