The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to temporarily pause parcel delivery expansion in the city, a move that affects Amazon and other companies.
San Francisco will not allow Amazon to add new delivery facilities in the city over the next 18 months.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve a plan to pause the development and growth of all future Amazon and other parcel delivery facilities in the city for the next 18 months Tuesday, allowing the city time to study the environmental impact of existing locations, trucks and drivers.
Amazon told Protocol that it paused its plans to develop a large delivery facility on 7th Street in response to the moratorium vote. The proposal had already proven controversial with local residents, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the local grocery workers union.
“We will continue to evaluate our long-term use of the site, and in the short-term we will work with our neighbors to look at ways to use the location to serve the community,” an Amazon spokesperson wrote.
“What we’ve made clear to the politicians is, if this project goes through, and it’s a big if, it should be built union, and everybody that works in there should have the opportunity to join together in a union,” Doug Bloch, the political director for the Teamsters in Northern California and elsewhere on the West coast, told Protocol in February about the 7th Street site. No Amazon workers are unionized in any part of the company in the United States, and the Teamsters have made organizing and eventually unionizing some of those workers a national priority.
The moratorium plan, which was introduced by Board President Shamann Walton, was backed by the Teamsters. The Teamsters have successfully lobbied for similar proposals across Northern California over the last six months: Contra Costa County set a moratorium on all new fulfillment centers in December; the city of Hayward forbade Amazon from considering two sites there; and the San Jose City Council vetoed a proposed distribution center in November.
The bill will next go to Mayor London Breed’s desk for signature. Her office did not immediately respond to request for comment. Amazon likewise did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: email@example.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.
Developers, companies and regulators have tried to pressure Google and Apple to change their App Store commission structure for more than two years now. Last month, it appeared that Google was ready to play nice. The company announced a pilot program with Spotify that will allow the company to collect payments outside of Google’s own billing system. The pilot, which will roll out in select markets, will allow developers to bypass Google’s fees. If things go as planned, what Google calls “user billing choice” could soon be available to app developers worldwide.
But two companies not part of the pilot — Amazon-owned Audible and Barnes & Noble — seem surprised that they’re not getting the same treatment as Spotify. A Google Play policy change that went into effect March 31 requires purchases to go through Google Play’s billing systems. And the two companies, which knew about the changes for more than 18 months, have been caught flat-footed. As of now, Android users cannot buy Amazon audible titles or Barnes & Noble digital books in those respective apps.
Explaining the billing issues to The Verge, Barnes & Noble said that it was “not given the option of participating in an alternative billing program.”
Protocol contacted both Barnes & Noble and Audible, but both companies could not be reached for comment.
If you’re a Barnes & Noble NOOK Android app user, don’t panic. Because of the billing policy update, users can’t buy books through the app directly. However, Android users can still purchase content on BN.com, which will be synced to their NOOK app library, according to the Barnes & Noble website. Users can also continue purchasing through the app on their phones, so long as they don’t update to the new version, 6.1.
Audible listeners will find themselves in a similar situation. They can always purchase titles at Audible.com, and have those titles sync to their devices. They can also still use in-app credits to purchase books for listening, or continue to make purchases if they don’t upgrade the app.
Microsoft unveiled Monday a preview of Azure virtual machines powered by the Arm-based Ampere server chips, putting additional pressure on Intel’s server teams to stay competitive.
The Ampere Altra chips powering the virtual machines will deliver a 50% price-performance improvement over x86 chips, Microsoft said. Last year Ampere said that it had inked a deal with Microsoft to provide chips for use in Azure. The virtual machines can be used for web, application and video game servers, among other uses.
“Organizations are facing a complex set of challenges as they deploy a broad range of workloads globally, from the edge to the cloud,” head of Product for Azure Compute Platform Paul Nash wrote in a blog post. “There is also a need for a new breed of operationally efficient cloud-native computing solutions that can meet this demand without a massive growth in infrastructure footprint and energy consumption.”
The virtual machines will support Ubuntu Linux, CentOS and Windows. Each machine will provide up to 64 virtual processors, with up to eight gigabytes of ram per processor, and optional high-performance local flash storage.
Ampere’s Altra chips and other Arm-based processors like AWS’ Graviton have become more important to server buyers after years of promises, as companies seek chips that deliver higher performance with less power use. To date, Arm designs are far off from unseating AMD or Intel chips that dominate data center processing but continue to make gains, according to Jefferies data.
Microsoft announced its intention to offer Arm-based computing in Azure with chips made by Qualcomm and Cavium. Marvell acquired Cavium, and shut down the project; Qualcomm too killed the effort.
Googlers crawling back to campus this week may not find bidets in the bathroom. Instead, the company is offering them free electric scooters from Unagi, The Verge reported Monday.
Unagi founder and CEO David Hyman told The Verge that Google is offering the 20 mph scooters to most of its U.S. employees to help with the commute to work, which most haven’t had to undertake regularly in the last two years.
The $990 scooters are available on a subscription basis, and Google will reportedly reimburse employees the discounted monthly rate of $44.10 a month, in addition to the $50 enrollment fee. (Hyman told The Verge that Salesforce was also offering Unagi scooters to its workers, though neither Google nor Salesforce could immediately be reached for comment.)
