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Tag: Executive

Executive Turmoil And Turnover At Twitter

Jack Dorsey

Mike Blake / Reuters

A tidal wave of turnover is coming to the top of Twitter, with a number of critical executives on the way out. In addition, two new board members are reportedly on the way in.

Twitter head of engineering Alex Roetter, product VP Kevin Weil, and head of media Katie Jacobs Stanton are all leaving the company. Following reports in Re/code, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey confirmed the news. Jason Toff, the GM of the Twitter-owned Vine, is also leaving. This being Twitter, all parties tweeted the news.

Twitter did not respond to a BuzzFeed News inquiry, and referred instead to tweets by Dorsey.

In addition, two new board members will soon be appointed, according to a report in the New York Times.

The departures will likely make what has been a turbulent time for the company even more shaky. Twitter's shares have dropped over 22% since the start of 2016, and over 50% in the last year. The company is being pounded by Wall Street investors disappointed by its slow user growth.

The highest-profile Twitter project meant to spark that user growth is Moments, a tab containing curated stories — about news, sports and entertainment, etc. — made up of individual tweets. Moments, released last October, is a product shaped heavily by Weil and Stanton, and their departures don't speak highly of its performance to date.

Twitter is also expected to announce the hiring of a new chief marketing officer on Monday, according to Re/code.

BuzzFeed – Tech

Uber Executive Who Wanted To Investigate Journalists Went To War With His Landlord Too

A judge tossed Emil Michael’s case out of court, but he threatened to call in “my friend the Chief of Police.” The SFPD is not amused.

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg / Via Getty Images

The Uber executive who made headlines last month after suggesting the company investigate journalists is locked in a bitter struggle with the landlord of his $ 9,500-a-month San Francisco condominium. Their dispute, much of which is laid out in court records, reveals the take-no-prisoners style of the executive, Senior Vice President of Business Emil Michael, whose company is known for its aggressiveness.

At one point last year, Michael went to court to try to get a restraining order on his landlord, tech industry lawyer John Danforth. The judge threw out Michael's case, chastising it as “borderline frivolous.” But the squabble didn't end. In a series of emails provided by Danforth to BuzzFeed News, Michael called Danforth a “racist asshole” and “slumlord.” Michael even threatened to call in support from “my friend the Chief of Police of SF.”

Danforth, for his part, wrote a member of Uber's board, warning that Michael's behavior could harm the transit giant.

“My experience of Emil Michael as a tenant accords very closely with recent reports of him in the press as an Uber executive,” Danforth told BuzzFeed News.

Michael did not respond to questions about the conflict sent to his personal email. A spokeswoman for Uber, Nairi Hourdajian, also did not respond to questions.

The dispute between Michael and his landlord centers on a 2,000-square-foot Pacific Heights condo overlooking Alta Plaza Park for which Michael signed a $ 9,500 lease in June 2012 (the rent has since been raised to $ 13,335). The three bedroom, two bathroom condo was renovated in 2008 and boasts luxury finishes, a parking space, a balcony, and access to a landscaped private garden complete with a remote-control hot tub.

According to extensive court documents obtained by BuzzFeed News from the San Francisco Superior Court, Michael's relationship with his landlord began to sour in June of last year, when Michael made a run-of-the-mill request that Danforth repair the bathroom. But it quickly heated up. When Danforth entered the apartment to make the repair, he discovered that Michael had painted the walls after having been denied permission to do so, allegedly a violation of the lease. Danforth also walked to the apartment's balcony to look down at the garden and at a repair that had been previously made to the hot tub. Michael took issue with the visit, and said Danforth had on occasion entered areas where repairs weren't necessary, including his bedroom.

Two months later, on Aug. 30, Michael picked up a baseball bat to confront a “stranger” in the garden. The woman turned out to be the gardener. “I am at home this morning [sic] and the gardener appeared in the backyard,” Michael wrote in an email to Danforth that afternoon. “You provided no notice for this…If this happens again, I will be forced to call the police.”

That same day, Michael also wrote a painstakingly detailed letter listing his grievances with Danforth and indicating he'd be taking legal action. In the letter, he also claimed Danforth “violated [his] human rights,” and was “racist” (Michael is an Egyptian immigrant), and that he had filed a discrimination complaint against him with the San Francisco Human Rights Commission (requests to the commission to confirm the complaint went unanswered). The letter concluded with Michael, a former executive at the social media ranking company Klout, threatening to amplify the dispute online. “Finally, I want to be clear that I am free to post to my tens of thousands of social media followers the true facts regarding your entry into parts of my apartment…” By the next day, he had also begun blocking Danforth's emails.

