Giving Voice To The Workers

Giving Voice To The Workers

In light of the recent factory collapse in Bangladesh and another in Cambodia this week, there is an promising crowdsourcing service called LaborVoices for factory workers and other industries.

A former Department of State employee, Kohl Gill, who I do not know, started the service.

LaborVoices collects information from workers by phone polling in the workers native languages.

The service anonymously records information about hazardous working conditions, product quality, and maintenance of equipment.

According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek (13 May 2013), LaborVoices aggregates worker responses and provides the results on a subscription basis through an online dashboard.

Unlike with onsite inspections, where workers can be easily coaxed, cajoled, or threatened to provide positive workplace feedback, the private polling by mobile phones provides for more accurate and timely reporting of workplace issues.

Problems that can be identified early can be remediated sooner and hopefully avoid defects, injuries, and illnesses from poor products and working conditions.

Giving voice to the workforce–anonymously, safely, and in aggregate can provide important information to companies, labor unions, government regulators, and law enforcement to be able to take action to protect people inside the workplace and to users outside.

Like an ever-present inspector general, internal auditor, or tip hotline, LaborVoices can help self-regulate industry, produce safer products, and protect the workers who make it all happen.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to UN Women Asia and The Pacific)

Social Media: Closer Together or Further Apart?

This satirical video with lyrics sung by Elliott Yamin (from American Idol) shows a relationship where interest in everything social media outweighs the real social relationship between the two people (boy and girl).

Even sitting right next to each other, they are texting and skyping as if they are a thousand miles away!

The boy keeps trying to get the girl to pay him some real attention–waving his arms, closing her computer lid, and even pretending to shoot himself–but nothing works. The girl is in social media heaven–or hell–and she just keeps on going online: Texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, Yelping, Grouponing, Blogging, Digging, YouTubing, and on and on.

The boy looks miserable and is proverbially screaming out: “hello, can’t we just be together for real?” But to her, the reality is attained ironically through connecting on social media.

While the video exaggerates the relationship dynamics as impacted by social media, it does acutely point out the many ways that connecting with others has changed in the age of social computing.

But is the change mostly positive or negative–does social media draw us closer or does it in a sense drive a virtual wedge between us?

This past week, the Wall Street Journal (16 August 2011) reported that studies show that “digital communications can lead to more or better friendships online and off, greater honesty, faster intimacy in relationships, and an increased sense of belonging...on the whole, technology appears to enhance real-world relationships.”

in particular, social media seems to be a type of panacea for shy and anxious people who report feeling “significantly less shy, more comfortable, and better accepted by their peers” when they are online than off. Additionally, the “frequent communications online could serve as a practice for in-person social interactions.”

When people are online, they feel perhaps safer, freer, and able to be themselves and this helps them connect with others in a way that is maybe more real than the facade they hide behind in the “real world.”

This can work in negative ways too like when people get behind the wheel of the car, they sort of think they are anonymous and you see them cursing, speeding, etc. In this case, they let their inhibitions go, and in it’s place you get things like road rage. Online too, you have creeps come out and say and do inappropriate things behind the veil of anonymity.

Social media provide tools for us to connect with others. And like any tool, social media can be used for good or bad: On the positive side, it can help us to reach out to others and connect, share, collaborate, and innovate. On the negative side, it can be used as escape from reality or even to conduct unethical or criminal activities.

How we use social media is up to us–the potential to go in either direction is very powerful.

>Architecture of Freedom

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In the United States, we have been blessed with tremendous freedom, and these freedoms are enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. However, in many countries around the world, people do not share these basic freedoms and human rights.

Now in many countries, the limitation and subjugation of people has extended from the physical to the virtual world of the Internet. People are prevented through filtering software from freely “surfing” the Internet for information, news, research and so forth. And they are prohibited from freely communicating their thoughts and feelings in email, instant messages, blogs, social networks and other communications media, and if are identified and caught, they are punished often through rehabilitation by hard prison labor or maybe just disappear altogether.

In fact, many countries are now insisting that technology companies build in filtering software so that the government can control or block their citizen’s ability to view information or ideas that are unwanted or undesirable.

Now however, new technology is helping defend human rights around the world—this is the architecture for anonymity and circumvention technologies.

MIT Technology Review (May/June 2009) has an article entitled “Dissent Made Safer—how anonymity technology could save free speech on the Internet.”

An open source non-profit project called TOR has developed a peer to peer technology that enables users to encrypt communications and route data through multiple hops on a network of proxies. “This combination of routing and encryption mask a computer’s actual location and circumvent government filters; to prying eyes, the Internet traffic seems to be coming from the proxies.”

This creates a safe environment for user to browse the Internet and communicate anonymously and safely—“without them, people in these [repressive] countries might be unable to speak or read freely online.”

The OpenNet Initiative in 2006 “discovered some form of filtering in 25 of 46 nations tested. A more current study by OpenNet found “more than 36 countries are filtering one or more kinds of speech to varying degrees…it is a practice growing in scope, scale, and sophistication.”

Generally, filtering is done with some combination of “blocking IP addresses, domain names… and even Web pages containing certain keywords.”

Violations of Internet usage can result in prison or death for treason.

Aside from TOR, there are other tools for “beating surveillance and censorship” such as Psiphon, UltraReach, Anonymizer, and Dynaweb Freegate.

While TOR and these other tools can be used to help free people from repression around the world, these tools can also be used, unfortunately, by criminals and terrorists to hide their online activities—and this is a challenge that law enforcement must now understand and contend with.

The architecture of TOR is fascinating and freeing, and as they say, “the genie is out of the bottle” and we cannot hide our heads in the sand. We must be able to help those around the world who need our help in achieving basic human rights and freedoms, and at the same time, we need to work with the providers of these tools to keep those who would do us harm from taking advantage of a good thing.