Lisa Gelobter | Hank Williams (1965 – 2015) | Alex Ontiveros | Racial Bias by Air BnB Users

December 14, 2015

Geek of the Week

Lisa GelobterLisa Gelobter
Lisa Gelobter is a digital technology expert who has over two decades of experience in the field, with a focus on strategy, operations, and product development. She has been integrally involved with the advent of several pioneering Internet technologies, including Shockwave, the genesis of animation on the Web, and the emergence of online video through roles with Brightcove, Joost, and The FeedRoom.  Her extensive background also includes roles with BET as Interim Head of Digital and Vice President of Digital Product, Technology & Operations; NBC’s “nbbc” digital venture as Vice President of Business Operations; and Hulu’s senior management team orchestrating the content-streaming company’s launch.  Currently, Gelobter works for the White House as the Chief Digital Service Officer with the U.S. Department of Education.  Gelobter’s background has allowed her to significantly impact how, where, and when media is consumed, and she is now bringing that consumer focus and transformative practice to bear in government.

People’s Hero of the Week

Hank Williams (1965 – 2015) Hank Williams
On November 15, 2015, the world lost a visionary who was making a big difference in the tech space for diverse innovators.  Hank Williams, a graduate of the first class of Silicon Valley’s NewMe Accelerator program, was a serial entrepreneur with a passion for bringing equitable opportunities for diverse entrepreneurs and leaders in the still-burgeoning tech industry.  In 1995, Williams co-founded Cybersonic, a technology consulting firm that provided Internet development and broadcasting services to most of the major music labels, and pioneered the concept of large scale live cybercasts. In 1998, Williams founded ClickRadio, an Internet music company that sought to deliver uninterrupted and high-quality music, allowing users to download songs they could listen to while not connected to the Internet.  In 2008, Williams founded Kloudco, which provides users with a “single, unified interface to cloud-based services.”  Williams has previously operated Elroy Networks, a development and consulting company focused on Internet media related technologies; served as President and CEO of Pastel Development Corporation, where he developed DayMaker, a best-selling and award-winning personal information management program; and maintained a personal blog, whydoeseverythingsuck.com, covering data storage, the semantic Web, system scaling, and intellectual property in the Internet era.  In a USA Today column discussing his passion for bringing diversity to Silicon Valley, Williams stated, “The lack of diversity in the innovation economy is one of the most pressing issues of our time.”  Williams directly addressed the issue with his nonprofit company Platform.org and its annual Platform Summit, founded in 2012 in conjunction with Morehouse College and the Level Playing Field Institute.  The organization focused on getting more minorities and women involved in the tech industry; increasing the number of minority high school and college students interested in computer science; highlighting successful diverse scientists, engineers, inventors, and techpreneurs; and discussing the most provocative tech-related issues of our time.  We have truly lost a great one, and we hope many will draw from the inspiration of Hank Williams.

Multicultural Entrepreneur of the Week

Alex OntiverosAlex Ontiveros
Alex Ontiveros is an award-winning community leader and social entrepreneur with an extensive range of professional experience and success in the areas of community development, public relations, brand development, marketing, community engagement, community relations, business development, communication and event design, event production, and event management.  Currently, Ontiveros is the founder, CEO, and editor of Silicon Valley Latino (SVL), an emerging media, marketing, and engagement company that provides compelling content through words and images to engage the Latino community through social media dialogue and aspires to become the preeminent showcase of Latino empowerment.  Previously, Ontiveros held the Chief Development Officer position at the Mexican American Community Services Agency, Inc. (MACSA), where he was responsible for all aspects of the agency’s Fund Development, Communications, Corporate Relations, Branding, and Special Events. He successfully developed and led MACSA’s signature fundraising event, The Red Carpet Gala, featuring the Most Influential Latinos of Silicon Valley and the Silicon Valley Latino Hall of Fame.  Prior to his role at MACSA, Ontiveros was the VP and Director of Community Relations for Citigroup in the Silicon Valley region.

Digital Divider of the Week

Racial Bias by Air BnB UsersAIRBNB
A recent Harvard University study, “Racial Discrimination in the Sharing Economy: Evidence from a Field Experiment,” revealed significant disparities in the ability for Airbnb users to secure accommodation, depending on how ethnic-sounding their names were.  Airbnb joins other ‘sharing economy’ services such as Uber (the service where users can become taxi drivers and others can order a ride on demand) and Capital Bikeshare (where users can rent bikes at kiosks in the DC-MD-VA metropolitan area in lieu of public transportation).  These companies allow consumers to use technology to find fast, cheap, and convenient services – and, at least in theory, avoid the endemic racial problems many minorities have faced in everyday situations such as trying to hail a cab.  Unfortunately, according to the Harvard study, racial bias still pervades in Airbnb, the service that allows anyone to turn spaces within their home into hotel rooms.  The study’s authors analyzed 6,400 Airbnb listings in five cities and found that “requests from guests with distinctively African-American names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively White names.”  Interestingly, the study also found that “a host incurs a cost of roughly $65-$100 in foregone revenue by rejecting an African-American guest” – ultimately, all parties lose.  Uber has similarly come under scrutiny, with the Florida Taxicab Association in Orlando criticizing the company’s passenger rating system.  “Allowing Uber to ‘rate passengers’ and ultimately deny them service in the future, takes us back to a dark place in history.  How do they rate poor tippers, an elderly person who requires more assistance, someone who regularly needs a short trip to the doctor, someone whom the driver may just not like the way they look?” asked Florida Taxicab Association Board Member Roger Chapin.  Thankfully, there are tools that exist to potentially solve the problem.  The Harvard study’s authors released a plugin for the Google Chrome Web browser called “Debias Yourself,” which removes users’ names and photos from Airbnb and other platforms, thus eliminating potential bias from hosts.  Unfortunately, there is no guarantee Airbnb hosts and other service providers will embrace it.  We can only hope that our nation will soon mature to a point where such plugins are no longer needed in the first place.