Women In Tech Don’t Think Their Companies Are Prioritizing Gender Diversity, Research Reveals

The tech industry knows it has some work to do when it comes to gender and racial diversity. It seems like every week there’s a new diversity and inclusion officer appointed to help reshape a company’s demographics and workplace cultures.

According to a recent report by Booking.com, 52 percent of women currently working in tech say that their companies are not prioritizing gender diversity. However, the same percentage of women say the tech industry is making gender diversity a big deal overall.

Re-entry into the tech sector was also a major issue according to results. More than 60 percent of women respondents said that taking a break from the industry can be important to an individual’s growth. Another 69 percent said that the tech industry needs to do more to help women re-enter the field and make the process easier.

Big tech firms like Amazon, Apple, and Google have recently created initiatives to promote and encourage women in the tech space. Amazon U.K. announced Amazon Women in Innovation Bursary, a grant funding 24 startups founded by women overseas. The program is part of the company’s Amazon Amplify initiative which is aimed at hiring and retaining more women.

Although Amazon has created programs to help women in and outside of the company, some of its female workers want more. There’s currently a group of 1,800 moms within the company that is pushing for daycare benefits.

The Bookings report said that 90 percent of women think that increasing gender diversity within tech companies could have a huge impact on the flexibility with HR benefits.

In January, Apple launched its first app program to serve women-developers and entrepreneurs. Google recently gained attention when it found that it paid some men less than women for the same job, a move that could create a bigger trend of closing the wage gap in tech firms.




European Union Hits Google With Another Antitrust Fine

The European Union seems to have lost all patience for playing games with big tech companies.

Today, the European Union announced that it fined Google €1.5 billion ($1.7 billion). It’s the company’s third antitrust violation in the country since 2017.

The fine came because Google was blocking rival online search advertisers. In a statement, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said, “Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites.”

Through Google’s AdSense for Search, the company provided ads for websites, like those of newspapers, with a search function that also comes up with results and ads.

Google would stop publishers from including any search ads from its competitors on their page results. This meant the publishers were relying on Google in order to profit from ads. In addition, a 2009 clause also made publishers seek Google’s written approval before making changes to how rival ads were displayed.

“Based on a broad range of evidence, the Commission found that Google’s conduct harmed competition and consumers, and stifled innovation,” the EU Commission stated. “Google’s rivals were unable to grow and offer alternative online search advertising intermediation services to those of Google.”

The fine is large, but it’s not the biggest one Google has received from the EU. According to CNN, in 2017 Google paid a $2.7 billion fine, and then a $4.9 billion fine in July of 2018 for antitrust violations. Google has paid a total of €8.2 billion — $9 billion U.S — in fines to the EU.

The EU’s decision comes on the heels of attorneys general in the United States threatening antitrust lawsuits against Google. Mississippi’s AG Jim Hood stated there will be a “reckoning” against the company at some point.

Google and other tech giants facing consistent scrutiny outside of the United States highlights that there is a problem. Most importantly, it shows the federal government has no clue how to regulate big tech, leaving states to pick up the burden.

Mississippi’s AG Says an Antitrust Case Against Google is Coming

Some states are stepping up to the plate in regards to appropriately regulating tech. Recently, Mississippi’s attorney general, Jim Hood, said the state is preparing an antitrust case against Google, as reported by CNBC.

“At some point in the future, there will be a reckoning,” Hood said, according to CNBC. “It’ll either be in Congress or in a court of law.”

Hood said the case will tackle the privacy practices of Alphabet — Google’s owner — and it’ll be similar to a federal case brought against Microsoft in the late 1990s.

In that case, the federal government reviewed antitrust charges against Microsoft. Eventually, the company was charged with acting as a monopoly and limiting competitions on PCs. At the time, they were forcing manufacturers to bundle Internet Explorer on their hardware products before receiving a license for the Windows 98 operating system.

Obviously, Microsoft wasn’t forced to split up because they’re still around today. However, the settlement definitely shook the company, and its stock growth was hindered for about 15 years, CNBC reported.

Concerns with Google primarily center around its use of data. This is a concern that Mississippi has had for some time. In 2017, Hood sued Google claiming it tracked, recorded, and mined students’ data in public schools to build profiles on them, and the case is still pending.

In 2018, Hood met with U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions to discuss the case with Google and other big tech companies.

According to the Clarion-Ledger, Google said its user information is extracted before any data is used, and it’s not connected to a specific person or used to analyze students’ behavior. 

Still, CNBC reported Hood accused Google of controlling a “pipeline” of data and went on to add, “At some point if we don’t have successful legislation, at some point some court is going to rule to the effect that a person’s private information is the equivalent of their intellectual property and that companies have to pay people for it.”