In San Francisco's tight and pricey real estate market, such disputes are not uncommon. But six days later, Michael filed a petition in San Francisco Superior Court for a restraining order against Danforth, the sort of order people seek when they are being stalked or fear physical harm. “I am under constant emotional duress that a stranger can enter my apartment without notice requiring me to defend myself posing constant fear and a dangerous situation,” Michael wrote. “Also, the landlord is invading my privacy and ruining my relationship with my significant other.” Danforth responded to the petition on Sept. 24, calling Michael's statements “demonstrably false.”

After attempting mediation, the two men appeared in court for a hearing on Sept. 27, 2013. The judge, Donald J. Sullivan, made his doubts about the case clear from the beginning. “I will tell you here at the very outset that this clearly seems to me to be a landlord-tenant dispute,” he said. “And the question is, is it more than that?”

During the hearing, Michael described the “immense stress” the dispute had caused him. “I am entitled to the sanctity of my home,” he said. Later in the hearing, Danforth responded, saying, “He never said there has a been a pattern of this, which is what he swore under oath in his declaration. And he never said that he was under fear that somebody was going to come into the apartment, which has never happened.”

Sullivan, the judge, reacted harshly to Michael, tossing the case out of court and dismissing it with prejudice, meaning that Michael can never file another claim for the same case.

“Having listened to all of the evidence, I'm finding that this is a borderline frivolous case,” he said, according to the court transcript. “It doesn't even come close to meeting the statutory standards of by clear and convincing evidence.”

At the end of the hearing, Sullivan dissolved a temporary restraining order against Danforth and denied a permanent one. “You folks can can take your matter down to Department 501 [Housing Court],” he concluded. “It either can be a wrongful eviction or wrongful termination or go over to the San Francisco Rent Control Board and talk to them. But please do not come back here. Okay. Thank you.”

Michael chose not to move after the September litigation. Rather, he and Danforth's relationship continued to deteriorate in the following months, as the two men sparred in numerous emails. Parts of their correspondence were available in public documents filed with the superior court and rent board, while others were provided to BuzzFeed News by Danforth. The correspondence available does not include every message the men exchanged. Still, the messages show that Michael's tone was frequently belligerent.

“I am so glad that you denied that I have sole and exclusive use of the property. It is your typical harassment, retaliation, racist activity that you use with me,” Michael wrote in a Nov. 6 email. The message was in response to a notification that a tree would be replaced in the garden. “On the other hand, if you trespass on my property, I will have you arrested and my friend the Chief of Police of SF will make sure of it,” Michael continued.

A San Francisco Police spokesman disputed the idea that the chief of police, Gregory Suhr, would ever get involved in such a dispute. “Obviously, what Mr. Michael types in his emails is out of our control,” spokesperson Albie Esparza told BuzzFeed News after learning of the email. “But I can guarantee you that the chief himself will not be getting involved in any civil disputes or civil investigation.”

In another particularly protracted exchange in March, Michael wrote, “I was hoping you were not still dealing with your mental health issues. But, I guess given that you are a patent troll and a slumlord, you cannot help yourself.”

Danforth later responded: “I am very sorry that you have elected to continue the same tone and with the same disregard for the facts and the law as I saw from you last year.”

A few days later, Danforth suggested Michael might want to start looking for a new place. “I can stay in the apartment as long as I want, asshole,” Michael responded in an email on March 10. “Regardless, this is good evidence of your intent, racist asshole.”

Danforth terminated the Uber executive's lease in April, two months before it was to expire. The notice Danforth filed with the San Francisco Rent Board called out Michael's “abusive and insulting language,” as well as his refusal to cooperate with repair and maintenance efforts.

Despite Michael's moving out, the dispute still remains unresolved.

Last month, BuzzFeed News reported that Michael floated the idea of hiring opposition researchers to investigate journalists, and in particular to spread claims about the private life of one Uber critic. Michael apologized, and Uber denied that the plan had any connection to Uber's actual plans.

Later, BuzzFeed News revealed that Uber had sought to hire an experienced opposition researcher to “weaponize” information for use against its industry competitors.

