Google employees demand the company pull out of Pentagon AI project

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Last month, it was revealed that Google was offering its resources to the US Department of Defense for Project Maven, a research initiative to develop computer vision algorithms that can analyze drone footage. In response, more than 3,100 Google employees have signed a letter urging Google CEO Sundar Pichai to reevaluate the company’s involvement, as “Google should not be in the business of war,” as reported by The New York Times.

Work on Project Maven began last April, and while details on what Google is actually providing to the DOD are not clear, it is understood that it’s a Pentagon research initiative for improved analysis of drone footage. In a press statement, a Google spokesperson confirmed that the company was giving the DOD a…

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Apple Employees Receiving Nylon Watch Band and Gift Card for Winning the ‘Close Your Rings’ Challenge

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In February, Apple had an internal Close Your Rings challenge for its employees. The challenge required Apple employees to close all the three rings on their watch every single day for the whole of February. Continue reading
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Twitch layoffs affect around two dozen employees

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Despite the continued rollout of new features and highlights like a recent record-breaking stream of Fortnite, Polygon reports that Amazon-owned Twitch laid off around 25 employees today. In a statement, the company said it "conducted team adjustment…
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Here are the internal Facebook posts of employees discussing today’s leaked memo

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The publication of a June 2016 memo describing the consequences of Facebook’s growth-at-all-costs triggered an emotional conversation at the company today. An internal post reacting to the memo found employees angry and heartbroken that their teammates were sharing internal company discussions with the media. Many called on the company to step up its war on leakers and hire employees with more “integrity.”

On Thursday evening, BuzzFeed published a memo from Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, a vice president at Facebook who currently leads its hardware efforts. In the memo, Bosworth says that the company’s core function is to connect people, despite consequences that he repeatedly called “ugly.” “That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified….

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Slack’s new policy lets bosses read employees’ DMs without consent

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If your company uses Slack for group communication, you might want to watch what you say in Direct Messages with your colleagues: the app now lets administrators export all the data shared through it, including those private conversations – without notifying you. That’s thanks to an updated privacy policy and tools that help Slack comply with GDPR rules; they grant customers on Slack’s Plus and Enterprise Grid plans access to a self-service tool for exporting data from all public and private channels. This functionality was previously available too, but it used to notify users when it was turned on, so…

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Facebook will hold an emergency meeting to let employees ask questions about Cambridge Analytica

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Facebook has scheduled an open meeting to all employees Tuesday to let them ask questions about the unfolding Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal, according to an internal calendar invitation reviewed by The Verge. The meeting, which is scheduled for 10AM PT, will be led by Paul Grewal, the company’s deputy general counsel. Grewal is expected to explain the background of the case, which involves the user profiles of as many as 50 million people being used by Cambridge Analytica as part of its ad targeting efforts during the 2016 election. Grewal is also expected to take questions via a polling feature found on the meeting’s internal event page.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While Facebook executives…

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The Dutch Data Protection Authority accidentally leaked its employees’ data

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Oh, sweet irony: the Dutch Data Protection Authority – where registered companies are required to report breaches in data – has accidentally leaked the names of some of its employees in over 800 public documents, local outlet NU.nl reports. The discovery comes from Dutch cybersecurity firm NFIR. Pauline Gras from the Dutch Data Protection Authority has since responded to the report, telling NU.nl that it is not their policy to reveal employee names. Indeed, this is why the agency never discloses the authors of research, legal advice and reports conducted by its team. Unfortunately though, the Data Protection Authority failed…

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Former Apple Employees Reflect on Siri’s ‘Squandered Lead’ Over Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant

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The Information has published an in-depth look at how Siri has transitioned from one of Apple’s most promising technologies into a “major problem” for the company. The article includes interviews with a dozen former Apple employees who worked on the various teams responsible for the virtual assistant.


The report claims that many of the employees acknowledged for the first time that Apple rushed Siri to be included in the iPhone 4s before the technology was fully ready, resulting in several internal debates over whether to continue patching up the half-baked product or start from scratch.

Siri’s various teams morphed into an unwieldy apparatus that engaged in petty turf battles and heated arguments over what an ideal version of Siri should be—a quick and accurate information fetcher or a conversant and intuitive assistant capable of complex tasks.

The team working on Siri was overseen by Apple’s then iOS chief Scott Forstall, but his attention was reportedly divided by other major projects, including the upcoming launch of Apple Maps. As a result, Forstall enlisted Richard Williamson, who was also managing the Apple Maps project, to head up the Siri team.

According to the report, several former employees said Williamson made a number of decisions that the rest of the Siri team disagreed with, including a plan to improve the assistant’s capabilities only once a year.

Williamson, in an emailed response to the report, wrote that it’s “completely untrue” that he decided Siri shouldn’t be improved continuously.

He said decisions concerning “technical leadership of the software and server infrastructure” were made by employees below his level, while he was responsible for getting the team on track.

“After launch, Siri was a disaster,” Mr. Williamson wrote. “It was slow, when it worked at all. The software was riddled with serious bugs. Those problems lie entirely with the original Siri team, certainly not me.”

Forstall and Williamson were both fired by Apple in 2012 following the botched launch of Apple Maps on iOS 6. The former employees interviewed said they lamented losing Forstall, who “believed in what they were doing.”

Another interesting tidbit is that the Siri team apparently didn’t even learn about the HomePod until 2015. Last year, Bloomberg News reported that Apple had developed several speaker prototypes dating back to 2012, but the Siri team presumably didn’t know due to Apple’s culture of secrecy.

