Businesses

Jeff Bezos Reveals That Amazon Has Over 100 Million Prime Subscribers (theverge.com) 123

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed today that the company has over 100 million Prime members, "marking the first time in the 13-year history of Amazon offering its Prime membership that the company has ever revealed its number of subscribers," reports The Verge. From the report: According to Bezos, Amazon Prime also saw its best year ever in 2017, with the company shipping over five billion products with Prime and signing up more new members than in any previous year. Also revealed today, Whole Foods Market will discontinue its rewards program on May 2 and fold it into Amazon Prime. "Stay tuned for additional announcements for Amazon Prime members," reads the Whole Foods FAQ page focused on digital coupons, rewards and online accounts. "Any account benefits, including membership and/or unused rewards, will not roll into any future programs."
Transportation

Autonomous Boats Will Be On the Market Sooner Than Self-Driving Cars (vice.com) 136

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: In the autonomous revolution that is underway, nearly every transportation machine will eventually be self-driving. For cars, it's likely going to take decades before we see them operating freely, outside of test conditions. Some unmanned watercraft, on the other hand, may be at sea commercially before 2020. That's partly because automating all ships could generate a ridiculous amount of revenue. According to the United Nations, 90 percent of the world's trade is carried by sea and 10.3 billion tons of products were shipped in 2016. According to NOAA's National Ocean Service, ships transported $1.5 trillion worth of cargo through U.S. ports in 2016. The world's 325 or so deep-sea shipping companies have a combined revenue of $10 billion.

Startups and major firms like Rolls Royce are now looking to automate the seas and help maritime companies ease navigation, save fuel, improve safety, increase tonnage, and make more money. As it turns out, autonomous systems for boats aren't supremely different than those of cars, beyond a few key factors -- for instance, water is always moving while roads are not, and ships need at least a couple miles to redirect. Buffalo Automation, a startup in upstate New York that began at the University at Buffalo, just raised $900,000 to help commercialize its AutoMate system -- essentially a collection of sensors and cameras to help boats operate semi-autonomously. CEO Thiru Vikram said the company is working with three pilot partners, and intends to target cargo ships and recreational vessels first. Autonomous ships are an area of particular interest for the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which sets the standards for international waters. It launched a regulatory scoping exercise last year to analyze the impact of autonomous boats. By the time it wraps in 2020, market demand may make it so that we already have semi-autonomous and unmanned vessels at sea.

Bitcoin

German ICO Savedroid Pulls Exit Scam After Raising $50 Million (techcrunch.com) 194

German company Savedroid has pulled a classic exit scam after raising $50 million in ICO and direct funding. The site is currently displaying a South Park meme with the caption "Aannnd it's gone." The founder, Dr. Yassin Hankir, has posted a tweet thanking investors and saying "Over and out." TechCrunch reports: A reverse image search found Hankir's photo on this page for Founder Institute, and he has pitched his product at multiple events, including this one in German. Savedroid was originally supposed to use AI to manage user investments and promised a crypto-backed credit card, a claim that CCN notes is popular with scam ICOs. It ran for a number of months and was clearly well-managed as the group was able to open an office and appear at multiple events.
United Kingdom

Amazon Employee Explains the Poor Working Conditions of An Amazon Warehouse 308

Earlier this week, James Bloodworth, a former UK Amazon employee that worked undercover in the "fulfillment center" for six-months, released a book detailing the mistreatment of warehouse employees at the commerce company. He described the work culture as a prison after discovering that Amazon warehouse staff were peeing in bottles to avoid taking too many breaks. Since the report first broke, many Amazon employees have come out to share their thoughts on the working conditions, including one Reddit user who claims that "the post is pretty spot on": They don't monitor bathroom breaks, but [your] individual rate (or production goal) [doesn't] account for bathroom breaks, or... let's say there is a problem like you need [two] of something and there's only one left, well you have to put on your "andon"... wait for someone to come "fix" for you, all the while your rate is dropping. The [two] most common reasons [people] get fired are not hitting rate, and attendance. They don't really try to help you hit rate, they just fire and replace.

