Google reportedly fires author of anti-diversity memo

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CEO Sundar Pichai says internal document that criticised efforts to promote women and under-represented minorities is ‘contrary to our basic values’

Google reportedly fired a software engineer on Monday after a document he wrote criticising the company’s diversity efforts and attributing the tech industry’s gender imbalance to biological differences between men and women went viral.

“To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to [Google’s] work is offensive and not OK,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a memo to employees. “It is contrary to our basic values and our code of conduct.”

The firing of the memo’s author, who identified himself as James Damore in an email to the Guardian, was first reported by Bloomberg. Google declined to comment on an individual employee’s case, but tweeted a link to further comments by Pichai: “Our co-workers shouldn’t have to worry that each time they open their mouths to speak in a meeting, they have to prove they are not like the memo states, being ‘agreeable’ rather than ‘assertive’, showing ‘lower stress tolerance’ or being ‘neurotic’.”

The 10-page “manifesto” was initially published internally, but was leaked to the press on Saturday after prompting a firestorm within the company. The document, entitled Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber, takes aim at Google’s “diversity and inclusion” initiatives, such as implicit bias training and programs to promote women and under-represented minorities, and argues that the company is intolerant of conservative political views.

“When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence,” the author wrote.

The author also made questionable claims about supposedly innate differences between men and women to account for the extreme gender disparity in Google’s workforce.

Like most of Silicon Valley’s top tech companies, Google is overwhelmingly male, white and Asian. Women make up just 20% of the technical workforce, and African Americans just 1%, according to Google’s most recent diversity report.

Google is also engaged in a legal battle with the US Department of Labor, which is investigating the company for wage discrimination. A DOL lawyer told the Guardian in April that its analysis of wage data showed “that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry”.

“At this point the department has received compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters,” the attorney said.

Google denies the charges.

The internal document sparked a heated debate within Google and the tech industry at large, with many Google employees expressing anger and dismay about its contents on Twitter. Many called for the author’s firing, arguing that his opinions created a hostile work environment, while others raised concerns about sacking an employee for expressing unpopular views.

Rightwing news site Breitbart covered the controversy extensively, focusing on the perceived culture of “political correctness” in the tech industry, and casting the memo’s author as a victim of a “witch hunt” by “social justice warriors”.

In his memo, Pichai acknowledged concerns over freedom of expression, adding: “Many points raised in the memo – such as the portions criticising Google’s trainings, questioning the role of ideology in the workplace, and debating whether programs for women and underserved groups are sufficiently open to all – are important topics.

“The author had a right to express their views on those topics – we encourage an environment in which people can do this and it remains our policy to not take action against anyone for prompting these discussions.”

The CEO told staff he would be returning from a vacation early in order to hold a town hall meeting to discuss “how we create a more inclusive environment for all”.

Google is the latest company to face issues of sexism, discrimination and harassment this year. The Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, resigned in June and an additional 20 employees were fired amid the fallout from allegations of widespread sexual harassment and gender discrimination at the company.

The tech industry has also been rocked by accusations that a number of high-profile venture capitalists have harassed female startup entrepreneurs.

 

Twitter Reveals Why It Hides Its Daily Active User Figures

Responding to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as to why Twitter is hiding its daily active user (DAU) growth, the company said “the absolute number of DAUs is less important than the percentage change in DAUs”.

In a correspondence between the company and SEC, Twitter revealed that the percentage change in DAUs is the key factor to know whether user engagement is increasing or decreasing on a relative basis.

According to a report on Business Insider on Tuesday, Twitter also believes that revealing its DAU growth will be an unfair comparison to other social networks like Facebook and Snapchat.

“The company also focuses investors on percentage change rather than absolute DAU numbers to avoid confusion when comparing the company with other companies that disclose information regarding DAUs, but use different definitions of DAUs that may include different segments of their respective user bases,” Twitter wrote.

Twitter has added zero users since first quarter, posting $574 million in revenue in the second quarter in 2017, which is a decrease of five percent YoY (year-on-year).

Twitter now has 328 million monthly active users (MAUs) – the same number it reported in the first quarter of 2017.

“Monthly active usage (MAU) increased five percent YoY and daily active usage (DAU) increased 12 percent YoY, marking the third consecutive quarter of double-digit growth,” said Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, in a statement.

As such, concealing the DAU numbers acts as a silver lining to Twitter’s declining monthly user base because DAU growth percentage implies that existing users are engaging with the micro-blogging site more.

Facebook Said to Be Working on Video Chat Device, Standalone Smart Speaker

 

Facebook is working on a video chat device for the home – the first major hardware product from its experimental Building 8 lab.