Whether free scooters will excite Googlers about resuming in-office work three days a week remains to be seen. Some Googlers challenged the company’s hybrid policy in an all-hands last month: One anonymous employee invoked Bay Area traffic, sky-high gas prices and varying preferences around work environments in asking why Google’s policy isn’t “work from office when you want or when it makes sense to.” Another complained that some teams “blanket ban” remote work and that Google rejects requests to work remotely “even if managers are supportive.”
Across employers, traveling to work remains one of the biggest concerns about heading back to the office: 31% of hybrid workers across companies surveyed by Conference Board last month said they’re concerned about the increased time and cost of commuting.
Roelof Botha is the new leader of Sequoia, replacing Doug Leone as senior steward of the firm, according to a letter to the firm’s LPs.
It’s a major power transition for one of Silicon Valley’s most storied firms. Botha had already been the firm’s invisible hand and one of the most powerful people in venture capital as steward of the firm and lead of its U.S. and Europe business. With the promotion, Botha will be in charge of the firm’s global operations and compliance now that it’s a registered investment advisor. Sequoia China will continue be run by Neil Shen, the firm’s only other steward.
Botha, 48, has long been a quietly powerful force inside Sequoia, helping drive the launch of programs like Sequoia Scouts and the development of the new evergreen model of the Sequoia Capital Fund. He became a steward of the firm in 2017, and in the last two years, began transition talks with Leone, according to Forbes. He will become senior steward on July 5, the day after Leone’s 65th birthday, cementing his primary role in the next generation of Sequoia’s leadership.
The U.K.’s top regulator has been cracking the whip on crypto companies, but the government just sent a strong message on its blockchain game plan: The British are coming.
The U.K. government on Monday unveiled a big push into crypto, including a plan to mint its own NFT.
“I am announcing today that the Chancellor has asked the Royal Mint to create a non-fungible token — an NFT… to be issued by the Summer, an emblem of the forward-looking approach we are determined to take,” John Glen, economic secretary to the Treasury, said in a speech.
The announcement was part of an ambitious plan to “make the U.K. a global hub for crypto-asset technology” and “to ensure firms can invest, innovate and scale up in this country,” Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the Exchequer, also said in a statement.
The U.K. plan includes setting up a “financial market infrastructure sandbox” where crypto companies can experiment and innovate and the formation of a crypto engagement group that will work with the crypto industry and explore ways to make the U.K. tax system more competitive in relation to the crypto-asset market.
The announcement comes at a time when crypto appeared to be facing heightened regulatory pressure in the U.K., and illustrates the tensions at play where governments at once see an economic opportunity in encouraging the development of crypto as a high-growth financial sector and seek to contain risks of unregulated markets in digital assets.
The Financial Conduct Authority has ordered companies offering crypto products and services to register with the British regulator, and the Advertising Standards Authority has sent enforcement notices to companies for using FOMO and light-hearted memes to advertise crypto.
The FCA also has warned consumers that crypto assets are “high-risk” and “people should be prepared to lose all their money if they choose to invest in them.”
The unveiling of the U.K. crypto strategy also follows a controversial EU vote that essentially bans anonymous crypto transactions in the region.
“We hear the concerns … some of which are valid,” Glen said. “We’ve already said that we’ll seek to protect consumers by legislating to bring certain crypto assets into the scope of financial promotions regulation … and it’s essential that investors understand the risks they are taking.”
Some employees at the game developer and publisher Activision Blizzard are organizing a walkout today to protest the company dropping its vaccine mandate. ABK Workers Alliance announced the walkout on Friday.
The alliance is asking Activision to reverse the lifted vaccine requirement, give workers the option for remote work and allow employees to decide whether to work remotely or in an office. Activision said its new vaccination policy would take effect “immediately.”
Activision Blizzard Chief Administrative Officer Brian Bulatao emailed workers on Friday afternoon, after news of the lifted vaccine mandate went public, saying the company will still let workers return to the office on a voluntary basis. “We will continue to monitor conditions and make adjustments to the policy as needed,” Bulatao said in the email, which was obtained by Protocol.
Bulatao added that while the company as a whole does not require vaccines to enter its U.S. offices, leaders of Activision Publishing, Blizzard and King can still determine what policies work best for their workers “based on local conditions and risk.” “We will continue to clarify our plans as we get closer to our full return date,” Bulatao said.
It’s unclear how many people are participating in the walkout, and ABK group member Jessica Gonzalez did not respond to Protocol’s request for comment. Members are asking members of ABK and those in the industry to participate in the event online by using the hashtags #SickOfThis and #GameWorkersUnite.
Activision workers walked out over company decisions several times in 2021. In December, employees staged a walkout over lawsuits alleging widespread sexual harassment and discrimination. Activision encouraged the strike, saying employees could take personal time off for participating and wouldn’t face any consequences.
OK, maybe Elon Musk wasn’t all talk when he said he thought about launching his own social media company. Musk bought a big stake in Twitter — 73,486,938 shares, to be exact — according to a new Securities and Exchange Commission filing made March 14.
That purchase makes up a roughly 9.2% passive stake that is worth about $2.9 billion based on the social media platform’s closing price on Friday. Twitter shares jumped about 26% in premarket trading Monday morning after the SEC filing was released.
