Defying Company Policy, Over 300 Amazon Employees Speak Out

While Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was throwing a lavish party at his $23 million mansion in Washington, DC this weekend—attended by celebrities like Ivanka Trump and Bill Gates—hundreds of his employees were gearing up to revolt.

At issue was the company’s external communications policy, and reports earlier this month that it threatened to fire employees for speaking out about climate change without proper authorization. So on Sunday, more than 350 Amazon workers published statements under their own names in a Medium post, intentionally violating the policy en masse in protest.

The protest was organized by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a coalition of activist workers that has pushed for the company to adopt more environmentally friendly policies over the past year. The group organized a climate change walkout last fall that was attended by thousands of Amazon and other tech workers around the globe.

“Corporations cannot own the conversation that threatens our very existence,” wrote Maren Costa, a principal user experience designer at Amazon. “We can’t be silent about issues that harm our children, communities, and planet.” Costa is one of several employees who were told they could be fired if they continued speaking publicly about Amazon without getting advanced approval. In the fall, Costa spoke with several news outlets, including WIRED, about what she said was the company’s inadequate response to the climate crisis.

Amazon has long required employees to get approval before speaking publicly, but the policy wasn’t strictly enforced, according to The Washington Post. In September, right before the walkout, Amazon created a new internal portal for workers to request permission to speak with the press, and are now required to have a “business justification” for doing so.

None of the workers who contributed to Sunday’s Medium post appear to have used that formal channel. “The idea is to intentionally break the communications policy so prolifically that it is unenforceable,” Amazon Employees for Climate Justice wrote in an email sent internally last week to collect statements and signatures; it later made the message public.

Many large companies have policies about external communications, and AECJ acknowledged that Amazon’s policy makes sense in some cases, such as confidential projects. “But allowing a corporation to silence us on its contribution to the climate crisis is a clear overreach of comms policy, and effectively demands we give up our basic humanity and integrity in order to be employees,” the group wrote in its message.

“While all employees are welcome to engage constructively with any of the many teams inside Amazon that work on sustainability and other topics, we do enforce our external communications policy and will not allow employees to publicly disparage or misrepresent the company or the hard work of their colleagues who are developing solutions to these hard problems,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. The spokesperson did not comment on whether Amazon would take action in response to Sunday’s post.

The statements the group published Sunday addressed a range of issues beyond Amazon’s impact on the environment. The Medium post is a laundry list of controversies the company has weathered in recent years, including labor issues, safety and privacy, and political influence, among others.

Not all of the statements were critical of Amazon’s outside communications policy. One worker said it prohibited her from sharing positive opinions with the press. “I want to be able to speak to the media about all the innovative things we ARE doing to protect Alexa customer privacy,” wrote Emily Greene, a software engineer. “I work every day to improve our protections of customer data, and it’s disappointing when the media spins the truth because the people who speak up are the ones with nothing to lose.”

A number of Amazon employees who participated in Sunday’s Medium post commended the company’s recent environmental efforts. Ahead of the walkout in September, Bezos unveiled a new “Climate Pledge,” where businesses promise to regularly disclose greenhouse gas emissions and reach carbon neutrality by 2040. Amazon was the first company to join. “I am proud to work at Amazon and to be working on such an important topic. I feel supported by our company and by our leadership to make this our top priority,” wrote Kimberly Pousman, an engagement manager working on the Climate Pledge.

via Wired Top Stories

January 27, 2020 at 05:24PM

Germany, Japan, and Taiwan Report First Coronavirus Cases in People Who Haven’t Visited China [Updated]

A passenger wears swimming goggles and a facemask as he waits inside the high-speed train station connecting Hong Kong to mainland China on January 28, 2020
Photo: Getty Images

Germany and Japan have reported the first cases of a new SARS-like virus in people who haven’t recently visited China. The announcements, made on Tuesday, come as the number of confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV worldwide reached 4,587 and the death toll hit 106.

