Category Archives: Technology

silicon valley & technology news

Google Workers Worldwide Protest Company’s Handling of Sex Harassment Cases 

It was a protest that went around the globe. 

From Singapore to Dublin, Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Pryor, Oklahoma, Google employees walked out of their offices to protest the internet search giant’s handling of sexual discrimination cases, and express their frustration with its workplace culture. 

 

WATCH: Google Silicon Valley Employees Join a Worldwide Protest

In San Francisco, where Google has several offices, hundreds of workers congregated at a plaza where they gave speeches and held signs. One read: “I reported and he got promoted.”

The unusual protest — tech companies are not unionized and typically keep strife about personnel matters behind closed doors — riveted Silicon Valley, which has struggled in recent years over the treatment of women in the industry.

Resignation, severance

The Google protest was spurred by a New York Times story that outlined allegations against high-profile leaders at the firm, including Andy Rubin, known as “the father of Android,” who was reportedly paid $90 million in severance. Rubin has denied the allegations in the article, as well as reports of his severance amount. 

Richard DeVaul, a director at X, a unit of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, resigned from the company on Tuesday. He was accused of making unwanted advances to a woman who was a job applicant at the firm. 

List of demands

“We are a small part of a massive movement that has been growing for a long time,” protest organizers said in an article published in the online magazine The Cut. “We are inspired by everyone — from the women in fast food who led an action against sexual harassment to the thousands of women in the #metoo movement who have been the beginning of the end for this type of abuse.”

Leaders of the protest issued a list of demands, including that Alphabet add a worker-representative to its board of directors and that the firm internally disclose pay equity information. 

They also asked the company to revise its human resources practices to make the harassment claims filing process more equitable, and to create a “publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report.” 

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in an email to employees that “as CEO, it’s been personally important to me that we take a much harder line on inappropriate behavior. … We have taken many steps to do so, and know our work is still not done.”

Social media protest

The global protest unfolded on Twitter and Facebook as employees from offices around the world posted photos of themselves walking out at the appointed time of 11:10 a.m. 

The greatest concentration of Google workers is in the San Francisco area. In San Bruno, 12 miles south of San Francisco, employees at YouTube, which is part of Google, walked out, as did those in Mountain View, company headquarters. 

“As a woman, I feel personally unsafe, because if something were to happen, what accountability measures will be in place to make sure that justice is sought?” said Google employee Rana Abdelhamid at the San Francisco protest. 

Christian Boyd, another Google employee, was angry about what she said was protecting the powerful, even in the face of credible allegations. 

“It’s sad to see that what we consider the best companies are not immune to this, as well,” Boyd said.

After 30 minutes of speeches, the workers went back to their offices but vowed to continue pressuring Google to change. 

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Google Workers Set to Launch Worldwide Protests

Hundreds of Google employees in Asia walked off the job briefly Thursday as part of a worldwide protest of the company’s handling of sexual harassment cases and its workplace culture.

Hundreds of other Google workers and contractors, most of them women, are also expected Thursday to walk out of nearly two dozen company offices around the world.

The walkouts are the latest indications of employee dissatisfaction that escalated last week after the New York Times reported the internet giant paid millions of dollars in severance pay to male executives accused of harassment without disclosing their wrongful acts.

The Times report said, for example, that Google paid $90 million in 2014 to then-senior vice president Andy Rubin after he was accused of sexual harassment. Rubin denied the allegations in the article, which Google did not dispute.

The report energized a months-long employee movement to improve treatment of women and minorities and increase diversity. The movement earlier this year included petition drives, meetings with senior executives and training from the workers’ rights group Coworker.org.

Organizers demanded late Wednesday that Google parent Alphabet Inc. add a worker representative to its board of directors and internally disclose pay equity information. Employees also asked the company to revise their human resources practices to make the harassment claims filing process more equitable.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said “employees have raised constructive ideas” which the company will turn “into action.”

Dissatisfaction among Alphabet’s 94,000 workers and tens of thousands of contractors has not adversely affected the company’s share price. But employees have said they expect Alphabet to have recruiting and retention problems if the problems are not adequately addressed.

