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   Technology StocksAlphabet Inc. (Google)


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From: Glenn Petersen5/17/2019 10:11:34 AM
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Alphabet’s Wing will kick off Helsinki drone deliveries in summer 2019

Kyle Wiggers
VentureBeat
May 17, 2019 5:59 AM


Above: Project Wing
Image Credit: Wing
_________

Alphabet X Labs graduate Wing announced late last year that it’d soon begin piloting autonomous deliveries in Helsinki, Finland, and in a blog post this morning, it laid out a detailed roadmap. Wing says that in the coming weeks, it’ll deploy a small fleet of drones in the city’s Vuosaari district, where they’ll ferry provisions from convenience stores to homes and “multi-family housing communities.”

Wing will launch with two retail partners — Herkku Food Market, a gourmet supermarket, and Cafe Monami, a restaurant — to deliver items weighing 3.3 pounds or less up to a distance of 6.2 miles. The company says that in anticipation of the launch, it’s hosted several community events “so that local residents could ask questions about [the] service” and “provide thoughts on how Wing might fit into their lives.”

“Vuosaari is an inspiring locale for Wing in several ways,” wrote Wing. “Helsinki’s most populous district, it is bordered by water on three sides, with significant forestland alongside residential areas and a large international cargo port. The density of Vuosaari’s population makes it a great place to launch our first service to multi-family housing communities as well.”

The Helsinki expansion marks Wing’s first European rollout and comes a month after the launch of its commercial drone delivery service in Australia. Around 100 homes in the suburbs of Crace, Franklin, and Palmerston have access to the service currently, where Wing’s drones have completed 70,000 flights and 3,000 deliveries.

Meanwhile, stateside, Wing in April gained a small-sized air carrier designation from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, enabling it to kick off drone deliveries from local merchants in the Virginia towns of Blacksburg and Christiansburg within months.

Current-gen Wing drones can fly at speeds of up to 78 miles per hour and take off and land vertically, thanks to a dozen vertical rotors and two propellers. Automated flight-planning software determines their route, while a downward-facing camera and other onboard sensors help them avoid obstacles.

The sophisticated tech could result in substantial cost savings for — and smaller carbon footprint from — local businesses, Wing asserts. A commissioned report cited $9 million in annual cost savings, while a Rand Corporation study forecasted a 6% reduction in energy usage compared to trucks.

But it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing.

According to a Wall Street Journal report last year, Wing’s drones have disrupted the lives of some longtime residents, who say that they no longer use their yards as much. (The company says it’s working on quieter and lower-pitched propellers.) User error has resulted in at least one accidental delivery, and the drones are sometimes forced to land due to high winds and obstructions.

In September 2016, the company partnered with fast-casual chain Chipotle in the U.S. to deliver orders for a small group of Virginia Tech students. But only a month later, Wing canceled a tentative collaboration with Starbucks over disagreements regarding the handling of customer data, according to Bloomberg.

Despite the setbacks, Wing is forging ahead against rivals like Amazon, which launched a trial of its Prime Air drone delivery service for select customers in Cambridge, England in December 2016. In the intervening years, companies like Microsoft and startup Flytrex have trialed airborne delivery services in cities like Holly Springs, North Carolina and Wichita, Kansas. In May, Uber announced plans to deliver food by drone in San Diego, and FedEx plans to develop a drone-powered aircraft inspection program in Tennessee, and more recently, Matternet teamed up with UPS to launch an aerial delivery service from WakeMed’s flagship hospital and campus in Raleigh.

Reports show the commercial drone industry continues to grow quickly, albeit from a small base. A 2017 forecast from Gartner projected the number of commercial drones sold that year would exceed 174,000. Moreover, about $454 million was thrown at UAV startups in 2016 alone, and the market is forecasted to be worth $127 billion by 2020.

venturebeat.com

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From: Sr K5/18/2019 1:48:22 PM
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Google was often overcharging advertisers.

WSJ

Google to Refund Advertisers After Suit Over Fraud Scheme

Legal claims spotlight tech giant’s dominance in online advertising, both as a buyer and seller

By
Updated May 17, 2019 3:55 p.m. ET

Alphabet Inc.’s Google has agreed to refund advertisers for ads purchased on its ad marketplaces that ran on websites with fraudulent traffic, following a lawsuit claiming the tech giant was withholding the payments, according to court documents and people familiar with the situation.