The first person to contract the virus in Germany reportedly got it from a “Chinese colleague” while the two were attending a work training session in the state of Bavaria one week ago. The 33-year-old patient, who’s from the town of Starnberg, roughly 18 miles from Munich, was infected by a woman who had been in Wuhan recently to visit her parents. The man, an employee of car parts supplier Webasto, is in a “medically good state,” according to German state media outlet DW.

In Japan, a man in his 60s has also contracted the new coronavirus, according to Japanese news outlet NHK. The unnamed man has not recently traveled to China, but reportedly works as a tour bus driver and came in contact with tourists from Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus outbreak, at least twice this month.

The Japanese patient lives in Nara prefecture in western Japan and first developed symptoms on January 14 and was hospitalized on January 25, according to the Strait Times. The man’s condition has not been released.

Median Age For Cases Outside China is 45

The latest report from the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that the likely incubation period for the virus is 2-10 days, slightly different from the 1-14 day range that had been estimated late last week.

The new report also notes the median age for cases outside of China is currently 45 years and roughly 71 percent of cases outside of China have been men, according to WHO. While most cases outside of China have been in older people, the youngest known case inside China has been a 9-month-old girl in Beijing—one of at least 68 confirmed cases in China’s capital city.

The World Health Organization still hasn’t declared the virus outbreak to be a “public health emergency of international concern,” or PHEIC. Twelve countries have confirmed cases of the virus but China has seen the only deaths so far.

CDC Expands Testing to 20 U.S. Airports

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that screening for the virus will be expanded to 20 U.S. airports, up from five airports that were doing testing earlier. The 20 U.S. airports now doing thermal screening receive roughly 90 percent of all inbound flights from China, according to CNN.

“We’ve screened somewhere around 2,400 people so far,” the CDC’s Dr. Nancy Messonnier said on a press call Monday. “And as you imagine, the number of people who are coming from Wuhan is declining with the aggressive closure of that city.”

The U.S. Stated Department updated its security warning on Monday advising U.S. residents to avoid any travel to China. Previously the State Department had only advised against travel to Wubei province, which contains Wuhan.

Wuhan Students to Begin Classes Online

The start of spring classes for students in Wuhan has been delayed while the city is on lockdown but online classes for all students will begin on February 10, according to state media outlet CGTN.

Youku, China’s version of YouTube that’s owned by Alibaba, also announced on Monday that it would start offering free classes to students in the region, according to Abacus News. The company will use DingTalk, a Slack-like app, in an education program that already has over 50 schools participating.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam (C) takes part in a press conference while wearing a facemask in Hong Kong on January 28, 2020.
Photo: Getty Images

Hong Kong Cuts Off Most Travel From Mainland China

Hong Kong officials announced new cases of the virus on Tuesday, and said that all train and ferry travel between Hong Kong and mainland China are being cut off starting January 30. The local government is also cutting the number of flights allowed from China in half.

Hong Kong banned masks last year as pro-democracy protesters took to the streets in an effort to fight political control from Beijing, which made it particularly ironic to see Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam wearing a facemask today at her press conference on the virus outbreak.

There are currently 8 confirmed cases in Hong Kong, which operates under a “one-country, two systems” form of semi-autonomy from China’s Communist government. 

Financial Markets Might Recover Tuesday After Panic on Monday

The U.S. stock market plunged Monday as investors tried to sell off investments that might be vulnerable to the coronavirus outbreak, recording the Dow’s worst trading day in three months. But it looks like stocks are poised to bounce back today.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rebounded 85 points in premarket trading Tuesday. Some markets in Asia are still closed for the Lunar New Year and an estimated 50 million people are on lockdown in cities throughout China.