Musk has a huge Twitter presence, and many of his tweets should really be taken with a grain of salt. He’s made promises and tweeted thoughts about issues that haven’t always panned out. But maybe not all of his tweets should not be taken lightly: Musk has been using his own profile to scrutinize Twitter itself, and he recently said he was giving serious thought to starting his own social media platform.
“Given that Twitter serves as the de facto public town square, failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy. What should be done?” Musk tweeted late last month after polling his followers about whether Twitter adheres to free speech principles.
“Is a new platform needed?” he added to his Twitter thread.
Wedbush analyst Dan Ives told CNBC Monday that Musk’s investment in Twitter could mean he’s trying to “take a more aggressive stance” on the platform. “This eventually could lead to some sort of buyout,” Ives said.
At the same time, Musk’s online presence has also landed him in hot water. He made an agreement with the SEC to get his tweets pre-approved after tweeting that he could take Tesla private without filing the regulatory notices with the SEC to make that sort of announcement. Musk hasn’t been all that happy with the SEC deal, but the commission’s been standing by it.
AMD said early Monday that it plans to acquire networking chipmaker Pensando for $1.9 billion in cash, in a bid to arm itself with tech that competes with directly with Nvidia and Intel’s data-center chip packages.
Pensando was founded by several former Cisco engineers, and makes edge computing technology that competes with AWS Nitro, Intel’s DPU launched last year and Nvidia’s data processing units called BlueField. In a release distributed in advance of the announcement, AMD said that buying the closely held Pensando will give it a networking platform that will bolster its existing server chip lineup.
Pensando’s chips are an increasingly important part of data center design, as it becomes impossible to simply throw larger numbers of processors at demanding computing tasks. As regular chips scale up, the networking connections become a bottleneck, and the DPU’s goal (Intel calls it an IPU) is to free up the central processor to perform other functions.
AMD said it expects the deal to close before July, and if it does, Pensando CEO Prem Jain will move to AMD’s data center unit headed by Vice President Forrest Norrod. Pensando counts large cloud businesses such as Azure, IBM Cloud and Oracle as customers. The Milpitas, California-based company began operations roughly five years ago, and has raised more than $300 million, according to Crunchbase.
Netflix is reigning in its spending in a sign that the company is grappling with slow subscriber growth. The Information reported on Friday that the company’s executives recently warned employees to be mindful of spending and hiring.
The warnings first were made at Netflix management offsite event in Anaheim, Calif. last month, then discussed again at an employee town hall on Monday, three sources familiar with the talks told The Information. Netflix’s headcount exploded by 59% over the past three years, ending 2021 with around 11,300 people, and the streamer invested heavily in its own content.
The warnings are a signal that Netflix is thinking more about its slowing subscriber growth. In years prior, the company saw double-digit subscriber growth for several quarters. But in the fourth quarter of 2021, Netflix’s subscriber base grew just 8.9%, compared to close to 22% in the same period in 2020. The company reigned in its growth expectations for the first quarter to an 8% bump in subscribers, or 2.5 million people globally.
Netflix did not respond immediately to request for comment from Protocol. The company’s stock declined slightly in after hours trading following the release of The Information’s report.
As the company combats slowing growth, it has also raised its prices in the U.S. and Canada by $1 to $2 per month and has started cracking down on rampant password sharing by testing out an additional fee for extra users in Chile, Costa Rica and Peru.
Though Netflix still ranks as the top streaming service globally with close to 222 million users, rivals are quickly gaining on it: Disney+ has a total subscriber base of close to 130 million after launching in November of 2019, and HBO has a total of close to 74 million between its streaming service HBO Max and its cable channel.
Sometimes it’s easier to zero in on what needs fixing from the outside looking in. At least, that’s the basis of Pixxel’s argument for a future network of microsatellites monitoring the planet from space. The first of the company’s planned “constellation” of satellites launched on Friday, hitching a ride on SpaceX’s Transporter-4 mission.
The satellite launched on Friday has one of the highest-resolution hyperspectral commercial cameras ever flown. Pixxel co-founders Awais Ahmed and Kshitij Khandelwal said in a blog post that the company has plans for a collection of six hyperspectral satellites that “will be able to cover any point on the globe every 48 hours.”
If you are scratching your head about how this technology differs from the satellites already zipping around in space, here’s a small digression on what we can and can’t see with our current suite of Earth-observing tech.
The Pixxel satellites will have a resolution of 10 meters per pixel. GIF: Pixxel
There are generally two broad types of imaging equipment on satellites. One delivers traditional images that rely solely on the visible light spectrum. These are, in essence, high-end cameras encircling the Earth. The second type of technology, though, delivers multispectral images that capture a handful of bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. A multispectral image, for example, could include infrared radiation or ultraviolet light but represented in fairly simplistic terms.
This minimizes their ability to show a range of environmental concerns. Take the image below, which shows a mountain range and farmland in Sinaloa, Mexico. In the traditional and multispectral images, land is largely pictured with a single color, despite the variation of mineral content.
But in hyperspectral images, Pixxel’s bread-and-butter, data is collected across 40 times more wavelengths, allowing it to detect what is essentially invisible. The company says methane emissions and agricultural disease outbreaks are just some of what could be uncovered by its technology.