In the wake of those stories, Danforth wrote to an Uber board member — he declined to name which one — regarding his dispute with Michael and included examples of their emails. “These emails from Mr. Michael…,[are] pretty clear evidence of the kind of character Uber seems to value,” Danforth wrote to the board member, according to an email he showed BuzzFeed News. (He blacked out the recipient's name in the email; an Uber official confirmed that Danforth had contacted a board member.) “Unwise for the guy Uber calls 'the face of Uber to its customers and partners globally.'”

Within hours, Danforth's attorney, Nils Rosenquest, received a letter from Michael's attorney, Dave Crow, demanding further mediation, according to a copy of the email provided by Danforth.

“I had prepared the letter before I received a disturbing email from Mr. Michael regarding an email Mr. Danforth sent to … a member of the Board of Directors of Uber,” Crow wrote. (Danforth says he also attempted to contact a second board member via LinkedIn, though he's unsure of whether that message went through.)

According to the letter, dated Nov. 24, Michael is threatening to sue Danforth for just over $ 100,000 in damages related to the dispute, including “breach of contract,” “attorney fees,” and “emotional distress.” He also complains that Danforth has not fully refunded his security deposit.

Johana Bhuiyan contributed reporting to this story.

BuzzFeed – Tech

A Top Twitter Executive Just Had A Massive Direct Message Fail

It looks like Twitter’s finance chief Anthony Noto thought he was messaging another Twitter executive about buying a company. Anthony Weiner, a prominent victim of the DM Fail, was quick to step in and offer support.

Brian Ach / Getty Images

It seems Twitter's new chief financial officer hasn't gotten the hang of Twitter just yet.

Twitter CFO Anthony Noto committed a classic Twitter error by accidentally tweeting out a suggestion that Twitter should buy a company, in what looks like a classic case of DM Fail. Noto is one of Twitter's newest prize hires, and as a Goldman Sachs banker, helped take the company public.

Noto is, of course, not the first high-profile user to accidentally tweet out what would otherwise be a direct message. And not long after he made the faux pas, one of the best-known casualties of the DM fail stepped in to joke about it.

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BuzzFeed – Business

“God View:” Uber Investigates Its Top New York Executive For Privacy Violations

In the wake of a BuzzFeed News story, the transit company is looking into the official’s tracking of a journalist’s location.

BuzzFeed News

Uber said Tuesday that it is investigating its top New York executive for tracking a BuzzFeed News reporter without her permission in violation of what the transit giant says has long been its privacy policy. The company also published its privacy policy for the first time on Tuesday, though it said the policy had always been in effect.

Uber took both actions in the wake of a BuzzFeed News story that revealed that the reporter's ride had been tracked without her permission and that another Uber executive had suggested the company might smear journalists who wrote critically of Uber. The executive who suggested digging into the private lives of journalists, Emil Michael, said his comments were “wrong” and that he regrets them.

Tracking customers is easy using an internal company tool called “God View,” two former Uber employees told BuzzFeed News. They said God View, which shows the location of Uber vehicles and customers who have requested a car, was widely available to corporate employees. Drivers, who operate as contractors, do not have access to God View.

Early this November, one of the reporters of this story, Johana Bhuiyan, arrived to Uber's New York headquarters in Long Island City for an interview with Josh Mohrer, the general manager of Uber New York. Stepping out of her vehicle — an Uber car — she found Mohrer waiting for her. “There you are,” he said, holding his iPhone and gesturing at it. “I was tracking you.”

Mohrer never asked for permission to track her.

Two months earlier, to make a point about questions Bhuiyan had asked about ride-share competitor Lyft, Mohrer had emailed her logs of some of her Uber trips. He had not asked for permission to access her data.

Uber said access to and use of its data is permitted only for legitimate business purposes and that violations result in disciplinary action, including the possibility of termination and legal action. It also said it is investigating Mohrer's actions in tracking Bhuiyan and accessing her logs.

The two former Uber employees, both of whom worked at the company until this spring and requested anonymity, said that God View was easily accessible to staff across the company. One said employee said that he never saw unauthorized use of the tool; the other declined to answer that question.

Venture capitalist Peter Sims wrote about being tracked in a blog post this September. Back in 2011, he wrote, he was in an Uber car in Manhattan when he started receiving text messages from someone he barely knew telling him exactly where he was. That person later told him that she was at an Uber launch party in Chicago, where Sims' movements were being tracked via God View on a large public screen.

