Why Raspberry Pi's New Hire Caused a Social Media Firestorm
Friday December 9, 2022. 11:02 PM , from Slashdot
An anonymous reader quotes a report from BuzzFeed News: Joe Bowser is a computer scientist based in Port Moody, British Columbia, who has long loved Raspberry Pis. He uses the low-cost, single-board computers, which were launched in February 2012 by a UK-based company of the same name, for many of his tech projects. Those include linking the Raspberry Pi up to a 3D printer, and using the Pi to run a machine-learning demo. There's one use case that Bowser described as 'the most important': using a Raspberry Pi to identify the use of IMSI catchers -- telephone eavesdropping devices that snoop on phone calls and text messages -- by law enforcement. Protesters opposing new oil pipelines happen to pass by Bowser's house regularly. He thinks cops shouldn't spy on them. So he's trying to help out the protesters using his tech knowledge. To do that, he uses Raspberry Pis. Or more accurately, he did. Bowser has forsworn using the computers ever again. He and many others are expressing their displeasure with the company on social media.
The controversy began yesterday when Raspberry Pi posted an announcement on Twitter and Mastodon: 'We hired a policeman and it's going really great.' The company linked to a laudatory blog post on its website announcing it had hired an ex-police officer, Toby Roberts, as its maker-in-residence. 'I was a Technical Surveillance Officer for 15 years, so I built stuff to hide video, audio, and other covert gear,' Roberts is quoted as saying in the post. 'You really don't want your sensitive police equipment discovered, so I'd disguise it as something else, like a piece of street furniture or a household item. The variety of tools and equipment I used then really shaped what I do today.' A subsection of the Raspberry Pi community expressed concern about the blase way the company presented intrusive covert surveillance. (The news caused particular ire on Mastodon, leading some to describe Roberts as the burgeoning social media platform's first 'main character.')
Liz Upton, Raspberry Pi's cofounder and chief marketing officer, told BuzzFeed she believes that much of the issue stems not from the hiring of the former police officer who admitted to using Raspberry Pis for covert surveillance, but instead from a picture the account posted to Mastodon a day earlier showing pigs in blankets. 'We didn't put a content warning on it, because we don't put a content warning on meat,' Upton said. 'There were quite a few people who tried to start dogpiling on that.' She also claimed that part of the vitriolic response could be because Raspberry Pi is struggling with supply chain difficulties at present, and people 'were already cross.' 'I think what we're looking at is a dogpile that's being organized somewhere,' Upton said. 'There's obviously a Discord or a forum somewhere.' She did not provide evidence to support that claim. 'I don't think this is organic, but it's very unpleasant, and extraordinarily unpleasant for the people involved,' she said. Upton claimed both Roberts and Raspberry Pi's social media manager have been doxxed and received death threats. 'I am disgusted that [Raspberry Pi's] official post on Toby Roberts' hiring promotes his use of their products to surveil individuals without their consent,' Matt Lewis, a Denver-based site reliability engineer, wrote via Twitter DM. 'In my eyes, this behavior is completely unethical and the work Toby has done for 15 years is indefensible. I'm also upset that they have chosen to double down on this position against the community outrage.'
'I think this event will mark a turning point in the organization's reputation,' added Wikipedia consultant Pete Forsyth in a Twitter DM. 'It's hard to see how they can recover the trust they seem to have almost willfully dismantled today.'
Not everyone is downbeat about the future of the company. University of Surrey cybersecurity professor Alan Woodward called Roberts an 'interesting hire' for Raspberry Pi. 'His previous uses of the Pi shows just what a versatile device it is: I'm sure he's not the only one using the smallest variants to make covert devices,' Woodward said. 'You find that you have to be very creative to build these types of covert devices, so hopefully he can now bring that to his new role, for a wider variety of applications.'
'It's not as if he is going to corrupt any of the Pis -- like all technology, it has some uses some people will object to,' he said. Rather, Woodward believes 'the loudest objectors are taking it a bit far. Maybe they could look at it as a glass-half-full situation: Think of the unusual innovations he might bring.'
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