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Apple invests $10 million in Harlem Capital VC firm

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Early-stage venture capital firm Harlem Capital will receive a $10 million investment as part of Apple‘s diversity push.

Apple announced the investment on Wednesday as part of its plan to allocate $100 million to address racial equity and justice.

CEO Tim Cook originally announced the Racial Equity and Justice Initiative in June as one of a number of corporate reactions to civil unrest following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

The funding will be coming over the next two decades and help Harlem Capital with its goal of investing in 1,000 diverse-led businesses in 20 years.

“We’re always trying to get capital in the hands of people in proportion to the population,” said Jarrid Tingle, managing partner at Harlem Capital, in an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley” on Thursday.

The firm currently holds 21 investments across 11 cities and nine industries. Forty-three percent of the companies are exclusively women-led, while 47% are led by Black or Latino CEOs.

Companies in the firm’s portfolio include Black media company Blavity and government affairs platform GovPredict.

The firm previously received a portion of PayPal‘s $50 million investment to address the venture capital funding gap facing Black and Latino entrepreneurs.

According to a 2020 Crunchbase Diversity Spotlight report, Black and Latino founders represented only 2.6% of the total $87.3 billion in funding toward the end of 2020, despite the dollar amounts increasing every year.

Tingle, however, remained optimistic that the tide is turning.

“The time will come,” Tingle said. “The challenge is they weren’t really getting these opportunities until about 2013 or 2014, so they never had the opportunity to get to the point where they would go public.”

While some experts point to a pipeline problem, Tingle said that is not something he faced in identifying diverse-led companies. When Harlem Capital launched an investment search, they found 200 women-, Black- and Latino-led companies that had independently raised over $1 million.

“Our bet at Harlem Capital is that backing these entrepreneurs will help them build companies, generate wealth, hire diverse people and then reinvest when they’re successful, and that is happening,” said Tingle. “But we also believe you can’t be what you don’t see.”


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‘Touching fish’ craze see China’s youth find ways to laze amid ‘996’ work culture | China

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On the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, enthusiastic slackers share their tips: fill up a thermos with whisky, do planks or stretches in the work pantry at regular intervals, drink litres of water to prompt lots of trips to the toilet on work time and, once there, spend time on social media or playing games on your phone.

“Not working hard is everyone’s basic right,” said one netizen. “With or without legal protection, everyone has the right to not work hard.”

Young Chinese people are pushing back against an engrained culture of overwork, and embracing a philosophy of laziness known as “touching fish”. The term is a play on a Chinese proverb: “muddy waters make it easy to catch fish”, and the idea is to take advantage of the Covid crisis drawing management’s focus away from supervising their employees.

The author of a viral post at the centre of the conversation, Weibo user Massage Bear, described “touching fish” as a life attitude.

“[It] is a life philosophy of perfunctory living, letting go of oneself and others at the same time… and that’s the key to living in the moment and being relaxed,” she said.

Some make a game of it, Quartz reported, aiming to be the employee who uses the most toilet paper, or getting up from their desk whenever any other colleague does.

The deliberate slowdown at work marks a cultural shift among younger generations who are pushing back against unhealthy work hours for little gain, and not seeing the opportunities for upward mobility experienced by their parents.

“The fundamental reason for me to do that is that I no longer believe that I can get a promotion in my current company by hard work and ability,” said one Weibo user.

“There’s a joke in the tech industry, if you work hard before 35 as engineer in a food delivery company, then after 35 you are the delivery guy,” said Suji Yan, a 25-year-old chief executive of a tech startup mask.io.

“I’ve heard of people being fired after 35 because they spent less time in the company, because they have families to look after and they have less energy than the younger people.”

The “touching fish” movement has a sense of humour, but behind it is a deadly serious issue. Recent deaths have again highlighted the dangers in China’s “996” work culture – a reference to working 9am to 9pm, six days a week at a minimum, particularly in the tech industry and among food delivery drivers. The 996 attitude is widespread, despite labour laws saying work should be limited to eight hours a day, for an average of 44 hours a week.

