Category: author_name|Jon Fingas

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Three Google workers sue over alleged violations of ‘don’t be evil’ motto

Google's classic "don't be evil" mantra may have been more of a philosophical statement than a practical guideline, but former staff members now want to hold the company accountable for it. NPR and The Verge say ex-engineers Paul Duke, Rebecca Rivers and Sophie Waldman have sued Google for allegedly violating the "don't be evil" segment of the company's code of conduct. They claim Google fired them for organizing worker opposition to controversial projects, like working with the Trump-era Customs and Border Protection. They were supposedly punished for pointing out evil like Google as instructed, in other words.

The one-time employees claimed Google rejected the famous phrase as it was both expensive and leading workers to organize. The internet firm supposedly decided it was better to fire people than admit its approach had changed and give up the "accompanying benefits" that came with its well-known motto.

There are concerns the lawsuit is too vague. What defines evil, exactly? However, plaintiff lawyer Laurie Burgess argued "don't be evil" was specific enough that it could be enforceable. The saying "must have meaning" if it was in the company code and thus binding, Burgess said.

We've asked Google for comment. It has previously accused all of the workers (plus Laurence Berland) of repeatedly violating data security policies by obtaining or sharing confidential data, but the workers and other critics have said this was just a cover for retaliatory action.

The lawsuit won't necessarily lead to stiff penalties. Google settled with Berland over his departure, for instance. There's a lot of pressure on Google to avoid a drawn-out legal battle when the National Labor Relations Board is still investigating the other firings. Still, this could be an important case — even if there is a settlement, it might open the door to other complaints about the company's ethical standards.

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Lenovo’s rumored 17-inch ThinkBook Plus has a second screen for drawing

Lenovo's next ThinkBook Plus might be more practical, at least if you'e a budding artist. Well-known leak purveyor Evan Blass has shared what he said is an image of a 17-inch ThinkBook Plus model. Unlike the current 13.3-inch system, though, you wouldn't have to flip your machine around to use an e-paper display on the back. Instead, you'd have a pen-capable color display next to the keyboard you could use to draw or take handwritten notes.

Blass didn't share other details, but the 17-inch ThinkBook Plus would seemingly have an extra-wide main display and fit in a full keyboard along with a large trackpad. We'd expect reasonably speedy internals to help drive the second display, much like the vaguely comparable ASUS ZenBook Duo.

It's not certain when this extra-large ThinkBook Plus would ship. Lenovo has historically reserved some of its largest laptop introductions for CES in January, but that doesn't preclude the company from a last-minute launch for the holidays. Either way, the image suggests Lenovo hasn't given up on the Plus concept — if anything, it's exploring new concepts that might prove appealing for creatives and others who shied away in the past.

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Astronomers may have spotted a planet in another galaxy for the first time

The hunt for exoplanets is venturing beyond the Milky Way. Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have detected what might be the first signs of a planet in another galaxy. The team noticed dips in X-ray brightness that hint at a planet transiting in front of a star in the Messier 51 (aka M51) galaxy 28 million light-years away. For context, all the exoplanet candidates in the Milky Way are no more than 3,000 light-years from Earth — this planet would easily set a distance record if confirmed.

The very nature of stars made the feat possible. As the researchers had to focus on X-ray bright binary systems where the region of bright rays is relatively tiny, the transit was considerably easier to spot. Conventional detection of nearby stars requires much more sensitive light detection, as a planet might only block a small amount of light from a given star.

The planet itself is believed to be as large as Saturn, but would orbit its hosts (a star 20 times the mass of the Sun as well as a black hole or neutron star) at twice the distance.

Scientists didn't believe the dimming was due to gas clouds or dust, as those aren't consistent with the event they recorded in M51. A planet, however, would line up with the data.

The challenge, as you might guess, is verifying that data. The planet's large orbit could rule out another transit for roughly 70 years, and it wouldn't be clear exactly when astronomers would have to take a look. The three-hour transit of this planet candidate didn't provide a large window. That's also assuming the 'living' star doesn't explode and bathe the planet in radiation.

