Microsoft Finds Few Gender Discrimination Complaints Valid

Only one of 118 gender discrimination complaints made by women at Microsoft was found to have merit, according to unsealed court documents.

The Seattle Times reports the records made public Monday illustrate the scope of complaints from female employees in technical jobs in the U.S. between 2010 and 2016.

And according to the court documents, Microsoft’s internal investigations determined only one of those complaints was “founded.”

The documents were released as part of an ongoing lawsuit by three current or former Microsoft employees alleging gender discrimination.

The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status for the case, claiming more than 8,600 women collectively lost out on $238 million in pay and 500 promotions because of discrimination in the company’s performance review process.

Microsoft’s case is one of several against giant companies in the technology industry, which has been criticized in recent years for its lack of female and minority employees and for a workplace culture that some say is hostile toward those groups.

The plaintiffs argue that men in similar roles with similar job performance were promoted faster and given more raises than their female colleagues.

Microsoft has said a class action isn’t warranted because there is no common cause for the employees’ complaints and plaintiffs have not identified systemic gender discrimination. The company has denied that systemic bias is taking place through its employee-review process.

In court documents, Microsoft also has stood behind its internal investigative process, which involves a four-person team that looks into each complaint filed with the company. In a statement Tuesday, a Microsoft said all employee concerns are taken seriously and that the company has a “fair and robust system in place” to investigate them.

U.S. District Judge James Robart is hearing the case in U.S. District Court in Seattle and is expected to decide on the class-action request in the next several months.

Information from: The Seattle Times.



China’s Huawei Says to Keep Investing in US Despite Setback

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei says it will continue to invest in the United States despite recent setbacks in its efforts to boost sales there.

Xu Qingsong, also known as Jim Xu, Huawei’s head of sales and marketing, told reporters in Shenzhen he was “confident” Huawei smartphone sales would triple this year in the U.S. from last year.

News reports in January said Huawei appeared to be on the verge of cracking the lucrative American market when it signed a deal with AT&T, but the agreement fell through under U.S. government pressure.

In the past, Huawei officials have rejected U.S. security complaints as politically motivated or possibly an attempt by competitors to keep it out of the market.

“I don’t know why they’re so nervous,” Xu said Tuesday, referring to the U.S. “They’re too nervous.”

Huawei sells some models in U.S. electronics stores and online but has a minimal share of an American market in which most sales are through carriers. Globally, the company trails Samsung and Apple in handset shipments but leads in China, the biggest market, and says it expects to ship a total of 150 million this year.

Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of network gear used by phone companies, suffered earlier setbacks in the American market when a congressional report in October 2013 said it was a security risk and warned telecom carriers not to use its equipment.

More recently, a new global struggle for influence over next-generation “5G” communications technology has brought Huawei under increasing scrutiny by the U.S. government. Many American officials are concerned Chinese companies such as Huawei could take a larger, or even a dominant, role in setting 5G technology and standards and practices.

Kevin Ho, president of Huawei’s handset product line, said they’ll instead focus on Europe and developing markets in Asia, especially India, where Huawei sees opportunities to expand the Shenzhen-based company’s market share.

“There are still some big countries where our market share is very, very low,” Ho said. “This is a hint of where we can raise our market share globally.”

On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump blocked Singapore chipmaker Broadcom from pursuing a hostile takeover of prominent U.S. rival Qualcomm, a deal which officials believed could have hobbled the U.S.’s ability to make a quick transition to 5G.

When asked about the blocked deal, Xu declined to comment.

Separately, lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill on January 9 that would prohibit government purchases of telecoms equipment from Huawei Technologies and smaller rival ZTE, citing their ties to the Chinese military and backing from the ruling Communist Party.



YouTube to Display Wikipedia Blurbs Alongside Conspiracy Videos

YouTube will begin displaying text from Wikipedia articles and other websites alongside some videos in a couple of weeks as the unit of Alphabet Inc’s Google attempts to combat hoaxes and conspiracy theories on the service, its chief executive said on Tuesday.

Susan Wojcicki, speaking on stage at the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas, displayed a mock-up of the new feature, which are called information cues.

YouTube intends to present an alternative viewpoint to videos questioning science or describing conspiracies about events such as the U.S. moon landing. She said information cues would first roll out to topics for which there are a significant number of YouTube videos.

“People can still watch the videos but then they actually have access to additional information, can click off and go and see that,” Wojcicki said.

Lawmakers and media advocacy groups have called on YouTube to help stop the spread of hoaxes and false news stories. Last year, the company adjusted its algorithms to promote what it described as authoritative sources.

Though music and gaming videos are far more popular on YouTube, the company has made addressing the criticism around news and science videos a top priority this year. 



Google Brings Free WiFi to Mexico, First Stop in Latin America

Alphabet’s Google said on Tuesday that it will launch a network of free Wi-Fi hotspots across Mexico, part of the search giant’s effort to improve connectivity in emerging markets and put its products in the hands of more users.

