Tuesday, March 12, 2019

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Amazon employees show distress in 911 calls: report - Business Insider

Posted: 11 Mar 2019 08:17 AM PDT

Some Amazon employees are reportedly experiencing emotional distress in the workplace and threatening self-harm.

An investigation by The Daily Beast found that "emergency workers were summoned to Amazon warehouses at least 189 times for suicide attempts, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health episodes" between October 2013 and October 2018 at 46 fulfillment centers around the US.

The Daily Beast's report was based on interviews with current and former employees and a review of 911 call logs and police records.

"It's this isolating colony of hell where people having breakdowns is a regular occurrence," the former Amazon employee Jace Crouch told The Daily Beast. An anonymous employee told The Daily Beast that the company treated its workers like "robots."

The Daily Beast said its report was "not evidence that Amazon staffers experience suicidal episodes more often than other American workers, in or out of a warehouse." And the rate of suicide in the US is on the rise — the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention estimated that there were 1.4 million suicide attempts in the US in 2017.

Amazon disputes this characterization of its work culture and said it offers employees a number of resources when it comes to mental health.

"The physical and mental well-being of our associates is our top priority, and we are proud of both our efforts and overall success in this area," an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider. "We provide comprehensive medical care starting on day one so employees have access to the care when they need it most, 24-hour a day free and confidential counseling services, and various leave and medical accommodation options covering both mental and physical health concerns."

Read more: Amazon warehouse employees speak out about the 'brutal' reality of working during the holidays, when 60-hour weeks are mandatory and ambulance calls are common

But this isn't the first report to paint a picture of difficult working conditions at Amazon. Employees have spoken with Business Insider about feeling like "robots" because of intense surveillance in the warehouses, while others described how their coworkers would urinate in trash cans because they didn't have enough time to rush to the bathroom.

The investigative journalist James Bloodworth worked undercover in an Amazon warehouse in the UK. He told Business Insider: "The atmosphere is what I imagine a prison feels like. You felt like you were walking on eggshells."

Business Insider also previously interviewed 30 current and former Amazon employees about what it's like to work at the company during the holiday rush. One employee called the company's peak season "brutal," while others described working long shifts that left them in physical pain.

Elizabeth Warren calls Facebook a 'censor' for temporarily blocking her ads about breaking Facebook up - Business Insider

Posted: 11 Mar 2019 05:24 PM PDT

Facebook banned an ad by US presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren that called for it and other big tech companies to be broken up, saying that the ad violated its rules, before changing course and allowing it to remain up.

Politico reported on Monday that the Silicon Valley social networking giant had blocked ads by the leftwing Democratic politician that touted her plan to take regulatory action to split up Facebook, Amazon, and Google if she becomes the next US president, citing their "vast power over our economy and our democracy."

A Facebook spokesperson told the news outlet that Facebook "removed the ads because they violated our policies against use of our corporate logo" — but that it would restore them "in the interest of allowing robust debate." Facebook did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

Elizabeth Warren's ad criticized the three tech firms, saying"it's time to break up these big companies so they don't have so much power over everyone else." It included a one-and-a-half minute video highlighting news stories about allegedly anti-competitive behavior from Facebook, Google, and Amazon, and briefly includes a stylized version of Facebook's logo to represent the company. (The ad is viewable in full in Facebook's political Ad Archive.)

Facebook's ad policies place restrictions on how advertisers may use Facebook's logos and brand names, in an attempt to avoid misleading ads or ones that might appear to suggest Facebook is endorsing the advertiser. It's this rule that Facebook says Elizabeth Warren's campaign violated.

The incident was swiftly rectified, but it served to illustrate the extraordinary level of power Facebook has to regulate online discourse today — and how criticism of the company, if not framed carefully, can inadvertently run afoul of its rules.

Elizabeth Warren subsequently responded on Twitter, tweeting: "Curious why I think FB has too much power? Let's start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power. Thanks for restoring my posts. But I want a social media marketplace that isn't dominated by a single censor. #BreakUpBigTech"

This isn't the first time critics of Facebook have fallen foul of its checks.

Investigative reporting outlet Reveal pointed out on Twitter on Monday that it had previously been blocked from running ads about one of its stories on Facebook's business practices around kids' in-game purchases, and "only approved the ad after we reached out to their comms team."


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Waymo reportedly looking for outside investors - Business Insider

Posted: 11 Mar 2019 04:08 PM PDT

Waymo, Alphabet's autonomous-driving division, is looking for outside investors, The Information reports.

