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Kabbage co-founders are back with a startup that pays employees to not change jobs

Jun 2, 2022

PROTOCOL Email Address Fintech Thank you for signing up. Please check your inbox to verify your email. Email me an authentication link A login link has been emailed to you - please check your inbox. Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc. Alan Henry told Protocol what managers can do to support their marginalized employees. Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol, where she writes about management, leadership and workplace issues in tech. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com. June 2, 2022 Alan Henry has spent over 20 years writing about technology and productivity hacks for places like Lifehacker, The New York Times and Wired. But as a Black man, he realized he couldn’t lifehack his way out of being overlooked and excluded at work. So he wrote a guide to help others wade through office politics, get the plum assignments and achieve their career goals. Henry’s new book, “ Seen, Heard, and Paid: The New Work Rules for the Marginalized ,” (out June 7) is partly a blunt critique of modern corporate America and how it’s failed so many working people and partly a guide to navigating this failed system to achieve some semblance of workplace success, even if your workplace isn’t set up for you to succeed. Henry sat down with Protocol to talk about what managers can do to support their marginalized employees and create the kind of work environment that’s necessary for them to succeed. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. There’s often a perception within workplaces that it’s the marginalized person’s job to make things better: to be on the DEI committees, to be their own voice and the advocate. But often these people are the ones dealing with these issues and struggling to just keep themselves afloat. In light of all of this, how do you convince the people who actually have the agency and the power that it’s their responsibility to make their workplaces more inclusive? I’ll be completely honest: Sometimes there’s no convincing that person. I completely agree: It is never the responsibility of the marginalized person to resolve the systemic issues that are keeping them marginalized; they don’t have the power or agency to do it. But at the same time, I find that trying to convince privileged folks to do the work of allyship is difficult. One thing I tell managers to do a lot is to make sure that your teams have that psychological safety, and there are ways to do that. But also, I tell managers to disrupt the patterns that they see on their teams, where the loudest person in the room is the one who always gets their ideas greenlit. Or they’re the ones who get the plum assignments, the office glamour work that I’ve talked about in the book . I encourage people to look around and see who’s doing the office housework, who’s doing the glamour work, and try to disrupt those systems. Because if you have one person doing all the glamour work, and they’re not terribly good at it, or even if they are good at it, imagine what could happen if everyone was on a glamour project. Another section of the book is dedicated to doing only work that gets you attention. What are some examples of that, and how do you communicate to your managers the work you’re doing without coming across as boastful? Joan C. Williams is an amazing researcher. She has data that shows that workers of color tend to be worker bees, they tend to put their heads down and try to do good work in order to show their manager that they have a good work ethic, that they have great skills, but they are not the people who stand up in a meeting and say, “I have a great idea for where we should take this department” and have their manager actually listen to them. As far as promoting yourself, I think it’s important to promote yourself to the right people. And this can be contradictory, because we tell people of color all the time, “Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. Your privileged co-workers won’t think twice about tooting their own horn, so you shouldn’t either.” But also, if you don’t have that psychological safety to do it, you’re going to appear boastful, aggressive or too assertive. So what I tell those people is, instead of trumpeting your accomplishments, write them down and make notes about them. Try to turn them from boasts to data. I encourage people to look around and see who’s doing the office housework, who’s doing the glamour work, and try to disrupt those systems. Later in the book, I mention the weekly review, keeping a work diary. That’s where you can write down all of your challenges [and] how you overcame them, as well as your big or small wins. And now you have data that you can go to your boss in your annual performance review and say, “Look at all the stuff that I did this year. These are the things I learned. Here’s what I would like to learn next quarter or next year.” And they can’t really refute that. All of us know what it’s like to go into a performance review the day or week before, scrambling to think of what we’re going to talk about. You come in with your work diary, and you’ve done your manager’s job for them. I love this idea of the weekly review. In the book, you describe it as three parts: getting clear, getting current and getting creative. Can you explain this briefly, and why you do it? My weekly review is every Friday. It’s not a time to do work. It’s very easy to get tempted to do work during your weekly review, but don’t do it. It is 100% time to refocus on why you’re doing the work you’re doing. So get that 10,000-foot view and — to be fair, this isn’t my idea. This came from David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity method, which I love. “Getting clear” is writing down all the stuff that you have been doing this past week, all of the small wins, all of the people that you enjoyed working with, all the people that you hated working with, the arguments you had at work or the people who made you feel like crap. And as you take these notes, you start to make a list of people that you like working with and the people that you don’t like working with. And then the next time you have a big idea, you tap the people you like working with, because you’re going to have better odds of success. “Getting current” is like, “What do I have to do now? Who’s waiting on me? Who am I waiting on? What am I going to do next Monday? What are my meetings like for next week? And how do I need to prepare for them?” “Getting creative” is the really important part, which is, “How does all of this stuff that I’m doing — all of this work that my manager assigned me — how does that fit into my goals, my team’s goals and then my overall career goals?” If you catch yourself doing a lot of office housework, a lot of busy work, you may realize it takes time to step back and say, “Wait a minute, this doesn’t fit in with where I want to go.” Once you realize that, you can start to come up with ways to redirect your efforts toward your career goals. And we talked about this a bit in the section on managing up as well, like convincing your manager that your career goals are lined up with their goals. The weekly review is the time to sit down and say to yourself, “How do I make that case? How do I get out of the stuff that I don’t want to do, and how do I get more of the stuff that I want to do?” You write in one section, “You have three jobs, in