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Zoom Deleted Events Discussing Zoom “Censorship”

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Zoom shut down a series of events meant to discuss what organizers called “censorship” by the company.

The events were planned for Oct. 23, and were organized in response to a previous cancellation by Zoom of a San Francisco State University talk by Leila Khalid, a member of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a designated terror organization in the US. Khalid is best known for highjacking two planes, one in 1969 and one in 1970.

Zoom told the Verge at the time that the Sept. 23 talk was in violation of the company’s terms of service. The Verge also reported that the action was in response to pressure by Jewish and Israel lobby groups, such as The Lawfare project.

Following the Sept. 23 cancellation, a group of academics organized a series of events across the country, as well as in Canada and the UK, which were meant to highlight the issue.

“Campuses across North America are joining in the campaign to resist corporate and university silencing of Palestinian narratives and Palestinian voices,” said the day of action event description, which was meant to be held on Oct. 23.

The follow-up events did not include Khalid presenting. The event held in part by New York University, which was canceled the day of, included a compilation of her previous statements, according to a blog post on the incident.

“Khaled is undergoing medical treatment and was unable to provide a voice message for the occasion,” the post stated.

“Zoom is committed to supporting the open exchange of ideas and conversations and does not have any policy preventing users from criticizing Zoom,” a spokesperson for the company said. “Zoom does not monitor events and will only take action if we receive reports about possible violations of our Terms of Service, Acceptable Use Policy, and Community Standards. Similar to the event held by San Francisco State University, we determined that this event was in violation of one or more of these policies and let the host know that they were not permitted to use Zoom for this particular event.”

However, Zoom did not respond to questions about which specific policy was violated or whether other events have been shut down by the company.

Adam Saeed, a student at University of Leeds, said he used his personal Zoom account to organize the event. He told BuzzFeed News that the company deleted his event and disabled his account without explanation. He contacted the company’s customer support line, but said he has not yet heard back.

“It cannot be a unilateral decision saying, ‘You violated our terms of use,’ they have to prove that,” he said. “We have to have the right to contest this and present our case.”

Andrew Roth, a professor of social and cultural analysis at NYU who organized the event in conjunction with the American Association of University Professors, called the situation “absurdist.”

“Everyone working in higher education right now depends on Zoom and we cannot be in a position of allowing a corporate, third-party vendor to make these kinds of decisions,” Roth said. “It’s simply unsustainable.”

Roth added that he asked the tech worker who was helping organize the event to check whether the link was active the night before it was set to go live because the event for the University of Hawaii had already been affected. It was fine at that point, but by early afternoon Friday, it had disappeared and there was no option to restore it.

“Universities tend to get into these lucrative contracts with Zoom, and more or less handed over this very fragile power to decide what is acceptable academic speech and what is not,” said Roth. “For those of us who work in the field of supporting and protecting Palestinian rights, it’s no surprise to us that Palestinian speech is the first to be cracked down on.”

The NYU event eventually went on with Google Meet, but the effort was intercepted by “politically-motivated trolls,” Roth said, and the organizers had to hold it privately and then publish the recording.

Cynthia Franklin, a professor at the University of Hawaii, also saw an event she organized deleted by Zoom, but was unable to find an alternative platform.

“I know that I have free speech rights that are being violated,” she said, “and a private entity is dictating to my public university what I can and cannot say.”

Katherine Franke, a professor at Columbia University who was a panelist at the NYU talk, has experienced events focused on Palestive being canceled in the past and was recently deported from Israel. She sees Zoom’s reaction as an extension of old problems.

“I think it presents a real challenge for universities to think about how to protect academic freedom in this context where we’re so dependent upon these internet-based ways of gathering and talking about comfortable and uncomfortable ideas,” she said.


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The Guardian view on Arcadia and a retail emergency: where’s the plan? | Retail industry

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Arcadia is a figurative region of rural contentment. Perhaps no other business has been so inappropriately named as Arcadia Group, which owns Topshop, Burton and Wallis. This week it is likely to enter administration, offering a cautionary tale. Sir Philip Green, Arcadia’s driving force, used cost-cutting to boost profits. Financial engineering saw a £1.2bn tax-free dividend paid to the Green family in 2005. But there was little innovation. Arcadia lost ground to high street and online rivals. Sir Philip became embroiled in unseemly rows with the pensions watchdog over Arcadia’s retirement fund and his behaviour towards employees. More than 13,000 jobs could go in the biggest retail collapse of the pandemic so far.

The demise of Arcadia threatens to sink a rescue deal for a struggling Debenhams. These two occupy 600 stores and employ about 27,000 people – more than the fishing industry that the prime minister wants to protect. Yet there’s no rescue planned for the high street. Familiar names such as Monsoon, Accessorize, Laura Ashley, Oasis and Warehouse have gone under this year. Analysts say almost a quarter of a million people will lose their jobs as 20,000 stores close, with women disproportionately affected. This will be a bleak Christmas for many families. Though the high street giants must take their share of the blame, it is an emergency that the government needs to address. City and town centres rely on shops for a sense of place. Retail is a vital source of work in every community, providing one in eight jobs and accounting for more than a tenth of Britain’s economic output, according to a 2018 TUC report.

