Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2021/ Watcamp Ethics

Watcamp Ethics

Yesterday I was updating events for the Watcamp events calendar, and I had to make an ethical decision. A company called is putting on a talk with a Vice President of Doordash, a food delivery service. Apparently this guy also had been responsible for the growth of Uber Eats, and he is going to tell us how to manage teams for hypergrowth. I had to decide whether to include this event on the calendar.

Here's the thing: there are many evil companies in Silicon Valley, but Doordash, Uber Eats, and their competitors are among the nastiest.

All of the gig companies evade labour laws by reclassifying their employees as "independent contractors", thus avoiding such red tape as "benefits" and "minimum wage", but the food delivery companies go even further. They are driving restaurants out of business. They want a huge chunk of each meal's price in service fees from participating restaurants (ranging from 5% to 30%), which often eats up all the profits from those meals.

Furthermore, the companies engage in deceptive marketing practices; they have been caught "helpfully" putting up their own websites that look like the sites of local restaurants, without the permission or consent of those restaurants (and sometimes posting incorrect information. Then they list the menus of those restaurants, play SEO tricks so they appear higher than the actual restaurant listings, and encourage customers ordering from those systems to get delivery done. In some cases they burn venture capital money to undercut restaurant prices and further drive customers to their delivery services. Sometimes they replace restaurant phone numbers with their own. Those fake phone numbers just forward to the real ones, and then the delivery companies charge an additional commission on the sale. Sometimes they go even further: their app lists the correct phone number, but [the number that actually gets called is the fake one]( realize that many of these articles focus on Grubhub, but DoorDash participates in many of these unethical practices as well.

In short, these companies are unethical predators. One might argue that meal delivery is a useful service (cue the cries of "What about the shut-ins??? What about the disabled???") but their business models are horrendous and driving restaurants out of business. If you use these services you are part of the problem, and you should be ashamed.

So here I am, deciding whether to list a talk by some Doordash/Uber Eats bigwig in Silicon Valley on the Watcamp website. Should I be ashamed too? Yes, I probably should. This talk is a marketing campaign so Doordash (and can recruit engineers, who will happily collect THEIR salaries and perks while cheerfully developing our technological dystopia. So by listing their event I am helping them achieve their goal.

The real question is whose values matter in this case. The values of Watcamp are to list local tech events. One might evade the question by noting that this is not a local tech event (as it is being held in Silicon Valley) but in these COVIDy times we have been listing all kinds of remote events so long as they are hosted by local companies. has a branch operation here, and they are sponsoring the talk in question, so it would be consistent to list the event here. It is not the mandate of Watcamp to list only those tech events that I happen to feel are ethical. If that was the standard then the Watcamp calendar would be much emptier than it is now.

My own values is that so much of the tech industry is gross, and I kind of hate it. I value community. I value community-building. I value cross-pollination of groups and ideas. Local tech events offer all of those things, which is why I got involved with Watcamp (and KWLUG, for that matter) in the first place. But there is no question that a lot of the events I list are gross. For example, I mistrust cryptocurrencies and despise Bitcoin, but I list the Bitcoin Bay meetups each month. Why is that okay and Doordash not?

The real answer is that neither is okay, and that I am the wrong person to be maintaining Watcamp. There are lots of people who think these malignant hypergrowth disruptors are great for the world. There are lots of people who love surveillance and psychological profiling (oops -- I mean, "analytics" and "big data"). Furthermore, those people are probably right and I am probably wrong. So those people ought to be the ones updating Watcamp, or maybe I should stop updating Watcamp and let it die if nobody else wants the job.

There is no question that being alive requires compromise, and that I am a hypocrite who acts against his stated values all the time. But I am growing increasingly tired of the kinds of compromises required to stay alive, especially when it comes to the technological dystopia we have built. Nonetheless I compromised once again, and prioritized Watcamp's values over my own: I listed the event. But I felt gross about doing so then, and I feel gross even writing about it now.