short: being nice and nonthreatening; being good at what you do (twice as good, to be considered worthy of the space you take up); and being popular and strategic, playing the workplace game of politics and allegiance.” Many marginalized people struggle with the first part: being nice and nonthreatening. They might want to bring up issues with the way they or other marginalized members of their workplace are treated, but they also want to do it in a way that doesn’t make the person they’re addressing feel threatened, accused or uncomfortable, which then runs the risk of hurting the marginalized person and their position at the company. How do you approach this double bind? So there’s this activist and rapper Jay Smooth. He did a video ages ago called “ How to Tell Someone They Sound Racist .” The gist of it was to tell somebody that something that they did was racist without telling them that they’re racist. It’s about taking the inflammatory language out of it and focusing on action, not intention, helping diffuse some of the tension. “Racist” is a trigger word for lots of people, and defensiveness naturally comes up whenever someone confronts you with something that you did wrong. So instead, you could say, “Hey, I’m not saying that you are a bad person; I’m saying that the thing you did caused harm.” "Dissecting who gets what work, why, and how both employees and managers can assign work more fairly is essential to making sure everyone has the opportunity to bring their fullest selves to their jobs." Image: Rodale; Protocol How do you convince people that microaggressions are actually a big deal? There’s two approaches that I take. One is to confront that person and their own bias. So when somebody says, “I don’t really think that’s a big deal, or important or significant,” I would turn it around on them and ask, “If that happened to you, for reasons you couldn’t control, how would you feel?” The other thing I would do, especially if the manager or person in this context is open to an actual conversation, is point to real data that show that microaggressions have a tangible health and productivity impact on marginalized people. There are actual real-world examples of negative health outcomes for people of color, for women in all-male workspaces, people who have higher incidences of heart disease and high blood pressure and other stress-related illnesses. And now, if that’s not enough, then we can talk about productivity. Because the other big thing there is when a person walks into a workspace with a certain amount of social baggage they can’t control, they have to navigate that social baggage in addition to doing their actual job. And then on top of that, when you have other people who don’t appreciate the fact that they have that social baggage or treat them in a certain way that’s prejudicial, discriminatory or something along those lines — now the person being marginalized has to deal with that on their back. And then on top of all that nonsense, now the marginalized person has to decide whether or not they want to call them out [on their prejudice or discrimination] and own the stereotypes that will come their way if they do call them out. It’s like having two or three jobs in addition to your actual job. Generally speaking, no managers tend to think that they are the problem, and that they’re the ones marginalizing their employees. And yet, there are so many bad managers out there. So what are some signs, for the un-self-aware, that you might be the problem? I think the key for managers that want to pull the wool off their eyes is to examine: “How is your team functioning? Do you think everyone is engaged? Is everybody actually involved with their tasks? Are they bringing ideas to you? Do they feel safe with you?” And this part involves embracing a more empathetic style of leadership across the board. I’m a manager, and I deal with this a lot. I do check-ins with my employees, I make sure that I have a 1:1 with them every other week, because weekly meetings kill me. I don’t just ask them, “How are you doing on the things I assigned you?” I ask them, “How are you doing?” I want to know how they feel about their job. I want to know if they feel like they’re spending their time on productive things. If you catch somebody in team meetings and they never talk, then pull them aside later and ask, “Hey, I noticed you never talk in team meetings. That’s fine. I don’t want to make you talk if you’re uncomfortable, but I do want to make sure that you’re comfortable sharing your ideas and opinions with me if you want to.” Most of your book is written toward employees, with practical tips on how to navigate the workplace. What is your biggest piece of advice for managers and people in positions of power who genuinely want to do better by these employees and create an inclusive, equitable workplace? The two big words to keep pinned above your monitor are “psychological safety.” Make sure that you engage your team on a personal level and not just an authoritative one. That can be very difficult at higher levels of an organization, in which case your job then is to make sure the managers that are under you do that as well. I almost wholeheartedly refute the idea that a marginalized person has a responsibility to make a place better for other marginalized people, because we’re almost never empowered to do it. A lot of managers like to do that in terms of an open-door policy, but that puts the onus back on the employee to then come to you and speak up. Managers need to do field trips. They need to go and sit with their employees. They need to assertively have those quarterly 1:1 meetings, make sure that no one on your team is ever surprised by your assessment of their work. If you have somebody that is a superstar, great. You’re probably already having conversations with them about what they want to do next. If you have somebody who is kind of just clocking in and clocking out, and that’s all they bring to the table, check in with them to make sure that that’s what they want to do. They may be doing that because they’re disengaged and they don’t like their job anymore. They may be looking for something new. And you could tap into the wealth of their abilities if you just approach them and say, “Hey, I actually give a crap about you and your career. I would love to see you do better here.” Sometimes that’s all it takes, and very few managers take the time to do that. What are some signs that someone feels psychological safety with you as their manager? If that person is open with their thoughts, they bring you their opinions. They bring you their ideas. A lot of that has to do with engagement. Someone who is eager to be part of your team is someone who feels safe with you, someone who is eager to give you feedback about how things are going, whether they are good or bad, and someone who is happy to meet with you and who is bringing their whole selves to work: their hobbies, their thoughts, their passions, turning their pet project into their work project. There’s been a slew of national tragedies that are affecting marginalized people at work, from the assault on abortion rights to a string of mass shootings, many of them targeting specific racial groups. How should managers be responding to these events and talking about them at work, if at all? I think they should bring it up because, again, that affects your team’s ability to bring their whole selves to work. The energy level of your Asian colleague after three years of rising anti-Asian