VICE Investigates Verkada's Harassing "RawVerkadawgz"

By IPVM Team, Published Oct 26, 2020, 01:10pm EDT

This month, IPVM investigated Verkada's sexism, discrimination, and cultural challenges.

Now, VICE News has conducted its own in-depth investigation building upon IPVM's reporting.

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Key new items VICE found include:

  • VICE found that the Slack channel that IPVM first reported on was called "#RawVerkadawgz where they made sexually explicit jokes about women who worked at the company."
  • In particular, a Sales Director posted '"Face match… find me a squirt," and the matched photos include one that "belonged to a Verkada employee, her mouth wide open" with two Verkada employees "reacted with laughing emojis. Another commented "lol."
  • VICE emphasized the misuse of Verkada's video surveillance system, "Besides being used in demonstrations of its technology, these cameras have been used to sexually harass employees."
  • A number of former Verkada employees were interviewed, criticizing the company's prioritization of money over ethics, with one declaring, "Verkada's singular value is making money".

VICE also obtained a screenshot of the 'Ask Me Anything' where they declined to answer 'why are the men who sexually harassed their female colleagues able to keep their jobs'?

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New comments from Verkada that VICE shared include:

  • Verkada saying that "This isolated incident was investigated and all individuals involved were disciplined accordingly. This process included our HR department working with the women impacted by this incident–offering professional and personal resources to ensure they supported our course of action and felt safe and comfortable in their jobs."
  • VICE says Verkada's CEO sent a company-wide email describing the incident calling it vulgar but not sexual harassment: "Last year on August 8, 2019," Kaliszan wrote, "a member of our sales team misused access to our office camera footage–access that everyone on our team is afforded and that the sales team uses frequently to demo the product for potential clients–and shared a screenshot of a coworker on a private Slack channel with vulgar commentary"
  • Verkada's CEO said 10 employees were part of the channel and that no one was fired: "This investigation found that one person was responsible for instigating the incident and nine other members of the team were part of the Slack channel.... I imposed the largest financial penalty in our company’s history on the instigator and had individual disciplinary discussions with each of the other participants."

Outlook

Verkada has an immense amount of funding backed by a who's who of Silicon Valley VCs, including Sequoia, so they have resources to weather scrutiny.

However, VICE investigating this brings these concerns to a much broader audience. This could impact Verkada's ability to attract customers, partners, and new employees as well as potentially undermine Verkada's Chairman Hans Robertson's aim to "make the culture really fun" for his sales athletes.

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Verkada Fires 3 on Oct 28, 2020
Verkada has fired three employees over an incident where female colleagues...

Comments (55)

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I suppose everyone uses Slack differently, but usually isolated incident type conversations are done as multi-user DM's, not as a specifically created channel. I think the fact that the channel existed showed this was an ongoing thing.

Exactly my thoughts. It's such an isolated incident that there's a secret channel for it.

I think the fact that the channel existed showed this was an ongoing thing.

Good point. Even for these guys, I am surprised that they named it "RawVerkadawgz". It's like a stereotype of frat boys has come alive as a Sequoia funded startup.

On the other hand, given how Verkada has acted over the last few years, this behavior is no surprise. Even a few months ago, take, e.g., Verkada Sales Manager Guillaume Sabourin Offers $50,000 Reward For Security Integrator He Calls A Troll.

If you think this is just how software enterprise sales are done, you are missing something:

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That's a lot to infer. My MS Teams, Slack, Mondays, and various other messaging apps exist for a lot of reasons, none of which are to do this sort of thing, but the fact they exist at all doesn't make any of them suspect.

That's not the point being made. There is a dedicated channel being referenced here.

You're assuming what the channel was created for, that's my point. They may have gone down a bad path for it, but the idea it was created specifically to be disrespectful to women is an assumption.

I don't think "RawVerkadawgz" is probably the name you'd give a Slack channel developed for a professional purpose.

I mean, unless there's a food safety team...

I did not say it was created specifically to be disrespectful to women. I said the fact that is was created is a strong indicator it was intended to be a repository for an ongoing conversation. The name of the channel implies it was not intended for normal business conversations.

I cannot say it was initially intended to be disrespectful to women though. For all we know, it was intended to be disrespectful to an entirely different group of people. Or maybe it was meant for the employees who are connoisseurs of steak tartare.

Im sure that RAWVERKADADOGS was just originally created to swap recipes right? "Insert eye roll emoji "

Cancel culture coming for Verkada. This will be very entertaining to watch.

Absolutely cancel all that is involved and anyone who condones treating women so disgustingly.

They just got " ME TOO'D"

I heard a phrase this weekend that I haven't heard before, but it seems to apply here.

"What's down in the well comes up in the bucket."