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Google Workers Set to Launch Worldwide Protests

Hundreds of Google employees in Asia walked off the job briefly Thursday as part of a worldwide protest of the company’s handling of sexual harassment cases and its workplace culture.

Hundreds of other Google workers and contractors, most of them women, are also expected Thursday to walk out of nearly two dozen company offices around the world.

The walkouts are the latest indications of employee dissatisfaction that escalated last week after the New York Times reported the internet giant paid millions of dollars in severance pay to male executives accused of harassment without disclosing their wrongful acts.

The Times report said, for example, that Google paid $90 million in 2014 to then-senior vice president Andy Rubin after he was accused of sexual harassment. Rubin denied the allegations in the article, which Google did not dispute.

The report energized a months-long employee movement to improve treatment of women and minorities and increase diversity. The movement earlier this year included petition drives, meetings with senior executives and training from the workers’ rights group Coworker.org.

Organizers demanded late Wednesday that Google parent Alphabet Inc. add a worker representative to its board of directors and internally disclose pay equity information. Employees also asked the company to revise their human resources practices to make the harassment claims filing process more equitable.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said “employees have raised constructive ideas” which the company will turn “into action.”

Dissatisfaction among Alphabet’s 94,000 workers and tens of thousands of contractors has not adversely affected the company’s share price. But employees have said they expect Alphabet to have recruiting and retention problems if the problems are not adequately addressed.

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Report: Freedom of Internet Declines for 7th Consecutive Year

Governments around the world are increasing control over use of the internet and social media, according to the latest report by the Freedom House organization. In 2017, officials in many countries accused dissidents of spreading fake news as a pretext to silence them. Online propaganda and uncontrolled harvesting of personal data have permeated the internet in the past year. A Freedom House expert told VOA these trends are a major threat to democracy. Zlatica Hoke has this story.

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Report: Freedom of Internet Declines for 7th Consecutive Year

Governments around the world are increasing control over use of the internet and social media, according to the latest report by the Freedom House organization. In 2017, officials in many countries accused dissidents of spreading fake news as a pretext to silence them. Online propaganda and uncontrolled harvesting of personal data have permeated the internet in the past year. A Freedom House expert told VOA these trends are a major threat to democracy. Zlatica Hoke has this story.

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US Supreme Court Divided Over How Google Settled Privacy Case

U.S. Supreme Court justices, in an internet privacy case involving Google, disagreed on Wednesday over whether to rein in a form of settlement in class action lawsuits that awards money to charities and other third parties instead of to people affected by the alleged wrongdoing.

The $8.5 million Google settlement was challenged by an official at a Washington-based conservative think tank, and some of the court’s conservative justices during an hour of arguments in the case shared his concerns about potential abuses in these awards, including excessive fees going to plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Some of the liberal justices emphasized that such settlements can funnel money to good use in instances in which dividing the money among large numbers of plaintiffs would result in negligible per-person payments. Conservatives hold a 5-4 majority on the high court.

The case began when a California resident named Paloma Gaos filed a proposed class action lawsuit in 2010 in San Jose federal court claiming Google’s search protocols violated federal privacy law by disclosing users’ search terms to other websites. Google is part of Alphabet Inc.

A lower court upheld the settlement the company agreed to pay in 2013 to resolve the claims.

Critics have said the settlements, known as “cy pres” [pronounced “see pray”] awards, are unfair and encourage frivolous lawsuits, conflicts of interest and collusion between both sides to minimize damages for defendants while maximizing fees for plaintiffs’ lawyers. Supporters have said these settlements can benefit causes important to victims and support underfunded entities, such as legal aid.

During the arguments, several justices, both liberal and conservative, wondered whether the plaintiffs had suffered harm through the disclosure of their internet searches, sufficient to justify suing in federal court, signaling they may dismiss the case rather than deciding the fate of cy pres settlements.

Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer seemed doubtful that simple searches, of one’s own name for instance, would be enough to sustain a privacy lawsuit.

Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh appeared to disagree.

