Amazon Fired Pregnant Women. Now They Are Suing.

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Amazon Prime box

Working conditions in Amazon’s fulfillment centers have long been a matter of controversy. Now, a number of pregnant women who worked in the warehouses are filing lawsuits. CNET looked into the cases.

CNET reviewed seven lawsuits against Amazon filed by pregnant warehouse workers who were fired over the last eight years and alleged that the company failed to accommodate their needs. The requests included longer bathroom breaks and fewer continuous hours on their feet, according to the lawsuits, but in all of the cases the expectant mothers were fired after telling their managers they were pregnant. Six of the cases were settled out of court. These cases fuel the perception that Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos have created grueling conditions at their US fulfillment centers in the rush to build the online marketplace for everything.

Amazon's Alexa is Listening to You - More Than You Might Know

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Amazon Echo and Echo Spot

Bloomberg reports:

Tens of millions of people use smart speakers and their voice software to play games, find music or trawl for trivia. Millions more are reluctant to invite the devices and their powerful microphones into their homes out of concern that someone might be listening.

Sometimes, someone is.

The article goes on to explain how Amazon employs thousands of people around the world to  listen, transcribe and annotate conversations with Alexa. All in an effort to improve Alexa’s ability to understand human speech. Of course, Amazon has strict policies and the user identities are anonymized. But still… Seriously?

Amazon Alexa HIPAA Skills Come to the Device

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Amazon announced six Alexa HIPAA-compliant skills are coming today. They will be for patients and caregivers.

Now Atrium Health patients in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia can ask Alexa to schedule same-day appointments, while Express Scripts members can check the status of a home delivery prescription and can request Alexa notifications when their prescription orders are shipped. Meanwhile, the Livongo Alexa skill lets people check recent blood sugar readings and monitor their blood sugar levels. Other developers or healthcare companies that are interested in adding skills to Alexa must apply to an invite-only Alexa program to participate.

Nothing will go wrong, right?

How Populism is Taking on Tech

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Populism has dramatically shifted global politics in recent years. Tech companies, particularly Amazon, have not been immune. Populism led to political pressure on the online retail giant, both in the U.S. and in India, as looked it searched for a second HQ and expanded into a new market. Bloomberg News looked at what happened.

Amazon thought it had secured a warm welcome in New York and forged strong political ties in India. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged during the HQ2 bakeoff to change his first name to “Amazon” and threw all of his political weight behind the deal. In India, Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos met repeatedly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in both Delhi and Washington and bragged on Twitter that he was “excited to keep investing and growing” in the country. In both cases, populism is now trumping politics. The political forces that are tilting elections and anointing new heroes on the left and right are now ensnaring one of the world’s largest companies.

Apple Outspent by Rivals in Record Year of Tech Lobbying

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U.S. Capitol Building

Tech firms spent a record amount lobbying the U.S. Government in 2018. Re/Code reported that Apple spent $6.6 million, slightly down from $7.2 million the year before. Although significant, Apple’s outlay was lower than that of the other major tech firms. For example, Google spent $21 million, while Amazon spent $14.2 million, and Facebook spent $12.6 million. Microsoft too outspent Apple, spending $9.5 million. In total, the firms invested $48 million in lobbying in 2018, up 13% from the year before.

Lobbying growth among the tech giants — especially companies that leverage user data for advertising revenue — comes as they are falling under increased government scrutiny. Facebook in particular faces a record Federal Trade Commission fine over apparent violations of data privacy practices in the Cambridge Analytica scandal that was revealed last year.

Cortana no Longer an Alexa or Google Home Competitor

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Google Home smart speaker

Microsoft no longer sees its Cortana digital assistant as a competitor to the more popular Alexa and Google Home. The company’s CEO, Satya Nadella, said that it should be further integrated with its rivals’ platforms instead, The Verge reported. Microsoft and Amazon already partnered for some Cortana/Alexa integration, and this is clearly where Microsoft intends to take the product next – more of an app or service across multiple platforms, not hardware to be sold.

CEO Satya Nadella revealed that Microsoft no longer sees Cortana as a competitor to Alexa or Google Assistant. “Cortana needs to be that skill for anybody who’s a Microsoft 365 subscriber,” explains Nadella, referencing Microsoft’s new consumer subscription push. “You should be able to use it on Google Assistant, you should be able to use it on Alexa, just like how you use our apps on Android and iOS so that’s at least how we want to think about where it’ll go.”

Chinese Think-Tank Blasts Apple's Taiwan and Hong Kong References

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Apple China flag

A Chinese think-tank criticized Apple, Amazon and a number of other firms for the way they reference Taiwan and Hong Kong, Reuters reported. Tawain is considered a wayward-province by China. Hong Kong was returned to China by the British in 1997 and is a semi-autonomous region. Apple is amongst a number of firms that refers to both Hong Kong and Tawain as separate from mainland China, something the Chinese government has been trying to crack down on recently.

China last year ramped up pressure on foreign companies including Marriott International and Qantas for referring to Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate from China in drop down menus or other material. The report was co-written by [Chinese Academy of Social Sciences] CASS and the Internet Development Research Institution of Peking University. An official at the Internet Development Research Institution told Reuters that it had not yet been published to the public and declined to provide a copy.

Apple's Public Billboard at CES: 'What Happens on Your iPhone, Stays on Your iPhone'

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What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone

I heart this so much. There aren’t enough emojis in the world to describe how much I love Apple’s giant message to CES: “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.” It’s on a massive outdoor sign hanging on the side of a ::checks notes:: Marriott…wait, is Apple trolling Marriott, too? Fitting, if so. Whatever, the target is ostensibly Google, Facebook, Amazon, Android, and the myriad of companies whose customers are the product. And that message is being delivered to CES in Las Vegas, a show Apple doesn’t bother to attend. Chris Velazco of Engadget tweeted the first image I could find (below), and Mashable‘s Adam Rosenberg pitched it as, “Apple spent money to publicly troll everyone else’s privacy issues at CES.” Again with the feels, Apple. Thanks for brightening my day.

Amazon Go Stores Could be Worth Over $4 Billion by 2021

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Amazon Go

Amazon Go could be a multi-billion dollar business for the retail giant, according to new figures reported by Re/Code. Analysts at RBC Capital Markets concluded that Amazon Go stores could earn 50% more than conventional stores. They found that the average store generates an estimated $1.5 million in revenue annually.  Amazon plans to open up to 3,000 stores over the next two years, meaning the business could be worth around $4.5 billion by 2021. However, each store requires a $1 million investment in hardware before it opens.

Amazon’s new cashless, cashierless stores — which allow customers to just grab items off shelves and automatically get charged upon exiting, thanks to a bevy of sensors and cameras — bring in about 50 percent more revenue on average than typical convenience stores, according to new estimates from RBC Capital Markets analysts.