Featuring a laptop-sized touchscreen, the device represents a new product category and could be announced as soon as next spring’s F8 developer conference, according to people familiar with the matter. They say the large screen and smart camera technology could help farflung people feel like they’re in the same room, which aligns with Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg’s mission of bringing Facebook users closer together. The device is in the prototype phase but is already being tested in people’s homes.

The social media giant is working on at least one other product – a standalone smart speaker that would compete with the Amazon Echo and Google Home, said the people, who asked not be named discussing unannounced products. Facebook is hiring Apple veterans to help it create a Siri-style voice assistant that would run on both devices, they said.

The new devices represent a new phase in Facebook’s hardware ambitions. Though the company sells the Oculus virtual reality headset, it acquired its maker and didn’t create the original product (although a new $200 model will debut next year). Last year, the Building 8 lab was set up to help Facebook develop its own hardware and keep consumers locked into its ecosystem – the news feed, Facebook live, video calling and more.

Building 8 is staffed with hardware veterans and led by former Google executive Regina Dugan. Speaking at the most recent F8 conference in April, Dugan said the goal was to “create and ship new, category-defining consumer products that are social first.” She spoke about how technology has made it easier to connect, but also has confined people to their phones so that they don’t interact with the physical world as much.

“I’m optimistic that technology can help, that new hardware platforms can chip away at false choices,” Dugan said, explaining how her relationship with her mother was improved through daily phone calls on her way to a coffee shop. “If we fail it’s gonna suck.”

Geared to the living room, the video chat device will feature a wide-angle camera lens, microphones and speakers that are all powered by artificial intelligence to boost performance, the people said. A version of the device in testing includes a thin, vertical stand that holds a large touchscreen measuring between 13 and 15 inches diagonally, the people said. Facebook has considered running a version of the Android operating system on its device instead of building its own core operating system, according to the people.

Ha Thai, a spokeswoman for Building 8, declined to comment.

Facebook is testing a feature that would allow the camera to automatically scan for people in its range and lock onto them, one of the people said. For example, the camera could zoom onto a painting that a child brought home from school to show to a parent away on a business trip. Facebook has also been developing a 360 degree camera for the device, but people familiar with the matter say it’s unlikely to be ready in time for the initial launch.

Early plans call for the standalone speaker to sell in the low $100 range, undercutting the competition, while the technologically more complex video chat device would cost a few hundred dollars, one of the people said. Because the speaker concept has already been popularized, two of the people said, Facebook could abandon it and prioritize the video chat device instead.

Instagram Stories Is Attracting Businesses, Says Company on Feature’s One-Year Anniversary

 

Instagram, one of the only Facebook-owned services that hasn’t yet reached one billion active users, said on Wednesday people are spending more time than ever on Instagram app — nearly half an hour. The reason: Stories, a Snapchat-inspired feature which the company introduced exactly one year ago. More than 250 million people use Instagram Stories every day, the company said.

The photo sharing network said people under the age of 25 spend more than 32 minutes a day on its app each day. Rest everyone spends 24 minutes exploring the app, on an average. The company didn’t breakdown how much time people are spending on Stories, a feature that lets people share remarkable moments from their day in the form of videos or images that disappear on their own in 24 hours.

Speaking of which, Instagram said its take on Stories is attracting businesses as well. Over 50 percent of businesses on Instagram produced an Instagram Story last month, the company said. One of five such stories from businesses elicited a direct message from customer.

Since launching Instagram Stories last year, the Facebook-owned app has also added a range of businesses-focused features to make stories more engaging. Play with time, for instance lets businesses run time-sensitive alerts (think of shopping deals).

Instagram on Wednesday also shared some country-focused data. Stories by actresses Sonam Kapoor, Alia Bhatt, Parineeti Chopra, and Shraddha Kapoor have been most viewed by Indians.

It’s unclear exactly how popular Instagram is in India – Facebook hasn’t shared any data. Gadgets 360 spoke with marketing research firm Sensor Tower, which noted that between May 2016 and May 2017, Instagram was installed about 34 million times during the same time across the App Store and Google Play, a figure which amounts to about 8.4 percent of its worldwide downloads.

In comparison, Snapchat was downloaded approximately 10.6 million times on the Indian App Store and Google Play, the firm told us. This number amounts to about 3.6 percent of its worldwide downloads. Sensor Tower added, “In May 2017 alone, Instagram had about 3.8 million downloads in India on the two stores, a 137.5 percent year-over-year growth from last May’s 1.6 million.”

Facebook News Feed to Prioritise Links to Websites That Load Faster

In the coming months, Facebook is updating its News Feed to show more weblinks that load faster and less stories which take time to open.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Facebook executives said they had heard from people how frustrating it is to click on a link that leads to a slow-loading webpage.

“In fact, even more broadly on the Internet, we have found that when people have to wait for a site to load for too long, they abandon what they were clicking on all together. As many as 40 percent of website visitors abandon a site after three seconds of delay,” the blog post read.

