Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Tech Companies and a Muslim Registry

Two weeks ago, Sam Biddle of the Intercept asked large tech companies whether they would help build the hypothetical Muslim registry proposed by Donald Trump while campaigning. Just two responded to Biddle, and only Twitter specifically said “no”; Microsoft refused to “talk about hypotheticals at this point”. One would think that IBM would have a clear and immediate “no” response as well, given their history, but they didn’t.

Of course, when this article was reposted elsewhere, it was dutifully given much clickbait-ier headlines. My favourite topped off David Z. Morris’ article in Fortune:

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Apple Don’t Rule Out Helping Track Muslims

Typical Fortune bullshit, right? Not responding to an inquiry is not the same as maybe being okay with tracking Muslims. That said, I wish all of these companies were more assertive with their replies.

Anyway, Buzzfeed decided to keep going after this story in light of tomorrow’s big tech summit at Trump Tower, to which Facebook has been invited. A PR rep for the company replied to Nitasha Tiku’s emailed questions — accidentally:

Happy to talk to her off record about why this is attacking a straw man. Also I heard back from her that she may or may not write an additional piece depending on what response she gets from companies. So sounds like not making any stmt on record is the way to go.

This was pretty clearly intended to be included in a forward to another member of their PR team, not as a reply to Tiku. Embarrassing, especially considering the flippant tone of the email. No word on why Facebook considers a Muslim registry to be a “straw man”.

Other companies that will be sending representatives to meet with Trump tomorrow include Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, IBM, Intel, and others. Curiously, the CEO of Trump’s favourite social network — Twitter — hasn’t been invited. I doubt it’s related to their disinclination to assist with building a Muslim registry. Besides, even if Twitter itself opts out, there are plenty of companies with access to their so-called “firehose”.

Regardless of any tech company’s response to the Intercept’s questions, to what Trump might ask tomorrow, or what individual workers may pledge, many employees are going to wake up tomorrow and go to work to build software that could facilitate a Muslim registry. That’s not what the software is for, nor is it the intent of these employees, but it’s what they will do.

Allen Tan:

It’s nice that tech ppl are pledging to never explicitly build a Muslim registry but…you’ve already made things that will be bent to serve

“I will never make a racial profiling database!”

*continues working on social networks, analytics, ad tech*

The most effective way to combat the utilization of data in unsavoury, unethical, and immoral ways is to not collect data in the first place.

Update: Twitter reportedly wasn’t invited not because they pledged to not cooperate with a Muslim registry, but for a reason much, much pettier. Nancy Scola, Politico:

Twitter was told it was “bounced” from Wednesday’s meeting between tech executives and President-elect Donald Trump in retribution for refusing during the campaign to allow an emoji version of the hashtag #CrookedHillary, according to a source close to the situation.

Unreal, and I’m using that word literally. I cannot believe this is reality. Alex Kantrowitz of Buzzfeed disputes Scola’s report.