Media reports include anecdotes of employees being offered bonuses or fold-out beds for under the desk if they work overtime, fines for missing phone calls, and even signal blockers in bathrooms to stop employees using their phones while on their toilet.

“It’s not that I don’t do my job well,” said one Weibo user.

“Touching fish to resist 996 is nothing more than a kind of nonviolent non-cooperation in a harsh working environment and a difficult process of safeguarding rights.”

In December a 23-year-old employee of e-commerce giant Pinduoduo died after working past midnight, the company confirmed earlier this month. While her death hasn’t been formally attributed to overwork, the company attracted furious backlash over the expectations put upon employees, and it was exacerbated further when earlier this month an engineer – surnamed Tan – took his own life.

Shortly afterwards Pinduoduo also fired an employee, named as Wang Taixu. Wang said he was fired after posting a photo online of an ambulance parked outside the company’s Shanghai officer building with the caption “another brave Pinduoduo warrior has fallen”. Pinduoduo reportedly disputed his characterisation of the medical incident and said Wang was fired for “extreme comments made with obvious malice”, violating company rules, and unrelated to the ambulance video. But another video which he posted after he was fired, criticising the intense work culture at the company, was viewed nearly half a million times according to Sixth Tone. Pinduoduo denied the accusations in the video.

Yan said companies got around labour laws in globally familiar ways: hiring people as contractors rather than employees, and incentivising people like delivery drivers to work long hours more often, with bonuses and games, rather than forcing them to do it.

He said as a chief executive he understood the pressures companies were under to increase output, but disagreed with the systematic culture of overwork, and saw the touching fish movement as a form of safe resistance.

“People do that because they have no way of talking to the management.”

Current leading business people are still fans of 996. Alibaba founder, Jack Ma, has said the practice is key to being successful in competitive industries. Xibei Canyin chief executive, Jia Guolong, said people should in fact be working “715” (15 hours a day, seven days a week). In 2019 a Huawei executive boasted that employees asked to work past 10pm. But it has drawn opposition from state media, including Xinhua news and the Communist party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily.

Yan said the tech industry was having a reckoning with how it was enabling the 996 culture, for example by building the technology which exploits delivery drivers. Github, a software development hosting site, has a project called 996.ICU (work 996 and you’ll end up in the intensive care unit), which documents companies enforcing excessive overtime. Yan suggested the project, co-created by his wife Katt Gu and other IT developers and to which he contributes, was in part a way for engineers to make amends.

“There are more and more engineers who are like the Github starters and want to contribute something to society, not to create algorithms to kill more delivery guys,” he said.

“There’s progress. I think my generation, when they become employers and CEOs they’ll have more humane ways of management, they’ll try to fix the system.”


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Microsoft president Brad Smith defends MSPAC to employees

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Microsoft president Brad Smith takes part in a roundtable discussion with US President Donald Trump and industry executives on reopening the country, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC on May 29, 2020.

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

A top Microsoft executive defended the company’s approach to supporting political campaigns in a meeting with employees on Thursday, according to a transcript of the meeting that CNBC reviewed.

Microsoft President and legal chief Brad Smith said Microsoft is evaluating options for the Microsoft Political Action Committee (MSPAC), which employees criticized because it helped finance the campaigns of Congress members who supported Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Microsoft employees in the U.S. can give some of their income to the MSPAC, but have no direct say in which candidates it donates to. On Jan. 11 the company said it was putting donations on hold after the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt, when rioters flooded into the U.S. Capitol during the Electoral College vote count that formalized Joe Biden’s win. The MSPAC had donated to several Republican members of Congress who tried to delay the formal Electoral College vote count, despite the complete lack of evidence of widespread voting fraud.

Several other companies, including Amazon, Facebook and Google, also temporarily stopped political contributions after the events.

On Jan. 13 one Microsoft employee, Carmen Crincoli, called for the company to stop supporting members of Congress who voted against the Electoral College results, and to stop giving money directly to elected officials and candidates. He said if the company couldn’t do those things, it should close down MSPAC and ask that employees get involved with politics individually.

Smith, who articulates Microsoft’s position on political topics, addressed the complaints.