hate crimes or your Black colleague who’s coming in after the Buffalo shootings: They’re not bringing their A-game today, right? And even if they are, they’re doing it with all of this extra weight on their back, and you need to be able to, as a manager, empathetically say to them, “Hey, I may not understand exactly what you’re dealing with right now, but I know it’s difficult, and I know you’re probably going through it. And even if you’re not, and even if this is none of my business, I just want you to know that I see you, I appreciate you and if you need something from me, let me know.” And that does put some of the onus back on that person, but I think that’s important in this case, because what you don’t want to do is try and white savior your way into things. The important thing is not to do something, but to let them know that you see them as a whole person and not a cog in your machine. What do you think the effect of working from home has on marginalized employees? On the one hand, you probably receive fewer microaggressions and feel more comfortable, but on the other hand, you’re likely to have less access to opportunities and the chumminess factor of being in person. What do you think is happening? Exactly, it’s two-sided. There are pros and cons. The pros are great, right? Being away from the people who you know make you feel like crap, being away from the office politics, being safe in your own space, those things are extremely valuable. At the same time, though, you don’t get to be in the elevator and hear what’s going on. You don’t get to have lunch with your manager or somebody else’s manager. You don’t get to get this office scuttlebutt, hear whatever’s going on. You get to feel isolated. That’s exactly what happened to me at The [New York] Times. I felt bad enough after the microaggressions I experienced that I’d started working from home more often than not, and that was great for my productivity. But I noticed that it was great in the way that I was doing a lot of office housework, and I didn’t have access to the people that were assigning the glamour projects. So I had to make sure that I was even more aggressive about working with people that I liked and bringing my ideas to people that I felt safe working with. You have to compensate for that lack of physical access. You have to make more allies, you have to do more Zoom coffees, you have to do more work in order to do better work, and it sucks. But it also removes some of the pressure or some of that social baggage. As a marginalized employee, how do you know when it’s time to throw in the towel and find somewhere that treats you better versus keeping your head down and continuing to work? My best answer is if you feel like you are heads-down and working, and you don’t want to be doing that, you want to be doing something better, it’s time to go. And I know it’s not easy to just up and leave a job, especially if you don’t have one lined up, but this is where the work diary comes back in. If you have your work diary, you’ve got skills that you’ve developed over the past X months or years already written down in your work diary ready to go right over to your resume. And when you get into those interviews, your work diary again has the answers to questions like, “Tell me about a time that you faced a challenge and how you overcame it. Tell me what you are weak at.” You’ve got real answers as opposed to fake ones. Oftentimes, we think the solution to talking about race and ethnicity is to create a group that does that, let them do it and forget that they exist. I tell people a lot: When you feel like your identity is keeping you in a space that is not either on track to do your best work or denies you access to good work at all, get out of there. There are other places that will honor your skills, your experience and your background. You just have to find them, and it’s hard. But that’s where you tap into community, your networks, professional associations and employee resource groups, things that are aligned with your identity or your skill set to help you smooth that transition. How do you balance the responsibility you might feel to stay and make your workplace better for other people who might come after you with your own sanity and self-care? I almost wholeheartedly refute the idea that a marginalized person has a responsibility to make a place better for other marginalized people, because we’re almost never empowered to do it. It does come with a sense of guilt, because even when I was at The New York Times, I was like, “Don’t I have a responsibility as a senior editor here to make this place better, especially if no one else is doing it?” But at the same time, you can’t do that at the cost of your own happiness, health, well-being, safety. No one benefits. And this is old protest language, right? You’re no good to the cause if you’re dead, if you’re sick, depressed or bedridden. You’re not going to be able to do the work of improving a workspace if you yourself are so marginalized that you feel awful walking into the place; you won’t have energy to do it. Sometimes it’s not about the marginalized person doing the work. Sometimes it’s about the privileged person standing up and saying, “I’m going to do the work, you do the glamour work that I would have gotten otherwise. I’m going to make sure that we hire fairly. I’m going to make sure that we do promotions and raises fairly.” Why do you think that it’s harder for people to talk about race than it is for them to talk about gender, especially in a work context? For one, race is so thorny in American society that people are so afraid of talking about race incorrectly. In some cases, that stops the conversation before it can start. Oftentimes, we think the solution to talking about race and ethnicity is to create a group that does that, let them do it and forget that they exist. So we create a DEI committee, and then we just let them do their thing. I think it’s important to remind people that it’s OK to make mistakes, there is room to be an ally who messes up sometimes. And that’s OK. A core tenet of productivity is that productivity is not about getting more stuff done so that you can just do more stuff. It’s about getting things you have to get done done so you can focus and put your energy toward the things that matter to you. On the other hand, we have more women in the workplace than ever. It’s easier to talk about issues of gender because there’s so many more people with power who are willing to talk about it. To be blunt, we have a lot of white women in power who benefit from DEI initiatives and projects about diversity, about bringing in new voices. In those cases, we often hire white women. Anything else you think people should know? The one thing that I always tell everybody if I have an opportunity is that a core tenet of productivity is that productivity is not about getting more stuff done so that you can just do more stuff. It’s about getting things you have to get done done so you can focus and put your energy toward the things that matter to you. That’s especially important for marginalized folks, because if you’re stuck with busy work, get that stuff done, get it off your plate so you can focus on your passion projects or the things that are really important to you, whether it’s going home to see your family or drafting that pitch for the next big project that you really want to work on that will move your career forward. Keep ReadingShow less Denelle Dixon is CEO and Executive Director of