Power

Splunked: When you launch a free IT tool and people get mad

Twitter users complained that Splunk's Remote Work Insights tool was intrusive. CTO Tim Tully says it was built with privacy in mind.

Splunk CTO Tim Tully

Splunk's Tim Tully said he wasn't expecting criticism for the free tool it distributed, but welcomed it as "healthy conversation."

Photo: Michael Short/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tim Tully was just trying to help.

His company, Splunk, like most tech firms right now, shifted to remote work last month. Tully, who is Splunk's CTO, started hearing from customers that their IT departments needed tools to visualize things like whether their VPNs were being oversaturated or if employees were able to use Zoom without issues.

Splunk, which makes software for monitoring and analyzing real-time data, quickly came up with a tool that they called Remote Work Insights and decided to offer it for free to other companies that might be suddenly managing thousands of employees remotely.

"The motivations for building this largely came from discussions around what can Splunk do for the world to help people out in this challenging time," Tully said. "The best way to do that is to release free software that will help people make sure that educational institutions, financial institutions, health care institutions and big tech companies are able to make sure people are connected."

But not everyone thought it was a kind gift.

A couple weeks after the tool was announced by Tully in a corporate blog post, tech professionals took notice and criticized it on Twitter. Among their many tweets were concerns that it was Big Brother software that would let managers monitor individual employees as they work from home, and that the company was trying to find a way to monetize anxiety during a crisis. Since the recent explosion of remote work, there's been concern that the copious data generated by popular enterprise software tools will be used to monitor worker productivity inappropriately.

Tully said his reaction to the pushback was that the questions he received were fair to ask, and that he considered it part of a "healthy conversation."

On Friday, Tully published a follow-up blog post to clarify what the RWI tool can and can't do, and how organizations are already using it — like a major university that relied on it to quantify student and faculty demand for Zoom.

One thing that many critics were missing, Tully said, was that the tool wasn't designed to help bosses micromanage.

"It's very much geared towards the IT organization that's making sure the firewall is healthy, the VPN is healthy, or Zoom is still alive. It's certainly not built for managers, it's not built to monitor individuals," Tully said. IT and cybersecurity teams regularly track app usage data to do things like evaluate if additional servers are needed or detect intruders; the RWI tool mainly functions to do that for the various remote work tools that employees are spending more time on now than ever before.

Another key part is that the tool was built with employee privacy in mind, and even if a manager tried using it to monitor their direct reports, they wouldn't get very far. For example, the tool can tell you how many employees across the organization are currently using Zoom or other applications, but it doesn't identify those users.

Additionally, all the data in the tool already exists in organizations; the RWI tool just brings it together in a clear, easily digestible format.

"This is just surfacing data that's there already. All we're doing is surfacing it in a way that's consumable for IT leaders. There's no machine learning or anything like that — it's actually just simple aggregation of data," Tully said.


Get in touch with us: Share information securely with Protocol via encrypted Signal or WhatsApp message, at 415-214-4715 or through our anonymous SecureDrop.


Although Tully wasn't too surprised about the reaction on Twitter, he said he might have handled the product launch differently in retrospect.

"Maybe moving forward when we do a blog announcement, we'll be more proactive about addressing some of those questions that came up on Twitter in terms of how we're not violating individuals' privacy and how importantly we take data privacy," he said.

As far as Splunk's customers go, Tully said that the tool has received a lot of positive feedback. "We plan on adding more features," he said, including integration of "more videoconferencing tools and chat applications out there that are heavily used and that people live and die by."

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep Reading Show less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep Reading Show less
FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep Reading Show less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins