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Community objections to new Board trustee

Arnnon Geshuri

In the wake of the surprise ouster of community-elected Trustee James Heilman (Doc James) from the Board of the Foundation, the new trustees appointed to fill other seats on the Board have raised widespread concern in the Wikimedia community (see previous Signpost coverage). Last week’s announcement of the appointment of Kelly Battles and Arnnon Geshuri raised concerns about the Board’s ties to Silicon Valley technology companies, especially Google, and the lack of Board members from non-technology fields such as education. Since then, more specific concerns have come to light regarding the participation of Geshuri in the High-Tech Employee Antitrust Litigation case while a senior director of human resources and staffing at Google. Geshuri failed to respond to a request for comment from the Signpost.

From 2005 to 2009, a number of Silicon Valley technology companies, including Google and Apple, had illegal agreements which prevented recruitment of employees from other companies participating in the arrangement. The matter resulted in a United States Department of Justice antitrust action and a class action lawsuit of 64,000 technology employees, the latter of which claimed that the employees’ potential wages were suppressed due to their inability to be offered more lucrative employment by other companies. Geshuri held his position at Google from October 2004 to November 2009 and would have been an integral part of any such agreements regarding staffing. A press release from his later employer Tesla Motors noted that "Geshuri was director of staffing operations for Google, where he designed the company’s legendarily [sic] recruitment organization and talent acquisition strategy. ... While he oversaw all aspects of recruitment, Google evolved into a technology powerhouse with 20,000 employees."

Aside from the illegalities and implications for employee wages of such agreements, the direct impact these agreements had on the fates of employees, and Geshuri's participation in the enforcement of them, is seen in a 2007 incident that was discussed in a 2012 article in PC Magazine and a 2014 article in PandoDaily. In March 2007, a Google recruiter emailed an Apple engineer, which set into motion a flurry of emails between top executives for the two companies, emails that came to light as a result of the later court cases.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs emailed Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, writing "I would be very pleased if your recruiting department would stop doing this." Schmidt brought the matter to Geshuri: "Can you get this stopped and let me know why this is happening? I will need to send a response back to Apple quickly so please let me know as soon as you can." Geshuri replied:

In response to the immediate termination of the Google recruiter, Jobs emailed Apple’s HR director with a smiley face emoticon.

PandoDaily wrote in 2014:

Another incident almost exactly a year later was discussed in a different 2014 article from PandoDaily. Facebook was not a party to the inter-company agreement and Google executives were concerned about Facebook’s successful recruitment of Google employees. Geshuri suggested recruiting Facebook into the agreement, either voluntarily or forcing them through retaliatory recruitment of Facebook employees. In the antitrust case, Judge Lucy Koh summed up the matter and quoted what PandoDaily called Geshuri’s "quasi-Nietzschean rhetoric":

When these matters came to the attention of the Wikimedia community, many objected to Geshuri’s appointment to the Board. Cullen328 wrote an essay detailing these incidents that concluded "Because of this evidence of Geshuri's misconduct in this scandal, I believe that he should not be a member of the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees." Kevin Gorman wrote:

Even former members of the Board of Trustees objected to Geshuri’s appointment. Florence Devouard (Anthere), chair of the board from 2006 to 2008, wrote "I fully support" Gorman’s statement. Kat Walsh (Mindspillage), another former chair and member from 2006 to 2013, wrote:

Community members also raised concerns about the vetting process for Geshuri and whether or not the Board was fully aware of his background prior to his selection. Some pointed out that these incidents featured prominently in Google search results for Geshuri’s name and questioned how they were missed by the Board. Jimmy Wales wrote that “I was aware (from googling him and reading news reports) that he had a small part in the overall situation” but regarding Geshuri’s prominent involvement and the revelations of the court cases, he wrote “I don't (yet) know anything about that”. Dariusz Jemielniak wrote that he missed the incidents because they were not prominent in the results in Google’s other language domains: "I'm investigating with the [Board’s Governance Committee] what went wrong with the whole process (that some Board members did not have full information) and we're hoping to come back with learning from this failure, as it was just one point of several that were suboptimal."

Requests direct to the WMF Board and the Wikimedia Foundation resulted in a statement from Board member Alice Wiegand, who told the Signpost:

Community members also raised concerns about the current Board's many ties to Google, including one member, Dr. Denny Vrandečić (Denny), who is a current Google employee who works on Google's Knowledge Graph. The Knowledge Graph draws from Wikipedia and Wikidata and Board decisions about these projects may affect Google's commercial interests. When asked by an editor about Vrandečić's involvement in such decisions, Wales wrote:

Wiegand's statement did not respond to concerns regarding Vrandečić specifically, but she told the Signpost:

