Weekend news round-up: Facebook Messenger gets thumbs down, Silicon Valley sexism exposed

11 Aug 2014

In our round-up of the weekend’s top tech news, Facebook Messenger tops the charts with a bad reputation and an app spots Ebola before the WHO.

Facebook users’ new platform to express displeasure

Facebook’s decision to push all of its users to install its standalone messaging app came into force last week and, by the weekend, Facebook Messenger had reached the top of the App Store charts – but with a paltry one-star rating.

“While user reviews are complaining about everything from poor performance to privacy concerns, it seems most are simply taking issue with the fact the app is being forced onto them,” writes Karissa Bell for Mashable.

“That disgruntled users would take to app stores to express their displeasure is not surprising, but it does mark a shift from how users previously responded to Facebook changes they didn’t like.”

Ebola outbreak spotted first by medical app

The recent Ebola crisis in West Africa was discovered by an app built to detect and track such disease outbreaks nine days before the World Health Organisation formally recognised the epidemic, Rodrique Ngowi of The Huffington Post reports.

HealthMap is operated by a team of researchers, epidemiologists and software developers based in Boston Children’s Hospital and uses algorithms to track online conversations and medical professionals’ networks to identify disease outbreaks.

“It shows some of these informal sources are helping paint a picture of what’s happening that’s useful to these public health agencies,” co-founder John Brownstein told Ngowi.

First-person account of sexism in tech

A late post on Forbes’ website during the week gained significant traction over the weekend for exposing chauvinism and harassment as a routine occurrence for female founders in Silicon Valley.

The first-person account gives an overview of the tricky landscape female entrepreneurs must navigate their way through when seeking investment in a male-dominated VC community.

“I had to interrogate more than the way I dressed. I had to recast how I was viewed as a businessperson,” writes the anonymous entrepreneur.

“I asked my allies and colleagues to stop using certain descriptions – ‘force of nature’, ‘fire cracker’ – because they were loaded with gender assumptions. I asked our business development lead to remove gender-specific pronouns from his initial descriptions of the company and me, and instead to say things like, ‘This CEO is exceptional. I’ve never seen an entrepreneur work so hard.’ The longer we went without mentioning my gender, it turned out, the further the conversations progressed.”

Amazon’s Orwellian take on Hachette dispute

As Amazon’s stand-off with book publisher Hachette Book Group nears four months with no steps made towards a resolution, both sides are calling on larger groups to join the fray.

In a contract dispute, Amazon has impacted Hachette’s sales by delaying delivery, removing pre-orders and reducing discounts on some of its titles. Holding books to ransom as a negotiating tactic predictably invoked the ire of many authors, 900 of whom signed an Authors United petition which appeared as a full-page ad in The New York Times this past weekend, and called on their readers to email Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to express their solidarity.

In response, Amazon published ‘an important Kindle request’ for Readers United, a post which calls on readers and authors who want lower-cost e-books to email Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch.

Amid this playground battle of tit for tat, however, the e-commerce giant’s representatives misappropriated the words of respected author George Orwell, as noted by The New York Times Bits blog.

“Could the Amazon Books Team, which is credited as the source of this post, have really written this? Because a moment’s Googling would have revealed that the team is misrepresenting this ‘famous author,’” writes David Streitfeld.

“First, when Orwell wrote that line (if ‘publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them’), he was celebrating Penguin paperbacks, not urging suppression or collusion. Does Amazon, which early in its e-book days made copies of 1984 vanish from Kindles after discovering it did not own the rights, really think George Orwell — of all people! — would want to suppress books?”

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.