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08.05.16 | 6:17 pm

Google Car development team leader Chris Urmson is leaving the company

Alphabet confirmed today that a seven-year veteran of its self-driving car initiative is leaving the company. CTO Chris Urmson wrote this in a Medium post about his departure today: 

Today will be my last day on the project as CTO. After leading our cars through the human equivalent of 150 years of driving and helping our project make the leap from pure research to developing a product that we hope someday anyone will be able to use, I am ready for a fresh challenge.

A New York Times account says Urmson disagreed with the direction of the car project in the wake of Google's hiring of  former Hyundai America CEO John Krafcik last year to lead the initiative. After publicly quarreling with Alphabet leadership last spring, Urmson took the summer off, then decided to depart. 

Urmson, who led the Google Car project since 2013, says he doesn't know where he'll work next. A string of Google Car engineers have left Alphabet to start their own automotive ventures.

04.28.17 | 10 minutes ago

The stars of “The Circle” put Jack Dorsey in the hot seat

STX Entertainment released a roundtable discussion with the stars and director of The Circle, alongside Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Based on Dave Eggers's novel, The Circle follows a young woman on her rapid rise in a tech and social media company, which involves taking part in an experiment that crosses ethical lines of surveillance, privacy, and personal freedom.

And to help contextualize these issues IRL, The Circle cast stopped by Twitter HQ for a live chat with Dorsey, where they mainly covered diversity and inclusion in Silicon Valley and the responsibilities tech companies have in how people use their platforms.

Watch the full discussion below or click here for Dorsey's highlights.

04.28.17 | an hour ago

Remember that email you never responded to? Now you can reply to it guilt-free

Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt, hosts of the excellent Reply All internet culture podcast, have created a new holiday that everyone with an email account should be celebrating—Email Debt Forgiveness Day. It's this Sunday and gives you the excuse to respond to emails that are long overdue, without any apology or explanation. "You don't ask for forgiveness, you just act like you've already achieved it," Vogt told me.

The holiday was inspired by so-called tax amnesty days, where  invented as a way to cope with the anxiety that comes with life in the modern world and an email inbox that is forever ticking upwards. "We have an incredible amount of anxiety about answering emails," said Goldman. "So if we can get everyone in the United States…" "The world," added Vogt. "Yes, if we can get everyone in the world to celebrate this holiday, it's a freebie." Instead of explaining the delay in response, Goldman and Vogt suggest simply linking to their website, which explains  holiday.

The unofficial holiday is now in its third year. Goldman and Vogt estimate that there are hundreds of celebrants around the world. This Sunday, Goldman plans to pick up loose ends of stories he started to report on and then abandoned, and then to write a long-overdue email to his brother. Vogt plans to spend his Sunday making a dent in the thousands of messages in his inbox. He isn't sure that he'll make it through that morass, but as he notes, "What else do you have to do on Sunday?" 

04.28.17 | an hour ago

Airbnb has a new plan to lure more business travelers

Today Airbnb said it will launch a new search filter to surface accommodations for business travelers. Listings categorized as "business" promise Wi-Fi and a desk—or other workspace accoutrements like toiletries—that you would ordinarily find at hotels. The new filter launches Monday. 

Already Airbnb offers 150,000 business-ready homes. It also says that 250,000 companies use the site to book stays for jet-setting workers. Though Airbnb mostly caters to vacationers right now, it is increasingly positioning itself as more than just a cheap and quirky option for traveling on a budget. This year it bought Luxury Retreats to grow its upscale listings. Now it's targeting business travelers, making it a creeping concern for traditional hotels. 

04.28.17 | 2 hours ago

Google is trying to bring the internet to Cuba

The internet does not really exist in Cuba. (Hey, Raul Castro!) It's partially a side effect of the government trying to limit access to a world of information, earning Cuba the title of "one of the most restrictive media environments in the world," as reported by NPR. Those restrictions, combined with a lack of infrastructure and the means to purchase state-of-the-art electronics, translates to very few Cubans (fewer than 5% by some estimates) having access to the open internet. The internet that does exist is usually limited to tourist areas and bigger hotels, and is expensive. In my personal experience, it's also generally more sluggish than the dialup modem you used to access eWorld on your clamshell Mac.

While travelers to Cuba may appreciate the chance for a de facto digital detox, the people who live and work in Cuba have to exist without access in an increasingly digital world. Now Google is looking to make accessing the internet a little easier for those Cubans who do have it. The company just launched its own servers in the country. In a blog post, Google noted that Cubans "who already have access to the internet and want to use our services can expect to see an improvement in terms of quality of service," because content can now be cached locally. That applies not only to Google, but to Google-owned sites like YouTube. That means Cubans can now access pro-American videos like this.

[Photo: Unsplash user @lintaho]

04.28.17 | 3 hours ago

Sidewire, where the political elite chat, turns on reader reactions, hopes for the best

Sidewire, the chat app for newsmakers, is making its first big step toward integrating readers into these dialogues with the launch of Reactions. Sidewire readers, who have heretofore been limited to marking favorite comments with a heart, can now add one of four reactions (a smiley or angry emoji, and a question mark or exclamation point) as well as add a question or comment. The difference for Sidewire is that newsmakers will still control whether to include responses or inquiries. They will be able to decide whether and how much to pull reader participation into chat. "You don't have to see it unless you want to," says Sidewire CEO Andy Bromberg. Sidewire is celebrating Reactions today with several high-profile chats, including ones with the bestselling author of the Hillary Clinton campaign tell-all Shattered, Silicon Valley's darling House Rep. Ro Khanna, and former Democratic campaign vet Bob Shrum.

