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Microsoft and corporate activism

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BOSTON — Artificial intelligence needs to eat, breathe and sleep data to be effective. By that measure, the company…

— or country — with the most data should emerge victorious. But Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer at Microsoft, said the idea that data accumulators will rule the world and the rest of us will be powerless is a pessimistic take on what’s to come.

He prefers optimism. Indeed, Smith said there are ways to keep, say, China from becoming a global data dictator. His recommendation: Create “a global standard for ethical principles and for the protection of things like privacy so that the price for global admission is adherence to a global standard.”

Such a standard could create a classic data-silo problem for countries that don’t comply. For example, China may have the world’s largest population, but if it can’t access Europe’s data or the United States’ data, it will struggle to uncover patterns on a global, rather than national, scale.

That was one of the points Smith made at HUBweek, an innovation festival in Boston. In a fireside chat with Adi Ignatius, editor in chief of Harvard Business Review, Smith made it clear that Microsoft is participating in a new kind of corporate activism that targets broad societal issues — and it’s using this newly public corporate conscience as an advocacy and marketing tool.

For example, in December, Microsoft publicly supported a giving women and men the right to take a sexual harassment claim to court rather than keep the complaint in arbitration. When North Carolina a that restricted LGBT rights, Microsoft lent its voice to the opposition. More recently, the company launched the Defending Democracy Program, which is aimed at protecting campaigns from hacking, increasing political advertising transparency and defending against disinformation.

The political thread in the examples Smith provided is hardly accidental: Customers are increasingly turning to companies to take on issues they care about because of the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., Smith argued.

“We are living in a time when there are historically low levels of trust in government,” he said. “And so, whereas in the past, people would say, ‘I care about this. I’m going to go to government.’ They are less inclined to do that.”

But jumping into corporate activism and promoting a company’s moral compass can also create wrinkles. Smith said, given the gridlock in Washington, customers are beginning to ask Microsoft to help regulate the very technology it’s developing. One HUBweek attendee raised a question that has become common at tech events: Can government officials craft policy that effectively keeps up with the rapid pace of change in the tech industry? 

Smith shot down the idea, saying that any technology company’s involvement in regulation is inappropriate and restricts progress. “I don’t think it’s viable to ask tech to slow down,” he said. “It is not only appropriate, but it is right to ask government to move faster. And it’s incumbent on those of us in the technology sector to do what we can to share information so that governments can move faster.”

Plus, he said, “it’s important to remember that, in this country and in many others, people elect those who make the laws. People do not elect companies.”

‘Moneyball’ for movies

Legendary Entertainment is using analytics to develop films. Matt Marolda, chief analytics officer for the media company, referred to this as “Moneyball for movies,” referencing the story of how data helped transform a losing baseball team.

The use of data to develop movie products isn’t , but in the past, much of the data was collected through analog methods. These days, the data that Marolda’s applied analytics team uses for analysis comes from a variety of sources — from one-on-one conversations with viewers to digital data such as search queries and Twitter conversations.

The tried-and-true method of testing a film before a live audience is also used — but with a twist. While Marolda’s team tries “to be as unintrusive as possible” during the testing process, it uses iPads to capture facial expressions and wristbands to collect heart rate and other “various signals,” he said. That kind of data is used to determine what’s working and what’s not.

“We try and identify those moments where people are confused, people are rolling their eyes, where they’re really engaged,” Marolda said.

The data can also help pin down much bigger problems such as whether the chemistry between the two leads is believable. Marolda said filmmakers often have a gut answer to human chemistry questions like the latter, but the data can provide solid evidence.

“With that kind of evidence, entire storylines are removed from movies, reshoots might happen to redirect the plot,” he said. “Those indicators are a great way to understand what the opportunities are for improvement.”

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Source: https://searchcio.techtarget.com/news/252450811/Microsoft-and-corporate-activism

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Amazon to hire 75,000 workers, offers $100 extra for vaccination proof

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(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc will give $100 more to new hires with proof of COVID-19 vaccination, the world’s largest e-commerce retailer said on Thursday, as part of its plan to employ 75,000 workers for fulfillment and logistics operations.

As vaccines become crucial to reopening of the economy, several U.S. retailers, including Dollar General, Kroger and Target, are offering bonuses or other perks to staff getting their shots.

Demand for hourly staff at restaurants, factories, retail stores and fulfillment centers is rising as e-commerce demand remains robust, while more consumers are expected to step out of their homes after a year of lockdown living.

The vaccine-related incentives are also aimed at attracting workers flush with relief checks and wary of the pandemic as well as the lack of childcare facilities back to work.

Amazon will pay the new hires an average starting pay of more than $17 per hour, reflecting recent hikes of between 50 cents and $3 an hour for about half a million fulfillment-center workers in the United States.

It will also pay a sign-on bonus of up to $1,000.

The e-retailer has benefited from a surge in e-commerce sales as more consumers moved online last year, forcing it to hire thousands and offer attractive perks and bonuses.

