October 18, 2021

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Unlimited Technology

Tech Whistleblowers Have a New Handbook to Help Them Safely Expose Problems at Work

  • A new handbook for would-be whistleblowers provides key insight about the daunting process.
  • The project is the work of Ifeoma Ozoma, the former Pinterest whistleblower, and several other groups.
  • The handbook offers guidance on finding a lawyer, understanding nondisclosure agreements and other issues.

Whistleblowing has increasingly dominated the news cycle in Silicon Valley’s high-stakes tech industry, from spectacular meltdowns like Theranos to the ongoing drumbeat of internal reckoning among management at Facebook. But while the results of blowing the whistle on an employer make headlines, how the person behind the story decided to come forward is, for most people, a mystery.

A new guide released today aims to change that. Dubbed the “Tech Worker Handbook,” the comprehensive collection of resources offers insight into each step of the whistleblowing process, from potential legal ramifications to working with reporters and security measures to consider.

The project, spearheaded by Pinterest whistleblower Ifeoma Ozoma, includes research and resources from The Signals Network, an international nonprofit that encourages transparency and supports whistleblowers working with the press, and Lioness, a PR firm working as a conduit between employees with stories to tell and journalists, among others. The effort is funded by the Omidyar Network’s tech accountability fund.

At its core, the project aims to help tech workers who are considering coming forward with important information to make more informed decisions, Ozoma told Insider. “Preparedness is power,” Ozoma explained, adding that would-be whistleblowers “should not have to rely on whisper networks” to figure out how to contact a journalist, an employment attorney or a government regulator.

Ozoma is quick to point out that the website isn’t meant to be a “how-to” with step-by-step instructions for coming forward with stories of wrongdoing or misconduct in the workplace, but rather a compendium of information that every tech worker should have access to, just like the handbook employers provide workers with when they start a job.

One of the key portions of the handbook dives into nondisclosure agreements and cites Insider’s groundbreaking story on the subject over the summer, which found that NDAs originally designed to protect confidential business information are often so broad in Silicon Valley that they can prohibit an employee from saying virtually anything about their workplace.

The story also revealed a great deal of confusion among tech workers: more than two-thirds of the employees who shared copies of nondisclosure agreements with Insider said they weren’t exactly sure what the documents prevented them from saying — or whether even sharing them was a violation of the agreement itself.

Read Insider’s groundbreaking investigation into NDAs here: We reviewed 36 NDAs from major tech companies and discovered how far Silicon Valley’s giants will go to silence and control their employees

Some of the people involved in creating the handbook emphasized that while tech workers may be aware of the myriad groups and organizations that exist to help support them, the right decision for one worker may look completely different from another. 

“There’s no one recipe to become a safe whistleblower,” said Delphine Halgand-Mishra, executive director of The Signals Network. “You need to make your own decision based on your risk appetite.” 

For tech workers who have decided to come forward to the media with a story — like former Facebook employee Frances Haugen did recently with the Wall Street Journal for the paper’s high-profile “Facebook Files” series — there are a whole host of considerations to make, said Ariella Steinhorn, founder of Lioness. These include using encrypted communication methods and thinking through what documentation could be used to prove that claims a whistleblower makes are indeed true. 

The process can be daunting, Steinhorn said, which is partly why the handbook highlights case studies showing the impact that whistleblowers have had over the years, including spurring personnel changes at large companies to new laws enacted at both the state and federal level.

“You can get really in the weeds about the mechanics of [whistleblowing],” Steinhorn said, adding that for many tech workers, keeping in mind the reason why they are coming forward is crucial. “It’s important to be able to show people how change happens.”

Have a story tip? You can reach Matt via email, at mdrange[at]insider[dot]com, or by phone, at +1(626) 233-1063. If it’s a sensitive matter please use Signal or WhatsApp on a non-work device for encrypted call/chat. You may also anonymously send documents to Matt via SecureDrop or mail them to:

Attn: Matt Drange
Business Insider, 14th floor
535 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA, 94105, USA

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