In 2017, Google offered limited refunds to hundreds of marketers and ad agencies who had purchased ad space through its online ad-buying tool after the company discovered a wide-ranging fraud scheme, which resulted in ads running on sites whose...

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From: lucky_limey5/20/2019 9:07:39 AM
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Google BLOCKS Huawei: Chinese tech giant's phones will NOT work with Android in the future after Trump blacklist - in trade war escalation that could KILL OFF the firm's global smartphone businessNew Huawei phones will not have access to Gmail, Google Maps and other apps

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From: JakeStraw5/21/2019 8:04:27 AM
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Google reverses decision to cut ties with Huawei after US eases trade restrictions
cnbc.com

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From: JakeStraw5/21/2019 10:21:44 AM
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Google sister-company Verily is teaming with big pharma on clinical trials
cnbc.com
The company announced Tuesday strategic alliances with the pharmaceutical companies Novartis, Sanofi, Otsuka and Pfizer to help it move more deeply into the medical studies market. The goals for Verily, and its pharma partners, are to reach patients in new ways, make it easier to enroll and participate in trials, and aggregate data across a variety of sources, including the electronic medical record or health-tracking wearable devices.

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From: JakeStraw5/24/2019 8:16:59 AM
1 Recommendation   of 15372
 
Now it's easy to order food in Google Assistant, Search and Maps
engadget.com

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From: Glenn Petersen5/25/2019 11:51:39 AM
1 Recommendation   of 15372
 
Maciej Ceglowski on gdpr

by Tyler Cowen
Marginal Revolution
May 25, 2019 at 12:23 a.m.

The plain language of the GDPR is so plainly at odds with the business model of surveillance advertising that contorting the real-time ad brokerages into something resembling compliance has required acrobatics that have left essentially everybody unhappy.

The leading ad networks in the European Union have chosen to respond to the GDPR by stitching together a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of consent,a mechanism whereby a user wishing to visit, say, a weather forecast page 4 is first prompted to agree to share data with a consortium of 119 entities, including the aptly named “A Million Ads”network. The user can scroll through this list of intermediaries one by one, or give or withhold consent en bloc, but either way she must wait a further two minutes for the consent collection process to terminate before she is allowed to find out whether or it is going to rain.

This majestically baroque consent mechanism also hinders Europeans from using the privacy preserving features built into their web browsers, or from turning off invasive tracking technologies like third-party cookies,since the mechanism depends on their being present.

For the average EU citizen,therefore, the immediate effect of the GDPR has been to add friction to their internet browsing experience along the lines of the infamous 2011 EU Privacy Directive (“EU cookie law”) that added consent dialogs to nearly every site on the internet.

The GDPR roll out has also demonstrated to what extent the European ad market depends on Google, who has assumed the role of de facto technical regulatory authority due to its overwhelming market share. Google waited until the night before the regulation went into effect to announce its intentions, leaving ad networks scrambling.

It is significant that Google and Facebook also took advantage of the US-EU privacy shield to move 1.5billion non-EU user records out of EU jurisdiction to servers in the United States. Overall, the GDPR has significantly strengthened Facebook and Google at the expense of smaller players in the surveillance economy.

The data protection provisions of the GDPR, particularly the right to erase, imposed significant compliance costs on internet companies. In some cases,these compliance costs just show the legislation working as intended. Companies who were not keeping adequate track of personal data were forced to retrofit costly controls, and that date is now safer for it.

But in other cases, companies with a strong commitment to privacy also found themselves expending significant resources on retooling. Personally identifying information has a way of seeping into odd corners of computer systems (for example, users will sometimes accidentally paste their password into a search box), and tracking down all of these special cases can be challenging in a complex system.The requirements around erasure, particularly as they interact with backups, also impose a special burden, as most computer systems are designed with a bias to never losing data,rather than making it easy to expunge.
Here is the full Senate testimony, there are many interesting points in the piece. I thank an MR reader for the pointer.

marginalrevolution.com

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To: Sr K who wrote (15205)5/27/2019 2:17:14 AM
From: J.F. Sebastian
   of 15372
 
Facebook is trying to develop its own streaming video platform, I'm sure they don't want Reed Hastings in the boardroom being privy to any plans they might talk about there.

