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Is Silicon Valley's image going up in flames?

Tom Kaneshige | July 31, 2014
It's getting ugly in the Valley. And it's not just about gentrification. Tech companies are under fire for indirectly helping con artists dupe the public, secretly manipulating people's emotions and engaging in what looks an awful lot could be discriminatory hiring practices.

In a July 28 blog post, Rudder admitted that OkCupid experimented by, at times, removing user pictures or profile texts, and indicating a good match or bad match even though the algorithm showed the opposite. The goal apparently was to find out how much importance is being placed on a user's picture, the power of suggestion, and how effective OkCupid's matching engine works.

Ethical questions about secret experimentation be damned.

"We noticed recently that people didn't like it when Facebook 'experimented' with their news feed," writes Rudder in a blog post, adding, "But guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you're the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That's how websites work."

In Rudder's world view, this makes everything OK. But OkCupid looks shady.

Lack of Diversity
This spring, Google disclosed demographics of its technical workforce showing that 83 percent are men, 60 percent are white. A bunch of tech companies -- Salesforce, Linkedin, Facebook, Yahoo, Cisco, Adobe, among others -- also released numbers that fall in line with Google's lack of diversity. White males not only dominate tech jobs but the leadership ranks as well. At Twitter, for instance, 90 percent of the technical workforce is male, and 72 percent in leadership positions are white.

If this wasn't bad enough, there's a workforce demographic missing from diversity disclosures: age of workers. The San Francisco Chronicle has called upon tech companies to disclose this demographic, and so far most have refused. Ageism is Silicon Valley's dirty little secret; it looms largest because it remains hidden.

Only Hewlett-Packard has been open about the age of its workers: A quarter of its U.S. employees are 30 or younger, more than half are between 31 and 50 and about 18 percent are over 51, SFGate reports.

But Hewlett-Packard might be more the exception than the rule. Last summer, Cisco began embracing a youth movement while letting middle managers go. A Twitter executive said that the average age of a Twitter employee is 30. Signs point to hiring practices that weed out older workers, too.

With the media focused on gender, ethnic and age discrimination in the tech industry, people are lighting up comment boards -- and it ain't pretty.

All of this bad publicity comes at a time when Silicon Valley tech companies' public images are most vulnerable. Tech workers and their big paychecks, along with luxury buses that take them from their San Francisco diggs to offices along the peninsula, have become targets. They are being accused of causing gentrification in San Francisco and elsewhere.

This summer, tech companies are under fire for indirectly helping con artists dupe the public, secretly manipulating people's emotions, and engaging in discriminatory hiring practices. The media is fanning the flames, as the tech industry's image gets torched.


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