In a sign of how unprepared Apple was to deal with a rivalry, two Siri team members told The Information that their team didn’t even learn about Apple’s HomePod project until 2015—after Amazon unveiled the Echo in late 2014. One of Apple’s original plans was to launch its speaker without Siri included, according to a source.

The report says that Siri is the main reason the HomePod has “underperformed,” and said Siri’s capabilities “remain limited compared to the competition,” including Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

The most notable failure in Siri’s evolution is that it still lacks the third-party developer ecosystem considered the key element of the original Siri vision. Apple finally launched SiriKit in 2016 after years of setting aside the project and shifting resources away to other areas. […]

But SiriKit has yet to fulfill its promise. So far it includes just 10 activities—Apple calls them “intent domains”—such as payments, booking rides, setting up to-do lists and looking at photos. Several senior engineers who worked on SiriKit have left Apple or moved off the project.

Some former employees interviewed noted that “while Apple has tried to remake itself as a services company, its core is still product design.”

Apple responded to today’s report with a statement noting Siri is “the world’s most popular voice assistant” and touted “significant advances” to the assistant’s performance, scalability, and reliability.

“We have made significant advances in Siri performance, scalability and reliability and have applied the latest machine learning techniques to create a more natural voice and more proactive features,” Apple wrote in its statement. “We continue to invest deeply in machine learning and artificial intelligence to continually improve the quality of answers Siri provides and the breadth of questions Siri can respond to.”

The full-length article is a worthwhile read for those interested in learning more about Siri’s internal struggles and shortcomings.

The Information: The Seven-Year Itch: How Apple’s Marriage to Siri Turned Sour

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‘Hundreds’ of employees at Amazon’s headquarters out of a job

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Amazon may be preparing to build a second headquarters, pitting various cities against each other with the promise of staggering amounts of new jobs — but that doesn’t mean the jobs of its current corporate employees are necessarily safe.
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There Are Strict Rules About What Some Federal Employees Can Say on Social Media

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As far as American presidents go, Donald Trump has quite a few quirks that make him, well, unique. But perhaps none come to mind as readily as his tendency to tweet — often, and sometimes to the disagreement or disparagement of people in his closest camps. Trump faces no repercussions for his social media presence, which might not be so surprising, given that he’s the president. What makes it surprising is the way other federal employees face punishment — and even risk losing their jobs — for doing the same thing.

This disparity recently came to light thanks to an email, sent by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), reminding government employees that their social media actions are limited — both at work and even on their own time.

Government social media policies. Image Credit: The U.S. Office of Special Counsel

You might be wondering: Don’t federal employees have the same right to free speech as American citizens? As it turns out, not exactly.

There’s legal precedent for penalizing federal workers for expressing their personal opinions. A 2006 Supreme Court case, Garcetti v. Ceballos, found that government employees’ constitutional right to free speech is only protected when an individual is speaking as a private citizen, not as part of their official job duties. As the Newseum Institute explains, for some government employees, that label never really goes away; “public-facing” employees like the White House press secretary or a city councilman will always be connected with their office, no matter the medium through which they make a statement.

What’s more, if a government employee has made a potentially contentious post as a private citizen, the First Amendment will only protect them if they are speaking on a matter of “public concern.” First established in the Supreme Court case Pickering v. Board of Education and expanded to social media through further court decisions, this rule means that posts about topics like racial discrimination or corruption might be protected, but posting grievances about a federal office’s day-to-day incompetence might not.

One final regulation limits government employees under certain conditions, and it’s the one that federal employees are currently faced with. The OSC’s most recent email reminded federal employees that they are technically limited by the Hatch Act. This 1939 law was designed to prevent government employees from campaigning on behalf of, or against, a political candidate, and has since been interpreted to apply to social media activities. Last week, Trump officially announced his candidacy for the 2020 election, which means that the Hatch Act is already in effect for any government social media posts concerning the president or political parties.

However, there are no such laws, or court cases, regarding social media activity for the commander-in-chief.

These regulations mean that federal employees are held to a different standard than the president himself, noted in a press release by Jeff Ruch, the Executive Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

“Federal employees who get into Twitter spats with Donald Trump face career risks that the Tweeter-in-Chief does not,” Ruch said. “Ironically, the goals of the Hatch Act to remove partisanship from federal service and base personnel solely on merit, seem farther away even as the Act extends into cyberspace. The ability of federal employees to candidly discuss the people’s business has never been more imperiled.”

Given some of the Trump administration’s other actions, government employees and private citizens alike are already worried that the government is exercising unfair control over social media. On the day of Trump’s inauguration, the National Park Service (NPS) Twitter account retweeted two tweets seemingly critical of the incoming president: one comparing the size of his inauguration crowd with Obama’s, and one noting that civil rights, climate change, and health care policies were no longer present on the White House website. The tweets were deleted by NPS, and in the aftermath, the White House ordered all Department of Interior agencies not to tweet until new policies were issued the following Monday. These gag orders — combined with others against science-oriented agencies — was seen as heavy-handed by some, and as plain-faced censorship by others.

Interestingly, members of Trump’s own team have already been reprimanded by OSC for media activity in violation of the Hatch Act. The latest to receive rebuke: White House aide Kellyanne Conway for reportedly expressing opinions about candidates in last year’s special election in Alabama. Yet, Conway hasn’t faced disciplinary action for her lapses (of which there have already been several). The only surefire way for federal employees to avoid the penalties, it seems, is to keep their mouths (or fingers) quiet. That is, unless they’re the most prominent federal employee of all. That, as Trump might have it, is a pretty bad deal.

The post There Are Strict Rules About What Some Federal Employees Can Say on Social Media appeared first on Futurism.

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