Facebook will take into account the estimated load time of a webpage that someone clicks to from any link in News Feed on the mobile app.

“Factors such as a person’s current network connection and the general speed of the corresponding webpage will be considered,” the social media giant noted.

If signals indicate the webpage will load quickly, the link to that webpage might appear more in a user’s News Feed.

Facebook said it had taken similar factors into account in the past also to ensure people quickly see relevant stories to them.

“For example, if you are on a slower Internet connection that won’t load videos, News Feed will show you fewer videos and more status updates and links,” the blog post read.

In order to load stories faster on a poor Internet connection, Facebook said it prefetches stories by downloading mobile content before someone clicks a link.

This, the company said, can shorten load time for webpages by more than 25 percent.

Google Image Search Gets Badges Feature to Help You Take Action

 

Google looks committed to improve its Image Search feature on the app and has now introduced a new tool that looks to compete with Pinterest. The Internet giant has added a new Image Search feature that will let you know the context and other relevant Badges to images indicating what else you can discover with a “single tap on an image”. In addition, image search results will also start featuring a new GIF tab that will filter the images in GIF format. The feature is live on Google mobile Web and its Android app.

The new Pinterest-like search results feature is called Badges that will classify images based on the content behind them. Essentially, Google Image Search results will simply display deeper, contextual information of the image source, such as recipes and purchase information, and display it in a card with links to the original site, as well as Share and Save widgets. For instance, a Google Image Search made for ice cream will show several ice cream image results, and some will feature a ‘recipe’ or ‘video’ badge on them, depending on their source. You can further tap on ‘recipe’ to read the recipe, or ‘video’ to see the video it came from. You will also start seeing GIF images once you tap on the GIF tab on the top, in addition to further differentiating them from the videos.

Presently, Pinterest provides such features where you can pin and explore the content that a saved image is pointing to. However, the image-saving feature has been there for a while inside Google Search, the new Badges feature is an effort to take on its rival.

Google still lacks many features as compared with Pinterest that actually make interested viewers choose Pinterest over Google. Pinterest recently introduced a feature called Lens that lets people take pictures with smartphones from inside Pinterest applications, which then uses “visual search” to find similar items or themes playing off objects of desire.

Amazon, in Sign of Growth, Holds Job Fair for US Warehouses

 

Amazon is holding a giant job fair Wednesday and plans to make thousands of job offers on the spot at nearly a dozen US warehouses.

Though it’s common for Amazon to ramp up its shipping center staff in August to prepare for holiday shopping, the magnitude of the hiring spree underscores Amazon’s growth when traditional retailers are closing stores – and blaming Amazon for a shift to buying goods online.

Nearly 40,000 of the 50,000 packing, sorting and shipping jobs at Amazon will be full time. Most of them will count toward Amazon’s previously announced goal of adding 100,000 full-time workers by the middle of next year.

The bad news is that more people are likely to lose jobs in stores than get jobs in warehouses, said Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

On the flip side, Amazon’s warehouse jobs provide “decent and competitive” wages and could help build skills.

“Interpersonal team work, problem solving, critical thinking, all that stuff goes on in these warehouses,” Carnevale said. “They’re serious entry-level jobs for a lot of young people, even those who are still making their way through school.”

At one warehouse – Amazon calls them “fulfillment centers” – in Fall River, Massachusetts, the company hopes to hire more than 200 people Wednesday, adding to a workforce of about 1,500. Employees there focus on sorting, labeling and shipping what the company calls “non-sortable” items – big products such as shovels, surfboards, grills, car seats – and lots of giant diaper boxes. Other warehouses are focused on smaller products.

And while Amazon has attracted attention for deploying robots at some of its warehouses, experts said it could take a while before automation begins to seriously bite into its growing labor force.

“When it comes to dexterity, machines aren’t really great at it,” said Jason Roberts, head of global technology and analytics for mass recruiter Randstad Sourceright, which is not working with Amazon on its jobs fair. “The picker-packer role is something humans do way better than machines right now. I don’t put it past Amazon to try to do that in the future, but it’s one of the hardest jobs” for machines.

Besides Fall River, the event is taking place at Amazon shipping sites in Baltimore; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Etna, Ohio; Hebron, Kentucky; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Kent, Washington; Robbinsville, New Jersey; Romeoville, Illinois and Whitestown, Indiana.

The company is advertising starting wages that range from $11.50 an hour at the Tennessee location to $13.75 an hour at the Washington site, which is near Amazon’s Seattle headquarters.

Amazon is also planning to hold events for part-time positions in Oklahoma City and Buffalo, New York.

