Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 184)

On the “Google Memo”

You’ve probably heard this story by now. I’m not going to give this any more emotional attention, but wanted to throw down a few quick things that have been bothering me:

  • Damore’s “freedom of thought” is not under attack.  Once you have written a 10-page screed and issued it to your fellow employees, some of whom are women who have to work on your team, you have crossed the line from “freedom of thought” to intimidation and harassment.
  •  Racial and gender diversity are not antithetical to “diversity of thought.” People who come from different racial/gender/class/etc backgrounds invariably bring their varied experiences to the table, creating diversity of thought. Unfortunately, for Silicon Valley types, “diversity of thought” seems to only refer to the right to bring libertarian and right-wing ideas to the table.
  • Those arguing that Damore shouldn’t be fired for his words seem to lack understanding of how his pseudo-scientific, misogynist ideas affect the women who have to work with him, and place Damore’s feelings and well-being above theirs. It’s a delicate balance for sure, but at a company where women only make up 31% of the global workforce and 20% of the technical workforce, Google should be placing the well-being of women above the well-being of misogynists…that is, if they actually want to change their statistics.

But on the other hand…

  • Damore is clearly sexist and thus I shall cry not even a microtear for him, but I will say this: If he’s right that employees don’t feel comfortable expressing their political views in the workplace (no, not in an intimidating 10-page screed, but in the workplace), then maybe Google does have a problem. But the reasons and solutions for that problem that Damore has identified are pseudo-scientific, misogynistic, and wrong.


“I don’t want to give out my phone number” — A gendered security issue

I’d just given a talk and was having a nice chat with a young man who was doing similar work and wanted to stay in touch.

“Great, just give me your Signal number,” he said.

I hesitated. I’ve been using Signal for several years, since it was TextSecure. It’s by far the most trusted messaging app in my circles, and although it’s been slow to catch up to WhatsApp and other tools when it comes to fancy features, I use just as much among friends.

But Signal—as well as WhatsApp and Viber—require you to register with and use your phone number as an identifier. What this means practically is that when I meet someone with whom I wish to connect on one of these apps, I have to give them my phone number for them to be able to message me. Other apps, including Wire and Telegram (the latter of which I do not recommend at all), allow you to connect using a handle of your choosing.

I’ve been thinking about this as a security issue for awhile. As a woman, handing out my phone number to a stranger creates a moderate risk: What if he calls me in the middle of the night? What if he harasses me over SMS? What if I have to change my number to get away from him?

I’m not so surprised that the mostly-male developers of these tools didn’t consider these risks. They’ve focused carefully on ensuring that their encryption works (which is key), that their user-verification models are usable and make sense, and I’m grateful for that…but I still don’t want to give my phone number out to a stranger.

Luckily, I have a workaround, and a policy recommendation for app developers. Let’s start with the latter:

Allow users to create alias handles

I’m not a technologist, but I’ve asked around, and a number of smart friends have suggested that it wouldn’t be so hard for apps like Signal to allow for aliases. What do I mean? Well, imagine that young man at the conference had asked me for my Signal, but instead of giving him my number, I could give him a temporary or permanent handle associated with my account. Registration wouldn’t change—my Signal would still be tied to my phone number—but the public-facing identifier could be the phone number or an alias of my choosing.

I don’t know why this hasn’t been done, but I’d love to know. Perhaps the men running these teams simply haven’t thought of it?

A workaround to protect your phone number

A few years ago, I discovered a way to use Signal and WhatsApp while keeping them disconnected from the SIM I carry with me in my phone. It requires you to purchase a second SIM card (I use a pay-as-you-go that I top up every couple of months). Here’s how you do it:

1. Put your secondary SIM card in your regular phone and register your Signal account to that number.
2. After it’s registered, take that SIM card out and put your regular one back in. Do not change your Signal account to that number.

You’ll want to hold on to the SIM card, and make sure it stays operational, because if the number goes back out onto the market, someone can register a new account with it, thus kicking you off of yours (seriously, this happened to a friend in Lebanon, where numbers go back onto the market frequently).

You can treat the secondary number as a public number (mine is on my business cards, and I keep the SIM in an old Nokia so I can take work calls on it), or as your own little secret.

Black Lives Matter – How to stand in solidarity

A couple of years ago a post I wrote about donating to organizations supporting refugees went viral. I’m hoping I can leverage that same energy for this one to do the same.

Black lives matter. Repeat it till it’s heard.

Fellow white American friends, if you’re wondering what you (we!) can do, here’s a good read. Friends outside of the United States, your solidarity is welcome.

If you have money but not time or physical capacity to put your body on the line, numerous friends have suggested donating to bail funds for activists who do and can. Here’s a list of some in a handful of cities; I’m seeking to compile a more complete list as time goes on, so please leave a note in the comments or email me at jilliancyork [at] riseup [dot] net with further suggestions.

Baton Rouge bail fund: https://www.crowdrise.com/baton-rouge-bail-fund
Bay area anti-repression fund: https://rally.org/arcbailfund
Connecticut bail fund: http://yei.yale.edu/connecticut-bail-fund
Bronx freedom fund: http://www.thebronxfreedomfund.org/
Brooklyn community bail fund: http://www.brooklynbailfund.org/
Chicago bail fund: http://chicagobond.org/
Massachusetts bail fund: http://massbailfund.org

Here are some other excellent organizations that are working on racial justice, prison abolition, and other issues related to mass incarceration. Full comments in quotes indicate the suggestion came from a friend or other anonymous source.

  • Black and Pink: An “open family of LGBTQ prisoners and free world allies” that work toward prison abolition. Funds go toward prison abolition advocacy, and meeting the immediate needs of LGBTQ and HIV+ prisoners.
  • “The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee is worth a mention. They’re a prison abolitionist group that has been doing solid work in prisons all over the US.”
  • Prisonabolition.org has a suggested list of resources and other organizations to which you can donate.”
  • “Oakland’s Prison Activist Resource Center provides resource-filled directories directly to prisoners. $1.50 funds a single print directory.”
  • The ACLU’s prison project works to end mass incarceration.
  • Critical Resistance is a grassroots organization that organizes against the building of prisons, seeks to support prisoners, and mobilizes communities impacted by policing.”
  • Color of Change exists to strengthen Black America’s political voice. Our goal is to empower our members – Black Americans and our allies – to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans and to bring about positive political and social change for everyone.”

Don’t cry, don’t (just) share your prayers. Do something. It’s our responsibility.

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