Apple made the mistake of keeping then-CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, on their board when Apple was developing the iPhone and iPad at the same time Google was working on Android.

Probably an honest mistake at that point, because Google was very secretive about Android, but I can only imagine the things Eric Schmidt found out about the iPhone that he passed on to the Android engineers.

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To: JakeStraw who wrote (15211)5/27/2019 3:15:43 AM
From: J.F. Sebastian
2 Recommendations   of 15372
 
I deleted all Google apps from my iPhone recently, save YouTube.

After reading an article about how long Google Maps keeps data and has abused user privacy, I'd had enough.

I do use Gmail, but I use a 3rd party app for it, not the native Gmail iOS client.

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From: FUBHO5/30/2019 6:27:00 AM
   of 15372
 
'A white-collar sweatshop': Google Assistant contractors allege wage theft
Julia Carrie Wong
www.theguardian.com

“Do you believe in magic?” Google asked attendees of its annual developer conference this May, playing the seminal Lovin’ Spoonful tune as an introduction. Throughout the three-day event, company executives repeatedly answered yes while touting new features of the Google Assistant, the company’s version of Alexa or Siri, that can indeed feel magical. The tool can book you a rental car, tell you what the weather is like at your mother’s house, and even interpret live conversations across 26 languages.

But to some of the Google employees responsible for making the Assistant work, the tagline of the conference – “Keep making magic” – obscured a more mundane reality: the technical wizardry relies on massive data sets built by subcontracted human workers earning low wages.

“It’s smoke and mirrors if anything,” said a current Google employee who, as with the others quoted in this story, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. “Artificial intelligence is not that artificial; it’s human beings that are doing the work.”

The Google employee works on Pygmalion, the team responsible for producing linguistic data sets that make the Assistant work. And although he is employed directly by Google, most of his Pygmalion co-workers are subcontracted temps who have for years been routinely pressured to work unpaid overtime, according to seven current and former members of the team.

These employees, some of whom spoke to the Guardian because they said efforts to raise concerns internally were ignored, alleged that the unpaid work was a symptom of the workplace culture put in place by the executive who founded Pygmalion. That executive was fired by Google in March following an internal investigation.

But current and former employees also identified Google’s broad reliance on approximately 100,000 temps, vendors and contractors (known at Google as TVCs) for large amounts of the company’s work as a culprit. Google does not directly employ the workers who collect or create the data required for much of its technology, be they the drivers who capture photos for Google Maps’ Street View, the content moderators training YouTube’s filters to catch prohibited material, or the scanners flipping pages to upload the contents of libraries into Google Books.

Having these two tiers of workers – highly paid full-time Googlers and often low-wage and precarious workers contracted through staffing firms – is “corrosive”, “highly problematic”, and “permissive of exploitation”, the employees said.

“It’s like a white-collar sweatshop,” said one current Google employee. “If it’s not illegal, it’s definitely exploitative. It’s to the point where I don’t use the Google Assistant, because I know how it’s made, and I can’t support it.”

An ‘army’ of linguistsThe study of language is at the very heart of current advancements in computing. For decades, people have had to work to learn the language of computers, whether they were trying to program a VCR or writing software. Technology such as the Google Assistant reverses the equation: the computer understands natural human speech, in all its variations.


Behind the technology that makes the Google Assistant work is an army of Google-contracted linguists. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The GuardianTake, for example, the straightforward task of asking the Assistant to set a timer to go off in five minutes, a former employee on Pygmalion explained. There are infinite ways that users could phrase that request, such as “Set a timer for five minutes”; “Can you ring the buzzer in five minutes?”; or “Configurar una alarma para cinco minutos.” The Assistant has to be able to convert the spoken request into text, then interpret the user’s intended meaning to produce the desired outcome, all practically instantaneously.

The technology that makes this possible is a form of machine learning. For a machine learning model to “understand” a language, it needs vast amounts of text that has been annotated by linguists to teach it the building blocks of human language, from parts of speech to syntactic relationships.