It was explained (and it makes sense) that the phrase means that a person's true feelings/intentions will eventually be revealed. It seems to apply to companies as well. If you have a culture of frat-boy type of behavior it's only a matter of time before it becomes evident to others - both the good and the bad.

And if it's also true that in vino veritas I wonder what happens when those people get ferschickered on company time thanks to the company supplied booze because superawesomehappyfun.

Let's not miss that this AMA question is from MARCH of this year and the Vice article site August 2019 as when these comments were made in Slack. My impression from these articles is that this was a recent development - but no, they've been trying to keep this under wraps for over a year. Terrible.

Interesting, but also not representative of any of the people I've interacted with at Verkada in the last year or so. Everyone I've encountered have been respectful, helpful, and motivated.

Verkada has shown on multiple occasions that they have some rather unprofessional behavior internally, but still I would expect them to at least not let this leak through to customer conversations on a regular basis. The Verkada employees have not shown their true colors to you does not mean your experience with them is an indicator of their internal culture.

Fair point, and I say this not to diminish the importance of what happened, or even to question it at all. It's pretty clear it happened, and Verkada took what they thought to be appropriate action, even if I myself disagree with it. I personally think anyone involved should have been dismissed immediately.

What I can say though, is I know over 40% of the sales team/sales management at Verkada are women. If this was as pervasive as these articles, and these comments lead you to believe, one would think we'd see a hell of a lot more complaints coming out.

Say what you will about the people there who were involved, and who remain in positions of authority, but I'm hopeful this visibility will inspire them to hold them accountable - and I mean something a lot more serious than hitting them in the pocket.

Have you ever worked at a larger company with a high percentage of female employees? I have, and I can tell you that in many cases the overall incidents of sexual harassment and inappropriate conversations increase exponentially as female worker percentage increases. Just because Verkada employs a large number of women does not mean the culture suddenly becomes fair. I have even seen upper level female executives encourage or support this kind of behavior.

Really guy? I see your point, but know your audience.

Not sure what you mean. Am I supposed to know your work history or something?

That's my point, whether you meant to or not, your comments came off as condescending since you're stating fairly basic HR facts, exacerbated by the fact your posting undisclosed rather than stand behind your comments.

My irritation with this can be summed up by the following;

1st, and most importantly, I think it's irresponsible and unethical to jump all over an entire organization and label them as having an entirely sexist/anti-female culture due to the actions of a small group. Yes, I agree the CEO didn't handle this the way we would expect, and culture starts from the top, but it's wrong to put all of the respectful, responsible, and ethical people there in the same bucket. Anyone can be accused of anything, and you'd want your voice heard if you were on the other end of this. You're fooling yourself if you think this can't happen to you for something you deemed private or unrelated to your business.

2nd, my company is a leader in this industry when it comes to hiring females and training them for positions of authority, we wouldn't align ourselves with partners like Verkada if we felt the company didn't uphold our values. This should be a teachable moment and an opportunity to truly address the issue. The CEO of Verkada missed an opportunity and it looks bad, but they still have value and people can, and will eventually see the error of their ways, even if it doesn't meet our timelines.

Lastly, I've been working with Verkada for many months now on a project to install video and access control at a human trafficking rehab facility which will house women from 11-18 years old and teach them the life skills they need to thrive. We were working on it long before any of this hit the news, and they've gone above and beyond in terms of providing ridiculously large discounts on this gear since they know I'm doing this pro bono. They did this because we all agree the non-profit running this thing should have more money to spend on these kids, so we're ensuring that through aggressive discounts, free design work, and close to free labor. This isn't damage control, it's two companies with similar interests teaming up to solve real world problems for women and girls.

Based on what I've read here, all of you are ready to string these people up for the actions of a few. So yeah, maybe I'm a bit annoyed and quick on the keyboard, but damn people...

Ok, I get it. Verkada has taken care of you, so you're not going to believe anything bad about them. The company is great, and you should put your full support behind them.

This has shades of Hik/MC from a few years ago.

We call that a straw man argument my guy.

Would you still support them if they threatened you? This is not a small problem at Verkada.

What exactly does this have to do with the situation at hand? That's an entirely different topic, and no, had that happened to me, I wouldn't be defending them. Seems obvious.

You say this is a small issue but clearly this is not.

I didn't say anything of the sort, and what's with all of the logical fallacies on this thread? I'd characterize that one as a post hoc ergo propter hoc

Keep down playing it and supporting them.

From the article:

"Prior to late-October, when Motherboard reached out to Verkada for comment on the Slack incident, the company had yet to formally inform employees that the company's surveillance system had been abused by sales team members. This past Friday, after Motherboard asked for comment and more than 9 months after the company learned about the Slack incident, Kaliszan sent a company-wide email finally addressing the incident."