the Stellar Development Foundation, a non-profit using blockchain to unlock economic potential by making money more fluid, markets more open, and people more empowered. Previously, Dixon served as COO of Mozilla. Leading the business, revenue and policy teams, she fought for Net Neutrality and consumer privacy protections and was responsible for commercial partnerships. Denelle also served as general counsel and legal advisor in private equity and technology. May 23, 2022 Sustainability. It can be a charged word in the context of blockchain and crypto – whether from outsiders with a limited view of the technology or from insiders using it for competitive advantage. But as a CEO in the industry, I don’t think either of those approaches helps us move forward. We should all be able to agree that using less energy to get a task done is a good thing and that there is room for improvement in the amount of energy that is consumed to power different blockchain technologies. So, what if we put the enormous industry talent and minds that have created and developed blockchain to the task of building in a more energy-efficient manner? Can we not just solve the issues but also set the standard for other industries to develop technology in a future-proof way? I think we can and it's what motivated our organization, the Stellar Development Foundation (SDF)[1], to work closely with an international consultancy to research and understand the energy efficiency of the Stellar network and its Proof-of-Agreement (PoA) consensus mechanism, the Stellar Consensus Protocol, so that we can take actionable steps to address the network’s carbon footprint – learn more about the findings here . We hope this is a driver for others, within and beyond blockchain, to do the same. While this research was meant to make the Stellar network better, we believe that we came away with a framework that can kick start a dialogue around a path forward for the industry. Here are some takeaways: Data and research on electricity consumption in blockchain and financial services is sorely needed First, we wanted to understand how Stellar compares to other blockchains and the legacy financial system. But as we tried to gather information on what was publicly available, there was little to be found. Rigorously-tested data and research from the blockchain and traditional finance industries as a whole is lacking and not easy to come by. We hope to use this research in a couple of important ways with our broader industry counterparts. True to our open source roots, we will share the methodology that other blockchain networks can use as a framework to figure out their carbon impact as well as encourage greater transparency from legacy players to share their data so we can all have visibility into the sustainability of financial services as a whole. The framework will serve as a guide for other public blockchain networks to assess sustainability through the lens of three key impact areas: energy use, GHG emissions from energy use, and e-waste/embodied carbon. It serves as a resource to assess the comparative impact of blockchain protocols—namely, the electricity used in running the blockchain software responsible for handling transactions, and electricity consumed by data transmission and storage. As more players from traditional financial services and blockchain share their own footprints, we’ll get a better look at what works and what needs to be improved so that next generation financial infrastructure is built with transparency across the board. Stellar is efficient by design Second, the research reaffirms something we already knew but can now prove: the Stellar Consensus Protocol is incredibly efficient. The research found that the Stellar network uses: An estimated 481,324 kWh of electricity per year 0.00032 kWh of electricity per transaction (This is equivalent to 0.017 smartphones charged.) 173,243 kg of CO₂ in estimated emissions per year (This is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from 33.7 US homes’ electricity use for one year.) 0.00011 kg of CO₂ emissions per transaction (This is equivalent to 0.013 smartphones charged.) These figures help put Stellar’s environmental impact into context, and also help demonstrate that blockchain technology can be built in an efficient way. While these numbers are low considering how many transactions Stellar processes every year, we believe that part of our role in the Stellar ecosystem is to bring network actors together to do what we can to offset the electricity use that cannot be avoided. A step forward on a greener path Guided by these findings, SDF has established an ongoing Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) commitment. Together with the Stellar ecosystem, we will pay for removal of carbon emitted by the network every year, and are retroactively paying for the removal of the historical carbon footprint of the network since launch. We’ve chosen to work with a company that captures CO₂ directly from the air and stores it underground. By permanently removing CO₂ emissions from the air, they can no longer contribute to climate change. While there’s no perfect solution for addressing CO₂ emissions, we wanted to invest in something durable and vouched for by the scientific community — and carbon removal was recently deemed an essential strategy in meeting global emissions reduction targets by 2050. [2] We are also looking at many other initiatives that we can explore on the climate front that directly leverage blockchain technology – namely, an ecosystem standard that could help wallets and other products build in functionality to pay to offset transactions at the time they are processed. A sustainable future requires a collective effort. For the world to achieve its climate goals, we will each have to play our part, asking ourselves hard questions and using the answers to find ways we can make a difference. Because if we say we want a more inclusive system, we need to build that new system so that it's built to last for years to come. We need to live up to the spirit behind our mission – creating equitable access to the global financial system means creating a system that works for the many, not the few. If you would like to learn more about our research efforts, visit our landing page for more details. [1] Stellar.org is a non-profit that supports the growth and development of the Stellar network. [2] https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg3/ Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data. June 2, 2022 When credit card giant American Express began offering bank accounts for the first time last year, it had a foundation of fraud detection to bring to an entirely new product arena. That meant in some cases, the company could port over AI and machine-learning models used to spot phony identities or dodgy transactions for its credit card products to its consumer and business checking accounts. But it’s been a process, and now, AmEx plans to invest in bringing additional AI techniques used to protect against credit card fraud to its banking products. “We have models which run to detect whether it's you or whether somebody else is logging into your account. Very straightforwardly, we transferred it to the banking product,” said Abhinav Jain, vice president for Global Fraud Decision Science at AmEx, who is responsible for the company’s fraud detection models. “We had at least the technical side of the model ready to prevent this kind of fraud happening for a customer.” The fraud models