Hyperspectral imagery offers a vast improvement on the other forms of Earth observations.Image: Pixxel
Existing hyperspectral satellites launched by organizations such as NASA have resolutions of 30 meters per pixel, whereas Pixxel promises 10 meters per pixel. The higher-resolution data will allow for a more granular look at the planet. The company will receive its first data from the satellite launched on Friday in a matter of weeks. It plans to launch its first commercial phase satellites in early 2023, and will begin selling its data commercially around that time.
While these images are intriguing purely from a voyeuristic standpoint — am I alone in being excited to get visuals of the soil and water health of Sinaloa? — and stunning as pieces of art, they also offer an opportunity for climate and environmental accountability.
Take methane, for instance. On-the-ground methane leak tracking is a painstaking and costly process while satellite estimates aren’t always quite granular enough to pinpoint emissions. While it might sound like something out of science fiction, reliable detection from a low-orbit satellite could simplify that process. Of course, that requires those of us back here on the ground to ensure that data actually gets used to fix problems in the first place.
Employers looking to hire in Washington state will soon have to start disclosing a pay range in job descriptions, under a new law.
Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5761 into law on Wednesday. Once the law goes into effect on Jan. 1, companies with 15 or more employees will be required to disclose the salary range and a “general description” of the benefits and other compensation tied to a role.
Washington is not the first state to pass such a bill. Colorado’s Equal Pay for Equal Work Act went into effect last year. Since then, that law has resulted in some employers (including Airbnb, according to the Denver Post) barring Colorado-based workers from applying to jobs in an apparent effort to circumvent the requirement to disclose pay ranges.
The Washington bill may be harder to circumvent, given the state’s mass of tech workers, according to Cher Scarlett, an engineer who testified in favor of Washington’s bill.
“Colorado has faced exclusion from software jobs because of this law, but good luck doing the same for coveted Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Meta and Apple engineers,” Scarlett tweeted on Friday. “California and New York, I’m looking at you to keep this going to ensure Coloradans stop losing out unfairly on jobs.”
Some Facebook accounts were apparently deleted for no apparent reason this week, and users are upset.
“Holy shit: Facebook has deactivated the accounts of *all* the admins of the International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs FB group,” one user tweeted. “No appeal, no further explanation. Account is just…gone,” tweeted another.
Users began reporting the surge in deactivated accounts late Thursday, and more users said their accounts were deactivated on Friday. Users are told their accounts violated “community standards,” according to the New York Post, and that their removal “cannot be reversed.” It is not clear how many accounts have been removed, though the surge in reports makes it clear that something has gone wrong at the company level. Several users have had their accounts restored, also without notice.
Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone confirmed the glitch on Twitter Friday morning.
“We’re aware that some users are experiencing issues accessing their Facebook accounts and we are working to resolve them as quickly as possible,” he said.
In a follow-up statement to Protocol, the company said: “Earlier today, a technical issue caused a small number of people to have trouble accessing Facebook. We resolved the issue as quickly as possible for everyone who was impacted, and we apologize for any inconvenience.”
Facebook users have reported for years that the company makes it difficult to reclaim accounts after they’ve been hacked, and while that seems unrelated to this week’s spate of deactivations, the inability to track down a real person for support with Facebook account issues seems to be persistent.
Meta has been having a rough week on the Facebook glitch front. On Thursday, The Verge reported that a bug in the platform’s News Feed algorithm resulted in the accidental boost of harmful content, including misinformation, that was supposed to be down-ranked. The bug reportedly surfaced in 2019, but was was erroneously ranking content for at least six months, though it was first introduced in 2019.
This story was updated April 1 with additional comment from Meta.
House Democrats have asked Amazon CEO Andy Jassy to hand over documents about Amazon’s labor practices and safety procedures in its warehouses during extreme weather events based on concerns about the collapse of an Edwardsville, Illinois, facility that killed six workers in December 2021.
Members of the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee said in a March 31 letter to Jassy that they have received reports that the company asks its workers to stay in facilities during extreme weather events like the tornado that caused the Edwardsville collapse, as well as wildfires in California in 2018 and Hurricanes Irma and Ida in 2017 and 2021, respectively. The politicians are seeking documents related to the Edwardsville deaths and plan to use the information to inform potential legislation.
“Our focus continues to be on supporting our employees and partners, the families who lost loved ones, the surrounding community, and all those affected by the tornadoes. We will respond to this letter in due course,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement to Protocol.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation into the Edwardsville deaths shortly after the tornado and has not yet closed that process; it is standard for OSHA to investigate workplace deaths like these. After the warehouse collapse, some workers reported confusing instructions about safety procedures during the tornado and alleged that the company had not allowed workers to leave work in order to avoid the severe weather.
Before Edwardsville, Amazon warehouse safety had already become a popular topic of investigation for state and federal politicians after a 2020 report from a union advocacy research group revealed that Amazon’s average severe injury rates were the highest among its warehouse competitors, and more than two times higher than Walmart’s. Some states, including California, Washington and Minnesota, have since debated bills that would require Amazon to be more transparent about productivity expectations in hope of improving safety, and California passed one such bill at the end of 2021.
“The Committee seeks to fully understand the events that led to the tragedy at Amazon’s Edwardsville facility. We also seek information about Amazon’s workplace policies or practices that may have prevented the workers from seeking safe shelter, as well as Amazon’s actions in responding to other severe weather incidents and natural disasters,” the committee members wrote in their March 31 letter.
