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 from Omidyar. (The center is a client of the Burton firm). Haugen appeared on a Podcast from the Center for Human Technology 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. “She is represented by an atty team but we are working with her through Larry Lessig,” 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 Omidyar’s organizations, its advocacy and investment group Omidyar Network, responded to requests for comment by designating a newly released blog post titled “In Support of Technology Whistleblowers Who Hold Technology to Account”.

“We are grateful to the good people who spoke out against Big Tech for its bad behavior,” the unsigned article read. “They 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: nearly $ 1 trillion in market value in fact the sixth largest company in the world by one measure, and in Washington, it employs hundreds of people and has more than a dozen mandate lobbying firms. 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 spent years funneling much of his wealth into finance the fight against large technology 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 the 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 organized a whistleblower series in the tech industry in early February this year, months before Haugen showed up.

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 had provided a wealth of internal Facebook documents that served as the basis for a investigative series last month in the Wall Street Journal, then revealed his identity in a Episode “60 minutes” October 3 which attracted the program biggest 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 an “American heroine of the 21st century.” ”) Its well-organized online presence includes a personal website and a Twitter account which only launched this month.

Monday, Haugen must 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 in financial difficulty 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 an article on Medium on October 11 that he “serves him on a limited basis as a pro bono lawyer”. 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.


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