Amazon now says remote work OK 2 days a week

he company’s new remote-work plan is similar to other large tech companies. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 June 2021

Amazon now says remote work OK 2 days a week

  • Employees at Amazon won’t have to work in offices full time after coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
  • This follows backlash from some employees to what they interpreted as the expectation they would have to return to the office full time once states reopen.

SEATTLE: Corporate and tech employees at Amazon won’t have to work in offices full time after coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

The Seattle Times reports the online retail giant said in a company blog post Thursday that those workers can work remotely two days a week. In addition, the employees can work remotely from a domestic location for four full weeks each year.

Amazon’s work policy update follows backlash from some employees to what they interpreted as the expectation they would have to return to the office full time once states reopen.

Some tech companies had launched recruiting campaigns that seemed targeted in part at Amazon workers’ dismay over an end to remote work.
Most Amazon employees will start heading back to offices as soon as local jurisdictions fully reopen — July 1 in Washington state — with the majority of workers in offices by autumn, the company said previously.

Amazon has about 75,000 employees in the greater Seattle area. The company’s new remote-work plan is similar to other large tech companies.
Google said last month that it expected roughly 60 percent of its workforce to come into the office a few days a week, and for 20 percent to work from home full time. Google also gave all employees the option to work remotely full time four weeks per year. Facebook and Microsoft have both said most workers can choose to stay remote.

Amazon’s new policy could add to the challenges faced by Seattle’s traditional business core. In pre-pandemic times, tens of thousands of Amazon workers commuted into the South Lake Union neighborhood north of downtown every day. Most haven’t returned.

More than 450 downtown retailers, restaurants and other street-level business locations have closed permanently in the 16 months since the pandemic sent office workers home, according to a Downtown Seattle Association survey.

Of the roughly 175,000 people who worked in downtown offices before the pandemic, 80 percent continue to work remotely, according to association data.


In spats with Twitter, India’s government begins messaging shift to rival Koo

Koo’s growing traction can be seen with the trade ministry’s account which now has 1.2 million followers on Koo compared with 1.3 million on Twitter. (Instagram)
Updated 28 July 2021

In spats with Twitter, India’s government begins messaging shift to rival Koo

  • After months of tension with Twitter, Indian government and ministers are keen to promote rival Indian app Koo
  • Unlike Twitter, Koo ccommodates content in eight Indian languages and reached more than 3 million downloads in two days

NEW DELHI: Twitter Inc. is fast losing its sheen as a favored communications tool for many Indian government departments and ministers keen to promote home-grown rival Koo while the US firm comes under fire for non-compliance with India’s laws.
The most high-profile example has been India’s new IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. Taking office this month, he opened a new Koo account and soon after announced a review of social media firms’ compliance with strict new rules — information not posted to his 258,000 Twitter followers.
“The idea is to create an alternative to Twitter,” said one government official in media relations, declining to be identified as he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
That sentiment is shared by other ministers and members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who are irked by what they see as a defiant Twitter, a senior person in the party’s IT department told Reuters.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist administration first took umbrage with the US firm in February when it refused to fully comply with an order to take down accounts and posts accused of spreading misinformation about farmers protests that have been the biggest display of dissent faced by the government. Twitter argued some requests were not in line with Indian law.
That dispute saw some ministers promote Koo, which unlike Twitter also accommodates content in eight Indian languages, and its downloads surged 10-fold in two days to more than 3 million. Subscriber numbers for the 16-month old platform have since grown to 7 million.
Twitter, which has about 17.5 million users in India, has only seen friction with the government escalate, including over its failure to meet a May 25 deadline for installing compliance and grievance officers mandated under the new social media rules. It has since filled two of the three positions.
It is also now the subject of five police investigations in different parts of India that allege the US company has abused its platform.
Twitter declined to comment on the Indian government’s use of Koo but said it works directly with various ministries and authorities, playing a critical role in disaster management amid the pandemic.
“These institutions and their members seek our strategic counsel to use the power of Twitter by way of training, mobilizing resources, and driving public engagement initiatives,” a spokesperson said.
Underlining Twitter’s reach, Modi, who has 69.8 million Twitter followers, has not yet joined Koo while many government ministers and departments continue to use both platforms even if news on Koo is disseminated first.
India’s IT ministry, the prime minister’s office and the government’s media wing did not respond to requests for comment. The head of the BJP’s IT department, Amit Malviya, declined to comment.
STAGING A KOO
Koo’s growing traction can be seen with the trade ministry’s account which now has 1.2 million followers on Koo compared with 1.3 million on Twitter.
State governments are getting in on the act. The disaster management arm of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has pinned a tweet telling its 21,900 followers to join Koo — where it has just 992 followers — for “exclusive and latest updates.”
The cold shoulder that many authorities are now giving Twitter contrasts sharply with the past. Modi and the BJP have used it extensively to connect with the public, particularly ahead of the 2014 election, as well as in diplomacy. And in 2018, Modi and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were all smiles when they met in New Delhi, with the Indian premier tweeting he had made “great friends” on the platform.
Koo says while it has no specific government outreach plan, Modi’s campaign of promoting local businesses has worked in its favor.
“I think it’s a matter of a few more months and you’ll see pretty much everyone is on Koo,” co-founder Mayank Bidawatka said in an interview.
Tech-sector experts don’t see Koo becoming that big that fast but say Koo’s greater local language reach will stand the company in good stead as it pursues long-term growth.