are designed to recognize odd behavior or suspicious patterns of activity that are not typical of a particular customer. After kicking off a business checking account product in October followed by a consumer-aimed checking account in February, AmEx’s models already are picking up on an emerging trend. “Fraudsters show up very quickly once you launch a new financial product. And one of the patterns that we have seen starting to emerge very quickly is fraudsters attempting to take over a customer's profile and apply to open a checking account in their name – so, identity theft,” said Ana Palaghita, vice president and head of Banking Fraud and Deposit Risk at AmEx. “This has been a typical pattern that I've seen just in the month and a half to two months that we've been in-market,” said Palaghita, who leads the company’s fraud strategy team and works closely with Jain’s data science and ML modeling group. Business checking accounts are attracting their own distinct fraud patterns, Palaghita said. “On the business side, we've seen different patterns. We've seen more of the synthetic identity where fraudsters are attempting to open accounts with businesses that are either not real or they're just a front in an attempt to deposit fake checks and extract money that way.” Some companies are using machine- and deep-learning models to detect fraudulent behavior by entities sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in relation to the war in Ukraine. AmEx sources said they would not address the war in Ukraine or sanctioned entities in more general terms. False positives and speedy data The AmEx fraud detection models react and optimize automatically by adjusting how they weigh certain data points in the decision-making process, for instance. “In the places we’re seeing more fraud, they will be more aggressive,” said Jain, explaining that the models self-calibrate by attributing higher probability of fraud to certain data elements that are reflective of other recent fraud. They might weigh more heavily particular geographic regions, currencies or types of products associated with attempted transactions, Jain said. Fraudsters show up very quickly once you launch a new financial product. Of course, without proper tuning, automated fraud detection systems can be overly sensitive, halting legitimate transactions and annoying customers in the process. However, if a transaction sets off a fraud alert, AmEx doesn’t necessarily stop the transaction right away. Sometimes the company puts transactions on hold, then sends a text or email alert to the customer asking whether they’ve made the purchase or taken the action in question. That information gets fed back into the fraud model to optimize it. “As soon as we identify this was a false positive, that information also feeds back in real time to the model,” Jain said. Indeed, financial services companies increasingly are reliant on real-time data and data processing to run fraud detection models. Not only do they need sophisticated machine learning to keep up with evolving fraud approaches, but they need speedy data processing on the back end to ingest fresh data inputs into fraud models and ensure those models recognize and react to quickly-morphing fraud patterns. “Within milliseconds, we should be able to link that IP address, that email address, to the fraud database. If a second attempt comes from similar entities, we should be able to stop it,” Jain said. A new crop of database startups is emerging to help financial institutions and other enterprises grab real-time data and make use of it immediately to update machine-learning models for things like ecommerce recommendations and dynamic pricing. Because AmEx has fewer “silos and fences” separating the data and technology systems behind its product lines than other financial services companies, it has been able to more readily transfer machine-learning models for use across products than other companies have, said Palaghita, who worked in various roles at Capital One since 2007 before joining AmEx in 2021. That capability “is not necessarily something that every financial institution can do so quickly and seamlessly,” she said. AmEx is still in the process of porting fraud models used on its credit card side over to its banking side, Jain said. Up next: incorporating time series data for neural networks used to detect identity fraud or online account takeovers. “Getting the time series view helps the model further drill down into exactly what is fraud and what is not,” Jain said. “There are neural network algorithms that help us do that.” In data used for more standard modeling, each transactional data point used to train a model is assessed individually as good or bad. Models that incorporate time series data consider history and context by viewing not only the current transaction, but a customer’s previous 10 or 20 transactions. For example, if a customer’s last few recent transactions happened at a mall, but soon after a transaction is attempted in a faraway location, a model looking at time series data would be able to detect it as fraudulent. “We are investing heavily into those types of algorithms, and we've had really good success in the initial launches that we’ve had, and we want to expand that more and more to different types of fraud — and even start leveraging it much more,” Jain said Keep ReadingShow less Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC ) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with. June 1, 2022 Billionaire mogul Frank McCourt and Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood witnessed the rise of the web — and they both grew disillusioned with the way technology, particularly social media, has shaped the world. When they met for the first time late last year, they agreed to collaborate on a solution: to use blockchain and Web3 tools to build the infrastructure they hope can support a decentralized, non-toxic version of Facebook — or several of them. McCourt’s Project Liberty announced last week that it will work with Wood’s Web3 Foundation and its Polkadot project to create a foundation for alternative social networking sites by using blockchain and Web3 technology so users have greater control over their data. “Tech is a tool,” McCourt told Protocol. “You can go build a house with a hammer or you can go kill someone with a hammer. Let's go build things with technology, instead of killing people and destroying democracy.” McCourt and Wood explained to Protocol what this new approach to social networking would look like and how it could operate. They also discussed their concerns about regulation and the need for a deeper conversation about the role of technology in society. This interview was edited for clarity and brevity. Can you talk about the first time you met? Frank McCourt: I think it was in New York last September. Gavin was our guest at [Project Liberty conference] Unfinished Live in September. He and I had a chance to converse on several occasions during the two or three days. And I think it's pretty clear that we had a very strong values alignment, obviously coming at things from a different place. But we very much shared similar concerns about the state of democracy. How did the idea of building a social network on Web3 come up? Gavin Wood: It's an interesting sort of proposition. Blockchain forms a part of Project Liberty, but it's not quite a blockchain project. There is this protocol, DSNP . It's like a social networking core protocol that isn't really tied to