Crypto-upstart subpoenas Glassdoor to unmask ex-staff believed to be behind negative reviews. EFF joins the fray

Parent of Kraken wants to know who's daring to speak their mind

Updated The Electronic Frontier Foundation has teamed up with Glassdoor to fight off a cryptocurrency exchange that is trying to discover which of its ex-employees may have dissed the firm online.

In January 2019, digital-dosh biz Kraken laid off a number of staff, said to be more than 50 in news reports around that time. Several unenthusiastic posts about the San Francisco firm subsequently appeared on workplace review site Glassdoor.

Kraken's parent, Payward, filed a lawsuit last year against Glassdoor to unmask people posting about the company, based on its suspicion that they were former employees who had violated the terms of their severance agreement. As is increasingly common, the agreement with former employees includes a non-disparagement clause, among other requirements.

In November 2019, a California court ordered Glassdoor to provide Payward with the requested user information. Glassdoor, also in the San Francisco Bay Area, did not respond to a request for comment from The Register about the situation at time of publication.

EFF staff attorney Aaron Mackey in a statement on Wednesday said Payward's subpoena against Glassdoor represents an attempt to harass and silence current and former Kraken employees.

"Kraken’s efforts to unmask and sue its former employees discourages everyone from talking about their work and demonstrates why California courts must robustly protect anonymous speakers’ First Amendment rights," said Mackey.

In the EFF's motion [PDF] to quash the subpoena, attorneys Mackey, Naomi Gilens, and Sophia Cope argue that Payward's demand should be disallowed for several reasons.

First, because Payward is required to identify specific statements that are actionable, which the company hasn't done; second, because their client didn't disclose any confidential information; third, because their client did not disparage the company or its leadership; and fourth, because California law does not allow a severance agreement to prevent a person from expressing an opinion.

The posts cited in the complaint – "It is my opinion that having 'The Kraken' represent your firm is very apt" and "I personally had a deep sense of trepidation much of the time" – are clearly opinion, the EFF motion asserts.


FYI – There's a legal storm brewing in Cali that threatens to destroy online free speech


In June last year, Payward sent a letter to multiple former employees demanding that whoever was responsible for posting reviews of the company on Glassdoor remove them. The individual represented by the EFF, referred to as J. Doe, deleted the posts at issue after the email was sent.

That's why the EFF contends the lawsuit to unmask those posting online about Kraken aims to deter anyone from voicing an opinion about the biz.

"Payward cannot bring defamation or disparagement claims against Doe because Doe’s review is protected opinion or is otherwise incapable of defamatory meaning," the EFF motion explains.

"The company instead seeks to make an example out of Doe and other former employees, as their public identification and addition to this lawsuit sends a clear message to current and former employees: speak out at your own peril."

Payward did not respond to a request for comment. ®

Updated to add

In a statement to The Register, a spokesperson for Glassdoor said:

Glassdoor fights vigorously to protect and defend the rights of our users to speak freely and anonymously about their opinions and experiences at work, without fear of intimidation or retaliation.

Glassdoor has litigated for many months to fight Kraken’s subpoena seeking to obtain the anonymous identities of users who left reviews about the company, and supports EFF’s efforts on behalf of its J. Doe client. US courts have ruled in favor of Glassdoor and protecting the identities of our anonymous users in the strong majority of cases. To date, we have succeeded in protecting the anonymity of our users leaving reviews in more than 100 cases.

Meanwhile, Kraken's co-founder and CEO Jesse Powell told us:

In the cryptocurrency industry, security and reputation are paramount. Like its peer companies, Kraken uses confidentiality and severance agreements to protect the platform's security and its reputation. In those agreements, each side receives something.

The former employee at issue here would like to benefit from the agreement without upholding his or her side of the bargain. We welcome employee feedback, but we won't tolerate double-dealing.

Broader topics

Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022