My first week there [two] [people] collapsed from dehydration. It's so [commonplace] to see someone collapse that nobody is even shocked anymore. You'll just hear a manager complain that he has to do some report now, while a couple of new [people] try to help the guy (veterans won't risk helping [because] it drips rate). No sitting allowed, and there's nowhere to sit anywhere except the break rooms. Before the robots (they call them kivas) pickers would regularly walk 10-15 miles a day, now it's just stand for 10-12 hours a day. [People] complain about the heat all the time but we just get told 80 degrees (Fahrenheit obviously) is a safe working temp. [Sometimes] they will pull out a thermometer, but even when it hits 85 they just say it's fine. There's been deaths, at least one in my building... Amazon likes to keep it all hush hush. Heard about others, you can find the stories if you search for it, but Amazon does a good job burying it...
Amazon has denied the allegations, saying: "Amazon ensures all of its associates have easy access to toilet facilities which are just a short walk from where they are working. Amazon provides a safe and positive workplace for thousands of people across the UK with competitive pay and benefits from day one. We have not been provided with confirmation that the people who completed the survey worked at Amazon and we don't recognize these allegations as an accurate portrayal of activities in our buildings."
Businesses

Robots Ride To the Rescue Where Workers Can't Be Found (nytimes.com) 82

Fast-growing economies in Eastern Europe have led to severe labor shortages, so companies are calling in the machines [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled]. From a report: In many major economies, companies are experimenting with replacing factory workers, truck drivers and even lawyers with artificial intelligence, raising the specter of a mass displacement of jobs. But in Eastern Europe, robots are being enlisted as the solution for a shortage of workers. Often they are helping to create new types of jobs as businesses in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland try to stay agile and competitive. Growth in these countries, which became low-cost manufacturing hubs for Europe after the fall of Communism, has averaged 5 percent in recent years, buoyed by the global recovery.

Few are riding higher than the Czech Republic, where plants roll out cars for the likes of Toyota and consumer electronics for Dell, while smaller companies produce specialty goods to sell around the world. A roaring economy has slashed the jobless rate to just 2.4 percent, the lowest in the European Union. The dearth of manpower, however, has limited the ability of Czech companies to expand. Nearly a third of them have started to turn away orders, according to the Czech Confederation of Industry, a trade group.

The Internet

Russia Admits To Blocking Millions of IP Addresses (sfgate.com) 72

It turns out, the Russian government, in its quest to block Telegram, accidentally shut down several other services as well. From a report: The chief of the Russian communications watchdog acknowledged Wednesday that millions of unrelated IP addresses have been frozen in a so-far futile attempt to block a popular messaging app. Telegram, the messaging app that was ordered to be blocked last week, was still available to users in Russia despite authorities' frantic attempts to hit it by blocking other services. The row erupted after Telegram, which was developed by Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, refused to hand its encryption keys to the intelligence agencies. The Russian government insists it needs them to pre-empt extremist attacks but Telegram dismissed the request as a breach of privacy. Alexander Zharov, chief of the Federal Communications Agency, said in an interview with the Izvestia daily published Wednesday that Russia is blocking 18 networks that are used by Amazon and Google and which host sites that they believe Telegram is using to circumvent the ban.
Businesses

Amazon and Best Buy Team Up To Sell Smart TVs (cnet.com) 98

Amazon and Best Buy want to sell you your next smart TV. From a report: The companies, which are two of the biggest electronics retailers in the US, on Wednesday revealed a new multiyear partnership to sell the next generation of TVs running Amazon's Fire TV operating system to customers in the US and Canada. Best Buy will be the exclusive seller for more than 10 4K and HD Fire TV Edition models made by Toshiba and Best Buy's Insignia brand starting this summer. Pricing on the sets has not yet been announced. These smart TVs will be available only in Best Buy stores, on BestBuy.com and, for the first time, from Best Buy as a seller on Amazon.com.
China

Huawei To Back Off US Market Amid Rising Tensions (nytimes.com) 91

Huawei is reportedly going to give up on selling its products and services in the United States (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source) due to Washington's accusations that the company has ties to the Chinese government. The change in tactics comes a week after the company laid off five American employees, including its biggest American lobbyist. The New York Times reports: Huawei's tactics are changing as its business prospects in the United States have darkened considerably. On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to proceed with a new rule that could effectively kill off what little business the company has in the United States. Although the proposed rule does not mention Huawei by name, it would block federally subsidized telecommunications carriers from using suppliers deemed to pose a risk to American national security. Huawei's latest moves suggest that it has accepted that its political battles in the United States are not ones it is likely to win. "Some things cannot change their course according to our wishes," Eric Xu, Huawei's deputy chairman, said at the company's annual meeting with analysts on Tuesday. "With some things, when you let them go, you actually feel more at ease."
Bitcoin