“I don’t think anyone would want … everything they searched for disclosed to other people,” Kavanaugh said. “That seems a harm.”

Google agreed in the settlement to disclose on its website how users’ search terms are shared but was not required to change its behavior. The three main plaintiffs received $5,000 each for representing the class. Their attorneys received about $2.1 million.

Under the settlement, the rest of the money would go to organizations or projects that promote internet privacy, including at Stanford University and AARP, a lobbying group for older Americans, but nothing to the millions of Google users who the plaintiffs were to have represented in the class action.

Cy pres awards, which remain rare, give money that cannot feasibly be distributed to participants in a class action suit to unrelated entities as long as it would be in the plaintiffs’ interests.

‘A sensible system’

While wrestling over the privacy aspects of Google searches, the justices also disagreed about the settlement both sides reached. Conservative Justice Samuel Alito raised concerns that the money would go to groups that some plaintiffs might not like but have no say in opposing.

“How can such a system be regarded as a sensible system?” Alito asked.

Chief Justice John Roberts, another conservative, noted that AARP engages in political activity, an issue that the Google deal’s opponents, led by Ted Frank, director of litigation for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, had raised.

Google has called Frank a “professional objector.”

Roberts also said it was “fishy” that settlement money could be directed to institutions to which Google already was a donor. Some beneficiary institutions also were the alma mater of lawyers involved in the case, Kavanaugh noted.

Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told Frank, who argued the case on Wednesday, that at least the plaintiffs get an “indirect benefit” from the settlement.

“It seems like the system is working,” added Justice Sonia Sotomayor, another liberal.

In endorsing the Google settlement last year, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said each of the 129 million U.S. Google users who theoretically could have claimed part of it would have received “a paltry 4 cents in recovery.”

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US Supreme Court Divided Over How Google Settled Privacy Case

U.S. Supreme Court justices, in an internet privacy case involving Google, disagreed on Wednesday over whether to rein in a form of settlement in class action lawsuits that awards money to charities and other third parties instead of to people affected by the alleged wrongdoing.

The $8.5 million Google settlement was challenged by an official at a Washington-based conservative think tank, and some of the court’s conservative justices during an hour of arguments in the case shared his concerns about potential abuses in these awards, including excessive fees going to plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Some of the liberal justices emphasized that such settlements can funnel money to good use in instances in which dividing the money among large numbers of plaintiffs would result in negligible per-person payments. Conservatives hold a 5-4 majority on the high court.

The case began when a California resident named Paloma Gaos filed a proposed class action lawsuit in 2010 in San Jose federal court claiming Google’s search protocols violated federal privacy law by disclosing users’ search terms to other websites. Google is part of Alphabet Inc.

A lower court upheld the settlement the company agreed to pay in 2013 to resolve the claims.

Critics have said the settlements, known as “cy pres” [pronounced “see pray”] awards, are unfair and encourage frivolous lawsuits, conflicts of interest and collusion between both sides to minimize damages for defendants while maximizing fees for plaintiffs’ lawyers. Supporters have said these settlements can benefit causes important to victims and support underfunded entities, such as legal aid.

During the arguments, several justices, both liberal and conservative, wondered whether the plaintiffs had suffered harm through the disclosure of their internet searches, sufficient to justify suing in federal court, signaling they may dismiss the case rather than deciding the fate of cy pres settlements.

Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer seemed doubtful that simple searches, of one’s own name for instance, would be enough to sustain a privacy lawsuit.

Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh appeared to disagree.

“I don’t think anyone would want … everything they searched for disclosed to other people,” Kavanaugh said. “That seems a harm.”

Google agreed in the settlement to disclose on its website how users’ search terms are shared but was not required to change its behavior. The three main plaintiffs received $5,000 each for representing the class. Their attorneys received about $2.1 million.

Under the settlement, the rest of the money would go to organizations or projects that promote internet privacy, including at Stanford University and AARP, a lobbying group for older Americans, but nothing to the millions of Google users who the plaintiffs were to have represented in the class action.

Cy pres awards, which remain rare, give money that cannot feasibly be distributed to participants in a class action suit to unrelated entities as long as it would be in the plaintiffs’ interests.