It's obvious the deepest regret Verkada Management has with this particular incident is getting caught

Worth noting, that is the second email that the CEO sent out this month about Verkada's 'sexual harassement problem'. He sent one to employees before we published, heavily defending Verkada but only alluding to the incident in that one, copied below:

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4th simple asks for each of you.:

4. Rock of Ages Narrative

Notable Twitter reactions:

The Director of Cybersecurity for the EFF posted:

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Tech investor Ellen Pao, who has spoken out against sexism in venture capital, posted:

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The latter half of the Vice article reads like a press release about their products.

They harass me also with endless phone calls.

Was just about to add that. Whaaa?

People on Twitter trying to get the attention of NY Times reporters as well, this week will be interesting.

Who didn’t see this coming? Their behavior in the industry was that of arrogant frat boys.

Brings to question, I’d hate to be the integrator selling to Red Lobster or Equinox...or did they sell direct?

So with all this cancel culture, political correctness etc...if a vendor situation like this arrises in the future, as an integrator, how do we cover ourselves? And vice versa? It’s getting very risky...you had the hik/Dahua security issues, which didn’t get out of hand too bad, and you have this verkada incident.

i didn’t like how the article cited their customers...with how society is, that could blow up in their customers faces.

Just like the CPI security incident listed Bojangles and some others

EFF tweeted emphasizing a general problem with surveillance manufacturers:

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Quite a number of tweets on this topic reflected the same theme.

It will be game over if Verkada gets caught up harassing client camera streams. There has to be some god like camera admin that can access the customer base systems. Hopefully there is a strict governing protocol that process each and every access request for a remote tech support to review issues or update remote cameras under contract.

I know 0 about Verkada other than I believe it's founders/original contributors came from Meraki of which I've used some of their platform for several years.

Meraki's dashboard logs every remote access session for an Organization and keeps it for a long time, if not in perpetuity. This is a good thing.

Maybe a Meraki employee could access a system remotely without an easily accessible log, but we sure can't.

I would think accountability is imperative and if any client asks me about access it would be good if everything is logged.

Thanks Ryan King, I would hope that organizational process has carried over to the Verkada business structure as it would be significant data to request should legal action befall this situation or any other. Customer data privacy must exceed the power of a single rogue entity within a company structure to violate, access or manipulate on any terms.

The reality is any system they have in place exists for Verkada to track and review access in whatever manner they see fit. There is no oversight or impartial 3rd party that has access to that data.

All that exists between the user and Verkada is trust, the trust that the leadership team would come clean if anything was ever done that's inappropriate.

Thanks Hash Salehi, perhaps future amendments are necessary to stipulate the client side audits of hardware access be it maintenance, troubleshooting or worst case Slack Channel Fun.

Video Cameras are in every facility imaginable, including our homes so the concern for distrust should out weigh the ease of sales to a mass environment based on killing dinosaurs as they have mention.

Perhaps tossing out years of multiple vectors of consulting work is unwise for investment opportunities, frat party sales reps and slow motion tackling.

It is hard to find penalties when all the data that logs, audits and allows data review can be easily washed away without appeal.

"All that exists between the user and Verkada is trust"

But that will apply to any Cloud company (including Avigilon)

Right?

That's exactly my point, Avigilon/Motorola is no exception.

I use an Apple phone not a Huawei phone, there's more that matters than just the product being sold. There's the history of the company and what they stand for overall.

Volkswagen is a good example of a brand that broke trust equity they had built up and have to work extra hard to rebuild that. Lots of others when it comes to data breaches and how they handle it.

In Verkada's case though I would say the work is harder due to the locked in nature of the product, if something else happens what recourse do you have? Can't exactly leave Verkada if you don't like how they operate their business.

"Can't exactly leave Verkada if you don't like how they operate their business."

That funny:)

I know a lot of people who left Avigilon

I know a lot of people who left Avigilon

The question is about leaving the product, not the company. Employees can and do freely leave Verkada, Avigilon, etc.

The point is about what to do if you are a Verkada customer with 100 or 1,000 cameras. With Axis, Avigilon, Hikvision, you can point those cameras over to your new VMS vendor. Not with Verkada.

I have a 100% close rate when selling against verkada because of this.

I have definitely heard from end users who are not worried about the lock-in. Ironically, one end user who took that position went to work at another company a month later. So maybe he was right not to worry ;) But I feel bad for his successor a few years from now who are trying to figure out what to do and how they got into this.

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What are the logistics of Verkada's business recuperation and growth past these events within system infrastructures liable for so much data and privacy concerns, welfare and digital monitoring of many municipalities?

Can anyone take a guess at the re-structure needed to constitute full rehabilitation and competency of services?

Perhaps Verkada develops an On-Premise Administration appliance to deal with the threat that has been exposed from the outside internal nature of the service itself?

Thoughts? Next Steps? Considerations?

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