Cambridge Analytica Planned To Launch Its Own Cryptocurrency (theverge.com) 60

Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm that harvested millions of Facebook profiles of U.S. voters, attempted to develop its own cryptocurrency this past year and intended to raise funds through an initial coin offering. The digital coin would have helped people store online personal data and even sell it, former Cambridge Analytica employee Brittany Kaiser told The New York Times. The Verge reports: Cambridge Analytica, which obtained the data of 87 million Facebook users, was hoping to raise as much as $30 million through the venture, anonymous sources told Reuters. Cambridge Analytica confirmed to Reuters that it had previously explored blockchain technology, but did not confirm the coin offering and didn't say whether efforts are still underway. The company also reportedly attempted to promote another digital currency behind the scenes. It arranged for potential investors to take a vacation trip to Macau in support of Dragon Coin, a cryptocurrency aimed at casino players. Dragon Coin has been supported by a Macau gangster Wan Kuok-koi, nicknamed Broken Tooth, according to documents obtained by the Times. Cambridge Analytica started working on its own initial coin offering mid-2017 and the initiative was overseen in part by CEO Alexander Nix and former employee Brittany Kaiser. The company's plans to launch an ICO were still in the early stages when Nix was suspended last month and the Facebook data leak started to gain public attention.
Facebook

Facebook Admits To Tracking Users, Non-Users Off-Site (theguardian.com) 146

Facebook said in a blog post yesterday that they tracked users and non-users across websites and apps for three main reasons: providing services directly, securing the company's own site, and "improving our products and services." The statement comes as the company faces a U.S. lawsuit over a controversial facial recognition feature launched in 2011. The Guardian reports: "When you visit a site or app that uses our services, we receive information even if you're logged out or don't have a Facebook account. This is because other apps and sites don't know who is using Facebook," Facebook's product management director, David Baser, wrote. "Whether it's information from apps and websites, or information you share with other people on Facebook, we want to put you in control -- and be transparent about what information Facebook has and how it is used."

But the company's transparency has still not extended to telling non-users what it knows about them -- an issue Zuckerberg also faced questions over from Congress. Asked by Texas representative Gene Green whether all information Facebook holds about a user is in the file the company offers as part of its "download your data" feature, Zuckerberg had responded he believed that to be the case. Privacy campaigner Paul-Olivier Dehaye disagreed, noting that, even as a Facebook user, he had been unable to access personal data collected through the company's off-site tracking systems. Following an official subject access request under EU law, he told MPs last month, Facebook had responded that it was unable to provide the information.

Businesses

Amazon Shelves Plan To Sell Prescription Drugs (cnbc.com) 70

Major Blud writes: CNBC is reporting that Amazon Business, which considered selling pharmaceutical products last year, has put its plans to do so on hiatus. "The change in plan comes partly because Amazon has not been able to convince big hospitals to change their traditional purchasing process, which typically involves a number of middlemen and loyal relationships," reports CNBC. Amazon was able to gain licensing in 47 out of the 50 U.S. states, but has struggled to land contracts with large hospital networks. "The setback illustrates the challenges of getting into the medical supply and pharmaceutical space, even for a company as big as Amazon," reports CNBC. "Several health-care and pharmaceutical distribution companies saw their stock take a nosedive following recent reports of Amazon potentially getting into the space, but it will likely take some time before those concerns turn into real threats."
Bitcoin

New York's Attorney General Is Investigating Bitcoin Exchanges (theverge.com) 42

The office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced today that it has launched an investigation into bitcoin exchanges. He's reportedly looking into thirteen major exchanges, including Coinbase, Gemini Trust, and Bitfinex, requesting information on their operations and what measures they have in place to protect consumers. The Verge reports: "Too often, consumers don't have the basic facts they need to assess the fairness, integrity, and security of these trading platforms," Schneiderman said in a statement. His office sent detailed questionnaires to the thirteen exchanges, asking them to disclose who owns and controls them, and how their basic operation and transaction fees work. The questionnaire also asks for specific details on how exchanges might suspend trading or delay orders, indicating Schneiderman is particularly concerned with exchanges manipulating the timing of public orders. The investigation will attempt to shed more transparency on how platforms combat market manipulation attempts and suspicious trading, as well as bots, theft, and fraud. Many of the exchanges Schneiderman is targeting, such as Beijing-based Huobi, have headquarters located outside the U.S., but the attorney general has jurisdiction over any foreign business operating in New York. Coin Center's director of research Peter Van Valkenburgh tells The Verge that the new investigation might be overkill, given the existing rules already in place for bitcoin exchanges. "Far from being unregulated," he says, "these businesses must contend with state money transmission licensing laws, federal anti-money laundering law, CFTC scrutiny for commodities spot market manipulation, SEC scrutiny for securities trading (should any tokens traded be securities), and in this case, state consumer protection investigations from the several attorneys general."
Youtube