Chernobyl was one of the first sites of intense fighting in the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February. Now, though, Russian troops have retreated from Chernobyl and are moving toward Belarus, according to a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The IAEA said Russian troops transferred control of the power plant to Ukrainian personnel, and the agency is working to send supplies to ensure safety there. Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the IAEA, is expected to hold a press conference on Friday after meeting with Russian officials on Thursday.
It’s unclear exactly why Russian troops are pulling out of the defunct nuclear power plant. The IAEA is exploring whether Russian soldiers experienced radiation poisoning, but Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said the move is likely part of a “larger effort to refit and resupply.”
“It’s an assessment at this early stage [that] they’re going to be repositioned probably into Belarus, to be refit and resupplied and used elsewhere in Ukraine,” Kirby said at a press briefing on Thursday.
Whatever the reason, Russian soldiers leaving Chernobyl alleviates ongoing concerns that fighting and Russian troop movements in the region would stir up radioactive particles. Those particles are the result of a 1986 explosion at the power plant, which deposited them in the soil in the exclusion zone that rings the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. There are hot spots in the zone that, if disturbed by heavy machinery like, say, tanks, could kick up radiation. The risks were relatively low for it to spread beyond the area. But that radiation posed a risk to troops who were potentially exposed to it, hence the IAEA’s concerns.
Properly monitoring radiation at Chernobyl has been a problem since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which was only exacerbated by fires that broke out in the exclusion zone late last month. Working conditions for the experts tasked with monitoring radiation also deteriorated under Russian control, with staffers being forced to work long hours that stretched the limits of safety.
Chernobyl isn’t the only nuclear site to have come under fire from Russian troops. Forces attacked the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant last month, which ignited a fire. Luckily, the fire did not unleash any radiation. “It’s completely insane to subject a nuclear plant to this kind of an assault,” Edwin Lyman, the director of Nuclear Power Safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said at the time of the attack. Which, well, it does seem like not the best idea.
Activision Blizzard is dropping its COVID-19 vaccine requirement for employees “effective immediately,” Chief Administrative Officer Brian Bulatao announced in an email, which was tweeted by ABK Workers Alliance member Jessica Gonzalez.
“Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen businesses and other indoor venues across the U.S. lift vaccine requirements, and we feel it is important to align our site protocols with local guidance,” Bulatao wrote in the email. Bulatao said he wants everyone returning to in-person work in the coming weeks and that employees with “personal circumstances” should contact their manager and HRBP.
“As we define what the future of work looks like, I want to remind us all of the benefits of in-person collaboration,” he said. “In order to ensure we all have a safe workspace where we can gather with colleagues and innovate together, it is essential we stay committed to protecting ourselves and others.”
He said that while workers don’t need proof of vaccination to head back to the office, employees should still fill out their vaccination status on the management platform Workday. “Having this information readily available will allow us to act quickly — and pivot if necessary — if we see a future spike in cases,” he wrote. Infectious disease experts are currently tracking the spread of BA.2, a subvariant of the omicron variant which is likely to cause another surge in cases.
Activision is among a small handful of companies that have begun dropping their vaccine mandates as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations fall. Adidas and Starbucks stopped requiring their workers to be vaccinated, while Intel put its policy to get vaccinated or leave on hold after a court ruling against Joe Biden’s nationwide vaccine rule. Many large tech employers like Meta and Google still have their vaccine rules in place.
Last year, employees ranked Amazon, Meta and Apple as three of the top 15 companies with the best culture, according to the employee review site Comparably. But on the 2022 list, which published on Tuesday, they didn’t even make the top 50.
Microsoft, IBM and Google topped the list this year, with Microsoft scoring an A+ for compensation, CEO and perks and benefits. IBM scored in the top tier for happiness, work culture, retention, outlook and a slew of other categories, while Google received high marks for retention, leadership, compensation and perks and benefits, among others.
Employees still rank Apple, Amazon and Meta highly across many of these categories — their overall cultures were rated A-, B+ and A+, respectively. But their ratings were apparently not high enough to make it into the top 50.
Interestingly, all three of those companies’ office cultures scored poorly, in the C to C+ range. At Apple, most employees reported burnout and almost half of employees at both Apple and Amazon say they don’t have a close friend at work. Burnout rates were lower at Meta than at Apple or Amazon, and 68% of Meta employees said they have a close friend at work.
It’s easy to write off another company ranking, but as CNBC pointed out, Meta, Apple and Amazon were also snubbed on Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work 2022 list. Both Meta and Apple have dropped more than 20 spots on Glassdoor’s list since last year. Even worse, Amazon has never made Glassdoor’s list in the 13 years it’s been publishing. Apparently, some of the FAANGs are losing their luster.
In Twitter’s latest attempt to make Twitter Blue a thing, it looks like the company is targeting TweetDeck, a separate app for using Twitter that has amassed a pretty loyal following of dedicated users.
Security researcher Jane Manchun Wong found some code yesterday that made it clear Twitter is likely going to make TweetDeck a paid feature exclusive to Twitter Blue subscribers. The code redirects users to the Twitter Blue sign-up page when they try to access TweetDeck.
Twitter Blue, for those who haven’t been following closely, is Twitter’s attempt at amassing a paid subscription base, so far to mixed success. The social media platform launched it in November for $2.99 a month, with features like an Undo Tweet button that users have been begging for for years. Other power-user features include folders for bookmarks and a special mode for reading long threads.
