Summary: We applaud the next generation GPS Tracking study - if it's a truly random distribution and random sampling of end points. It's not the tracking that was bad in 2016, it was the opportunity for bias distribution and biased sampling of end points. Dell should ask MIT Ethics Review Panel (via legal department) how to do a reputable GPS used electronics tracking study.
- Randomly track and place all used electronics inputs. That means putting some trackers in 25 year old CRT TV junk that no one imports, some in working product that should be reused, not selectively sabotaging good enough looking stuff internally.
- Randomly distribute the randomly selected used electronics. That means blindly send the goods so you don't send specific selected stuff to a specific recycler.
- Randomly select end point export markets. That means you don't "obscure" good repair markets (cringeworthy 2016 study hid best and brightest in Hong Kong).
In 2016, Basel Action Network sent GPS Trackers out in the field and provided MIT with a textbook study of how to do it wrong. Sampling bias, financially involved research team, etc.
In 2018, BAN has announced they have a new partner - Dell. Above the fold are the steps Dell can take to avoid MIT's mistakes, and do this study right. I will applaud the tracking if the samples are done fairly, because then they will tell just as many stories about good Tech Sector outcomes overseas, as well as good stuff that got destroyed - not just bad stuff that didn't get fixed. I'm all for science.
When we met with attorneys about whether to sue Basel Action Network and MIT Senseable City Lab in 2016, we got the standard advice. They might just retract the statement. We have to demonstrate financial harm. Bringing attention to a little-read report could backfire. And if we really do just care about the underlying racial profiling, would we be better off having a frank discussion with reasonable people at MIT who had reasonable concerns, and perhaps do more benefit by a transparent discussion?
We went with scientific method. Given that we had clients, both upstream and downstream, who would be affected by press attention, we invested in researching the accusations, posing questions, and sending them to MIT. We requested MIT's Ethics Department review the methodology, the profiling of destinations as a group ("overseas") and tinges of racism ("rice paddies" to describe Hong Kong), and whether a financial benefit was derived by their partner - who is now selling their GPS tracking hit squad for hire as "EarthEye".
Their publication went after 4 sets of targets. Dell/Goodwill, a California flat screen exporter, their Seattle processor, and yours truly. The California company went under, the Seattle recycler was hit with major fines following their mea culpa (textbook case of not accepting a plea before you have reviewed the totality of evidence). Dell and Goodwill objected, and I published a widely-read series of blogs analyzing the MIT Monitour report in 2016.
I believe it was in response to those blogs that BAN wrote my name personally in a follow up report and made outright false statements about me. But they never publicly responded to the critique of the methodology. Not a single CRT TV was tracked. As I pointed out to MIT and BAN, that was obviously a skewed sample. Puckett eventually admitted to me that the GPS would be "wasted" tracking the 60% of e-waste that no one was exporting (a basic admission that he was playing with the statistics in his claim to have explicitly cast doubt on research studies that DID track the stuff no one overseas wanted to buy).
Now Dell has allowed their name to be involved in the new study and is sponsoring and participating. Here are the key considerations Dell may have made:
1. End the extortion and attacks on Dell's brand and network by the NGO. Capitulate.
2. Control the study, control the data. Take control of situation.
3. Legitimately dissuade downstream contractors from bad exports... OR is it #plannedobsolescene in hindsight?
Here is what I expect will determine WHICH is Dell's interest, given Dell's suit against TigerDirect a decade ago.
Does the new study RANDOMLY TRACK GOOD STUFF, that SHOULD BE EXPORTED / REUSED, AS WELL AS "CORD-CUT" BAD STUFF THAT BAN ALLEGES IS "80%" of "EWASTE".
If I just run a big shredder and don't reuse anything, that's environmentally BAD. Every study shows that. But by BAN/MIT's ORIGINAL methodology, such a company would show up as 100% "Good" (no export being "good" if you are racially profiling the export market).
If I get a "cut cord" and sell it to someone who repairs the cord (Joe Benson), the study can follow the trade and tell a nice story about Joe Benson the Tech Sector repair market. That would be good on Dell. According to evidence in 2016, BAN actively obscured "good" end points that didn't fit their "shantytown / ricepaddy" inuendo.
If I send a perfectly working laptop that is exported and properly reused in some school in Indonesia, that can now be part of the study.
FIVE STEPS to a GOOD EFFORT by DELL and BAN
- Track junk CRT TVs as well as high-demand exports
- Track working/repairable (good to export) as well as "junk"
- Track "cut cords" with discernable external damage (don't sabotage just pretty stuff that appears statitically reuseable)
- Track blind representative samples
- Track stuff to "good news" overseas export markets that defy the racist terminology (rice paddy, shantytown, sodom and gomorrah, hell, etc)
Dell hasn't done so... yet. Let's watch and see if destruction of a good or repairable unit is tracked in the EarthEye Study. If not a single such story is tracked, then hashtag this #EarthEye as
I have to be the one to step up, I can't cave. I have the most evidence, including insider knowledge of BAN's device sourcing (where they got the original "broken" devices), the MIT individuals who placed them (knocking on a door of an office of an unwitting and unwilling subject who did not even have a public drop off), and strong evidence that BAN was communicating with people who paid E-Stewards before, during, and after (but before publication) of the GPS Study. I am all for science, however. With Dell in a position to do this right, let them know that Fair Trade Recycling is watching, too.