Gizmodo Media bans reporters from using encrypted communications, wants access to their tweets

The employers want access to quite a lot.

Gizmodo – once a flagship property of sorts of the now long bankrupt Gawker Media, keeps changing hands. After it was originally acquired by Univision, it is now owned by Great Hill Partners, a private equity company – and called G/O Media.

This is by no means where the turmoil ends for the online publisher – as staff are reportedly unhappy with the new ownership and the policies they impose, The Daily Beast has reported.

One of G/O Media sites, Deadspin, recently ran an article describing the situation in the newsroom and among the management as problematic and at times chaotic, and revealing a number of rather disturbing details.

The handbook also establishes an attendance policy and a dress code. Employees must arrive between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., according to the handbook, and are required to wear “smart casual” attire. “Offensive” logos or “sweatpants, exercise pants, Bermuda shorts, short shorts, biker shorts, Mini-skirts, beach dresses, midriff tops, and halter tops” are all banned.

Since the article was published, controversial decisions have been made by the company's leadership, including a new handbook circulated to the staff that informs them they are now subject to physical searches, such as of their cars, all manner of bags, and even lunch boxes.

On the digital side, the company took upon itself the right to be reviewing “all electronic communications made on company property, and disclose those messages to others if the company deems it appropriate.”

“The G/O handbook declares that the company can search employees’ “personal vehicles, parcels, purses, handbags, backpacks, briefcases, lunch boxes,” review all electronic communications made on company property, and disclose those messages to others if the company deems it appropriate. The new rules also strangely allow the company to access reporters’ “tweets” and bars employees from using encrypted email programs—a common tool journalists often use to protect highly confidential sources.”

Furthermore, reporters working for the company will now have their tweets accessed, and will no longer be allowed to use encrypted email.

Usually, journalists use this type of communication to protect their sources. But clearly, Great Hill Partners don't want anything standing between them and their employees – perhaps, as the report suggests, because they fear losing control of their own staff, and with the desire to know about any seeds of criticism or action against the management before they even take root.

G/O Media, despite recently laying off some of its most prominent reporters, still has plenty on staff whose work would suffer directly by their inability to communicate with sources using sensitive channels such as encrypted email.

One G/O reporters, Dell Cameron, said he would need to be fired before giving up on tools such as encryption – however, he also elucidated that he has “heard” his employer would actually not go through with killing encrypted emails, after all.

Didi Rankovic

Didi Rankovich is an experienced online journalist, editor, and translator, with a career spanning over ten years writing for major a English-language website in Serbia, and previously working as translator for international organizations and peacekeepers in the Balkans. Rankovich is passionate about free and open source tech and is a head contributor for Reclaim The Net, focusing on lead stories. [email protected]
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