Tech billionaire helps Facebook whistleblower
Omidyar’s global philanthropic organization Luminate manages Haugen’s press and government relations in Europe, and his foundation last year donated $ 150,000 to Whistleblower Aid, the non-profit organization that provides legal representation and advice to Haugen.
And Haugen’s senior public relations representative in the United States, former Obama spokesman Bill Burton, heads public affairs for the nonprofit Center for Humane Technology, an advocacy organization that receives funding. of Omidyar. (The center is a client of the Burton firm). Haugen appeared on a Center for Humane Technology podcast earlier this month.
Another prominent figure in the tech world in Haugen’s camp: Harvard constitutional law professor and former Democratic presidential candidate Larry Lessig, who Burton confirmed on Wednesday was on the whistleblower’s legal team. âShe is represented by an atty team but we are working with her through Larry Lessig,â Burton said via text message.
Facebook declined to comment for this article. Haugen representatives have yet to respond to questions about the support Omidyar and his organizations have directly or indirectly offered to his cause.
But one of the organizations of Omidyar, its advocacy and investment group Omidyar Network, responded to requests for comment by pointing to a recently published blog post titled “In Support of Tech Whistleblowers Who Keep Tech to Mind” .
âWe are grateful to the good people who spoke out against Big Tech for its bad behavior,â the unsigned article read. âThey play an important role in creating systemic checks and balances for big tech. Because of them, policymakers are taking note and taking action to harness their excessive power and restore confidence and balance on digital markets. “
A person familiar with Luminate’s strategy said Omidyar’s network was only involved after Haugen went public in early October.
“I don’t want to give the impression that Pierre has been involved for months and secretly funded this behind the scenes,” said the person, who requested anonymity to speak frankly. “It is true that he has funded a lot of work around big tech and democracy – many different organizations over several years. And when Haugen’s disclosures became public, we leaned in and said, ‘How can we -help us? “”
The person added that “there will be financial investments of [Omidyar’s] philanthropic organizations on a prospective basis “to keep the conversation going around the issues Haugen has made public.
None of this makes Facebook an underdog, of course: Its market value of nearly $ 1,000 billion makes it the sixth-largest company in the world by measure, and in Washington it employs hundreds of people and counts more than a dozen mandate lobbying firms. Its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, ranks fifth on Forbes’ list of the richest people in the world.
But Omidyar is also on this billionaire’s list (ranked 83rd). And he’s spent years funneling much of his wealth to fund the fight against big tech companies, which he criticizes as too powerful and destructive for democracy. This includes funding groups like the anti-monopoly think tank Open Markets Institute and digital rights group Public Knowledge.
His own network has also become increasingly involved in the agitation against big tech companies. Last year, its advocacy and investment group Omidyar Network ran widely read articles exposing the antitrust cases against Facebook and Google. The group also hosted a series on whistleblowing in the tech industry in early February this year, months before Haugen came forward.
Haugen, who stepped down as Facebook product manager in May, distinguished herself from other Silicon Valley whistleblowers with her organized PR operation. It includes a collection of prominent Democratic agents, including Burton – whose company Bryson Gillette helps manage media relations for Haugen – and Ben Scott, a former technical advisor to Hillary Clinton who now works at Luminate.
Haugen first sparked public interest as an unidentified whistleblower who provided a wealth of internal Facebook documents that served as the basis for a series of Wall Street Journal investigations, then revealed her identity in a â60-minuteâ episode on October 3 that garnered the program’s largest audience since January.
Two days later, she appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee, where she received praise from lawmakers on both sides. (Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey hailed her as a â21st century American hero.â) Her well-organized online presence includes a personal website as well as a Twitter account which only launched this month.
On Monday, Haugen is due to testify before a committee of the British parliament, a session which will be followed by appearances next month in Belgium and France.
Despite Omidyar’s support, Haugen’s lawyers at Whistleblower Aid said they were struggling financially to meet the costs. The organization set up a GoFundMe account for Haugen which raised approximately $ 56,000 with a goal of $ 100,000.
One of Haugen’s other allies, Lessig, wrote in a Medium article on Oct. 11 that he was “serving him on a limited basis as pro bono advice.” He described Haugen as “a woman who risked everything to help us figure out what the world’s most powerful social media company is hiding from us.”
His post also defended Haugen against criticism from journalist Glenn Greenwald – who, oddly enough, was once editor-in-chief of Omidyar-funded outlet The Intercept.
Lessig has been active in a range of causes at the intersection of technology and civil liberties, including calling for an easing of restrictions on copyrights and patents and support for net neutrality and open software. source. He did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.