Bromberg says the Sidewire community of political professionals, elected representatives, and journalists has seen an uptick in interest along with almost every other form of media covering the new presidential administration. Reactions, then, is both a natural evolution and a big risk. As I learned when reporting on Sidewire last year, newsmakers like it because there aren't any trolls. But readers could become disillusioned if they feel their voices aren't being heard and included. Sidewire has built a very civil, engaged community of pros talking to each other; now we'll find out if the audience is as professional.

04.28.17 | 3 hours ago

It’s Friday, so why not apply for a membership to Mar-a-Lago?

If you're looking to play a few rounds of golf and hobnob with the president this summer, today is your lucky day. A new website is offering membership "applications" to Donald Trump's favorite Florida estate and private club. Why? "Because you're already paying for it," say the anonymous folks behind The website got some attention this morning after a few journalists tweeted that they received a mysterious envelope and application in the mail. The site is a joke, but with a serious point to make. It includes links to several stories about Mar-a-Lago's security issues, its cost to taxpayers, and how it's used to pedal political influence. Check it out here—or just go ahead an apply now.


04.28.17 | 7:42 am

Facebook complies with over 83% of U.S. law enforcement requests for data

In its latest Global Government Requests Report Facebook revealed a ton of stats about requests from law enforcement and other government agencies for user data across the world. For the July 2016 – December 2016 period global requests for data shot up 9% from the previous six-month period. Some highlights:

• In the U.S. there were 26,014 government requests and Facebook provided "some data" in 83.46% of those requests

• In Canada, there were 773 government requests and Facebook provided "some data" in 84.48% of those requests

• In the U.K. there were 6,366 government requests and Facebook provided "some data" in 88.69% of those requests

• In Germany, there were 4,422 government requests and Facebook provided "some data" in 54.03% of those requests

• In France, there were 4,478 government requests and Facebook provided "some data" in 68.38% of those requests

• In Australia, there were 657 government requests and Facebook provided "some data" in 63.93% of those requests

• In Russia, there were 4 government requests and Facebook provided "some data" in 0% of those requests

• In Iraq, there was 1 government request and Facebook provided "some data" in 0% of those requests

• In Vatican City, there was 1 government request and Facebook provided "some data" in 0% of those requests

04.28.17 | 5:59 am

Apple is now providing the song snippets for popular music video app

The third-party app allows users to create their own music videos using song snippets, which made it a natural fit for Apple to augment's existing song snippet content, reports Recode. The deal gives Apple a whole new, young audience for its Apple Music subscription service and benefits from now being able to expand from 30 countries to 120 thanks to the licensing rights working with Apple provides.

04.28.17 | 5:51 am

Facebook’s Messenger Lite is now available in another 150 more countries

The stripped-down, mobile data and processor friendly version of Facebook's chat app makes its debut in dozens and dozens of countries around the world, David Marcus, head of Messenger at Facebook announced today. That's up from the five countries it was available in upon its launch last year. Some of the countries where Messenger Lite is now available include Germany, Colombia, Italy, Vietnam, Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, Peru, Turkey, Japan, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

04.28.17 | 5:41 am

Here’s United’s 10-point plan for not being the worst airline ever

After dragging passengers off planes and letting cute, cuddly, large bunnies die on their flights, United Airlines has posted a new 10-point plan "to improve customer experience":

• Limit use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only.

• Not require customers seated on the plane to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk.

• Increase customer compensation incentives for voluntary denied boarding up to $10,000. 

• Establish a customer solutions team to provide agents with creative solutions such as using nearby airports, other airlines, or ground transportations to get customers to their final destination.

• Ensure crews are booked onto a flight at least 60 minutes prior to departure.

• Provide employees with additional annual training.

• Create an automated system for soliciting volunteers to change travel plans.

• Reduce the amount of overbooking.

• Empower employees to resolve customer service issues in the moment.

• Eliminate the red tape on permanently lost bags by adopting a "no questions asked" policy on lost luggage.

Still might be a good idea to keep an eye on your rabbits though.

04.27.17 | 6:11 pm

With India’s success, Amazon has more plans for international domination

Amazon's most recent earnings report was a blockbuster. The company saw revenue increasing 23% to $35.7 billion. Of the company's net sales this quarter, 32% was from its international businesses. At the earnings call CFO Brian Olsavsky said the company sees huge potential with these markets. India, specifically, is one area Amazon is investing heavily in. The company launched Amazon Prime, original Indian programming for the country, as well as devices tailored specifically for India customers. Olsavsky described international markets as "important investment areas."

While he wouldn't go into more details, the CFO said the company is going to continue investing heavily in these non-U.S. markets. This includes expanding global Prime benefits, launching new internationally targeted devices, as well as investing in more warehouses. Needless to say: Expect to see more announcements and investments in this vein. 

04.27.17 | 5:52 pm

Anthony Levandowski will no longer oversee self-driving tech at Uber

Anthony Levandowski, the man over whom Google and Uber are squabbling, is stepping aside from his role as head of the company's Advanced Technologies Group. Eric Meyhofer will now lead those efforts, according to an email obtained by both Business Insider and Bloomberg. The reason? Waymo's lawsuit accusing Levandowski, a former employee, of stealing intellectual property and infringing on its lidar-related patents. The email goes on to distance Levandowski from the company's lidar technology, a refrain we've been hearing for a while from Uber: 

As you know, I currently don't provide input on detailed LiDAR design choices. But making this organizational change means I will have absolutely no oversight over or input into our LiDAR work. Going forward, please make sure not to include me in meetings or email threads related to LiDAR, or ask me for advice on the topic.