If there's ever a confirmation, though, the discovery would be very significant. While there aren't many doubts that planets exist in other galaxies, it would be useful to have evidence of their existence. This could also significantly widen the scope of future planetary searches to include the galactic neighborhood, not just close-by stars.

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Roblox comes back online after three-day outage

Roblox is finally returning to normal after a nearly three-day outage. The gaming platform's developer said it was "incrementally" bringing regions back to service after having pinpointed the cause roughly three hours earlier. The company had a possible candidate on October 30th, but didn't narrow it down until a day later.

The company didn't detail the cause, but had previously ruled out particular "experiences or partnerships." Some had blame the outage on a Chipotle promo that launched half an hour before the failure took place on the evening of October 28th.

Whatever the reason for the outage, it may have had a lasting effect. Roblox has over 40 million daily users, and has been home to major concerts in recent months. That could leave more than a few frustrated kids, not to mention parents and creators wondering about the long-term reliability of the platform.

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Apple’s mixed reality headset might play ‘high-quality’ VR games

Apple's rumored mixed reality headset may be a boon for VR gaming. In his most recent newsletter, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman claimed Apple is aiming for a headset that can handle "high-quality" VR games with both fast chips and high-res displays. While it's not certain just what chips would be involved, a previous leak mentioned a possible 8K resolution per eye — Apple might not expect games to run at that resolution, but it would hint at serious processing power.

The headset is still poised to arrive "as early as" 2022, Gurman said. He also suggested Apple would eventually follow up the mixed headset with an augmented-reality-only model, but that was "years down the road."

However accurate the claim might be, it's doubtful the mixed reality headset would be meant primarily for gaming The price (rumored to be as high as $3,000) might relegate it to developers and other pros. It wouldn't be a rival to the $299 Quest 2, then. Instead, the report suggests Apple might use this initial headset to pave the way for more affordable wearables where gaming is more realistic.

It's safe to presume Apple is committed to a headset, no matter the end result. Apple has acquired companies and reportedly shuffled executives with mixed reality in mind. This wouldn't just be a side project for the company, even if the mixed reality tech could take years to reach the mainstream. Gaming might play a pivotal role if Apple intends to reach a wider audience.

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G20 deal raises the minimum tax rate for big tech companies

Large tech companies may soon have to pay significant taxes no matter what tax loopholes they had before. BBC Newsreports G20 leaders have reached an agreement that would set a global minimum tax rate of 15 percent for large companies. The long-in-the-making deal should be official as of today (October 31st) and would be enforced starting in 2023.

The US originally pitched the concept to prevent companies from using creative accounting (such as the "Double Irish arrangement") to avoid paying most of their taxes in the country. Other countries embraced the idea, though, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) toldCBC News the move could rake in about $150 billion from corporations around the world.

The deal could discourage tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta and Netflix from relying on loopholes to maximize their profits. If the deal collects the promised money, governments could better fund public services and help tackle problems like climate change. 

There are numerous criticisms, however, and not just from those who generally oppose higher taxes. Oxfam, for instance, blasted "generous carve outs" that protected sone income and take 10 years to phase out. The pro-equality group also claimed the deal was "extremely limited" and would affect fewer than 100 companies while generating little money for poorer countries. The arrangement might beat the status quo for G20 nations, but it won't necessarily address some outstanding concerns.

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Samsung adds Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Flip 3 features to older foldable phones

You won't have to buy a Galaxy Z Fold 3 or Flip 3 to get their software upgrades. Samsung is rolling out a One UI 3.1.1 update that brings many of those phones' multitasking and app resizing features to the original Fold, Fold 2, Flip and Flip 5G.

The Fold line unsurprisingly benefits the most thanks to its larger, tablet-like screen. Features like Multi-Active Window (up to three apps at once) and App Split View (seeing extra content for an app) make that folding display much more useful. You can also force apps to resize and rotate on your Fold, pin your favorites with the Taskbar and mirror your internal display on the cover screen.