Indeed, many states have been making moves when it comes to trying to regulate big tech, something the federal government consistently struggles with. Florida lawmakers recently passed the Florida Biometric Information Privacy Act to crack down on companies’ collection of biometric data. In Washington state, the Senate passed a bill focused on consumer protection.

Both California’s Consumer Protection Act and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation continue to serve as inspiration for states looking to protect people’s data.

If states manage to ban together against predatory big tech practices, then maybe it’s possible real consequences will take place.

Microsoft Has Developed An App That Helps Blind Users Interact with Photos

Microsoft just released new features on its Seeing AI app. The product, which launched in 2016, serves as a “talking camera for the blind.”

The newest addition includes a feature that allows users to touch images on their screens to hear descriptions through the app.

Microsoft hopes the new additions to Seeing AI will help users with everyday tasks like reading menus, signs, and books. The hope is that this will enable the blind and visually impaired to enjoy visual content through artificial intelligence.

“Leveraging on-device facial-recognition technology, the app can even describe the physical appearance of people and predict their mood,” Saqib Shaikh, software engineering manager and project lead for Seeing AI, said in a blog post.

The move comes after other companies like Google and Instagram released features that serve those with hearing and seeing disabilities. Google also recently announced that its AI app Lookout will utilize audio to describe images to blind and visually impaired Pixel phone users. The app was originally announced last year.

Google said the technology will “not always be 100 percent perfect,” and it encourages users to send feedback.

Apps are working to become more inclusive of people with different disabilities and increasing their use of artificial intelligence to do so.

In November, Instagram announced it would begin adding AI features that describe images to blind and seeing-impaired users.

Seeing AI was originally scheduled to launch in 2017 but is now available on iOS.

Google’s ‘TensorFlow’ Addition Encourages AI Developers to Keep Data Private

With conversations around data protection and privacy becoming more frequent, big tech companies have to step up and participate. Now, it seems Google is making attempts to develop ethical AI.
Recently, Google introduced TensorFlow Privacy, a new tool that makes it easier for developers to improve the privacy of AI models. It’s an addition to TensorFlow,  a popular tool used in creating text, audio, image recognition algorithms, and more.
TensorFlow Privacy uses a technique based on the theory of “differential privacy.” Essentially, this approach trains AI to not encode personally identifiable information. This is important because nobody wants AI to put all of their business into the world.
Google developing this program means the company is actually following the principles for responsible AI development that it outlined in a blog post last year. In the post, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai wrote, “We will incorporate our privacy principles in the development and use of our AI technologies.”
Differential privacy is already used by tech companies. Google itself incorporated it into Gmail’s Smart Reply, as noted by The Verge. That’s why when AI makes suggestions for completing a sentence, it doesn’t broadcast anyone’s personal information.
This is also Google’s way of making sure the technology is available for everyone else. Google’s product manager Carey Radebaugh told The Verge, “If we don’t get something like differential privacy into TensorFlow, then we just know it won’t be as easy for teams inside and outside of Google to make use of it.”
There are still some kinks to be worked out with differential privacy because it can sometimes remove useful or interesting data. However, kinks can’t be worked out if nobody ever uses the program.
Radebaugh told The Verge, “So for us it’s important to get into TensorFlow, to open source it, and to create community around it.”

Internal Analysis Reveals Google Actually Pays Some Men Less Than Women

In a surprising twist, Google’s 2018 equity-wage analysis revealed the company is paying men less than women for the same job.

According to TechCrunch, Google realized male-identified Level 4 Software Engineers were receiving less money than women working the same position. As a result, Google announced it paid $9.7 million in adjustments to 10,677 workers.

This is surprising because Google historically struggled with paying women fairly. In 2017, there was a class-action lawsuit alleging the company systematically underpaid women in comparison to men.

In the same year, Google ended up paying $270,000 to close wage gaps for 228 employees that worked in six different job groups. According to TechCrunch, the group included women and men from different countries, along with Black and Latinx employees in the United States.

Google workforce is currently 69 percent male and 31 percent female, according to its annual diversity report. In leadership roles, those numbers quickly widen, as 74.5 percent are male and 25.5 percent are female.

“Our pay equity analysis ensures that compensation is fair for employees in the same job, at the same level, location, and performance. But we know that’s only part of the story,” Google shared in its blog post. “Because leveling, performance ratings, and promotion impact pay, this year, we are undertaking a comprehensive review of these processes to make sure the outcomes are fair and equitable for all employees.”

Even with Google’s recent pay analysis, there are still fundamental inequities the company needs to tackle.

Google Confirms Which Nest Products Have Microphones

Ever since Google accidentally omitted a Nest security device’s built-in microphone, the company has faced major backlash.