Meanwhile, TweetDeck offers a completely unique Twitter experience. The service began as a third-party app before Twitter acquired it for $40 million in 2011 and then pretty much left it alone. Last year, The Verge reported that Twitter was working on a “big overhaul” of TweetDeck. That redesign hasn’t yet rolled out, but the look proved polarizing in beta testing.
Another thing about the new TweetDeck code that Manchun Wong discovered is that the app is being marketed as an “ad-free experience,” which is notable since Twitter Blue up until this point hasn’t been ad-free. But TweetDeck is currently ad-free, and it seems likely that Twitter realizes it would enrage long-time power users by clogging up the TweetDeck timeline with ads.
Twitter hasn’t confirmed when the TweetDeck redesign will roll out, and the company told The Verge it had “nothing to share on this at the moment” as far as plans to make TweetDeck part of a premium subscription.
Amazon held a lead in the votes against unionization in Bessemer, Alabama, as vote counting concluded there today, while the company has fallen behind union organizers by more than 300 votes in a second and still ongoing vote count in Staten Island. Labor experts had expected Amazon to emerge victorious in both efforts.
The Bessemer vote is a “re-election” held after the National Labor Relations Board threw out Amazon’s sweeping victory over the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s effort to unionize warehouse workers there last year. No group of Amazon workers in the United States has ever successfully unionized. The Bessemer vote last year was the first attempt since 2014, and the election in Staten Island is the second. A third election in a second warehouse in Staten Island is scheduled to take place next month.
When the NLRB finished counting ballots Thursday afternoon in Alabama, warehouse workers had voted 993 “no” to 875 “yes” for unionization. But 416 ballots were not included in the count because union organizers or Amazon had challenged their validity, and the difference in the already counted votes is high enough that those ballots could sway the election for the union. The NLRB will need to rule on each challenged ballot about whether it can be counted, so the final election result may not be known for weeks. More than 6,000 workers were eligible to vote, and about 40% of them participated.
The RWDSU will need to win most of the challenged ballots to recover from the more than 100-vote deficit from today. If Amazon continues to prevail, the union may also file unfair labor practice charges against Amazon’s conduct during the election, on top of charges it has already filed over the last few months that are awaiting NLRB judgement. Similar charges filed after last year’s election successfully persuaded the NLRB to throw out the results and call the re-election. “It could continue for a while” before a result is known, Chelsea Connor, the RWDSU communications director, told Protocol before the vote.
“What we do know is this — this is just the beginning, and we will continue to fight,” Stuart Appelbaum, RWDSU’s president, said in a press conference following the conclusion of the vote count. “Workers here have shown what is possible. They have helped ignite a movement. Their first vote last year opened the door to further organizing at Amazon and elsewhere all over the country.”
In Staten Island, the union efforts at the two warehouses there are led by an independent union called the Amazon Labor Union, not a national group like the RWDSU. When vote counting was paused Thursday afternoon and scheduled to resume Friday morning, the Amazon Labor Union held a more than 350-vote lead over Amazon.
Amazon did not immediately respond to request for comment. The company has said in the past that it believes its workers do not desire a union in either location and that it provides pay and benefits that make the company an attractive place to work. “Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union. They always have. As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement to Protocol before the vote.
The Biden Administration will invoke the Defense Production Act to increase the output of minerals used in batteries and electric vehicles, such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite and manganese, the administration announced Thursday.
The Defense Production Act requires companies to prioritize federal contracts as a response to a national emergency. The goal of authorizing its use in this case is to reduce the country’s “reliance on China and other countries for the minerals and materials that will power our clean energy future,” the administration said in a fact sheet. The move comes as nickel prices have fluctuated wildly in recent months, leading to EV companies hiking their prices.
Russia’s war in Ukraine precipitated those price hikes as the former is home to major nickel reserves. (It’s also driven up gas prices, leading to higher demand for EVs.) China, meanwhile, has large reserves of lithium and has also aggressively pursued the minerals that will define the future in other countries as well. Now, the U.S. is playing catch-up as the Biden administration tries to get its climate agenda on track by cleaning up transportation and electricity emissions. The fact sheet notes these two sectors alone “account for more than half of our nation’s carbon emissions.”
The administration said that the Department of Defense will implement this authorization using strong “environmental, labor, community and tribal” standards. While there’s no denying the need to rapidly decarbonize every single aspect of the economy and the benefits of batteries in doing so, the U.S. still faces some challenges in meeting the lofty goals of environmental, labor and tribal justice outlined in the fact sheet.
The U.S. lithium mining industry is still in its nascent stages. Yet it’s already run headlong into the exact problems the administration says it’s trying to sidestep. Thacker Pass, Nevada, has been the site of a major proposed lithium mine that’s run afoul of both tribes and environmental groups and become bogged down in lawsuits. There are also other avenues for both fixing mining regulations and ensuring a steady supply of minerals to build out a no-carbon future, though they may not jive with the DPA order.
“The government must focus its purchasing power on recycled content and building a circular minerals economy, and reform federal mining laws to ensure protections for our shared public lands and the communities that call those lands home,” Lauren Pagel, policy director for nonprofit Earthworks, said in a statement.