Facebook will restrict ad targeting of under-18s

Instagram users under 16 years old will also start to be defaulted into having a private account when they join the platform. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 July 2021

Facebook will restrict ad targeting of under-18s

  • Facebook will stop allowing advertisers to target people under 18 based on their interests or their activity
  • The change means advertisers will soon be able to target under-18s only by age, gender or location on Facebook

LONDON: Facebook Inc. will stop allowing advertisers to target people under 18 on its platforms based on their interests or their activity on other sites, it said on Tuesday in a slew of announcements about young users.
The change means advertisers will soon be able to target under-18s only by age, gender or location on Facebook, its Messenger service and its photo-sharing platform Instagram. In a blog post, Instagram said it was making the change because it agreed with youth advocates that young people might not be equipped to make decisions about targeting.
A Facebook spokesman said there would be no changes to the user data the company collects.
Instagram users under 16 years old will also start to be defaulted into having a private account when they join the platform, the company said, in an effort to stop unwanted contact from adults. They will still be given the option, however, to switch to a public account and current users can keep their account public.
Facebook’s approach to younger users has been in the spotlight after US lawmakers and attorneys general slammed its leaked plans to launch a version of Instagram for children under 13. Earlier this year, a group of more than 40 state attorneys general wrote to CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking him to ditch the idea.
The company said on Tuesday it was working on an “Instagram experience for tweens.” It has said the idea of a youth-focused app is to provide parents greater transparency and controls on what younger children who want to access Instagram are doing.
Several major social media companies have also rolled out versions of their apps for younger audiences, from Facebook’s Messenger Kids to Alphabet Inc-owned YouTube Kids.
Proponents argue that children are already on a platform and so a family-friendly version provides a safer environment, but critics say Facebook should not be trying to hook young kids on its services due to risks to their development, mental health and privacy.
Age verification of children is an issue on many social media sites, which prohibit kids under 13 but often fail to identify and remove underage users. In a separate blog on Tuesday, Facebook’s head of youth products, Pavni Diwanji, said it was using artificial intelligence to improve this verification and remove underage accounts.
Instagram also said it was making it harder in several countries for adults who have shown potentially suspicious behavior — such as recently being reported by a young user — to find young people’s accounts, either through searching user names or having the accounts suggested to them. It said it would prevent such adults from seeing comments from young people on others’ posts and that the adults would not be able to leave comments on the posts of young people.