Employees Who Worked at YouTube Say Violent Threats From Volatile 'Creators' Have Been Going on For Years (businessinsider.com) 347

Anonymous readers share a report: YouTube managers had no way to predict Nasim Aghdam would go on a bloody rampage, but they had plenty of reasons to fear that someone like her might one day show up, say former employees. Aghdam was the 38-year-old, disgruntled YouTube video creator who arrived at the company's San Bruno, California, headquarters on April 3 and began blasting away with a 9mm handgun. She wounded three staffers before she killed herself. Police say leading up to the shooting Aghdam, who was from San Diego, believed YouTube sought to censor her and ruin her life.

This kind of violence is unprecedented in YouTube's 13-year-history, though Aghdam's anger and paranoia aren't unique among the millions of people who create and post videos to the site, according to five former YouTube employees. In exclusive interviews, they told Business Insider that going back to the service's earliest days, frustrated creators -- seething over one of YouTube's policy changes or the other -- have threatened staffers with violence. Typically the threats were delivered via email. At least once, a video creator confronted a YouTube employee face-to-face and promised he would "destroy" him.

Facebook

Former Cambridge Analytica Employee Says Facebook Users Affected Could Be 'Much Greater Than 87 million' (theverge.com) 45

Cambridge Analytica and its partners used data from previously unknown "Facebook-connected questionnaires" to obtain user data from the social media service, according to testimony from a former Cambridge Analytica employee. From a report: Brittany Kaiser provided evidence to the British Parliament today as part of a hearing on fake news. Kaiser, who worked on the business team at Cambridge Analytica's parent company until January of this year, wrote in a statement that she was "aware in a general sense of a wide range of surveys" used by Cambridge Analytica or its partners, and she said she believes the number of people whose Facebook data may have been compromised is likely higher than the widely reported 87 million.
Businesses

One Laptop Per Child's $100 Laptop Was Going To Change the World -- Then it All Went Wrong (theverge.com) 268

Adi Robertson, reporting for The Verge: In late 2005, tech visionary and MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte pulled the cloth cover off a small green computer with a bright yellow crank. The device was the first working prototype for Negroponte's new nonprofit One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), dubbed "the green machine" or simply "the $100 laptop." And it was like nothing that Negroponte's audience -- at either his panel at a UN-sponsored tech summit in Tunis, or around the globe -- had ever seen. After UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan offered a glowing introduction, Negroponte explained exactly why. The $100 laptop would have all the features of an ordinary computer but require so little electricity that a child could power it with a hand crank.

[...] But OLPC's overwhelming focus on high-tech hardware worried some skeptics, including participants in the Tunis summit. One attendee said she'd rather have "clean water and real schools" than laptops, and another saw OLPC as an American marketing ploy. "Under the guise of non-profitability, hundreds of millions of these laptops will be flogged off to our governments," he complained. In the tech world, people were skeptical of the laptop's design, too. Intel chairman Craig Barrett scathingly dubbed OLPC's toy-like prototype "the $100 gadget," and Bill Gates hated the screen in particular. "Geez, get a decent computer where you can actually read the text," he told reporters.

[...] After announcing "the $100 Laptop," OLPC had one job to do: make a laptop that cost $100. As the team developed the XO-1, they slowly realized that this wasn't going to happen. According to Bender, OLPC pushed the laptop's cost to a low of $130, but only by cutting so many corners that the laptop barely worked. Its price rose to around $180, and even then, the design had major tradeoffs. [...]

Businesses

Cybersecurity Tech Accord: More Than 30 Tech Firms Pledge Not to Assist Governments in Cyberattacks (cybertechaccord.org) 67

Over 30 major technology companies, led by Microsoft and Facebook, on Tuesday announced what they are calling the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, a set of principles that include a declaration that they will not help any government -- including that of the United States -- mount cyberattacks against "innocent civilians and enterprises from anywhere."

The companies that are participating in the initiative are: ABB, Arm, Avast, Bitdefender, BT, CA Technologies, Cisco, Cloudflare, DataStax, Dell, DocuSign, Facebook, Fastly, FireEye, F-Secure, GitHub, Guardtime, HP Inc., HPE, Intuit, Juniper Networks, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Nielsen, Nokia, Oracle, RSA, SAP, Stripe, Symantec, Telefonica, Tenable, Trend Micro, and VMware.

