Google's worker revolution is a shot that could end the reign of corporate stockholders

Google's worker revolution is a shot that could end the reign of corporate stockholders
Sundar PichaiAP Photo/Virginia Mayo

Hello, and welcome to this Wednesday's edition of the Insider Tech newsletter, where we break down the biggest news in tech.

Did someone forward this newsletter to you? Get Insider Tech straight in your inbox by subscribing here.

Soundtrack: For maximum enjoyment of this newsletter, we recommend The Beatles' "Revolution."

This week: Google's bottom-up worker revolution is a shot against the reign of corporate stockholders

If this were a normal year, corporate CEOs would be just starting to pack their bags for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where many execs would eagerly preach the virtues of stakeholder capitalism - the notion that companies have obligations to more constituents than just their investors.
Advertisement
Davos is a virtual affair this year because of COVID-19, but for Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and other executives at Google's parent company, the stakeholder capitalism debate has suddenly become more real than any speech they would have heard in Switzerland.

The new Alphabet Workers Union, launched on Monday, is essentially a labor union forged on the principles of stakeholder capitalism.

It's an ironic, and striking, turn of events for a company whose 2004 IPO prospectus famously declared: "We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served-as shareholders and in all other ways-by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains."
Advertisement

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the authors of those words, are no longer directly involved in the company. But it would be unfair to lay the blame at Pichai's feet. Many of the problematic incidents cited by the union occured while the two founders were still leading the company.

How much power this union will actually wield remains to be seen. It so far includes only a few hundred of Google's more than 100,000 employees, and says it intends to also represent the company's even greater number of contract and temporary workers. But I'd argue that even if the union's influence is limited to generating public attention, the emergence of an internal group pushing stakeholder capitalism in an organization from the bottom up is a big deal.
Advertisement

The biggest question is whether this new breed of union is something that could only exist at Google - a product of the culture and ideals that Google historically touted to employees - or if it's the first example of a bigger wave that's about to upend the stockholder-primacy that has long dominated corporations.

Amazon wants to watch you sleep

80138400

The next frontier for Amazon's Alexa voice assistant is sleep apnea, the sleeping disorder in which a person's breathing can be interrupted. As Insider's Eugene Kim exclusively reports, the company is working on a palm-sized device that sits on a nightstand and uses wireless technology to track sleeping and breathing patterns.
Advertisement

The device is code-named Brahms, likely a reference to the 19th-century German composer Johannes Brahms who wrote "Lullaby" and who may have suffered from sleep apnea himself.

The Brahms device could be Amazon's tip of the spear in a broader effort to conquer the sleep market, where Apple, Samsung, and Xiaomi have made inroads, writes Kim, citing one of his sources: "Amazon expects to leverage its advanced machine-learning capabilities and cloud infrastructure to build out a deeper sleep-analysis program that covers other sleeping disorders, one of the people said."

In memoriam

Google's worker revolution is a shot that could end the reign of corporate stockholders
iTunes
FarmVille (June 2009 - December 31, 2020): Whether you or not you played FarmVille - a sim game that involved tending to a virtual patch of land and planting crops - chances are notifications and updates about your friends' Farmville endeavors invaded your Facebook news feed like a weed. Facebook eventually clamped down on social games' access to the newsfeed, and Farmville's popularity dried up almost as quickly as it sprouted.
Advertisement
This New Year's Eve, Farmville creator Zynga officially pulled the plug on the Facebook version of the game (owing to the fact that Facebook has stopped supporting the Adobe Flash technology the game relied on), marking the end of an important chapter in internet history. Farmville's biggest legacy, as The New York Times points out, is the "attention hacking" and gamification techniques that now underlie so many things on the internet, from Instagram to QAnon.

Haven (January 2018 - February 2021): When Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan created a healthcare company for their combined workforces three years ago, the world took note. After all, the financial might and business savvy of the three firms gave them a good shot at re-inventing a byzantine market and reining in the "ballooning costs of healthcare." Or so it seemed.

The joint venture, called Haven, announced this week that it would shut down by the end of February. As Insider's Blake Dodge reports, its demise owes to a mix of factors including lack of direction, leadership changes, and obstacles inherent to the healthcare landscape. One takeaway likely to strike many people though: Even Amazon - famous (or notorious) for driving down consumer prices - was not able to bring down the inexplicably high prices that hospitals charge.
Advertisement

Snapshot: Would you Airbnb your house and move into this cozy cabin?

Here's a fun way to capitalize on the growing demand for remote-work spaces and vacation homes during the pandemic: List your spacious home on Airbnb, renting it out to strangers willing to pay generous nightly booking fees, and squeeze yourself into this cozy do-it-yourself, A-frame cabin.

80138404 The 115-square-foot wood cabin, designed by New York's Den Outdoors, is 12-feet tall and can accommodate two twin beds. Its insulated floors and window mean it's apparently suitable for any season of the year.
Advertisement

The cabin come as a kit that costs $21,000 and can be assembled in three days, according to Den Outdoors. It's small enough that you can plop it down wherever you want - a mountain vista, the banks of a gurgling brook, or your backyard. You'll have to get used to a "glamping" lifestyle, free of plumbing and other standard amenities. But while you're cooped up in this slender shack, you'll sleep comfortably knowing that the Airbnb guests living in your real house are paying down your mortgage.

Recommended Readings:

The UK's last-minute, skinny Brexit deal leaves tech businesses furious: 'The government has no true understanding of the impact.'

Microsoft could benefit from the SolarWinds fallout even though hackers used its products as part of the attack - here's why
Advertisement

VCs share the 46 climate-tech startups that are set to soar in 2021

'That is madness': Andreessen Horowitz and Fred Wilson blast the Trump administration, saying it's trying to 'squeeze' new and 'defective' crypto rules into place at the 11th hour

Not necessarily in tech:

The untold story of Ghislaine Maxwell's secret husband, Scott Borgerson
Advertisement

Sponsored content:

This tech startup founder went from helicopter pilot to cybercrime fighter. Here's how his company is reshaping cybersecurity as we know it.

This startup founder is reshaping the way women-led businesses get financial support

Thanks for reading, and if you like this newsletter, tell your friends and colleagues they can sign up here to receive it.
Advertisement

And as always, please reach out with rants, raves, and tips at aoreskovic@businessinsider.com

- Alexei
{{}}