After watching “The Great Hack” on Netflix I am appalled by the absence of any moral compass at Cambridge Analytica, which transformed Big Data into a political weapon. Other disturbing examples are Uber’s former corporate culture and Facebook’s collusion with CA in abusing our privacy. These cases are prima facie evidence of the crucial need and the opportunity to integrate the Humanities and ethics with deep technology development. I began my career as a Humanities graduate at Intel Corporation working closely with Ivy League MBA’s and senior engineers. We shared our knowledge and learned together to enable the company to excel. The best companies are those grounded in an appreciation of human values, companies that seek out Humanities graduates with a passion for technology to balance out their teams.
At its inception, Uber touted itself as a shining example of the “sharing economy” described by Jeremy Rifkin, in this now famous book, The Third Industrial Revolution. As time has passed the reality has been radically at odds with a sharing economy. Among the many issues that have emerged has been the legacy of Uber’s ugly corporate culture, secret apps used to confound regulators, and to intimidate journalists, a Justice Department investigation of illegal practices, including 200 Uber employees conspiring together to attack Lyft’s operations. The proverbial chickens have come home to roost, as municipalities around the world have begun to regain control of transportation policy within their jurisdictions, and the inflated valuations of these unicorns begin to deflate.
In an extraordinary revelation today by Ronan Farrow, son of Woody Allen and the writer for The New Yorker who broke this story, it was revealed that Harvey Weinstein hired a female Israeli ex-Mossad agent via a private firm, Black Cube, and who used false identities and secret recording devices to intimidate Rose MacGowan and other female accusers of Harvey Weinstein. Mr. Farrow appeared tonight on PBS Newshour in an interview by Judy Woodruff to detail his investigative findings. This has also now been reported by the Washington Post and other journals.
Amid another leak of documents revealing large-scale international tax avoidance, the secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said Monday that tax avoidance was fast becoming a thing of the past. “When we’re talking about the ‘Panama Papers’ or ‘Paradise Papers’we’re talking about a legacy that is fast disappearing,” Angel Gurria said. Speaking at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in London, Gurria said governments were working hard to stop tax avoidance and evasion.
For over a year now I have blogged here about the red flags flying about Travis Kalanick and Uber. Many investigative articles have been published over this time, in the New York Times and other publications, which have raised disturbing questions about Uber, Kalanick and some members of his team. The Board of Directors has finally taken action but it feels like its a day late and a dollar short. Why did it take so long? I have bluntly used the epithet that “Uber is Trump,” but now on reflection, it is more apt to describe Uber as Enron the sequel, and “deja vu all over again.” Remember the audio of two Enron electricity traders laughing about “screwing grandma?” That is Uber.
British Columbia has no limits on political donations, leading critics to say the provincial government has become a lucrative business dominated by special interests. As the premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark is on the public payroll, pulling down a salary of 195,000 Canadian dollars in taxpayer money. But if that were not enough, she also gets an annual stipend of up to 50,000 Canadian dollars — nearly $40,000 — from her party, financed by political contributions. Personal enrichment from the handouts of wealthy donors, some of whom have paid tens of thousands of dollars to meet with her at private party fund-raisers? No conflict of interest here, according to a pair of rulings last year by the province’s conflict-of-interest commissioner — whose son works for Ms. Clark.
How many shell companies exist in Canada? How many legal trusts? Who are the beneficial owners protected by such unnecessary veils of secrecy? No one knows because in most cases there is no legal requirement to disclose actual ownership even to regulators. In fact, more information is required to get a library card than to set up a company in most jurisdictions in Canada. What we do know is that Canada ranks near the bottom among our OECD partners in terms of corporate disclosure requirements to fight money laundering and tax evasion. A recent report from Transparency International detailed the dismal situation and why our country has become a haven for dubious offshore property speculation.
This is a metaphorical essay on personal ethics, worthy of a serious read and contemplation. When I saw the title I was intrigued but suspected it had something to do with Andy Grove’s adage, “sewage flows downhill,” which means “if anything bad happens it will eventually flow down to you.” This is about ethics. The points made here are particularly apt in light of the huge number and sheer scale of recent business frauds: the Volkswagen fraud, LIBOR, Lehman Brothers, Bernie Madoff’s pyramid scheme, Conrad Black in Canada, Olympus in Japan, Bernie Ebbers and Worldcom, Tyco International, stretching back all the way to Enron, Michael Milken’s junk bonds, and the 1980’s savings & loan debacle.
In the Autumn of 1999, I joined a Hong Kong friend for the amazing “K98” train trip from Hong Kong north through the heart of China to Beijing, just in time for the 50th Anniversary celebration of the People’s Republic of China. It was my version of Paul Theroux’s “Riding the Iron Rooster,” and the images of China at that time still stick in my head. Since then China has changed so dramatically that those images no longer exist. Since Deng Xiaoping declared that “getting rich is glorious,” and China’s growth has skyrocketed, China’s domestic and international problems have also multiplied.
Liar’s Poker is one of those books one of your friends strongly urges you to read. A short little book, the recommendation I got from Bill Howe, my Canadian Intel colleague in Europe, was that it was a hilarious read. And so it was. It reads like Animal House. Michael Lewis also recently wrote The Big Short, his analysis of the 2008 financial meltdown. Liar’s Poker has been described as a comedy, and The Big Short as a tragedy, which seems very apt to me if you have heard Michael discuss both books. Many may know Michael best for his recent success with Moneyball.