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What happens to whistleblowers?


Good morning! This Thursday, a look into the lives of Big Tech whistleblowers after the news cycles move on, what comes next for Coinbase, Uber's back-to-the-office plan and how the FBI hacks iPhones.

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The Big Story

Life after blowing the whistle

Tech whistleblowers can cause cataclysmic change. Jack Poulson's revelations about Google's Project Dragonfly helped end that program. Aerica Shimizu Banks and Ifeoma Ozoma's revelations about Pinterest's culture led to codified changes to company policy.

But they're probably only just getting started.

The act of whistleblowing can be brutal for the people that do it. Protocol's Issie Lapowsky documented what happens to the lives behind the upheaval — and how some whistleblowers are trying to make it easier for the people who follow them.

  • Breaking an NDA involves a very explicit financial calculation. If no other company wants to risk hiring someone with that kind of public exposure, how long can you afford to lose your income and health insurance?
  • While Ozoma and Banks made those calculations and decided they could take the risks, many feel they can't. Google whistleblower Chelsey Glasson left the company and sued for pregnancy discrimination, but waited to publicly describe what happened to her until she found and started another job.

But it's often not as bad as they expect. Poulson and former Google AI ethicist Timnit Gebru were among the many whistleblowers who were surprised to find that, in reality, other tech companies often do want to hire people like them.

  • "People try to trade on your moral halo," Poulson told Issie.

And now Ozoma and Banks want to help future whistleblowers. Ozoma is working with the Omidyar Network, which provides resources and support for potential whistleblowers, while the two are also pushing for the passage of the Silenced No More Act, which would expand California protections for people who break NDAs to speak up about their company.

  • Their advice: Be anonymous. "If there's any way you can do this without having to become a public figure because of the harm you experienced, I would go that route," Ozoma said. "This would not be my first, second, third or fourth choice. It was just the only choice I had."


Coinbase's crazy debut

Coinbase had a rollercoaster of a day after its market debut yesterday, opening at about $340, jumping as high as $429 and then plummeting down before rebounding and ending the day at about $328. Volatility: Yet another thing Bitcoin and Coinbase have in common!

But that volatility couldn't get in the way of people getting rich, and everyone who was early to the company still made a fortune or three in the process.

  • At the stock's peak, Brian Armstrong's stake in the company was worth about $20 billion, instantly making him one of the 100 richest people in the world.
  • Initalized's Garry Tan, who wrote the first funding check to the company, said he turned $300,000 into $2.4 billion.

And the company's likely to mint many more millionaires in the near future, because it may be going on an acquisition spree, COO Emilie Choi told Protocol | Fintech's Ben Pimentel.

  • "That's the whole reason I came to Coinbase in the first place," Choi said. "We're going to be using acquisitions as a way to accelerate all the different things that we wanted to do."
  • Cash is also a hedge against uncertainty. "I want us to think about things much in the way Amazon did," Choi said. "Nothing matters right now day to day. What matters is that everything is long term, that we're thinking about the trajectory of the company."
  • Coinbase has already done a number of acquisitions, but seems to understand that the crypto space moves faster than any one company can. Coinbase can now afford to let everyone experiment and build, and then bring the best of it into Coinbase. And founders can expect a handsome pay day.

If you were on Twitter yesterday, you surely noticed all the people humble-tweeting about their early investments in Coinbase, sad-tweeting about jobs they didn't get and the like. But nobody beats Asana CEO (and Facebook co-founder) Dustin Moskovitz, who tweeted: "I'm part of the origin story for the Winklevoss quest for glory. They wouldn't have bothered with BTC if not for the need to redeem themselves." I think he was kidding? But … he's not wrong.


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People Are Talking

A Facebook moderator left their Accenture-contracted job, and shared some realities of the role on their way out:

  • "Those who spend the most time in the queues have the least input as to policy … it can take months for issues to be addressed, if they are addressed at all."

