Weekend Roundup: Facebook’s Messy Audit; Palantir Thinks IPO

It’s the weekend! Before you shut down your browser’s work-related tabs (remember, it is important to take a break from your job), let’s revisit some of the biggest stories from the week, including the results of Facebook’s own audit of its internal policies. 

Palantir Files to Go Public

Tech startups trying their luck on the public markets have been met with mixed success—case in point is Uber, which saw its much-anticipated IPO essentially melt down in mid-2019. But now another of Silicon Valley’s biggest unicorns, Palantir, has filed confidentially for an initial public stock offering.    

Palantir, which relies on machine learning and A.I. to provide secretive services to the U.S. government and other entities, told CNBC that it could earn $1 billion this year. However, such a filing doesn’t necessarily establish a timeline for when the company could actually go public; in fact, given the roller-coaster of the markets at the moment, CEO Alex Karp may want to wait a few quarters before launching the stock.

If and when Palantir goes public, we’ll have better insight into its finances, including what its crucial employees are paid. In the interim, however, we have some crowdsourced data from levels.fyi that gives us some idea of what the company pays its software engineers. Meanwhile, Glassdoor suggests average software engineer base pay at Palantir is $124,967, with average additional pay of $16,256; some employees also said they’d received stock and cash bonuses. 

Palantir’s compensation, in other words, is roughly equal to what software engineers make at some of tech’s biggest companies, including Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Of course, Palantir going public could make its engineers’ stock options worth quite a bit, which would raise their total compensation that much higher.  

Slack’s Fascinating Post-Mortem

Services with even the hardiest infrastructure will crash occasionally; that’s just the nature of the beast. But not every company behind those services will release an extensive breakdown of what exactly went wrong. Fortunately, Slack isn’t one of those companies, and in a new Medium posting, Laura Nolan, a senior staff engineer at the firm, shows what exactly led to a widespread outage in mid-May. 

The posting is well worth reading if you interact in any way with tech infrastructure, because it offers up an extremely useful piece of advice: Don’t just trust that things will operate as intended, especially if the things in question are your monitoring and alerting infrastructure. “We had alerting in place for this precise situation, but unfortunately, it wasn’t working as intended,” Nolan wrote. “The broken monitoring hadn’t been noticed partly because this system ‘just worked’ for a long time, and didn’t require any change.”

Facebook Smacked by Own Auditors

More than two years ago, Facebook commissioned auditors to evaluate the platform’s policies and practices with regard to civil rights. The auditors’ report is now available (PDF), and, well, let’s just say it doesn’t put Facebook in the most positive light.

“While the audit process has been meaningful, and has led to some significant improvements in the platform, we have also watched the company make painful decisions over the last nine months with real world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights,” the report begins.

Although the company has reportedly done much to build “civil rights awareness and accountability” and consult frequently with civil rights leaders (among other steps), the report suggests that much more needs to be done to address issues such as algorithmic bias and organized hate. 

Here’s the part that many other news outlets, including The New York Times, are quoting: Unfortunately, in our view Facebook’s approach to civil rights remains too reactive and piecemeal. Many in the civil rights community have become disheartened, frustrated and angry after years of engagement where they implored the company to do more to advance equality and fight discrimination, while also safeguarding free expression. As the final report is being issued, the frustration directed at Facebook from some quarters is at the highest level seen since the company was founded, and certainly since the Civil Rights Audit started in 2018.”

Dealing with these issues will present Facebook with considerable challenges during a tumultuous and consequential year. If the company succeeds, it could provide a template for how other social platforms and websites can tackle some of the thorniest social issues of the day. 

Have a great weekend, everyone! Remember to keep washing those hands!