Google takes legal action over Germany’s expanded hate-speech law

The law, which also required social networks to publish regular reports on their compliance, was widely criticized as ineffective. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 July 2021

Google takes legal action over Germany’s expanded hate-speech law

  • Google takes legal action over an expanded version of Germany’s hate-speech law that recently took effect
  • Germany enacted the anti-hate speech law in early 2018, making online social networks responsible for policing and removing toxic content

BERLIN: Google said on Tuesday that it was taking legal action over an expanded version of Germany’s hate-speech law that recently took effect, saying its provisions violated the right to privacy of its users.
The Alphabet unit, which runs video-sharing site YouTube, filed suit at the administrative court in Cologne to challenge a provision that allows user data to be passed to law enforcement before it is clear any crime has been committed.
The request for a judicial review comes as Germany gears up for a general election in September, amid concerns that hostile discourse and influence operations conducted via social media may destabilize the country’s normally staid campaign politics.
“This massive intervention in the rights of our users stands, in our view, not only in conflict with data protection, but also with the German constitution and European law,” Sabine Frank, YouTube’s regional head of public policy, wrote in a blog post.
Germany enacted the anti-hate speech law, known in German as NetzDG, in early 2018, making online social networks YouTube, Facebook and Twitter responsible for policing and removing toxic content.
The law, which also required social networks to publish regular reports on their compliance, was widely criticized as ineffective, and parliament in May passed legislation to toughen and broaden its application.
Google has taken particular issue with a requirement in the expanded NetzDG that requires providers to pass on to law enforcement personal details of those sharing content suspected to be hateful.
Only once that personal information is in the possession of law enforcement is a decision foreseen on whether to launch a criminal case, meaning that data of innocent people could end up in a crime database without their knowledge, it argues.
“Network providers such as YouTube are now required to automatically transfer user data en masse and in bulk to law enforcement agencies without any legal order, without knowledge of the user, only based on the suspicion of a criminal offense,” a Google spokesperson said.
“This undermines fundamental rights, we have therefore decided to have the relevant provisions of the NetzDG judicially reviewed by the competent administrative court in Cologne.”


Home of another investigative journalist in Russia raided

Russian opposition supporters, independent journalists and human rights activists have faced increased government pressure. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 July 2021

Home of another investigative journalist in Russia raided

  • Russian police raids the home of the chief editor of an investigative media outlet which was designated as a foreign agent.
  • The media outlet has investigated high-profile cases, such as the nerve agent poisonings of former Russian spy Sergei Sripal and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny

MOSCOW: Police in Russia raided the home of the chief editor of an investigative media outlet that was recently designated as a “foreign agent,” the latest move by authorities to raise pressure on independent media before the country’s September parliamentary election.
The Insider news site chief editor Roman Dobrokhotov tweeted Wednesday morning that “police are knocking” on the door of his apartment, and his wife reported the raid to the OVD-Info legal aid group before her phone became unavailable.
A lawyer from another legal aid group, Pravozashchita Otkrytki, headed to Dobrokhotov’s apartment. The group said police seized cellphones, laptops and tablets during the raid, as well as Dobrokhotov’s international passport. Sergei Yezhov, a journalist with The Insider, said that Dobrokhotov was supposed to leave Russia on Wednesday.
Police also raided the home of Dobrokhotov’s parents, The Insider said.
Russian opposition supporters, independent journalists and human rights activists have faced increased government pressure ahead of September’s voting, which is widely seen as an important part of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to cement his rule before a 2024 presidential election.
The 68-year-old Russian leader, who has been in power for more than two decades, pushed through constitutional changes last year that would potentially allow him to hold onto power until 2036.
In recent months, the government has designated several independent media outlets and journalists as “foreign agents” — a label that implies additional government scrutiny and carries strong pejorative connotations that could discredit the recipients.
The targeted outlets include VTimes and Meduza. VTimes subsequently shut down, citing the loss of advertisers, and Meduza launched a crowd-funding campaign after encountering the same problem.
The Insider was the latest addition to the list. The news outlet, which is registered in Latvia, has worked with the investigative group Bellingcat to investigate high-profile cases, such as the nerve agent poisonings of former Russian spy Sergei Sripal and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny,
The Russian Justice Ministry acted under a law that is used to designate as foreign agents non-governmental organizations, media outlets and individuals who receive foreign funding and engage in activities loosely described as political.
In comments to the media, Dobrokhotov has said The Insider would continue to operate as usual, in accordance with Latvian laws, and would not comply with the requirements of the foreign agents law.
Russia used the law to levy heavy fines on US-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty for failing to identify its material as produced by foreign agents. The broadcaster has asked the European Court of Human Rights to intervene.
According to The Insider, the searches targeting Dobrokhotov may be related to a slander case launched in April following a complaint by a Dutch blogger.
The Insider accused Max van der Werff of working with Russian intelligence and military services to spread false information challenging the findings of the official investigation of the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.
Pravozashchita Otkrytki said Dobrokhotov was a witness in a criminal case against “unidentified persons” on the charges of slander, launched over a tweet in Dobrokhotov’s account that contains “disinformation about the downed Boeing MH17.”
Earlier this week Russian authorities blocked about 50 websites linked to the imprisoned opposition leader Navalny. The move comes just a month after a court in Moscow outlawed Navalny’s political infrastructure — his Foundation for Fighting Corruption and a network of regional offices — as extremist in a ruling that prevents people associated with the organizations from seeking public office and exposes them to lengthy prison terms.
Navalny, Putin’s fiercest political foe, was arrested in January upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin — an accusation rejected by Russian officials.
In February, the politician was ordered to serve 2½ years in prison for violating the terms of a suspended sentence from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that he dismissed as politically motivated.
His arrest and jailing sparked a wave of mass protests across Russia’s 11 time zones, in what appeared to be a major challenge to the Kremlin. The authorities responded with mass arrests of demonstrators and criminal probes against Navalny’s closest associates.
On Wednesday, Lyubov Sobol, a top ally of Navalny and one of the few in his team who hasn’t left Russia despite being prosecuted on a number of charges, said that Russia’s state communications watchdog Roskomnadzor demanded Twitter to take down her account.
Sobol tweeted screenshots of a letter she received from Twitter, notifying her of the authorities’ request to block her account as containing “propaganda of activities” of Navalny’s organizations that have been declared extremist.
“What is it, if not the Kremlin’s hysteria ahead of the election?” Sobol wrote. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the platform would comply with the request.