Enter Pygmalion. The team was born in 2014, the brainchild of longtime Google executive Linne Ha, to create the linguistic data sets required for Google’s neural networks to learn dozens of languages. The “painstaking” nature of the labor required to create this “handcrafted” data was featured in a 2016 article about Pygmalion’s “massive team of PhD linguists” by Wired. (Ha did not respond to a request for comment.)

From the beginning, Google planned to build the team with just a handful of full-time employees while outsourcing the vast majority of the annotation work to an “army” of subcontracted linguists around the world, documents reviewed by the Guardian and interviews with staff show.

The appetite for Pygmalion’s hand-labeled data, and the size of the team, has only increased over the years. Today, it includes 40 to 50 full-time Googlers and approximately 200 temporary workers contracted through agencies, including Adecco, a global staffing firm. The contract workers include associate linguists, who are tasked with annotation, and project managers, who oversee their work.

All of the contract workers have at least a bachelor’s degree in linguistics, though many have master’s degrees and some have doctorates. In addition to annotating data, the temp workers write “grammars” for the Assistant, complex and technical work that requires considerable expertise and involves Google’s code base. Their situation is comparable to adjunct professors on US college campuses: they are highly educated and highly skilled, performing work crucial to the company’s mission, and shut out of the benefits and security that come with a tenured position.

“Imagine going from producing PhD-level research and pushing forward the state of knowledge in the world to going to an annotation type job, where all you’re doing all day is annotating data; it’s very click, click, click,” said a former project manager on Pygmalion. “Everyone was trying to prove themselves because everyone was trying to work for Google. The competitive edge that happened among colleagues as TVCs was severe.”

‘The definition of wage theft’This dynamic created the incentive for temps to perform unpaid work. Managers took advantage by making it clear they wouldn’t approve overtime for contract workers, while also assigning unrealistic amounts of work, current and former employees said.

The pressure to complete assignments was “immense”, said one Googler. “In this mixed stream of messages, I think a lot of people had to make their own calls, and given the pressure, I think people made different calls.”

The Googler described the overall effect as “gaslighting”, and recalled receiving messages from management such as, “If the TVCs want to work more, let them work more.” All seven current and former employees interviewed by the Guardian said they had either experienced or witnessed contract workers performing unpaid overtime.

“To my knowledge, no one ever said, you need to work TVCs above their contracts, but it was set up so that it was the only way to get the expected work done, and if anyone raised concerns they would be openly mocked and belittled,” said another current Googler.

“The 40-hour thing was just not respected,” said a former associate linguist. “It was made clear to us that we were never to log more than 40 hours, but we were never told not to work more than 40 hours.

“The work that they assign often takes more than hours hours,” they added. “Every week you fill out a timesheet. One person one time did submit overtime, and they were chastised. No punishment, but definitely told not to work overtime.”

A spokeswoman for Google said that it was company policy that temp workers must be paid for all hours worked, even if overtime was not approved in advance.

“Working off the clock is the very definition of wage theft,” said Beth Ross, a longtime labor and employment attorney. Ross said that both Google and Adecco could face liability for unpaid wages and damages under federal and state law.

‘They dangle that carrot’The associate linguist was one of several who said that they took the position at Google in hopes that they could eventually convert to a full-time position. Several members of Pygmalion are former contract workers, including the current head of the team, who took over when Ha, the executive who founded the team, moved on to another project.

“People did [unpaid overtime] because they were dangled the opportunity of becoming a full-time employee, which is against company policy,” a current Googler said. “There’s a particular leveraging of people’s desire to become full time,” said another.

“When I was hired, I was very explicitly told that there is no ladder,” a current contract worker said. “‘This is not a temp-to-hire position. There is no moving up’ … But the reality on the team is very much one where there is clearly a ladder. A certain percentage of the associate linguists will get project manager. A certain percentage of project managers get converted to full time. We watch it happen, and they dangle that carrot.”


Google employees enjoy perks such as free meals, on-site yoga classes, free massages and generous benefits packages. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/REUTERSOne Googler who successfully converted to a full-time position after working as a temp on Pygmalion said that at times the bargain was even made explicit. In April 2017, they recalled, Ha attended a meeting of outsourced Pygmalion project managers in London and “explain[ed] that the position was designed for conversion and that we should be proactive in asking for more work in order to achieve this”.