“After learning this,” he wrote, “I expressed my outrage to her that the company would use my information and identity to promote its services without my permission. She told me to calm down, and that it was all a 'cool' event and as if I should be honored to have been one of the chosen.”

Uber did not respond to BuzzFeed News questions about this incident.

The company, which had not previously published its privacy policy, unveiled it Tuesday on its blog. “Uber has a strict policy prohibiting all employees at every level from accessing a rider or driver's data,” it states. “The only exception to this policy is for a limited set of legitimate business purposes.” Such purposes include solving problems for riders and drivers, monitoring accounts for fraudulent activity, and facilitating driver transactions. The company said the policy has always been in place and that employees agree to it when they join Uber.

On Tuesday afternoon, after Uber CEO Travis Kalanick tweeted a condemnation of Uber exec Michael's comments, Mohrer suggested the storm had passed, tweeting a celebratory image from the Uber New York office. He deleted it shortly after posting:

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BuzzFeed – Tech

Uber Executive Suggests Digging Up Dirt On Journalists

Senior vice president Emil Michael floated making critics’ personal lives fair game. Michael apologized Monday for the remarks.

Emil Michael, senior vice president of business for Uber, in July.

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A senior executive at Uber suggested that the company should consider hiring a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on its critics in the media — and specifically to spread details of the personal life of a female journalist who has criticized the company.

The executive, Emil Michael, made the comments in a conversation he later said he believed was off the record. In a statement through Uber Monday evening, he said he regretted them and that they didn't reflect his or the company's views.

His remarks came as Uber seeks to improve its relationship with the media and the image of its management team, who have been cast as insensitive and hyper-aggressive even as the company's business and cultural reach have boomed.

Michael, who has been at Uber for more than a year as its senior vice president of business, floated the idea at a dinner Friday at Manhattan's Waverly Inn attended by an influential New York crowd including actor Ed Norton and publisher Arianna Huffington. The dinner was hosted by Ian Osborne, a former adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron and consultant to the company.

At the dinner, Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick, boyish with tousled graying hair and a sweater, made the case that he has been miscast as an ideologue and as insensitive to driver and rider complaints, while in fact he has largely had his head down building a transformative company that has beat his own and others' wildest expectations.

A BuzzFeed editor was invited to the dinner by the journalist Michael Wolff, who later said that he had failed to communicate that the gathering would be off the record; neither Kalanick, his communications director, nor any other Uber official suggested to BuzzFeed News that the event was off the record.

Michael, who Kalanick described as “one of the top deal guys in the Valley” when he joined the company, is a charismatic and well-regarded figure who came to Uber from Klout. He also sits on a board that advises the Department of Defense.

Over dinner, he outlined the notion of spending “a million dollars” to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they'd look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.

Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.” She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed News reported that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service. “I don't know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn't respect us or prioritize our safety,” she wrote.

At the dinner, Michael expressed outrage at Lacy's column and said that women are far more likely to get assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers. He said that he thought Lacy should be held “personally responsible” for any woman who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted.

Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber's dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.

Michael at no point suggested that Uber has actually hired opposition researchers, or that it plans to. He cast it as something that would make sense, that the company would be justified in doing.

In a statement through an Uber spokeswoman, Michael said: “The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner — borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for — do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company's views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.”

The spokeswoman, Nairi Hourdajian, said the company does not do “oppo research” of any sort on journalists, and has never considered doing it. She also said Uber does not consider Lacy's personal life fair game, or believe that she is responsible for women being sexually assaulted. (Lacy initially declined to comment on Michael's remarks; she denounced them in a column after this story was published.)

Hourdajian also said that Uber has clear policies against executives looking at journalists' travel logs, a rich source of personal information in Uber's posession.

“Any such activity would be clear violations of our privacy and data access policies,” Hourdajian said in an email. “Access to and use of data is permitted only for legitimate business purposes. These policies apply to all employees. We regularly monitor and audit that access.”

In fact, the general manager of Uber NYC accessed the profile of a BuzzFeed News reporter, Johana Bhuiyan, to make points in the course of a discussion of Uber policies. At no point in the email exchanges did she give him permission to do so.

At the Waverly Inn dinner, it was suggested that a plan like the one Michael floated could become a problem for Uber.

Michael responded: “Nobody would know it was us.”

BuzzFeed – Tech