There are still just five confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S., a number that hasn’t changed since yesterday, though at least 110 people in 26 states are still under observation. But we can expect that number to grow as everyone around the world seems to be on high alert for this new public health threat.

via Gizmodo

January 28, 2020 at 06:36AM

This 3D printed snow blower can tackle most terrains

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January 27, 2020 at 05:47PM

Ford develops 3D-printed locking wheel nuts with your biometric signature

Ford says it has developed a 3D-printed locking wheel nut made using a unique biometric signature based on the driver’s recorded voice in a bid to prevent wheel and tire thefts.

Ford worked with industrial 3D printing supplier EOS to create the locking nuts, which feature unique contours based on the driver’s voice, similar to how some systems use biometric identification based on an iris scan or a fingerprint. Here, engineers record the driver’s voice for at least one second, then use software to convert the resulting soundwave into a physical pattern that can be 3D printed. They then convert the pattern into a circle and use the design for the indentation and key on the locking nut. The nut and key are designed as a single piece, then 3D printed using acid and corrosion-resistant stainless steel.

What’s more, inside the nut are unevenly spaced ribs and indentations to prevent a thief from making a wax imprint of the pattern, since the wax breaks when it’s pulled from the nut. Ford says drivers could also use something like the car’s logo or their initials to create the pattern if they don’t want to record their voice.

For now, the locking nuts are just a concept. But the technology could presumably prevent the kind of theft of wheels from, say, a brand-new Chevrolet Corvette C8, that we saw last week in Detroit. Of course, Ford presumably had these 3D-printed wheel nuts in development long before the C8, which was likely on loan to a journalist or GM employee, ended up on cinderblocks.

Thefts of motor vehicle accessories, which includes wheels and tires, fell 4.1% in 2018 to 272,124 incidents, according to the most recently available FBI statistics. Tire and wheel theft has become a particular problem in Detroit, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Ford says 3D printing holds enormous promise for automakers by dramatically speeding up tooling and parts production, lowering weight and creating parts that wouldn’t be possible via conventional production techniques. The company says it has used 3D printing for more than 30 years to make prototype parts and shorten development times for new vehicles. Vehicles like the Ford GT, Focus and Mustang GT500 all feature 3D-printed parts.

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via Autoblog

January 28, 2020 at 03:19AM

In a ‘Dangerous and Sinister Step,’ London Police Start Using Live Face Recognition Tech

The dystopian nightmare begins. Today, London’s Metropolitan Police Service announced it will begin deploying Live Facial Recognition (LFR) tech across the capital in the hopes of locating and arresting wanted peoples.

“We are using a tried-and-tested technology, and have taken a considered and transparent approach in order to arrive at this point,” Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave said in a statement. “Similar technology is already widely used across the UK, in the private sector. Ours has been trialed by our technology teams for use in an operational policing environment.”

The way the system is supposed to work, according to the Metropolitan Police, is the LFR cameras will first be installed in areas where ‘intelligence’ suggests the agency is most likely to locate ‘serious offenders.’ Each deployment will supposedly have a ‘bespoke’ watch list comprising images of wanted suspects for serious and violent offenses. The London police also note the cameras will focus on small, targeted areas to scan folks passing by. According to BBC News, previous trials had taken place in areas such as Stratford’s Westfield shopping mall and the West End area of London. It seems likely the agency is also anticipating some unease, as the cameras will be ‘clearly signposted’ and officers are slated to hand out informational leaflets.

The agency’s statement also emphasizes that the facial recognition tech is not meant to replace policing—just ‘prompt’ officers by suggesting a person in the area may be a fishy individual…based solely on their face. “It is always the decision of an officer whether or not to engage with someone,” the statement reads. On Twitter, the agency also noted in a short video that images that don’t trigger alerts will be immediately deleted.

As with any police-related, Minority Report-esque tech, accuracy is a major concern. While the Metropolitan Police Service claims that 70 percent of suspects were successfully identified and that only one in 1,000 people created a fake alert, not everyone agrees the LFR tech is rock-solid. An independent review from July 2019 found that in six of the trial deployments, only eight of 42 matches were correct for an abysmal 19 percent accuracy. Other problems found by the review included inaccurate watch list information (e.g., people were stopped for cases that had already been resolved), and the criteria for people being included on the watchlist weren’t clearly defined.