The company is reportedly targeting Volkswagen and other European automakers.

Waymo and Volkswagen did not immediately respond to Business Insider's requests for comment.

Read more: G M Cruise plans to double in size by the end of 2019 and has hired a new exec to help it grow

Alphabet is seeking a valuation for Waymo much larger than $15 billion and is not likely to offer a stake equal to or greater than 20% to outside investors, The Information reports.

Alphabet spends a minimum of $1 billion each year on Waymo, according to The Information, which cites former Waymo employees and executives at other companies. Waymo's annual cost is not financially prohibitive for Alphabet, but Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat has reportedly encouraged the company's subsidiaries to reduce costs and become more efficient. Other Waymo units, like Verily and Makani, have received investments from outside firms.

Waymo launched an autonomous ride-hailing service in parts of Arizona in 2018 that is available to a limited number of users. The company recently announced it would sell LIDAR sensors to companies that won't use them for competing autonomous ride-hailing services.

If Waymo reaches a deal with an outside investor, it would join competitors like Argo AI and Cruise, each of which has taken investments from major automakers in recent years. Volkswagen recently reached an agreement to invest in Argo AI, which counts Ford as a majority stakeholder, according to The Information.

Volkswagen will reportedly take on about half of Ford's investment. Cruise, which is owned by General Motors, received a $750 million investment from Honda in 2018.

Outside investment could eventually lead Waymo to separate itself from Alphabet and become an independent company.

Increasing income, not cutting expenses, is key to building wealth - Business Insider

Posted: 11 Mar 2019 11:06 AM PDT

Saving money isn't the sole ingredient in building wealth.

In fact, according to financial planner Eric Roberge and his wife Kali, pinching pennies alone won't get you very far.

"In addition to saving money, we really focus on increasing our income," the couple said on a recent episode of their podcast "Beyond Finances." Cutting expenses, managing your cash flow, and not giving into lifestyle inflation is important, Kali said, but "if you can't increase your income, I think it's always going to be a struggle to get to where you want to go."

The Roberges said they enjoy traveling and consider it a priority in their budget, but cutting back on expenses, including rent, to afford travel or other luxuries is finite. You can only "realistically cut so many expenses," Kali wrote in a tweet.

"If you want to keep saving at a really high rate but you also want to enjoy things like travel, you can't just pinch pennies until you magically manage to shuffle up enough money to go take your trip," Kali said.

That's the same advice Grant Sabatier, the blogger behind Millennial Money who retired a self-made millionaire at 30, shares in his book "Financial Freedom: A Proven Path to All the Money You Will Ever Need": "No matter how much you cut back or how often you crash on a friend's couch or grab free food from catered company events, the amount of money you can save is limited by how much money you are making."

Get more from the money you earn:

Earning more money allows the Roberges to earmark some to spend on travel and save for the future or other financial goals. "In our case," Eric said, "I would much rather spend time figuring out how to grow our family revenue than I would on trying to spend time figuring out the best credit card hacks for travel — it's just night and day."

In some cases, Eric said, spending less on everyday expenses is necessary, but if you've hit a limit and it's possible to earn more money, the benefit will be much greater.

"If you can take the cap off of that and increase your income — it's not always easy to do that, which is probably why people don't pay attention to it — but if you can do that, it gives you a lot more room to both spend and save," he said.

Sabatier also says a higher income is "more powerful" than low expenses, in part because it allows you to also increase the frequency and size of your investments.

Get more from the money you earn:

While the Roberges acknowledged that having the ability to increase your income is a privilege, it's one that shouldn't be taken for granted. Cutting your expenses and daily spending takes continued effort — it's a short-term solution — whereas increasing your positive cash flow is a long-term solution, they said.

"It might be a little bit harder short term, but it's much more efficient long term," Eric said. "Spend the time now to make the plan, and then take action on that plan, versus just trying to find a quick way out."

AWS partners with Netflix and Expedia: Open Distro for Elasticsearch - Business Insider

Posted: 11 Mar 2019 04:00 PM PDT

Amazon is trying to fight the perception that it doesn't give back to open source software — but it might also be posing a new threat to Elastic, an open source software company.

Since 2015, Amazon Web Services has been selling Elasticsearch, an open source software project originally created by $6 billion company Elastic, as a service to software developers. Elasticsearch is popular on its own merits, and used by apps like Uber and Tinder to store, search, and analyze large amounts of data.