Amazon is “insatiable when it comes to filling jobs at warehouses,” Roberts said. He said Amazon’s job offers could also help drive up wages at nearby employers, including grocery stores and fast-food joints.

“It has a relatively healthy effect in the surrounding area,” he said.

Windows Saw Over 2.3 Million Infections, 13 Ransomware Families in Q2 2017: Quick Heal

 

Over 2.3 million infections and 13 families of ransomware were detected on Windows in the second quarter of 2017, a new report revealed on Wednesday.

According to Quick Heal Technologies, malware detections saw a drop of 23 percent but continued to emerge over 1,700 times every minute.

“Although malware detections on Windows and Android saw a decline compared to last quarter, ransomware attacks have increased. This trend proves that cyber criminals are working on attacks that require fewer resources but at the same time give higher returns,” said Sanjay Katkar, Chief Technology Officer, Quick Heal.

The report predicted that there was an increased likelihood of massive attacks like WannaCry due to individual users and businesses failing to keep their systems patched and up-to-date.

Also, ransomware attacks might increase on health care organisations and newer, destructive and more advanced variants of the Wannacry and Petya are expected to surface.

Apart from WannaCry and Petya, other active ransomware families which emerged in the second quarter included ‘Jaff’, ‘Crisis’, ‘Cry128/Cry9,’ among others.

“With the advent of ransomware attacks such as WannaCry and Petya, attackers are now shifting their attention towards attacks that make them more money and in an easier way as ransomware campaigns have higher returns compared with data stealing and other malicious campaigns,” the report noted.

It was also discovered that Trojans continued to rise with 37 percent detections followed by Infectors, Worms and Adware and Potentially Unwanted Applications (PUA).

The report further noted that scammers were distributing fake apps, labelling them with popular keywords to trick users into downloading them.

“These apps are mostly developed by novices are not coded properly which leaves security vulnerabilities in them. These ‘weak’ apps are then used by seasoned attackers to target mobile users,” the report warned.

The report predicted that faked applications are expected to increase in volume not only in third-party app stores but Google Play as well.

Facebook Did Shut Down AI System, But Not Because Things Went Out Of Control

 

Amid the battle of words between billionaires Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk over the future of artificial intelligence last week, a story that suggested that Facebook had to shut down an AI program went viral. We may have gotten carried away by the pun, however. According to reports, Facebook had to shut down an AI program after two bots created their own language, that humans couldn’t understand. The conversation between the bots, named Bob and Alice, went on like this:

Bob: “I can can I I everything else.”

Alice: “Balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to.”

The reaction to these stories, as you would expect, was hysterical. But as amusing – and at the same time, creepy – it may have appeared to you, it was an inaccurate account of what had actually happened.

You see, Facebook did create an AI program, and it did terminate the project. But it wasn’t a disaster, and it was in no way something that the social juggernaut had to stop because of unforeseen outcome.

It all began last month when Facebook’s AI Research group published a report in which it described how it created bots and explored whether these bots could talk in a human manner. The idea behind creating this AI program was that these bots could learn from human interaction and become sufficiently advanced that their interactions become like outs.

Here’s how Facebook researchers described it, “Similar to how people have differing goals, run into conflicts, and then negotiate to come to an agreed-upon compromise, the researchers have shown that it’s possible for dialogue agents with differing goals (implemented as end-to-end-trained neural networks) to engage in start-to-finish negotiations with other bots or people while arriving at common decisions or outcomes.”

The actual hiccup occurred, as Gizmodo reports, at the human’s end, when Facebook programmers forgot to code the bots in a way that would let them talk like humans. Without the instructions, the code did what seemed fit to them.

“There was no reward to sticking to English language,” Dhruv Batra, Facebook researcher, told Fast Company magazine. “Agents will drift off understandable language and invent codewords for themselves.”

Facebook concluded the program and said the project marked an important step toward “creating chatbots that can reason, converse, and negotiate, all key steps in building a personalized digital assistant.”

Former Pebble, Essential and WebOS designer joins Google Home team

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In the leadup to the launch of the Essential company’s first phone, one of its top executives has left for Google.

Liron Damir announced this week on LinkedIn that he joined the Google Home team as its head of user experience, leaving behind the same role over at Android founder Andy Rubin’s startup.

“Definitely took the scenic route, but super excited and proud to be joining Google today to lead the design of Google Home products,” Damir wrote this week.

A Google representative confirmed the hire to CNET but offered no further comment.

Damir has previously served in design roles for the Pebble watch company as well as on the WebOS operating system for HP and LG. He is the third executive to leave Essential in the past two months, with previous departures including its VP of Marketing, Brian Wallace, and its Head of Communications, Andy Fouché.

The Essential Phone, which includes a nearly bezel-free design while running on the Android operating system, is currently only being sold online, with Sprint as the only phone carrier selling it in the US later this summer.