Privacy groups aren’t particularly happy with the development. Big Brother Watch, a privacy campaign group that’s been particularly vocal against facial recognition tech, took to Twitter, telling the Metropolitan Police Service they’d “see them in court.”

“This decision represents an enormous expansion of the surveillance state and a serious threat to civil liberties in the UK,” said Silkie Carlo, Big Brother Watch’s director, in a statement. “This is a breath-taking assault on our rights and we will challenge it, including by urgently considering next steps in our ongoing legal claim against the Met and the Home Secretary.”

Meanwhile, another privacy group Liberty, has also voiced resistance to the measure. “Rejected by democracies. Embraced by oppressive regimes. Rolling out facial recognition surveillance tech is a dangerous and sinister step in giving the State unprecedented power to track and monitor any one of us. No thanks,” the group tweeted.

The London police’s decision comes at an interesting time. Just last week, the European Union began mulling a three-to-five-year ban on facial recognition tech in public areas. It’s unclear whether that ban will ever come to pass—the news came via a leaked version of an early draft of a European Commission white paper. It’s also not clear if it will ultimately matter, given the looming specter of Brexit. That said, Liberty has already garnered over 22,000 signatures for a petition demanding Britain’s Home Secretary ban the use of facial recognition tech in public places.

via Gizmodo

January 24, 2020 at 11:21AM

States are suing the US government over 3D-printed gun blueprints

The news: A group of 20 states, led by Washington, are suing the federal government over rules that could allow the sharing of 3D-printed gun blueprints online. The lawsuit was filed in a US District Court in Seattle yesterday, with California and New York among the states signing up.

The details: The federal government looking to change the law to allow 3D-printed gun blueprints to be shared on the internet. Yesterday, the Trump administration published rules which would transfer oversight for the export of certain firearms from the State Department to the Commerce Department, claiming it would promote exports and reduce the regulatory burden on gun makers. Critics fear it will lead to an escalation of gun violence. The lawsuit states that deregulation will “make it far easier for individuals ineligible to possess firearms under state or federal law to obtain a deadly weapon without undergoing a background check,” according to the AP.

The background: This fight has been rumbling for a long time. Back in 2013, a pro-gun activist group called Defense Distributed posted blueprints for a 3D-printed gun online. They were ordered to take them down by the Obama administration, but fought back, claiming in a lawsuit against the government that it had a First Amendment right to share the files. It lost. But then in June 2018, the Trump administration granted the company permission to post the blueprints online. Last year a federal judge struck this attempt down. Now the Trump administration is trying yet again to allow the sharing of 3D-printed gun blueprints online.

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via Technology Review Feed – Tech Review Top Stories

January 24, 2020 at 06:04AM

Adam Savage Puts Boston Dynamics Spot Quadruped Robot Through Outdoor Agility Course

This is a video of Adam Savage putting one of Boston Dynamics Spot quadruped robots through its paces in an outdoor agility course as an introductory video for a full year of TESTED conducting builds and projects with the robot (you can subscribe to those HERE). So that’s something to look forward to. I mean maybe not as forward to as your birthday or mom getting out of jail, but it’s something. So, uh, are we allowed to make suggestions? "Knock it on its back like a turtle!" "See if it can swim!" "The lava test!" Oh you *wiping tears from eyes* you really are my everything.
Keep going for the video while I speculate why Adam won’t put the Nintendo Switch down.

Thanks to Jeffrey S and hairless, who agree call us when they’re big enough to ride like He-Man’s Battle Cat so we officially know it’s time to enter the bunker and seal the door.

via Geekologie – Gadgets, Gizmos, and Awesome

January 24, 2020 at 07:11AM