Uber Chief People Officer Nikki Krishnamurthy laid out the company's re-opening plan:

  • "In September 2021 we will shift to a hybrid model, where employees can work from home up to 2 days a week, but with a clear expectation that they also come into the office 3 days a week. We feel that this combination of in-person and remote work will give people the freedom to do their best work while staying connected to their colleagues."

The chip shortage isn't going away any time soon, TSMC CEO C.C. Wei said:

  • "This shortage will continue throughout this year and may be extended into 2022 … In 2023, I hope we can offer more capacity to support our customers. At that time, we'll start to see the supply chain tightness release a little bit."

Making Moves

VMware is officially spinning off from Dell. Dell announced it was considering the move almost a year ago, but is finally going ahead with the move.

Matt Cutts is leaving the U.S. Digital Service. The administration is looking for a new administrator now.

A big shakeup at Shopify: CTO Jean-Michel Lemieux, chief talent officer Brittany Forsyth and chief legal officer Joe Frasca are all leaving in June, the Ottawa Business Journal reported.

Zhu Liang and Cussion Kar Shun Pang are the new CEO and chairman of Tencent Music, and current chair Tong Tao Sang is leaving the company entirely.

Mahi de Silva is the new CEO of Triller, joining as part of an acquisition of his company Amplify.AI. Mike Lu is now the company's president.

Virgin Media and O2 have been provisionally approved to merge by the U.K. government. The merger would create one of the country's largest telecoms.

Gojek and Tokopedia are set to merge, The Information reported, forming an $18 billion new company called Goto. The deal is reportedly expected to close very soon.

In Other News

  • Don't miss this story on how Amazon uses its cross-market dominance to get favorable deals with vendors, from The Wall Street Journal. One example: Amazon reportedly threatened that if Ecobee didn't share user data, it might remove the company's products from the store. Meanwhile, over 500,000 Indian small businesses are planning a protest against Amazon and Flipkart starting today.
  • The Biden administration is planning sweeping sanctions against Russia in retaliation for SolarWinds and other cyberattacks. They're set to be announced today.
  • On Protocol: Twitter will share how race and politics shape its algorithms. It plans to study the biases within its algorithms, and said it will share the results.
  • Ireland's Data Protection Commission is investigating Facebook over the huge data leak. It said the leak may violate EU GDPR rules.
  • Facebook is being asked to stop working on its "Instagram for kids" app. A large group of advocates and nonprofits said it worries that young people are "particularly vulnerable to the platform's manipulative and exploitative features." Also, Instagram is testing letting users choose to hide like counts (again).
  • China's biggest tech companies promised to behave, in 12 similar-sounding statements released by the country's antitrust regulator.
  • The San Bernardino iPhone was unlocked by Azimuth Security, a small Australian company, according to The Washington Post.
  • The FBI is remotely accessing U.S. computers to remove malware from the Microsoft Exchange hack. The DOJ gave the agency permission to take the proactive step.

One More Thing

Microsoft Flight Simulator

We here at Protocol are big fans of Flight Simulator. But there's "being a fan," and there's "playing Flight Simulator on a PC that's designed to look like half a jet engine." That's what Xbox France is offering one lucky player, if you enter a contest on Twitter. It's going to look awesome next to my giant Lego Millenium Falcon, my giant Robot Optimus Prime and my probably even more giant PlayStation 5.


Companies all over the tech industry are making big promises and big plans for the coming decades, trying to do their part to fight climate change, promote equality and take a view of success longer than next quarter and wider than Wall Street. Our panel of industry leaders will examine these questions and more.


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Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce, with help from Anna Kramer and Shakeel Hashim. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to, or our tips line, Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Ifeoma Ozoma's role at the Omidyar Network. She is working with it, not helping lead it. It also mischaracterized the impact of Ozoma's and Aerica Shimizu Banks' whistleblowing. The settlement made following their revelations was awarded to another employee. Updated April 15, 2021.

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