blockchain. [But] it makes sense to use blockchain in building it out, because blockchain provides a few things that happen to be very useful for making this happen. Like you've got the ability to have permissioning where authorizations are recorded and can't be tampered with. For me, it was particularly interesting because it's not purely blockchain. In its truest sense, Web3 doesn't mean “built on blockchain.” Web3 means: “less trust, more truth.” We're using technologies that mean that we don't have servers. We don't have arbitrary authorities controlling things, dictating things, sometimes without even our knowledge. Can you lay out some of those shared values you were talking about? What are you trying to solve here? McCourt: From my perspective, I was getting super interested in this subject because of a real grave concern about the state of democracy and the fact that things are extremely unstable right now. Nobody knows for sure where we are on the curve, but it just feels like this accelerating pace of deterioration. Democracy is not something you break and then you just sort of decide the next day, “Let's go ahead and fix it,” and it's all better again. It's one of those things that if you break it, it may never come back. Technology is a big part of the problem. I'm talking about the extraction and the exploitation of people's data. I'm talking about the completely toxic effect of social media, the ability to flood the zone with massive disinformation. The aha moment for me, well, prior to meeting Gavin, was focusing on the social graph and thinking about it differently. Gavin, what are you seeing as a technologist is the link between these concerns and the infrastructure as it currently exists? Wood: The infrastructure is quite fundamentally architected from the perspective of a centralized world. When I went to university in the ’90s, we, as computer scientists, were really just taught one model for systems distributed over multiple computers … One of them controls; the others trust the instructions. I didn't think twice about this. It's also known as a server-client model. When we go to a website, we go to a computer, we ask, “Hey, please send us some information.” It sends some data back and we just accept it for being true. Like, we accept that that is the webpage. The problem is that this model is susceptible to corruption. If individuals trust a particular authority blindly, the individual [in authority] may initially be benevolent. But there's really no great reason to believe that an individual will continue being benevolent over years and potentially generations. We've sort of arrived at a few means of managing this process. Eventually, someone or some set of people generally have to be in control. We kind of arrive at this problem that social scientists have faced for centuries on how we manage power. The technological solution to this is similar to the social set of solutions, which is decentralization. Democracy is, in some sense, decentralization of decision-making. It's the same in technology. This is really what we mean to decentralize the social graph, the social network. Can you paint a picture of how it’s going to work and maybe compare it to the way Facebook works, where users sign up and then Facebook collects and stores and processes their information? Wood: Let's take a very simple example. I want to message my friend and if I do this over Facebook, then what happens is I type in a message on my computer — the Facebook website or the Facebook app. I push send and the message will be sent to Facebook servers which means somewhere, a system administrator, who is in the direct pay of Facebook, which is essentially controlled by Mark Zuckerberg. These people will, in principle, have administrative privileges to look at that message. So that message hasn't made it to my friend yet. At some point later, the Facebook machinery will take that message and will send it onwards to my friend's mobile computer or mobile phone or whatever. This is really me messaging with Facebook and then Facebook relaying it to my friend. When I say Facebook, I don't mean a single entity. I mean one of many entities, many people I'm messaging because they can all see the message together with anyone else who may possibly have access to Facebook servers. As we know from the Snowden revelations, that can mean quite a lot of people. The very simple solution that we're coming up with for this particular use case is that I encrypt my message not with Facebook's keys, but rather with my friend’s keys. Then I basically just publish the encrypted message because I know from mathematics that nobody can read that encrypted message. To make this work, you need to attract a lot of people and to come up with a popular service. Can you talk about how you're thinking about attracting people and trying to foster something that can really be lightning in a bottle? McCourt: The key here is adoption. But I don't really think about it as adoption. I think about it as migration. Project Liberty is about putting forward a solution and a place for people to migrate to. There are two requirements for migration. One is people finding the place they're living as totally intolerable. They're going to give up a lot when they move. They're going to maybe leave their family. There's oftentimes hardship. The second thing that's required is a place to go. Very few people migrate to just go wander, right? They have something in mind. This whole American project was built around that premise: people getting fed up with living in a monarchy, a feudal system, saying, “We're gonna go somewhere else and create a new country, a new governance, a new world. It's going to work differently.” Once that ecosystem is created, I think people will happily migrate. Remember this new ecosystem that gets created, it's going to be just as polished as Web 2.0. You're gonna have everything that you have on Web 2.0. But it's going to be healthier. You'll control your data and you won't be in a situation that's undermining democracy. What do you guys see as the timeline of getting this to be a major player in social networking? McCourt: I think it's a really important question. Project Liberty is more than a tech project. I actually say it is not a tech project; it's a project to save democracy. Fixing tech is critical to saving democracy. But to do this, and to have that mass migration we're referring to, I think people need to be aware of what's at stake. We do not have to live in this kind of imprisoned state that we're in now. Thankfully, Web3 is here. Thankfully, knowing what the internet is capable of and how powerful it is, we can actually get it to work the way it should, and it could have, but doesn't because of centralization. I remember, Gavin, when we had lunch in Malta, we sat for three hours and we didn't talk a lot about tech, right? I mean, we talked a lot about democracy. We talked a lot about governance. We talked a lot about how this could be fixed. This has got to be a broad conversation and one where experts, technologists, computer scientists and social scientists get together and sort out the governance issues. I'm not talking about token governance, I'm talking about societal governance. We need to discuss and debate the ideas about how we want democracy to work in a digital world. We've been living with democracy in an analog world and institutions that were architected to support that analog world. We now need a civic architecture for a digital world. This is