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/amazon-hire-75000-workers-offers-100-extra-vaccination-proof/14650

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Google wins cloud deal from SpaceX for Starlink internet service

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(Reuters) – Google has won a deal to provide cloud services to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has launched a slew of Starlink satellites to provide high-speed internet, it said on Thursday.

SpaceX will set up ground stations within Google’s data centers that connect to the Starlink satellites, enabling fast and secure internet services via Google Cloud, the search giant said.

This service is expected to be available in the second half of 2021 for enterprise customers, the company said.

The deal comes at a time when demand for cloud-computing services has soared, with players like Microsoft Corp and Amazon.com Inc dominating the market. Cloud companies have also tapped into the telecoms sector, thanks to a jump in demand for 5G connectivity.

Google’s cloud business accounts for about 7% of its total revenue, as of the latest earnings report.

Last October, Microsoft won a similar deal from SpaceX to connect its Azure cloud computing platform to Starlink.

Privately held SpaceX, known for its reusable rockets and astronaut capsules, is ramping up satellite production for Starlink, a growing constellation of hundreds of internet-beaming satellites that Musk hopes will generate enough revenue to help fund SpaceX’s interplanetary goals.

(Reporting by Eva Mathews in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/google-wins-cloud-deal-spacex-starlink-internet-service/14649

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Chat app Discord to test ticketing, make audio events easier to find

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By Elizabeth Culliford

(Reuters) – Chat platform Discord said on Thursday it will start to test paid tickets for audio events, the first feature where creators can make money from the site, and will launch a tool next month to help users more easily find live audio channels.

Discord, which grew quickly during the pandemic and says it has 150 million monthly active users, will roll out ticketed events this month in a pilot with fewer than 50 creators, all based in the United States, a Discord spokeswoman said.

The announcements follow Discord’s launch in March of “Stage Channels” where users can tune in to an audio channel operated by a host, a feature popularized by the year-old, invite-only Clubhouse app.

Discord was first used by videogamers but has increasingly expanded to different communities and is used for events ranging from comedy clubs to karaoke parties.

The platform said in a blog post that it plans to launch a “Stage Discovery” feature on June 1 to help users find different new voice events.

A slew of online platforms like Facebook and Twitter are working on their own audio chat services. Social media companies are also racing to build features to attract content creators who have built large fan followings and want to make money directly from their platform audiences.

Discord said it would also launch a feature this summer called “Threads” to make text chats more streamlined and easier to follow.

Reuters reported last month that Discord had ended sale talks with Microsoft Corp to focus on expanding its business as a standalone company.

This month, Sony Corp announced that one of its units had made a minority investment in Discord as part of a deal to tie in the platform with Sony’s PlayStation gaming division.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford; editing by Richard Pullin)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/chat-app-discord-test-ticketing-make-audio-events-easier-find/14648

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Exclusive: Crypto crime down in 2021 through April, but ‘DeFi’ fraud at record -CipherTrace

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By Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Losses from cryptocurrency theft, hacks and fraud fell sharply in the first four months of the year, but crime in the booming “decentralized finance” space hit an all-time high, a report from crypto intelligence company CipherTrace showed on Thursday.

DeFi applications are platforms that facilitate crypto-denominated lending outside traditional banking, using an open-source code with algorithms that set rates in real time based on supply and demand. Many DeFi applications are embedded in the ethereum blockchain.

Globally, crypto criminals ran away with $432 million as of end-April, according to the CipherTrace report. About 56% of that, or $240 million were DeFi-related, a record peak.

For the whole of 2020, losses in the crypto sector through fraud and crime were $1.9 billion. In 2019, crypto crime losses hit a record $4.5 billion.

Cryptocurrencies are once again in the spotlight with the surge in prices for the second-largest token, ethereum, and social media darling, dogecoin.

The drop in crypto crime reflects some maturation in the industry, as infrastructure improved and companies and exchanges boosted security systems.

DeFi, however, is another story. The value locked – the total number of loans on DeFi platforms – was $86 billion as of Wednesday, DeFi Pulse data showed, up roughly 650% from $11 billion in October.

The surge in the industry’s growth has attracted the bad actors and market participants said the rise in crime is likely to accelerate as DeFi expands further.

“As more money pours into the space from retail and institutional players, bad actors will seek to take advantage of the hype to draw people into scams and hackers will seek out projects that have launched without performing adequate security audits, exploiting loopholes encoded in the smart contracts,” Dave Jevans, CipherTrace’s chief executive officer, said in an emailed response to Reuters.

Losses from DeFi-related hacks already exceeded the $129 million taken for the whole of 2020. In 2019, there were no DeFi losses reported.

One of the major losses in the DeFi space was the $80 million worth of funds stolen on April 19 from EasyFi Network, a DeFi project on the Polygon Network, the CipherTrace report said. EasyFi reported that a hacker stole roughly $80 million worth of funds from its wallet.

(Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss in New York; Editing by Alden Bentley and Matthew Lewis)

Image Credit: Reuters

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Source: https://datafloq.com/read/exclusive-crypto-crime-2021-april-defi-fraud-record-ciphertrace/14647

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