“The questions that are being considered are exactly I think what you would expect. Should the PAC suspend donations to the members who voted against the Electoral College? If so, for how long?” Smith said to employees on Thursday.

But he also gave an frank explanation of why the MSPAC was important to Microsoft’s interests:

“I can tell you it plays an important role. Not because the checks are big, but because the way the political process works. Politicians in the United States have events, they have weekend retreats, you have to write a check and then you’re invited and participate. So if you work in the government affairs team in the United States, you spend your weekends going to these events; you spend your evenings going to these dinners, and the reason you go is because the PAC writes a check.

“But out of that ongoing effort a relationship evolves and emerges and solidifies, and I can tell you as somebody who sometimes is picking up the phone, I’m sometimes calling members and asking for their help on green cards, or on visa issues, or help to get an employee or family member who is outside the United States during Covid back into the country because of an immigration restriction.

“Or the issues around national security, or privacy, or procurement reform. Or the tax issues that our finance team manages. And I can tell you, there are times when I call people who I don’t personally know, and somebody will say ‘you know, your folks have always shown up for me at my events. And we have a good relationship. Let me see what I can do to help you.'”

Microsoft declined to comment on Smith’s remarks.

In 2020 hundreds of Facebook employees participated in a protest over the company’s decision to maintain a posts from former President Donald Trump, and in 2018 Google employees protested a contract the company had to supply cloud services to the Pentagon, prompting the company to not renew the contract.

WATCH: Microsoft and Green Bay Packers team up to invest in Black and Latinx entrepreneurs

Nominations are open for the 2021 CNBC Disruptor 50, a list of private start-ups using breakthrough technology to become the next generation of great public companies. Submit by Friday, Feb. 12, at 3 pm EST.


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Facebook, Google and Twitter urged by Senators to crack down on vaccine misinformation

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar, (D-MN) speaks during the fourth day of the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 15, 2020.

Susan Walsh | Pool | Reuters

A group of Democratic senators wrote to the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, Google and its subsidiary YouTube Thursday asking the companies to crack down on vaccine misinformation and make their efforts more transparent.

As the pandemic rages on, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc. and Gary Peters, D-Mich. told the CEOs that is “vital” for Americans to get accurate information about the coronavirus vaccines.

“While we understand that your companies have implemented policies regarding the removal of vaccine-related misinformation and dedicated resources to stop the spread of misinformation, we believe more must be done,” the senators wrote. “It is imperative that you be transparent about the amount of harmful misinformation that appears on your platforms and the effectiveness of your efforts to remove this content, so that public health organizations and experts can respond appropriately.”

The senators added that platforms must enforce their policies to limit exposure to misinformation and should actively promote reliable information to users.

The companies already have policies in place to remove misinformation and elevate reliable sources, but reporting throughout the pandemic has revealed that measures to crack down on dangerous and inaccurate messages often come after many users have already seen them.

Platforms have also faced conflicting pressure from Democrats and Republicans in Congress on how they should approach content moderation overall. Democrats tend to push for the companies to take more drastic action to eliminate misinformation and hate speech alike from their services, while some Republicans worry that such efforts would disproportionately target conservative speech due to alleged bias of moderators and algorithms.

The senators asked the companies to respond to a series of questions touching on both transparency and enforcement around misinformation on their platforms.

On transparency, the senators asked how much coronavirus and vaccine-related information is reported and removed each day on average since the beginning of the pandemic. They also want to know how long it takes the platforms to remove messages that are marked false and if they take action on accounts responsible for high levels of misinformation.

The senators asked companies that have exceptions to their policies for politicians (like Twitter, which exempts world leaders from some of its harshest penalties but still reduces distribution for violating messages) whether vaccine-related misinformation is also exempt from moderation policies when posted by such users.

Finally, they asked if the platforms will work with public health groups to promote vaccination and how they will make sure communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic receive accurate information.

This is not the first time lawmakers have called on the companies to crack down on misinformation. Kloubuchar, for example, previously urged the platforms to take a strong stance on misinformation around voting in the lead up to the 2020 election.

Representatives from the companies addressed in the letter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.

WATCH: Why Covid-19 misinformation is everywhere and how companies are trying to stop it


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