In the public interest
Marginalized people often lack a sense of belonging and inclusion in organizations. The silver lining to this exclusion is that those people may feel less obligated to toe the line when they see wrongdoing. Given all of this, it is likely that some combination of gender socialization and female outsider status in big tech creates a situation where women appear to be the prevalent whistleblowers.
It may be that whistleblowing in tech is the result of a perfect storm between the field’s gender and public interest problems. Clear and conclusive data does not exist, and without concrete evidence the jury is out. But the prevalence of female whistleblowers in big tech is emblematic of both of these deficiencies, and the efforts of these whistleblowers are often aimed at boosting diversity and reducing the harm big tech causes society.
More so than any other corporate sector, tech pervades people’s lives. Big tech creates the tools people use every day, defines the information the public consumes, collects data on its users’ thoughts and behavior, and plays a major role in determining whether privacy, safety, security and welfare are supported or undermined.
And yet, the complexity, proprietary intellectual property protections and ubiquity of digital technologies make it hard for the public to gauge the personal risks and societal impact of technology. Today’s corporate cultural firewalls make it difficult to understand the choices that go into developing the products and services that so dominate people’s lives.
Of all areas within society in need of transparency and a greater focus on the public interest, we believe the most urgent priority is big tech. This makes the courage and the commitment of today’s whistleblowers all the more important.
Francine Berman is the director of public interest technology and the Stuart Rice research professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Jennifer Lundquist is a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.