The DPA isn’t the only avenue the Biden administration is using to try to ease pain at the pump in the near term (and not blow up the climate down the road). The administration also called on Congress to make fossil fuel companies pay fees on unused oil wells on federal land, saying that they’re “hoarding without producing” as prices spike.
“Companies that continue to sit on non-producing acres will have to choose whether to start producing or pay a fee for each idled well and unused acre,” the administration said.
Rep. Katie Porter famously dunked all over oil CEOs and the president of their industry trade group during last year’s landmark Big Oil hearing for having nearly 14 million acres of unused federal land under lease, all while pushing for more federal leasing. So the Biden administration has at least one member of Congress who’s probably onboard already.
For the last six months, Facebook engineers have been seeing intermittent spikes in misinformation and other harmful content on News Feed, with posts that would usually be demoted by the company’s algorithms being boosted by as much as 30% instead. The cause, according to reporting by The Verge, was a bug that one internal report described as a “massive ranking failure.”
The bug first originated in 2019, but its impact was first noticed in October 2021. The company said it was resolved March 11. “We traced the root cause to a software bug and applied needed fixes,” Meta spokesperson Joe Osborne told The Verge.
The bug caused posts that had been flagged by fact-checkers, as well as nudity, violence and Russian state media, to slip through the company’s usual down-ranking filters, according to an internal report obtained by The Verge.
Meta and other tech giants have leaned on down-ranking as a more palatable approach to content moderation than removing content altogether. Scholars like Stanford’s Renée DiResta have also called on tech giants to embrace this approach and realize that “free speech is not the same as free reach.”
In this case, those ranking systems appear to have failed. But Osborne told The Verge the bug “has not had any meaningful, long-term impact on our metrics.”
It will be difficult for those outside of Meta to vet those metrics. Meta has blocked new users from accessing CrowdTangle, one of the core tools researchers and journalists have used to track trends in what’s popular on Facebook, and has dismantled the team leading it. And while the company does release reports on the prevalence of certain kinds of policy violations in any given quarter, those reports offer little indication of what’s behind those numbers. Even if the report did show an uptick in, say, violence on Facebook, it’d be impossible to know if that’s due to this bug or to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or some other global atrocity.
The company in a statement to Protocol said:
“The Verge vastly overstated what this bug was because ultimately it had no meaningful, long-term impact on problematic content. Only a very small number of views of content in Feed were ever impacted because the overwhelming majority of posts in Feed are not eligible to be down-ranked in the first place. After detecting inconsistencies we found the root cause and quickly applied fixes. Even without the fixes, the multitude of other mechanisms we have to keep people from seeing harmful content — including other demotions, fact-checking labels and violating content removals — remained in place.”
But it’s still unclear which posts were boosted due to the bug or how many views they received.
This story was updated on March 31 with a statement from Meta.
In another win for the right-to-repair movement, Samsung plans to enable its Galaxy users to repair their own devices. The company announced Thursday a program that will give smartphone and tablet buyers access to parts, repair tools and step-by-step guides to fixing their devices themselves — with the caveat that the program doesn’t include Samsung’s newest products.
Samsung is partnering with iFixit, which offers parts and advice for repairing devices, to roll out its self-repair program, the company said. The program will begin this summer and start with the company’s most popular models, the Galaxy S20 and S21 family of products, and the Galaxy Tab S7+.
To start, the program will allow owners will be able to replace display assemblies, back glass and charging ports, with more devices and repairs made available in the future. Users can also return their old parts to Samsung for “responsible recycling,” the company said.
The movement to allow customers to repair their devices on their own continues to put mounting pressure on device companies, sparking the introduction of right-to-repair legislation at both the state and federal levels. Tech companies are trying to get ahead of the legislation, which would force the issue. Samsung, which held 22% of the U.S. smartphone market in the fourth quarter of last year, is the latest consumer electronics giant to announce a self-service program. Apple, which has long made it difficult for users to repair devices on their own without voiding their warranties, announced a similar self-service repair program last November, but the program has yet to roll out and a launch date is still unclear. Microsoft is also working on making parts for its Surface devices available outside of its authorized repair network in partnership with iFixit.
Motorola launched its own self-service program back in 2018, but the company holds a small fraction of the U.S. market.
The Biden administration has set its sights on making homes in low-income communities more energy efficient. Its tool for doing so? The Weatherization Assistance Program, which will see a $3.2 billion influx as part of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law in November.
The Department of Energy is now accepting applications for the new funding from the state and tribal governments that administer the program. The decades-old WAP designates funding to upgrade homes — insulate attics, swap out old appliances and replace leaky windows and doors — in a bid to keep them cool in the summer and warm in the winter with the least possible energy use.
The influx represents a tenfold increase for the program’s budget, meaning its funds will reach far more households. The administration estimates the new funding will allow it to help 450,000 households, compared with the 38,000 homes per year it serves today.
WAP seems to represent a no-brainer for the government to pour into given the myriad ways it benefits Americans, including financially. The DOE emphasized the program has helped households save an average of $372 per year since it was instituted in 1976. Per a DOE fact sheet, WAP is highly cost-effective, too. The program has resulted in $1.72 in generated energy benefits and $2.78 in other benefits for every dollar invested in weatherization. This comes as utility bills soar nationwide, reflecting the dividends that low-tech solutions can pay now and into the future.