As spending moves from physical stores to the internet, the amount of work and person-to-person contact involved in shopping wanes. Only about a minute of human labour goes into the average Amazon parcel: its plans to recruit 8,000 more workers won’t make up for the tens of thousands of high street jobs lost. Whether online or offline, owners win big while workers lose out. E-commerce executives this month raked in the largest payouts in UK corporate history. Many bricks-and-mortar retail jobs are low-paid, particularly for young workers. But they offer human contact and a ladder to the top. Tony Hoggett, the chief operating officer of Tesco, began his career stacking shelves, and noted in 2017 that his is “one of a handful of industries where it’s still genuinely possible for people to progress from the shopfloor to the boardroom”.

Coronavirus is a reckoning for the retail trade, with profound effects for the economy. As big names go under, landlords face rent shortfalls that could drag down asset prices. Creditors will be staring at big losses. This unsustainable mix of trends is coming to a head: job cuts lead to income reductions and then spending drops. Workers cannot load up with ever increasing levels of debt. Demand for goods and services will fall. The government must show leadership by setting a policy framework that is conducive to good jobs, with effective tech oversight and proper corporate accountability. It might be too late to stop the Green family sloping off in a yacht, but checking irresponsible behaviour in business ought to be part of the ministerial brief.


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Microsoft’s GitHub has become magnet for thorny issues like RIAA

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In 2018, Microsoft made one of its priciest acquisitions ever, spending $7.5 billion on code-sharing site GitHub. It wasn’t the cleanest fit. GitHub is used by over 50 million developers who tend to be outspoken, including when it comes to things they dislike about Microsoft.

The deal continues to pose unexpected challenges, like a recent spat with the Recording Industry Association of America. In October, the RIAA asked GitHub to take down youtube-dl, a piece of open-source software that enables people to download videos from YouTube and other online services.

The software disappeared from the internet, and users objected.

One GitHub user, on the site, described the incident as “a shame for GitHub” and said “that Microsoft acquisition was really a mistake.” Another called for Microsoft to resign from the RIAA, an organization that consists primarily of record labels and musicians. The removal by GitHub so angered yet another user that the person responded by posting part of GitHub’s own proprietary software on the area of the site where digital copyright takedown requests are reported.

The code was adjusted by the person who maintained the project so that it was no longer in violation of the RIAA. The company then brought youtube-dl back online and announced a new process for handling similar claims.

Like fellow tech giants Amazon, Apple and Google, Microsoft faces all sorts of challenges related to its bigness, whether from its many rivals, millions of customers, profit-hungry investors or politicians concerned about competition. GitHub, as a storehouse of open-source projects and a virtual lifeline for programmers, creates tension of a different sort.

Some problems GitHub can solve by adhering to the demands of protesting users. Others are more sensitive, like the company’s work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

GitHub has refused to cut ties with ICE, leading employees to resign after the agency renewed its contract to use GitHub software. Key GitHub users published an open letter late last year insisting that GitHub end the contract, citing the agency’s separation of children from their parents and other activities. Hundreds of GitHub’s own workers signed an internal petition to have GitHub stop work with ICE last year, too, said two former employees who were not authorized to talk about internal affairs.

GitHub did not respond to a request for comment.

In addressing the ICE issue, GitHub expressed opposition to family separation. The company said it doesn’t have a services agreement with the agency, provides no consulting work and “has no visibility into how this software is being used, other than presumably for software development and version control.”

Microsoft has faced criticism, separate from GitHub, for its work providing cloud services to ICE, even though the company said in 2018 that it was “dismayed” by the practice of family separation.

For GitHub, the latest incident involving the video downloading tool has provided an opportunity for users to reignite the ICE controversy. Former GitHub engineer Zach Holman responded to an explanation provided by Nat Friedman, the company’s CEO, by bringing up the past incident.

Friedman’s tweets often receive replies to the effect of “Drop ICE.”

“The whole thing permeates everything they do now,” said Holman, who left GitHub in 2015 and now invests in start-ups. He said the easiest resolution would be to end the contract, which Friedman has described as “not financially material for our company.”

Earlier this year, GitHub was among the technology companies that showed support for the Black community following the killing in May of George Floyd while in police custody, and the nationwide protests that ensued.

A few GitHub users suggested that the company could rename part of its service so that “master,” a racially sensitive word, could be retired. The term referred to the primary area where developers store their code.

GitHub announced a plan to do exactly that one week later, changing the name to “main.” Even with good intentions, the company welcomed a fresh batch of comments about the ICE contract.

Holman summed it up this way: “How do I reconcile your position with ICE and what you’re saying about support for diversity in tech?”

WATCH: The rise of open-source software


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Zoom investors look to post-pandemic 2021 even with big Q3 expected

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