Scientist, enforcer, high-flyer: Three women put a mark on tech


WASHINGTON: Three vibrant and pushed women with ground-breaking concepts made important – if very totally different – marks on the embattled tech trade in 2021.

Frances Haugen, Lina Khan and Elizabeth Holmes – a information scientist turned whistleblower, a authorized scholar turned antitrust enforcer and a former Silicon Valley high-flyer turned legal defendant – all figured closely in a expertise world the place males have lengthy dominated the highlight. Think Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk.

Haugen, a former product supervisor at Facebook, went public with inside paperwork to buttress accusations that the social community big elevated income over the protection of customers. At 32, Khan is the youngest individual ever to guide the US Federal Trade Commission, an company now poised to aggressively implement antitrust regulation towards the tech trade.

Holmes was as soon as value US$4.5bil (RM18.77bil) on paper. Following a three and a half-month federal trial that captivated Silicon Valley, she was convicted Jan 3 on 4 counts of fraud and conspiracy for deceptive traders in regards to the accuracy of a blood-testing expertise developed at her startup Theranos. Holmes might now resist 20 years in jail.

The jury discovered her not responsible of 4 different felony expenses. On the three remaining expenses, the jury was deadlocked.

Holmes’ story has turn out to be a Silicon Valley morality story – a founder who flew too excessive, too quick – even supposing male tech executives have been accused of comparable actions or worse with out dealing with expenses.


Haugen joined Facebook out of a need to assist it tackle misinformation and different threats to democracy. But her frustration grew as she discovered of on-line misinformation that stoked violence and abuse – and which Facebook wasn’t addressing successfully.

So within the fall of 2021 the 37-year-old Haugen went public with a trove of Facebook paperwork that catalogued how her former employer was failing to guard younger customers from body-image points and amplifying on-line hate and extremism. Her work additionally laid naked the algorithms Big Tech makes use of to tailor content material that may preserve customers hooked on its companies.

“Frances Haugen has transformed the conversation about technology reform,” Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook who grew to become certainly one of its main critics, wrote in Time journal.

Facebook the corporate, which has since renamed itself Meta Platforms, has disputed Haugen’s assertions, though it hasn’t pointed to any factual errors in her public statements. The firm as an alternative emphasises the huge sums it says it has invested in security since 2016 and information displaying the progress it’s made towards hate speech, incitement to political violence and different social ills.

Haugen was nicely positioned to unleash her bombshell. As a graduate enterprise scholar at Harvard, she helped create a web based courting platform that finally changed into the courting app Hinge. At Google, she helped make 1000’s of books accessible on cellphones and to create a fledgling social community. Haugen’s inventive restlessness flipped her by way of a number of jobs over 15 years at Google, Yelp and Pinterest and naturally Facebook, which recruited her in 2018.

Haugen’s revelations energised world lawmakers searching for to rein in Big Tech, though there’s been little concrete motion within the US. Facebook rushed to alter the topic by rolling out its new company identify and taking part in up its dedication to growing an immersive expertise platform often called the “metaverse”.

Haugen moved final yr to Puerto Rico, the place she says she will take pleasure in anonymity that might elude her in northern California. “I don’t like being the center of attention,” she instructed a packed area at a November convention in Europe.


An identical dynamic prevailed for Khan, a tutorial outsider with massive new concepts and a far-reaching agenda that ruffled institutional and enterprise feathers. US President Joe Biden surprised official Washington in June when he put in Khan, an lively critic of Big Tech then instructing regulation, as head of the Federal Trade Commission. That signalled a powerful authorities stance towards giants Meta, Google, Amazon and Apple.

Khan is the youngest chair within the 106-year historical past of the FTC, which polices competitors, client safety and digital privateness. She was an unorthodox alternative, with no administrative expertise or information of the company aside from a transient 2018 stint as authorized adviser to one of many 5 commissioners.

But she introduced mental heft that packed a political punch. Khan shook up the antitrust world in 2017 together with her scholarly work as a Yale regulation scholar, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox”, which helped form a new manner of taking a look at antitrust regulation.

For a long time, antitrust work has outlined anticompetitive conduct as market dominance that drives up costs, a idea that doesn’t apply to many “free” expertise companies. Khan as an alternative pushed to look at the broader results of company focus on industries, staff and communities. That faculty of thought – dubbed “hipster antitrust” by its detractors – seems to have had a important affect on Biden.

Khan was born in London; her household moved to the New York City space when she was 11. After graduating from school, she spent three years as a coverage analyst on the liberal-leaning assume tank New America Foundation earlier than leaving for Yale.

Under Khan’s six-month tenure, the FTC has sharpened its antitrust assault towards Facebook in federal court docket and pursued a competitors investigation into Amazon. The company sued to dam graphics chip maker Nvidia’s US$40bil (RM166.90bil) buy of chip designer Arm, saying a mixed firm might stifle the expansion of recent applied sciences.

In Khan’s aggressive investigations and enforcement agenda, key priorities embrace racial bias in algorithms and market-power abuses by dominant tech firms. Internally, some staff have chafed at administrative adjustments that expanded Khan’s authority over policymaking, and one Republican commissioner has assailed Khan in public.

“She’s shaken things up,” stated Robin Gaster, a visiting scholar at George Washington University who focuses on economics, politics and expertise. “She is going to be a field test for whether an aggressive FTC can expand the envelope for antitrust enforcement.”

The US Chamber of Commerce, the main enterprise foyer, has publicly threatened court docket fights, asserting that Khan and the FTC are waging battle on American companies.


Holmes based Theranos when she was 19, dropping out of Stanford to pursue a daring, humanitarian thought. Possessed of seemingly boundless networking chutzpah, Holmes touted Theranos blood-testing expertise as a breakthrough that might scan for a whole lot of medical situations utilizing simply a few drops of blood.

By 2015, 11 years after leaving Stanford, Holmes had raised a whole lot of thousands and thousands of {dollars} for her firm, pushing its market worth to US$9bil (RM37.55bil). Half of that belonged to Holmes, incomes her the moniker of the world’s youngest self-made feminine billionaire at 30.

Just three years later, although, Theranos collapsed in scandal. After a three-and-a-half-month federal trial, a jury now could be weighing legal fraud and conspiracy expenses towards Holmes for allegedly duping traders and sufferers by concealing the truth that the blood-testing expertise was susceptible to wild errors. If convicted, Holmes, now 37, faces as much as 20 years in jail.

When younger, Holmes was a aggressive prodigy who brazenly aspired to make a huge fortune. She began finding out Mandarin Chinese with a tutor round age 9, and talked her manner into summer time lessons within the language at Stanford after her sophomore yr in highschool.

In her sophomore school yr, she took the rest of her tuition cash as a stake and dropped out to run her firm.

As Theranos ascended, some noticed Holmes as the following Steve Jobs. Theranos in the end raised greater than US$900mil (RM3.75bil) from traders together with media baron Rupert Murdoch and Walmart’s Walton household.

The firm’s fairy-tale success began to unravel in 2016, when a sequence of Wall Street Journal articles and a federal regulatory audit uncovered a sample of grossly inaccurate blood leads to assessments run on Theranos gadgets.

The Holmes trial has uncovered Silicon Valley’s “pretend it ‘til you make it” culture in painful detail. Tech entrepreneurs often overpromise and exaggerate, so prosecutors faced the challenge of proving that Holmes’ boosterism crossed the road into fraud. – AP

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