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Amazon-Branded TV to Roll Out in US by October After Nearly Two Years of Development: Report

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By Reuters | Updated: 3 September 2021

Amazon is planning to launch its Amazon-branded TV in the United States as soon as October, Business Insider reported on Thursday.

The launch, involving teams from Amazon Devices and Lab126, has been in the works for almost two years, the report said, citing people familiar with the matter.

The TVs, which will be powered by voice assistant Alexa, are currently designed and manufactured by third parties, one of which is TCL, the report added.

Amazon did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for a comment.

The tech giant had already launched an AmazonBasics TV in India late last year.

In other Amazon-related news, CEO Andy Jassy said on September 1 that the company is planning to hire 55,000 people for corporate and technology roles globally in the coming months. That’s equal to more than a third of Google’s headcount as of June 30, and close to all of Facebook’s.

Jassy, in his first press interview since he ascended to Amazon’s top post in July, said the company needed more firepower to keep up with demand in retail, the cloud, and advertising, among other businesses. He said the company’s new bet to launch satellites into orbit to widen broadband access, called Project Kuiper, would require a lot of new hires, too.

With Amazon’s annual job fair scheduled to begin September 15, Jassy hopes now is a good time for recruiting. “There are so many jobs during the pandemic that have been displaced or have been altered, and there are so many people who are thinking about different and new jobs,” said Jassy, who cited a US survey from PwC that 65 percent of workers wanted a new gig.

“It’s part of what we think makes ‘Career Day’ so timely and so useful,” he said. The new hires would represent a 20 percent increase in Amazon’s tech and corporate staff, who currently number around 275,000 globally, the company said.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

Technology

Lyft Records Over 4,000 Sexual Assault Cases in Long-Overdue Safety Report

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By Reuters | Updated: 23 October 2021

Lyft received reports of more than 4,000 instances of sexual assault on its ride-hailing platform between 2017 and 2019, it said, detailing the data in a safety report it had promised to publish about two years ago.

The company report, issued late on Thursday, showed sexual assault reports on its platform had increased from around 1,100 in 2017 to some 1,800 in 2019. But it said bookings increased at a higher rate during that time, resulting in a 19 percent drop in the overall incident rate.

Lyft said more than 99 percent of its journeys had occurred without any safety incident.

“While safety incidents on our platform are incredibly rare, we realise that even one is too many. Behind every report is a real person and real experience, and our goal is to make each Lyft ride as safe as we possibly can,” Jennifer Brandenburger, head of policy development and research, said in a company blog post.

The company said it has invested in safety features, employed rigorous driver background checks and consulted sexual assault experts.

Lyft had committed to releasing its report at the end of 2019, when its larger rival Uber Technologies provided the ride-hailing industry’s first detailed safety report.

Uber at the time disclosed it had received some 6,000 reports of sexual assault related to 2.3 billion trips in the United States in 2017 and 2018.

Lyft, which services significantly fewer trips than Uber, did not disclose the total number of rides it completed in its Thursday safety report, but at 0.0002 percent the incident rate was the same as Uber’s.

Unlike Uber, Lyft did not disclose what share of incidents resulted in drivers being harmed. Uber’s report showed riders accounted for roughly half of the accused in sexual assault reports.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Science

NASA Artemis Moon Mission Launch Planned for February 2022

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 23 October 2021

NASA said Friday it is now targeting February 2022 for the uncrewed lunar mission Artemis 1, the first step in America’s plan to return humans to the Moon later this decade. The space agency had initially wanted to launch the test flight by the end of this year, with astronauts on the ground by 2024 on Artemis 3, but the timeline has slipped back.

It achieved a major milestone Wednesday when it stacked the Orion crew capsule atop its Space Launch System megarocket, which now stands 322 feet (98 meters) tall inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

After further tests, it will be wheeled out to the launch pad for a final test known as the “wet dress rehearsal” in January, with the first window for launch opening in February, officials told reporters on a call.

“The February launch period opens on the 12th and our last opportunity in February is on the 27th,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis 1 mission manager.

The next windows are in March and then April.

These potential launch periods are dependent on orbital mechanics and the relative position of the Earth with respect to its natural satellite.

The mission duration is expected to be four to six weeks.

It will also deploy a number of small satellites, known as CubeSats, to perform experiments and technology demonstrations.

Although likely to be pushed back, Artemis 2 is technically scheduled for 2023 and Artemis 3 for 2024, humanity’s return to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

NASA says the moonwalkers will include the first woman and first person of colour to make the trip.

The space agency is seeking to establish a sustainable presence on the Moon, and use the lessons it learns to plan a crewed trip to Mars in the 2030s.

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Technology

BMW to Phase Out Combustion Engines From Main Plant by 2024

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By Reuters | Updated: 23 October 2021

BMW will stop making internal combustion engines at its main plant in Munich by 2024, its head of production said on Friday at a conference marking the start of production of its electric i4 model. The ICE engines currently made in Munich will be produced in BMW’s factories in Austria and the UK in future, production chief Milan Nedeljkovic said, though cars using the engines will still be assembled at the Munich plant.

Still, by 2023 at least half the vehicles produced in Munich would be electrified – either battery electric or plug-in hybrid, the company said.