about saving democracy. It isn't about pitching a product. Wood: When I conceived Polkadot back in 2016, the main thing that people were talking about was scalability. To some degree, it still is. That was one of the key elements that Polkadot was designed to solve and Polkadot Version 1, as we've launched now, is pretty decently scalable. We're sort of looking at maybe 100,000 transactions per second across the network. When it's fully rolled out this is likely to be plenty sufficient for the project. But this isn't where it ends. The bit inside me wants it to be done in 12 months and thinks it can be done in 12 months. But you know, the wise old man inside me also says we’ll multiply that number by three. Let's say three years, time horizon, but at that point, you know, we're looking to sort of multiply that figure by about another 50,000x. We're sort of looking towards many, many millions of transactions per second. When these research-level technologies come into production, that's more than enough to power. Can you elaborate on how data is going to be collected, stored and processed? Wood: Broadly speaking, blockchain itself is used primarily for storing and querying the permissions concerning data, concerning the relations between individuals within the network graph. There is data associated with individuals. There is data associated with connections between individuals and groups of individuals, and this data is generally encrypted. It floats around the network, but in an encrypted fashion. The ones that can decrypt it will be the ones that actually exist within the group, or, in the case of a point-to-point data, by the opposite side of the connection. The means of encrypting it are most likely something similar to the things that are already used in applications like Signal. What it boils down to is that the data won't sit on-chain. The data will be off-chain. It will be encrypted. Those who are creating the data will pre-encrypt it with the keys of those that are allowed to receive the data by creating the sort of authorizations that exist on the chain itself. McCourt: There's lots of work going on. Ultimately, when people migrate, they'll be migrating to lots of different use cases. Think of this future not as one big Goliath that is an alternative to a current Goliath. Think of it as an ecosystem of a thousand Davids, 10,000 Davids. It's a much healthier ecosystem where lots of innovation is occurring. The timeframe Gavin's talking about, one to three years, is a good timeframe, because we need to get the governance right. We need people to understand what's at stake, because we screwed that up last time. Very few people knew what the internet was truly capable of. It just happened. What was the mantra? “Move fast and break things.” That's not the loftiest goal in the world, I don't think. When you move fast and break things, you break things. That's what we're seeing right now. Let's move fast and fix things. But during this one-to-three-year period, let's have a conversation at a societal level, about governance. What do we want this technology to achieve? What is the purpose of it? It was a step that was skipped last time around. It's a mistake for us as citizens to put the onus on the technologists only and say, “Hey, this thing is all screwed up. Go fix it.” Technology alone is not going to fix it. We have to have conversations about what we want the tech to do. Tech is a tool. So as a hammer, you can go build a house with a hammer or you can go kill someone. Let's go build things with technology, instead of killing people and destroying democracy. Frank, you've talked a little bit about regulation. What is the biggest thing regulators in the U.S. or in Europe could do, from your point of view, for this vision? McCourt: To separate what I call crypto crap from real technology, and then understand that technology and what it's capable of, and not pass regulations that prevent that technology to flourish. Wood: I would largely echo Frank’s sentiment there. If you're looking towards Europe, the regulations that are currently semi-decided essentially have taken the most extreme interpretation. They will essentially remove crypto from the world of legal technology. They aim to essentially put everything on centralized registered licensed entities. So if you want to interact with a blockchain at all, then you will need a license. This is hugely shortsighted. It will potentially remove Europe from the world of advanced trust-free technology, essentially removing it from Web3. This is not the first time that someone's going to try to build an alternative to Facebook. On the crypto side, some of the problems you mentioned are because of how crypto evolved, as a get-rich-quick type of technology that people are excited about. What are the things that have happened over the last 30 years that are top of mind for you in terms of saying, “Okay, we're not going to do that because that led to problems?” McCourt: When Web 2.0 came on the scene, it was a very similar dynamic. There was a kind of a gold rush. It was buzzy. People were interested and capital moved towards it. A lot of silly things were built or were promoted. And money was raised for them and so forth. People get caught up in the gold rush mentality. I guess it’s human nature. It's too bad. But Web 2.0 worked through it. The technology continued to evolve. Companies were built, including Facebook. We have to get through the early innings where it kind of overcompensates for the get-rich-quick schemes and the gold rush mentality. This too shall pass. Wood: I lived through the Microsoft hegemony in the mid-to-late ’90s. I lived through the dot-com bubble. I see a pattern arising. I see it happening again here. I can only put it down to human nature. At the beginning of these broader techno-social trends, a lot of money floods in hoping to back the new giant. It was going to be the new Microsoft. People were looking for another Bill Gates. It inevitably goes basically to people that can talk the talk. They go into the VC outfits. The VCs like them. They get a bit of a rapport going. VC buys in. Hedge funds buy in after the VC. And we end up with incredibly expensive stuff, like Super Bowl ads. Will they exist in five, 10 years’ time? The reflection on history seems to suggest probably many of them will not. Whereas, in the background, there is a lot of building happening. There was a lot of technology actually, being researched, being developed, and a lot of experiments being tried. And when the time is right, I would guess, let's say within the next three, four or five years, we will see something that everyone can agree legitimately adds value to its users’ lives. Keep ReadingShow less A woman makes copies at the Google Artificial Intelligence office in Accra, Ghana. Photo: Cristina Aldehuela/AFP via Getty Images June 1, 2022 Kwasi (kway-see) is a fellow at Protocol with an interest in tech policy and climate. Previously, he covered global religion news at the Associated Press in New York. Before that, he was a freelance journalist based out of Accra, Ghana, covering social justice, health, and environment stories. His reporting has been published in The New York Times, Quartz, CNN, The Guardian, and Public Radio International. He can be reached at kasiedu@protocol.com. June 1, 2022 Sitting in front of a ring light and a phone affixed to a tripod, Bright Ofosu Amoabeng prepared to once again host a live weekly discussion on Instagram. Amoabeng’s show, which he streams from