‘A sensible system’

While wrestling over the privacy aspects of Google searches, the justices also disagreed about the settlement both sides reached. Conservative Justice Samuel Alito raised concerns that the money would go to groups that some plaintiffs might not like but have no say in opposing.

“How can such a system be regarded as a sensible system?” Alito asked.

Chief Justice John Roberts, another conservative, noted that AARP engages in political activity, an issue that the Google deal’s opponents, led by Ted Frank, director of litigation for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, had raised.

Google has called Frank a “professional objector.”

Roberts also said it was “fishy” that settlement money could be directed to institutions to which Google already was a donor. Some beneficiary institutions also were the alma mater of lawyers involved in the case, Kavanaugh noted.

Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told Frank, who argued the case on Wednesday, that at least the plaintiffs get an “indirect benefit” from the settlement.

“It seems like the system is working,” added Justice Sonia Sotomayor, another liberal.

In endorsing the Google settlement last year, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said each of the 129 million U.S. Google users who theoretically could have claimed part of it would have received “a paltry 4 cents in recovery.”

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Google Spinoff to Test Truly Driverless Cars in California

The robotic car company created by Google is poised to attempt a major technological leap in California, where its vehicles will hit the roads without a human on hand to take control in emergencies.

The regulatory approval announced Tuesday allows Waymo’s driverless cars to cruise through California at speeds up to 65 miles per hour. 

The self-driving cars have traveled millions of miles on the state’s roads since Waymo began as a secretive project within Google nearly a decade ago. But a backup driver had been required to be behind the wheel until new regulations in April set the stage for the transition to true autonomy. 

Waymo is the first among dozens of companies testing self-driving cars in California to persuade state regulators its technology is safe enough to permit them on the roads without a safety driver in them. An engineer still must monitor the fully autonomous cars from a remote location and be able to steer and stop the vehicles if something goes wrong.

Free rides in Arizona

California, however, won’t be the first state to have Waymo’s fully autonomous cars on its streets. Waymo has been giving rides to a group of volunteer passengers in Arizona in driverless cars since last year. It has pledged to deploy its fleet of fully autonomous vans in Arizona in a ride-hailing service open to all comers in the Phoenix area by the end of this year.

But California has a much larger population and far more congestion than Arizona, making it even more challenging place for robotic cars to get around.

Waymo is moving into its next phase in California cautiously. To start, the fully autonomous cars will only give rides to Waymo’s employees and confine their routes to roads in its home town of Mountain View, California, and four neighboring Silicon Valley cities — Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and Palo Alto.

If all goes well, Waymo will then seek volunteers who want to be transported in fully autonomous vehicles, similar to its early rider program in Arizona . That then could lead to a ride-hailing service like the one Waymo envisions in Arizona.

Can Waymo cars be trusted?

But Waymo’s critics are not convinced there is enough evidence that the fully autonomous cars can be trusted to be driving through neighborhoods without humans behind the wheel. 

“This will allow Waymo to test its robotic cars using people as human guinea pigs,” said John Simpson, privacy and technology project director for Consumer Watchdog, a group that has repeatedly raised doubts about the safety of self-driving cars.

Those concerns escalated in March after fatal collision involving a self-driving car being tested by the leading ride-hailing service, Uber. In that incident, an Uber self-driving car with a human safety driver struck and killed a pedestrian crossing a darkened street in a Phoenix suburb.

Waymo’s cars with safety drivers have been involved in dozens of accidents in California, but those have mostly been minor fender benders at low speeds.

 All told, Waymo says its self-driving cars have collectively logged more than 10 million miles in 25 cities in a handful of states while in autonomous mode, although most of those trips have occurred with safety drivers.

Will Waymo save lives?

Waymo contends its robotic vehicles will save lives because so many crashes are caused by human motorists who are intoxicated, distracted or just bad drivers.

“If a Waymo vehicle comes across a situation it doesn’t understand, it does what any good driver would do: comes to a safe stop until it does understand how to proceed,” the company said Tuesday.

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