The announcement comes at the backdrop of a growing momentum in political and industry circles to create a sort of Digital Geneva Convention that commits the entire tech industry and governments to supporting a free and secure internet. The effort comes after attacks such as WannaCry and NotPetya hobbled businesses around the world last year, and just a day after the U.S. and U.K. issued an unprecedented joint alert citing the threat of cyberattacks from Russian state-sponsored actors. The Pentagon has said Russian "trolling" activity increased 2,000 percent after missile strikes in Syria.

Interestingly, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Twitter are not participating in the program, though the Tech Accord says it "remains open to consideration of new private sector signatories, large or small and regardless of sector."
Transportation

Tesla Temporarily Stops Model 3 Production Line (theverge.com) 145

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Tesla is temporarily stopping production of its Model 3 electric car, amid a long waiting list and several missed targets. The company, however, says the shutdown is intended to resolve some of the problems that have contributed to the numerous delays in getting the cars to hundreds of thousands of reservation holders. The automaker said Monday it would halt production of the Model 3 sedan for 4-5 days at its Fremont, California assembly plant, BuzzFeed reported. Tesla, however, says this is part of a planned period of downtime that was similar to another shutdown in February, and it isn't intended to have an affect on the company's current production targets for the car. "Our Model 3 production plan includes periods of planned downtime in both Fremont and Gigafactory 1," a Tesla spokesperson told The Verge. "These periods are used to improve automation and systematically address bottlenecks in order to increase production rates. This is not unusual and is in fact common in production ramps like this."
The Courts

Supreme Court Set To Hear Landmark Online Sales Tax Case (gizmodo.com) 246

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that could at least somewhat clarify Donald Trump's complaints about Amazon "not paying internet taxes." It will also decide if those cheap deals on NewEgg are going to be less of a steal. The case concerns the state of South Dakota versus online retailers Wayfront, NewEgg, and Overstock.com in a battle over whether or not state sales tax should apply to all online transactions in the U.S., regardless of where the customer or retailer is located. It promises to have an impact on the internet's competition with brick-and-mortar retailers, as well as continue to address the ongoing legal questions surrounding real-world borders in the borderless world of online.
Businesses

New Child Protection Nonprofit Strikes Back At Sex-Negative Approach of FOSTA-SESTA (youcaring.com) 212

qirtaiba writes: When the FOSTA-SESTA online sex trafficking bill passed last month, it sailed through Congress because there were no child protection organizations that stood against it, and because no member of Congress (with the brave exceptions of Ron Wyden and Rand Paul) wanted to face re-election having opposed a bill against sex trafficking, despite its manifest flaws. In the wake of the law's passage, its real targets -- not child sex traffickers, but adult sex workers and the internet platforms used by them -- have borne the brunt of its effects. Websites like the Erotic Review and Craigslist's personals section have either shut down entirely or for U.S. users, while Backpage.com has been seized, leaving many adult sex workers in physical and financial peril.

A new child protection organization, Prostasia Foundation, has just been announced, with the aim of taking a more sex-positive approach that would allow it to push back against laws that really target porn or sex work under the guise of being child protection laws. Instead, the organization promotes a research-based approach to the prevention of child sexual abuse before it happens. From the organization's press release: "Prostasia Director Jaylen MacLaren is a former child prostitute who used a website like this to screen her clients. She now recognizes those clients as abusers, but she does not blame the website for her suffering. 'I am committed to preventing child sexual abuse, but I don't believe that this should come at the cost of civil liberties and sexual freedom,' Jaylen said. 'I have found ways to express my sexuality in consensual and cathartic ways.'" Nerea Vega Lucio, a member of the group's Advisory Council, said, 'Child protection laws need to be informed by accurate and impartial research, and ensuring that policy makers have access to such research will be a top priority for Prostasia.'"

Wireless Networking

Planet Fitness Evacuated After WiFi Network Named 'Remote Detonator' Causes Scare (windsorstar.com) 168

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Windsor Star: A Michigan gym patron looking for a Wi-Fi connection found one named "remote detonator," prompting an evacuation and precautionary search of the facility by a bomb-sniffing dog. The Saginaw News reports nothing was found in the search Sunday at Planet Fitness in Saginaw Township, about 85 miles (140 kilometers) northwest of Detroit. Saginaw Township police Chief Donald Pussehl says the patron brought the Wi-Fi connection's name to the attention of a manager, who evacuated the building and called police. The gym was closed for about three hours as police responded. Pussehl says there's "no crime or threat," so no charges are expected. He notes people often have odd names for WiFi connections. Planet Fitness says the manager was following company procedure for when there's suspicion about a safety issue.

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