BMW has set itself a target for at least 50 percent of new global car sales to be electric by 2030, and CEO Oliver Zipse said at a conference last week the company would be ready with an all-electric offering if any market banned ICEs by then.

The i4 battery-electric car was made on a joint assembly line with ICE and hybrid models such as the BMW 3 Series Sedan and Touring, the company said, a shift that cost EUR 200 million ($233 million or Rs. 1,746 crores) of investment in production infrastructure.

A similar mixed assembly line is already under way at the automaker’s Dingolfing plant, which produces the BMW iX alongside hybrid and ICE models.

The new model will be prioritised in decision-making over where to allocate scarce chips, the plant chief Peter Weber said. The company was well-stocked in other raw materials, Nedeljkovic added.

BMW has previously said it expects to produce 70,000 to 90,000 fewer cars than it could have sold this year because of the chip shortage that has plagued automakers worldwide.

It also committed to reducing emissions from transport logistics at the Munich plant, the company’s biggest, to zero in the next few years, without giving a specific date.

This will be achieved by making greater use of rail transport and battery-powered trucks to transport vehicles in and around the plant, it said.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Social Networking

Facebook Now Reportedly Accused of Wrongdoing by Another Whistleblower

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 23 October 2021

A former Facebook worker reportedly told US authorities Friday the platform has put profits before stopping problematic content, weeks after another whistleblower helped stoke the firm’s latest crisis with similar claims. The unnamed new whistleblower filed a complaint with US financial regulator Securities and Exchange Commission that could add to the company’s distress, said a Washington Post report.

Facebook has faced a storm of criticism over the past month after former employee Frances Haugen leaked internal studies showing the company knew of potential harm stoked by its sites, prompting US lawmakers’ to renew a push for regulation.

In the SEC complaint, the new whistleblower recounts alleged statements from 2017, when the company was deciding how to handle the controversy related to Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

“It will be a flash in the pan. Some legislators will get pissy. And then in a few weeks they will move onto something else. Meanwhile we are printing money in the basement, and we are fine,” Tucker Bounds, a member of Facebook’s communications team, was quoted in the complaint as saying, The Washington Post reported.

The second whistleblower signed the complaint on October 13, a week after Haugen’s scathing testimony before a Senate panel, according to the report.

Haugen told lawmakers that Facebook put profits over safety, which led her to leak reams of internal company studies that underpinned a damning Wall Street Journal series.

The Washington Post reported the new whistleblowers SEC filing claims the social media giant’s managers routinely undermined efforts to combat misinformation and other problematic content for fear of angering then US president Donald Trump or for turning off the users who are key to profits.

Erin McPike, a Facebook spokeswoman, said the article was “beneath the Washington Post, which during the last five years would only report stories after deep reporting with corroborating sources.”

Facebook has faced previous firestorms of controversy, but that has not translated into substantial new US legislation to regulate social media.

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Apps

Apple vs Epic: Fortnite Maker Opposes Apple’s Effort to Pause Antitrust Trial Orders

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By Reuters | Updated: 23 October 2021

Fortnite creator Epic Games on Friday opposed Apple’s efforts to put on hold orders handed down in an antitrust trial as a potentially lengthy appeals process plays out.

US district Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in September struck down some of the iPhone maker’s App Store rules, including a prohibition on developers directing their users to other payment options beside Apple’s in-app payment system, in a partial win for Epic and other app makers.

Apple has until December 9 to comply with the injunction, but earlier this month the company said it will appeal the ruling and asked Gonzalez Rogers to put her order on hold as the appeals process, which could take more than a year, unfolds.

Epic on Friday argued in a court filing that Apple has not met the legal standard for that pause, which requires Apple show that it will be irreparably harmed by even temporarily complying with the order if the injunction is later reversed on appeal.

Epic said that Apple’s positive comments about the ruling shortly after it landed, and its delay in asking for a pause, showed that it would not be harmed by enacting the orders.

“The public interest favours denying (Apple’s request); an injunction is the only path to effective relief,” Epic wrote. “History shows … that in the absence of an injunction, Apple will not make any changes.”

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A hearing on Apple’s request is set for November 9.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

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Apps

Apple Updates App Store Payment Rules to Allow Developers Contact Customers Directly

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By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 23 October 2021

Apple has updated its App Store rules to allow developers to contact users directly about payments, a concession in a legal settlement with companies challenging its tightly controlled marketplace.

According to the App Store rules updated Friday, developers can now contact consumers directly about alternative payment methods, bypassing Apple’s commission of 15 or 30 percent.

They will be able to ask users for basic information, such as names and e-mail addresses, “as long as this request remains optional”, said the iPhone maker.

Apple proposed the changes in August in a legal settlement with small app developers.

But the concession is unlikely to satisfy firms like Fortnite developer Epic Games, with which the tech giant has been grappling in a drawn-out dispute over its payments policy.

Epic launched a case aiming to break Apple’s grip on the App Store, accusing the iPhone maker of operating a monopoly in its shop for digital goods or services.

In September, a judge ordered Apple to loosen control of its App Store payment options, but said Epic had failed to prove that antitrust violations had taken place.

For Epic and others, the ability to redirect users to an out-of-app payment method is not enough: it wants players to be able to pay directly without leaving the game.

Both sides have appealed.

Apple is also facing investigations from US and European authorities that accuse it of abusing its dominant position.

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