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  • There have often been questions about board relationships with Google. For example Jimmy Wales strong support, that ran to serving on a seven member Google advisory committee, over the European privacy laws.1
We can disagree, as a community, over these laws, but it is not good for a board member to become a spokesman for a third party, even, or perhaps especially when that third party has donated millions to the WMF.2
All the best: Rich Farmbrough, 16:35, 16 January 2016 (UTC).[reply]
  • The blame seems rather more to attach to Schmidt than to underlings who were doing what they presumed was a legal act. Trying to insert this as an argument against a new trustee appears to be one more example of "what dirt can we find" "celebrity gossip-mongering" than anything else. The proper issue should be "if faced with any conflict between proper goals of the WMF and Google, how would he act." For what it is worth, I suggest that the "Caesar's wife" standard is more often suggested than followed. Collect (talk) 13:50, 17 January 2016 (UTC)[reply]
  • On the contrary, I would expect a "Senior Director of Human Resources and Staffing" to have a better understanding of the legal issues surrounding employment than Eric Schmidt, whose background is in software development. the wub "?!" 14:45, 18 January 2016 (UTC)[reply]
  • Contrariwise - most "at will" employees who disobey a direct order from their boss will not say "I know more than you do on this" and expect to keep their own job. Might I ask if you have ever disputed a direct order from you boss when he had the power to fire you "at will"? Collect (talk) 14:51, 18 January 2016 (UTC)[reply]
In the (extremely unlikely IMO) event that my manager asked me to do something illegal, you can bet I would dispute it, and take advantage of our whistleblower policy. the wub "?!" 11:50, 19 January 2016 (UTC)[reply]
So he's just a spineless lackey? And why is that any qualification for a board post? And yes, I did dispute orders from my direct boss, that's something usual, if you know better. And if he insist on illegal stuff, he should sign it himself. Grüße vom Sänger ♫ (talk) 15:26, 18 January 2016 (UTC)[reply]
"Dispute"? Or specifically say "No way in hell will I do this"? Bear in mind he was an "at will" employee, not protected as such. Collect (talk) 15:44, 18 January 2016 (UTC)[reply]
If he was not protected, he probably got more than enough money to compensate for that. He should have gone to the work council and made this illegal stuff internal public, may be, if he knew enough, even go the court. And I wonder what labour court would have kept such a layoff legal, if he had contested it there with the support of his union.
Regarding dispute vs. no way: Did he know it was illegal and was complicit anyway? So he has no moral. Or was he not aware of the illegality? Than he was not fit for the job, and definitely not made from the wood needed to be a board member of a humanitarian, ethical, educational, non-profit organisation. He may fit into something like Google, a ruthless privacy raping data hydra, but not to Wikimedia. Grüße vom Sänger ♫ (talk) 16:45, 18 January 2016 (UTC)[reply]
He may well not have known of any illegality - your first assumption thus fails. That you think Google is evil incarnate has no bearing on this at all. Going to "the work council" does not show an indication of knowledge of American law about "at will" employees, who generally have no such "work council" to go to - in fact executives are not union members as a general rule. Collect (talk) 17:04, 18 January 2016 (UTC)[reply]
If he was someone working on minimum wage and had to fear for his next warm meal if he disobeyed, I would have some pity with him. But he was probably someone earning enough money not to have to care for the next year, so no pity here. And as two side notes: the first company I worked for, a energy company, was 98% unionised, with all directors members, and yes, I think a hire and fire mentality is antisocial. Grüße vom Sänger ♫ (talk) 17:19, 18 January 2016 (UTC)[reply]
  • We have an article on this defense, although it is not kind: superior orders. The key for good internal control is a board which sets a tone at the top of ethical integrity. And when I say ethics, I mean it: board members should ideally not skirt on the the grey line, much less cross over into illegal acts. He may not have known it was illegal? Hard to believe, but speaks to competence. When you're that successful, you can afford to make ethical choices. II | (t - c) 17:56, 18 January 2016 (UTC)[reply]
  • Wait, the Wikimedia trustees trusted GOOGLE search results about a former GOOGLE employee that participated in GOOGLE illegal operations that GOOGLE obviously doesn't want to show?? Aren't our trustees experts in technology?--MisterSanderson (talk) 03:27, 5 February 2016 (UTC)[reply]

Vote of no confidence for Arnnon Geshuri

A vote of no confidence has been raised centrally at m:Vote of confidence:Arnnon Geshuri. Please vote or add comments there.

If someone has a good idea for where best to notify the English Wikipedia community these days, perhaps Jimmy's talk page remains the most politically active, I'd welcome the link being shared on. -- (talk) 00:28, 21 January 2016 (UTC)[reply]

  • There are people saying that, maybe, some members of the Board of Trustees were stupid enough for not searching Google about Arnnon Geshuri before voting for him. To avoid such a setback, let us search Wikimedia about the launcher of the present initiative. Among the results, we get:
Who is telling us that Trustee Arnnon Geshuri, unanimously elected by the three community selected Trustees (and the seven others) should have been more vocal about potential clouds ? Pldx1 (talk) 22:32, 21 January 2016 (UTC)[reply]
A cat can look at a king. I'm not running to be a WMF trustee, so not expected to meet the same high ethical standards or have any remarkably rare talents. You are missing out quite a bit in your summary, my achievements in my time as a trustee and Chair of WMUK and Chair of the Chapters Association when we improved and evolved those organizations would be worth a mention surely, and maybe you could put effort into reading between the lines? Thanks for your interest. -- (talk) 23:24, 21 January 2016 (UTC)[reply]


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