WASHINGTON (AP) — Three bright and driven women with ground-breaking ideas made significant — if very different — marks on the embattled tech industry in 2021.
Frances Haugen, Lina Khan and Elizabeth Holmes — a data scientist turned whistleblower, a legal scholar turned antitrust enforcer and a former Silicon Valley high-flyer turned criminal defendant — all figured heavily in a technology world where men have long dominated the spotlight. Think Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk.
Haugen, a former product manager at Facebook, went public with internal documents to buttress accusations that the social network giant elevated profits over the safety of users. At 32, Khan is the youngest person ever to lead the Federal Trade Commission, an agency now poised to aggressively enforce antitrust law against the tech industry.
Holmes, once worth $4.5 billion on paper, is now awaiting a jury’s verdict on criminal fraud and conspiracy charges that she misled investors and patients about the accuracy of a blood-testing technology developed at her startup Theranos. The jury informed the judge Monday that it was deadlocked on three of the 11 charges against Holmes. The judge then instructed the jurors to do their best to reach a unanimous verdict, and they resumed deliberations.
Holmes’ story has become a Silicon Valley morality tale — a founder who flew too high, too fast — despite the fact that male tech executives have been accused of similar actions or worse without facing charges.
Haugen joined Facebook out of a desire to help it address misinformation and other threats to democracy. But her frustration grew as she learned of online misinformation that stoked violence and abuse — and which Facebook wasn’t addressing effectively.
So in the fall of 2021 the 37-year-old Haugen went public with a trove of Facebook documents that catalogued how her former employer was failing to protect young users from body-image issues and amplifying online hate and extremism. Her work also laid bare the algorithms Big Tech uses to tailor content that will keep users hooked on its services.
“Frances Haugen has transformed the conversation about technology reform,” Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook who became one of its leading critics, wrote in Time magazine.
Facebook the company, which has since renamed itself Meta Platforms, has disputed Haugen’s assertions, although it hasn’t pointed to any factual errors in her public statements. The company instead emphasizes the vast sums it says it has invested in safety since 2016 and data showing the progress it’s made against hate speech, incitement to political violence and other social ills.
Haugen was well positioned to unleash her bombshell. As a graduate business student …….