his home in Accra, Ghana, focuses on debunking disinformation about the LGBTQ+ community and sharing resources. The topic on a recent day in April: What does courage mean for queer and trans persons of faith? For Amoabeng, the livestream was its own act of courage. Social media has become a crucial safe space in a country where homophobic sentiment is on the rise. In 2021, the newly opened office of the local LGBTQ+ organization that Amoabeng volunteers for was swiftly raided by the police and closed down . “Right now, it is unsafe, the environment is very hostile, so you cannot do advocacy in person and physically,” Amoabeng said. Now, his online safe space is also facing its own threat: A new proposed law would not only make it illegal to identify as LGBTQ+ or as an ally, but would also prohibit using social media to positively discuss LGBTQ+ life or advocate for the community. The bill, which is expected to pass Parliament — albeit in some modified form — would punish violators with prison sentences between five and 10 years. The bill would also make social media platforms liable for posts by their users — and that’s not the only problem tech companies face if this law passes. American tech giants including Twitter and Google have set up shop in the capital Accra in recent years. Now, LGBTQ+ advocates in Ghana are calling on those companies to use their global clout to kill the bill. Their calls are being met with silence. Google and Twitter did not respond to questions about whether they planned to oppose the bill, and a Twitter spokesperson told Protocol that “there are no changes to our plans in Ghana at this time.” Meta, which doesn’t have a physical presence in Ghana but would be subject to the law if it passes, also wouldn’t say whether it opposes the bill. Adaora Ikenze, Facebook’s head of Public Policy in Anglophone West Africa said, “We want the millions of people in Ghana and around the world who use our services to be able to connect, share and express themselves freely and safely, and will continue to protect their ability to do that on our platforms.” For local activists, it’s not enough. “They have some influence, so we were expecting them to leverage this influence to argue against the bill,” said Danny Bediako, executive director of Rightify Ghana, a local LGBTQ+ organization. “This is a bill that mentions Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We were hoping that they would do more than just keeping quiet.” Ghana as a base Ghana has rigorously marketed itself as a safe destination for investment and tourism. It is an English-speaking country that has achieved relative political and economic stability compared to its neighbors. In recent years, it has leveraged its historical connections to the trans-Atlantic slave trade to court Black Americans to visit, invest and establish residency . Tech companies have also been drawn to the country as they look to expand in West Africa and the continent at large. Google set up its Africa AI center in Accra in 2018, and GE opened an office there in 2014. In April 2021, Twitter announced that it would set up its first Africa office in Ghana , saying, “As a champion for democracy, Ghana is a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet, of which Twitter is also an advocate.” The move came after co-founder Jack Dorsey visited the country on a tour of the continent in 2019. A woman makes copies at the Google Artificial Intelligence office in Accra, Ghana. Photo: Cristina Aldehuela/AFP via Getty Images To activists like Bediako, who uses a pseudonym to protect his identity, that statement sounded naive. It came weeks after the office of an LGBTQ+ organization was shut down, and 21 queer activists were arrested at a human rights training conference soon after. Now, Bediako’s organization, as well as U.S.-based organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, are pressuring social media companies, particularly those with a presence in the country, to scuttle the bill before it goes any further. There’s good reason to believe they would have leverage. Twitter’s decision to put down roots in Ghana was championed from the highest levels of the government, with Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo saying at the time, “This is the start of a beautiful partnership between Twitter and Ghana, which is critical for the development of Ghana’s hugely important tech sector.” And while specific numbers are hard to come by for the recent tech investment in Ghana, last year, Google announced that it would be investing $1 billion in its Africa operations over the next five years. The proposed law runs counter to tech companies’ professed belief in free speech, but Bediako argues it’s not just a matter of principle: It’s also about protecting local employees. “Do they think that their staff will be safe in Ghana?” Bediako said. The calls for a more public stance from Big Tech are also being echoed by the EFF. “I do think that these entities need to come out and say exactly what their position is on this legislation, and what they are going to do to protect users,” said Dave Maass, director of Investigations at EFF. The Ghanaian bill adds to the growing list of restrictive online speech bills that tech giants are facing around the world. From Russia to India, they often require companies to censor and take down posts prohibited by governments. Tech companies that have attempted to oppose local laws have faced office raids and threats of jail time for their employees. Often, they choose to comply. Even in the U.S., tech giants have recently been reluctant to make overt statements about Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. "Right now, it is unsafe, the environment is very hostile, so you cannot do advocacy in person and physically,” Amoabeng said. Photo: Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu/Protocol And yet, tech companies do sometimes make moral judgements when it comes to where they do business. Facebook, Twitter and Google do not operate in China because of censorship concerns, and in the past, companies including Google, Apple and PayPal have been vocal in their opposition to anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in North Carolina. In the case of Ghana, they have an opportunity to push back before it’s too late. Whatever happens with the law, Amoabeng said not even the threat of a long prison term will deter him from using social media for advocacy. “I have come to a point in my self-acceptance and development stage that I feel I cannot go back to using burner accounts,” he said. “We are the rainbow community, we are relentless. We are willing to give in the fight.” The question is whether the platforms he relies on will allow his voice to be heard — or whether they’ll use their own voices to ensure it can be. Reporting for this story was supported by the Pulitzer Center. Keep ReadingShow less

Project Liberty Investments

1 Investments

Project Liberty has made 1 investments. Their latest investment was in SocialLadder as part of their Incubator/Accelerator on January 1, 2017.

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Project Liberty Investments Activity

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Date

Round

Company

Amount

New?

Co-Investors

Sources

1/27/2017

Incubator/Accelerator

SocialLadder

Yes

1

Date

1/27/2017

Round

Incubator/Accelerator

Company

SocialLadder

Amount

New?

Yes

Co-Investors

Sources

1

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