Google Station, an ad-supported network of Wi-Fi hotspots in high-traffic locations, is launching in Mexico with 56 hotspots and others planned, the company said.

Mexico will be Google Station’s third market following India and Indonesia, and the first in Latin America.

Mexico has made great strides in connectivity since a 2013-14 telecom reform intended to loosen the grip of billionaire Carlos Slim’s America Movil, which has long dominated the market.

From 2013 to 2016, the number of people accessing the Internet in Mexico rose by 20 million, according to a report last fall by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Still, the country lags behind other OECD nations in terms of internet access, the report said.

“We are finding that public Wi-Fi remains still a very important way to get online,” Anjali Joshi, a vice president for product management at Google, told reporters.

She added that Google saw Mexico as a good entrypoint for the product in Latin America. Mexico-based SitWifi provided equipment for the hotspots.

Google’s initial batch of Wi-Fi zones is scattered across the country, from the Ciudad Juarez airport at the U.S. border to posh shopping centers in Mexico City.

Google Station now counts roughly 8 million users a month in India, where the program began in 2016.



A New Method for Extracting CO2 from Seawater

Scientists are always on the lookout for affordable and efficient methods for capturing carbon dioxide, responsible for global warming and the rising acidity of seawater. A new procedure, developed at the University of York in Britain, promises to extract large amounts of CO2 from seawater and store it safely, and recycle millions of tons of aluminum waste at the same time. VOA’s George Putic has more.



UN Investigators Cite Facebook Role in Myanmar Crisis

U.N. human rights experts investigating a possible genocide in Myanmar said Monday that Facebook had played a role in spreading hate speech there.

Facebook had no immediate comment on the criticism Monday, although in the past the company has said that it was working to remove hate speech in Myanmar and kick off people who shared such content consistently.

More than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state into Bangladesh since insurgent attacks sparked a security crackdown last August. Many have provided harrowing testimonies of executions and rapes by Myanmar security forces.

The U.N. human rights chief said last week he strongly suspected acts of genocide had taken place. Myanmar’s national security adviser demanded “clear evidence.”

Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, told reporters that social media had played a “determining role” in Myanmar.

“It has … substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissention and conflict, if you will, within the public. Hate speech is certainly, of course, a part of that. As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media,” he said.

U.N. Myanmar investigator Yanghee Lee said Facebook was a huge part of public, civil and private life, and the government used it to disseminate information to the public.

“Everything is done through Facebook in Myanmar,” she told reporters, adding that Facebook had helped the impoverished country but had also been used to spread hate speech.

“It was used to convey public messages, but we know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own Facebooks and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities,” she said. “I’m afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended.”

The most prominent of Myanmar’s hardline nationalist monks, Wirathu, emerged from a one-year preaching ban Saturday and said his anti-Muslim rhetoric had nothing to do with violence in Rakhine state.

Facebook suspends and sometimes removes anyone that “consistently shares content promoting hate,” the company said last month in response to a question about Wirathu’s account.

“If a person consistently shares content promoting hate, we may take a range of actions such as temporarily suspending their ability to post and, ultimately, removal of their account.”



World Wide Web Inventor Says Big Tech Must Be Regulated

The inventor of the worldwide web, Tim Berners-Lee, called on Monday for powerful internet platforms and social media companies to be regulated to prevent the internet from being “weaponized at scale.”

The British computer scientist, in an open letter published on the 29th anniversary of the creation of the web, said a “new set of gatekeepers” was now dominant, controlling the spread of ideas and opinions.

“The fact that power is concentrated among so few companies has made it possible to weaponize the web at scale,” he wrote.

“In recent years, we’ve seen conspiracy theories trend on social media platforms, fake Twitter and Facebook accounts stoke social tensions, external actors interfere in elections and criminals steal troves of personal data.”

The intervention by the 62-year-old MIT professor comes as some European governments turn to legislation to curb “fake” news and hate speech that they fear is undermining the basis of their democracies.

In Germany, a law entered force on January 1 that foresees fines of up to 50 million euros ($62 million) on internet platforms that fail to remove hate speech — which is illegal — within 24 hours.

French President Emmanuel Macron meanwhile plans legislation that would empower judges to order the removal of fake news during election campaigns.

And in Brussels, the European Commission has served notice to internet platforms that they must find a way to remove extremist content within one hour of being notified, or face legislation compelling them to do so.

Berners-Lee, whose Web Foundation campaigns for a more open and inclusive internet, doubted that companies that have been built to maximize profits can adequately address the problem on a voluntary basis.

“A legal or regulatory framework that accounts for social objectives may help ease those problems,” he said.

Expressing concern over how big internet platforms handle users’ data in targeting advertising, Berners-Lee said a balance needed to be found between the interests of companies and online citizens.

“This means thinking about how we align the incentives of the tech sector with those of users and society at large, and consulting a diverse cross-section of society in the process.”