Italian-Arab literary magazine aiming to ‘revitalize culture between Med shores’

Updated 28 July 2021

Italian-Arab literary magazine aiming to ‘revitalize culture between Med shores’

  • Turin-based Algerian writer Amel Bouchareb to serve as editor in chief of “Arabesque”

ROME: A new magazine aiming to introduce Italian readers to Arab literature and bridge the cultural and literary gap between Italy and the Maghreb has been launched.
“Arabesque,” overseen by Algerian novelist and translator Amel Bouchareb, also looks to reveal the variety and richness of Arab and Maghrebian literature, the North African region with historic ties to Italy and where many migrants in the country hail from.
The first issue of the magazine — a bi-annual publication — opens with a feature titled “Love in Arab Culture.” Through selected readings of Arabic poems translated into Italian, it details how Arabic culture experiences love in literature and the arts, as well as investigates the region’s literary concept of love.
Bouchareb, the magazine’s editor in chief, has lived in Turin, Italy, since 2014.
She has received several awards and recognitions for her short stories and novels, and has overseen Arabic translations of several famous Italian authors, including Niccolo Machiavelli (author of “The Prince,” a landmark of Renaissance literature) and writer and film director Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Published by Italian publishing house Puntoacapo, the magazine also seeks to stay independent from political speech and ideological approaches, and highlight the aesthetic side of literature to Italian readers.
Bouchareb said that reading is a “revolutionary act that can change a person’s life and free them from the contradictions that imprison them.”
Books answer questions that cross your mind, make an impression and above all shape personality, she said, adding: “We are the product of everything we read in our life.”
In her first editorial, she said that since she moved to Italy, she found it “more than necessary to revitalize cultural relations between the two shores of the Mediterranean.”
She added that Arab and Italian cultures “have a lot in common,” and “finds it a pity” that so few Maghrebian literary works are translated into Italian.
“It is sad to see that the translation of Italian literature in the Arab world is also limited to commercial options,” she said.
“In ‘Arabesque,’ we managed to involve the best translators and scholars, and we hope that this will spark the launch of more initiatives. I hope to see in Italy many other magazines and series dedicated to Arab culture,” Bouchareb added.

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