The benefits for the climate aren’t so shabby either. While the program was almost eliminated under former President Donald Trump’s tenure, it is now among the most effective arrows in the Biden administration’s quiver for addressing climate change. Improving efficiency is not nearly as riveting as investing in new technologies to reduce emissions like fanciful carbon dioxide removal schemes, but it has a central role nonetheless. Commercial and residential energy use make up 13% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
While a number of cities have implemented bans on gas hookups and numerous studies have shown that electrification is the most effective means to long-term decarbonization of buildings, weatherization and other efforts to improve efficiency could help cut carbon emissions quickly by ensuring buildings need less gas or electricity in the first place.
China is going after the growing livestreaming industry. Chinese officials are creating new rules that would limit the amount of money users can tip and cap how much livestreamers can receive from followers in a day, sources told The Wall Street Journal.
The goal of these new rules is ostensibly to fight online fraud, phone addiction and unhealthy online spending. But one source told the Journal that authorities were worried that creators would aim to become livestreaming celebrities, which runs against their values.
The livestreaming sector has grown to a roughly $30 billion industry in China, with livestreaming services taking up an audience of about 70% of China’s internet users, the Journal reported. As of March 2020, the number of livestreamers exploded to 560 million, and tipping while watching livestreams became an increasingly popular practice among young users. Those tips could take the form of both money and virtual gifts.
Chinese officials have targeted livestreaming before. Government officials released voluntary guidelines for livestreaming last year, including suggestions that platforms limit the amount of money livestreamers can earn from fans, but those were not hard and fast rules. China’s National Radio and Television Administration also told livestreamers and fans to use their real names online and restricted people younger than 18 years old from tipping or purchasing gifts.
Livestreaming has also become a place to channel state politics. Huang Wei, for example, is a prominent livestreamer in China and has been recognized multiple times for her role in philanthropy and public service.
The new rules come after a more recent crackdown in China on private tutoring and ed tech. But while those new restrictions appear to be linked to China’s focus on Big Tech, experts have said that China appears to be more concerned with educational inequality specifically, and that ed tech restrictions shouldn’t necessarily be grouped in with restrictions on large tech firms.
Recent reports of Apple cutting iPhone SE production orders would indicate that demand for the world’s most popular smartphone is falling. Add TSMC Chairman Mark Liu’s comments this week that the chip supplier is seeing weakened demand for consumer electronics like “smartphones, PCs, and TVs, especially in China, the biggest consumer market,” and it would appear Apple might have a big problem on its hands. But analysts argue that iPhone demand is still strong.
Liu was speaking in his capacity as head of the Taiwan Semiconductor Industry Association. However, he addressed TSMC’s prospects directly, also saying that the company would probably not be changing its growth targets or expenditures this year because it expects automotive and high-performing computing demand would make up for the decline in consumer products. Nikkei Asia had previously reported that an anonymous supplier said Apple planned to cut iPhone SE production orders by 20% next quarter, and AirPod orders by 10 million in 2022.
But Bank of America analysts pushed back, writing that recent articles “might lead some investors to think there is risk to demand” in a note to investors. Instead, analysts said that they “believe demand for iPhones remains strong based on our analysis of iPhone trade-in prices.” The bank upgraded AAPL to “to buy” in December, saying it saw a 20% upside.
Apple lowered the trade-in value of an iPhone 12 Pro Max from $700 to $650, indicating that the company doesn’t need to convince buyers to trade in older iPhones for newer ones. The company also now offers a more attractive option for customers who have avoided trading in their phones because of the high costs of new models: the relatively inexpensive $429 iPhone SE.
These are indicators that Apple can tap a more budget-minded market, bank analysts said. Chinese customers can still trade in iPhones as old as the 2014 iPhone 6, while a survey the bank conducted in January demonstrated that a quarter of global users have an iPhone 8 or older. That’s a lot of people who will soon need to buy a new iPhone, and analysts are arguing that they are now more likely to do so.
Microsoft is acquiring process-mining startup Minit for an undisclosed sum, the company announced Thursday. Microsoft views the acquisition as a way to help its existing customers improve their operations, and it isn’t the first move by an ERP player to go after the nascent process-mining space.
Process mining lets companies analyze their business processes — workflows and procedures that employees follow in response to various events — in order to fix bottlenecks and make other operational improvements. A lot of that work has traditionally been done by systems integrators or consultants, who map out processes by interviewing employees and analyzing documents. Process-mining companies essentially digitize this process, automatically reviewing workflows in an ERP system, for example.
Buying a process-mining company is a logical transition for large ERP players, because they probably have all the necessary operational and process data already in their systems. By plugging in a process-mining component, these companies can provide more value to their customers by making their processes faster or less error-prone, for example.
After a company has identified its processes, the logical next step is to automate them, which is why process mining and robotic process automation services are often talked about in conjunction. It’s also why the Minit acquisition is a way for Microsoft to bolster its Power Automate product.
Microsoft isn’t the only cloud company to take a stab at the emerging process-mining industry. Early last year, SAP acquired Signavio for an undisclosed sum. And process-mining giant Celonis, which raised $1 billion in funding last year, acquired Process Analytics Factory on Tuesday.
Microsoft did not disclose the terms of the transaction. Minit, based in the Slovak Republic, is a small company that had raised around $11 million in funding, according to Crunchbase.
This story was updated to correct the amount of money Celonis raised last year.