Recently, Google tried to put some concerns to rest by confirming which Nest products have microphones, as Business Insider reported.

Google Nest features a wide range of smart home products, including doorbells, an alarm system, and even a thermostat. For worried customers, instead of providing security, those devices became potential hosts of more hidden microphones.

California Senator Kamala Harris told Business Insider, “Americans shouldn’t have to fear that the products in their home could be spying on them.”

Now, Google has confirmed the following products all contain microphones: Nest Guard Hub, Nest Protect (second-generation model), Nest Cam IQ outdoor, Nest Cam IQ indoor, Nest Cam Outdoor, Nest Cam Indoor, and Nest Hello.

However, none of these microphones are a secret. Google told Business Insider, “These were also clearly called out by the company from the beginning.”

What might surprise people the most is learning Google’s Nest Protect contains a microphone because — if you aren’t familiar with the product — it’s a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm. The microphone has been detailed in Nest Protect’s spec sheets, but why does it even exist?

According to the support page, it’s for routine alarm checks. Nest Protect automatically runs a “sound check” once a month, so the microphone lets it detect if its speakers and horn are working. In addition, users can run a manual “safety checkup” that will also enable the microphone.

For both of those situations, the microphone is only on for a few seconds. Google also noted, “The audio from Sound Check and Safety Checkup desn’t leave your Nest Protect and isn’t transmitted to Nest servers.”

Google is possibly rushing to make these clarifications because a privacy advocacy group recently submitted a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In the letter, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) cited consumer risks and asked the FTC to “commence an enforcement action against Google with the aim of divesting the company of Nest.”

The FTC has let Google off easy before after the company–who admitted its Street View cars “accidentally” collected personal data through WiFi networks in 2010–made “assurances” that it’d no longer collect this data.

With rising concern around privacy, Google may be in for more fighting.

Google Ends Forced Arbitration Policy. Meaning Employees Can Now Take The Company To Court

Google will no longer stop its employees from taking the tech giant to court, which puts an end to its forced arbitration practices.

The new rule kicks in on March 21; however, the rules will not apply to contractors, vendors and temps, who make up about half of the company’s workforce.

Nearly 20,000 Google employees walked out of work in November to protest Google and other companies’ force arbitration rules along with a list of other grievances. Google responded by ending force arbitration on sexual harassment and discrimination cases, but is now ending the rule for all cases.

The protest also encouraged other major tech companies like Facebook, Airbnb and Square to end force arbitration in November.

Google’s latest leap may be a big win for full-time employees, but that may not be the case for contractors and temps. As Recode’s 

more protests or unrest towards the company.

Google Now Lets You Register .dev Domains

Google Registry is now giving people the power to register .dev domains in an effort to expand access to website names that would otherwise be taken or too expensive to buy.

The new top-level domains are dedicated to developers and technology companies. Some communities that are already using the domain include Women Who Code at women.dev and Slack at slack.dev.

Google Registry also recently launched  .app and .page domains. Each of the domains, including .dev, require HTTPS, making them secure for users.

“This protects people who visit your site against ad malware and tracking injection by internet service providers, and from spying when using open WiFi networks,” Google’s Vice President and Chief Information Officer Ben Fried said in a blog post. “With every .dev website that’s launched, you help move the web to an HTTPS-everywhere future.”

The company is offering an Early Access Program to register for a .dev domain now through February 28.

Google’s Built-In Nest Microphone Wasn’t Supposed To Be A Secret

After Google told users its Nest Secure system’s upgrade would let it be used as another Google Assistant speaker, people were confused—because they didn’t know Nest had a microphone, to begin with. Now, Google says the built-in Nest microphone was never supposed to be a secret.

Nest Secure, home security and alarm system, originally launched in 2017. However, nothing about the product disclosed its microphone. A spokesperson told Business Insider that the microphone “should have been listed in the tech specs. That was an error on our part.”

There’s been controversy around various home speakers and their recordings before. Amazon’s Alexa once sent 1,700 hours of recordings to the wrong person. Plus in 2017, Google admitted a flaw in their mini speaker let it secretly record conversations without users knowing.

In its statement, Google did say, “The microphone has never been on, and is only activated when users specifically enable the option.”

Still, it’s reminiscent of a 2010 incident where Google said its Street View cars “accidentally” collected personal data through WiFi networks. As both the Street View cars and previous speaker issues show, devices can collect information without their users or even the company that designed them knowing.

If you want to know why Nest Secure even has a microphone, security systems often use them to provide features that rely on sound sensing. Google said, “We included the mic on the device so that we can potentially offer additional features to our users in the future, such as the ability to detect broken glass.”

Nest Secure’s product page has been updated to mention the microphone.