On Monday, AWS, in partnership with Expedia and Netflix, announced Open Distro for Elasticsearch, a version of the software that Amazon will support with new features and updates, but that is also available as free open source — a move that AWS says is also intended to underscore its commitment to open source software.

In open source parlance, a distribution, or "distro," is a customized version of open source software, hence the name.

Notably, the first release of Open Distro for Elasticsearch will have some features that Elastic, the company, had only made available to paying customers of its own premium version of Elasticsearch. Amazon says that it warned Elastic of its plans, but that it decided to stay the course. Elastic was not immediately available for comment.

Amazon under fire

The move comes as Amazon is scrutinized for its relationship with open source software, as smaller companies like Redis Labs, Confluent, and MongoDB have all taken dramatic steps in changing their software licenses to stop AWS and other big cloud providers from taking and selling its open source software as a service. Those new licenses have attracted criticism, in turn, for what some percieve as undermining the foundations of open source.

Read more:Open source database company MongoDB is giving up on an important battle in its fight against the major cloud computing providers

In the blog entry announcing Open Distro for Elasticsearch, AWS VP of Cloud Architecture Strategy Adrian Cockcroft warns that those efforts are "muddying the waters" in open source, making it unclear what's considered open source and what might be considered proprietary intellectual property.

Indeed, that's why AWS decided to launch Open Distro for Elasticsearch, as a way to circumvent what he says is an "intermingling" of proprietary and open source code in the original Elasticsearch project — something that could get Amazon, or its customers, into trouble, in his estimation.

"This is hard to track and govern, could lead to breach of license, and could lead to immediate termination of rights," Cockcroft wrote. "Individual code commits also increasingly contain both open source and proprietary code, making it very difficult for developers who want to only work on open source to contribute and participate."

Cockcroft said that AWS discussed its concerns about Elasticsearch with Elastic.

"We have discussed our concerns with Elastic, the maintainers of Elasticsearch, including offering to dedicate significant resources to help support a community-driven, non-intermingled version of Elasticsearch," Cockcroft wrote. "They have made it clear that they intend to continue on their current path."

Amazon's contribution to open source

On the subject of Amazon's commitment to open source, Cockcroft wrote that AWS contributes to projects like Apache Lucene, Hadoop (which started at Yahoo) and Kubernetes (which started at Google), and that the company invests in open source communities by training developers and sponsoring events.

However, there's a perception among some in Silicon Valley that the company doesn't support open source. According to a data analysis by Google developer advocate Felipe Hoffa, AWS lags behind Microsoft and Google in contributing to open source projects, although it increased its contributions significantly in 2018.

AWS announced a major open source project of its own back in November; and then another one, focused on artificial intelligence, in January. These were met with some surprise, as Amazon doesn't have a reputation for contributing these kinds of major projects to the community. Cockroft says that the pace will only continue.

Read more:As tensions with smaller software companies run high, Amazon is extending an olive branch with a new open-source project

"Over the years, customer usage and dependencies on open source technologies have been steadily increasing; this is why we've long been committed to open source, and our pace of contributions to open source projects - both our own and others' - continues to accelerate," Cockcroft wrote.

Forking the code

With Open Distro for Elasticsearch, it seems like AWS is forking the code — essentially copying the original Elasticsearch code and remixing it to make a distinct piece of software. However, Cockcroft says that Amazon doesn't intend to totally upstage the original Elasticsearch, and AWS will still contribute back to that project.

"Our intention is not to fork Elasticsearch, and we will be making contributions back to the Apache 2.0-licensed Elasticsearch upstream project as we develop add-on enhancements to the base open source software," Cockcroft wrote.

Cockcroft said that above all else, it's important for open source projects to not pull the rug out from under users by changing their terms dramatically, or by privileging one company over another.

"If we look closely at many successful open source projects, they have all benefited from access to unfettered open source software. In fact, arguably those projects would not exist today without an ability to quickly assemble and innovate on top of pre-existing open source software," Cockcroft wrote.

This isn't the first time AWS has pulled a move like this. For example, when Oracle announced it would stop providing free public updates for Java unless users buy a subscription, AWS started offering Corretto, its own free distribution of Java, for which AWS has committed to providing security updates.

"When important open source projects that AWS and our customers depend on begin restricting access, changing licensing terms, or intermingling open source and proprietary software, we will invest to sustain the open source project and community," Cockcroft wrote.

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