The Google spokeswoman said that it is company policy not to make any commitment about employment or conversion to temps, and that Googlers who manage temps are required to take a mandatory training on this and other policies related to TVCs.

‘Why do it?’The disparity in wages and benefits between Google employees and contract workers is stark. Alphabet recently reported median pay of $246,804, and employees enjoy perks such as free meals, on-site yoga classes, free massages and generous benefits.

Amid increasing activism by Googlers and contract workers, Google recently announced improved minimum standards for US-based contract workers, including a minimum of eight paid sick days, “comprehensive” health insurance, and a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour by 2020. (A full-time job at that wage pays $31,200 a year; by comparison, Google charges its own employees $38,808 a year to place an infant in its onsite daycare facilities.)

Wages for contract workers on the Pygmalion team are well above the new minimum standard, usually starting around $25 an hour for associate linguists and going up to $35 an hour for project managers. But contractors complain about subpar benefits and other indignities.

The former project manager described Adecco’s benefits plan as “the worst health insurance I have ever had”. A current contract worker earning less than $60,000 annually said they were paying $180 each month in premiums for an individual plan with a $6,000 deductible. For families, the deductible is $12,000, according to documents reviewed by the Guardian. Google declined to comment on Adecco’s pay and benefits.


Google workers have walked out over the company’s handling of sexual misconduct claims and its treatment of temporary workers. Photograph: Noah Berger/APGooglers earn significantly more, and those on individual plans contribute between $0 and $53 for their health insurance and have a much lower deductible ($1,350), according to documents reviewed by the Guardian. Googlers with families pay up to $199 every two weeks, with a $2,700 deductible.

Others complained of a lack of trust and respect. In 2018, Google revoked the ability for contractors on Pygmalion to work while riding Google’s wifi-equipped commuter buses, creating frustration for those who spent three to four hours a day traveling to the company’s Mountain View campus and could no longer work and count that time toward their shift. Google said it works to ensure that temps, vendors and contractors do not have over-broad access to sensitive internal information for security reasons.

“Why do it?” a former associate linguist said of working unpaid overtime under these conditions. “I didn’t want to lose the job. Having Google on your résumé is important to a career … Later on, I came to find out that you can’t say ‘Google’ on your r ésumé. You have to say ‘Google by Adecco’.”

A weekend assignmentBoth Google and Adecco recently launched investigations into the allegations of unpaid overtime in Pygmalion.

“Our policy is clear that all temporary workers must be paid for any overtime worked,” said Eileen Naughton, Google’s vice-president of people operations, in a statement to the Guardian. “If we find that anyone isn’t properly paid, we make sure they are compensated appropriately and take action against any Google employee who violates this policy.”

The current investigation was initiated after the company received a report of a possible policy violation in February 2019, the Google spokeswoman said. The company will provide appropriate compensation if need be and will take action up to and including terminations if policy violations are found, she added.

The spokeswoman also acknowledged that concerns about unpaid overtime were raised to human resources in 2017, but said that the company investigated and did not find any such cases at the time.

“We are committed to ensuring all employees are compensated for all time worked,” said Mary Beth Waddill, a spokeswoman for Adecco. “Our longstanding policy is that every employee is required to report time accurately – even if that time isn’t pre-approved – and they should feel encouraged to do so by their managers. If we learn that this is not the case, we will work with Google to take appropriate action.”

On Friday 17 May, Adecco sent emails to current and former Pygmalion temps. Recipients were asked whether they reported all the hours they worked, and, if not, to estimate how many hours they worked unpaid. The emails requested a response by Monday 20 May, though a Google spokeswoman said this week that the deadline has been extended.

A Google employee reacted: “They’re asking people to work on the weekend to recall unbilled overwork. It seems like it’s designed to discourage people from responding.”

Indeed, one former contract worker who left the company many months ago said they received the email but did not bother to respond. “After I left, I didn’t keep records of the hours I worked,” they said. “Even if I wanted to report overtime now, how could I?”

  • Do you work in the tech industry? Do you have concerns about workplace issues? Contact the author: julia.wong@theguardian.com or julia.carrie.wong@protonmail.com



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