Not that Flip owners are out of luck. Drag & Split lets all Samsung foldable owners create a new window for an already-open app, and you can invoke Flex Mode to bring up media controls when the phone is partially folded.

Most of these features are deploying now, although you'll have to wait an extra week if you're using the first Galaxy Fold. Not that you'll likely mind. This could significantly improve the usefulness of your older foldable, and suggests Samsung is eager to earn the loyalty of early adopters — if just to increase the chances that you'll buy another Fold or Flip when you're due for an upgrade.

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Google delays mandatory return to office until January 2022

Google is once again pushing back its return to in-person work. CEO Sundar Pichai told employees the company is delaying the mandatory return to office until January 2022. The current voluntary scheme will last through January 10th. From then on, Google's offices will make the decisions about when (and if) to make office work mandatory. Staff will be notified 30 days in advance if they're required to show up.

The internet pioneer previously hoped to institute a hybrid work week on October 18th, with staff coming in for three out of five days. That, in turn, was later than the originally planned September return.

The reasoning behind the delay isn't surprising. The COVID-19 pandemic recovery, and thus the return to offices, has been "longer and bumpier than expected," according to Pichai. In other words, factors like the virus' Delta variant, vaccination rates and varying case levels have clouded the situation — what works well in one country could be dangerous in another.

Not that Google will take chances regardless. The company now requires full vaccination for any employee returning to the office, voluntary or otherwise. Google might be eager to have people fill its halls, but it also doesn't want safety issues or skittish employees. It's not alone, either — fellow tech firms like Apple have delayed their own return-to-office plans as the pandemic's realities become clearer.

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Over 100 warship locations have been faked in one year

Abuses of location technology might just result in hot political disputes. According to Wired, SkyWatch and Global Fishing Watch have conducted studies showing that over 100 warship locations have been faked since August 2020, including the British aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth and the US destroyer Roosevelt. In some cases, the false data showed the vessels entering disputed waters or nearing other countries' naval bases — movements that could spark international incidents.

The research team found the fakes by comparing uses of the automatic identification system (AIS, a GPS-based system to help prevent collisions) with verifiable position data by using an identifying pattern. All of the false info came from shore-based AIS receivers while satellites showed the real positions, for instance. Global Fishing Watch had been investigating fake AIS positions for years, but this was the first time it had seen falsified data for real ships.

It's not certain who's faking locations and why. However, analysts said the data was characteristic of a common perpetrator that might be Russia. Almost all of the affected warships were from European countries or NATO members, and the data included bogus incursions around Kaliningrad, the Black Sea, Crimea and other Russian interests. In theory, Russia could portray Europe and NATO as aggressors by falsely claiming those rivals sent warships into Russian seas.

Russia has historically denied hacking claims. It has a years-long history of using fake accounts and misinformation to stoke political tensions that further its own ends, though. And if Russia is connected, the faked warship locations might be a significant escalation of that strategy. Even though such an approach might not lead to shooting matches, it could get disconcertingly close.

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DOJ: Hackers behind SolarWinds attacks targeted federal prosecutors

The perpetrators of the SolarWinds hacks apparently targeted key parts of the American legal system. According to the AP, the Justice Department says hackers targeted federal prosecutors between May 2020 and December 2020. There were 27 US Attorney offices where the intruders compromised at least one email account, officials said.

The victims included some of the more prominent federal offices, including those in the Eastern and Souther Districts of New York as well as Miami, Los Angeles and Washington.

The DOJ said it had alerted all victims and was taking steps to blunt the risks resulting from the hack. The Department previously said there was no evidence the SolarWinds hackers broke into classified systems, but federal attorneys frequently exchange sensitive case details.

The Biden administration has officially blamed Russia's state-backed Cozy Bear group for the hacks, and retaliated by expelling diplomats and sanctioning 32 "entities and individuals." Russia has denied involvement.

It's not certain if the US will escalate its response. The damage has already been done, after all. This further illustrates the severity of the attacks, however, and hints at the focus — they were clearly interested in legal data in addition to source code and other valuable information.

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