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At our just finished Brainstorm Tech conference last week, we spent more than a little time exploring the "techlash," as Adam summarized here a couple of times. He honed in on some of the main challenges–the big, existential questions, like should Facebook be broken up or should tech platforms be treated like media companies.
While we were talking, some of Google's lawyers were busy–very busy–settling a trio of lawsuits that in a way help shape some of those questions and lesser attended controversies over bias in hiring, exploting children for commercial gain, and the hoovering of personal data.
Lawsuit #1 was Heath v. Google Inc. Filed in 2015, the action joined by 227 jobseekers alleged that Google discriminated against applicants over the age of 40. Google settled the case for $11 million without admitting any wrongdoing (and saying it has strong policies in place to prevent such discrimination). But more important than the payout or the denials, Google also agreed to train managers about age discrimination and create a committee to promote age diversity in hiring. There have been age discrimination allegations across the tech industry, from Intel to IBM, and just throwing money at those who complain isn't the solution. Hopefully, the training and other measures make a difference.
The second lawsuit has been hanging around for twice as long. In Google Inc v. Joffe et al, also known as "Wi-Spy," a group of privacy advocacy groups will split a $13 million settlement resulting from the company's recording of information about home Wi-Fi networks at the same time it was photographing neighborhoods for its Street View service. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court–well, almost–as the high court was briefed but declined to hear Google's appeal based on the argument that tuning in on Wi-Fi was just like dialing in to an FM radio station.
In the third legal imbroglio, we have just a rumored settlement but it could be the most significant. The Federal Trade Commission has been investigating whether Google violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act by targeting YouTube video ads at kids age 13 and under. A "multimillion dollar" fine will put the matter to rest, The Washington Post reports. No doubt, the deal will also come with some behavioral safeguards to prevent an exact recurrence of the exploitative ad targeting.
And that's just one day's summary of one company's resolutions. Don't expect the tech industry's troubles to fade away anytime soon.
On Twitter: @ampressman
Little boxes on the hillside. Real estate-focused venture capital firm Fifth Wall closed what it’s calling the largest real estate venture fund ever, having secured $503 million in commitments to invest in real estate technology, or “proptech,” companies. The new fund is more than double the size of the three-year-old venture capital firm’s $212 million first fund, raised in 2017.
The mind wanders. Robot software developer CloudMinds filed last week to go public and raise $500 million. The company’s apps run robots via the cloud, reducing the amount of processing power needed in each machine.
Green cheese schmear. India launched its Chandrayaan-2 mission to the moon on Monday after postponing the initial launch by about a week due to technical difficulties. The craft’s lander and rover are now slated to reach the moon’s south pole in early September.
Laying down the gauntlet. Dating app Tinder is testing its own payments system in its Android software that avoids the Google Play store–and paying Google a cut of every charge. But unlike popular game Fortnite, Tinder isn’t pulling out of listing in the Google Play store, too. Now it’s up to Google to either enforce its mandatory payments rules or, perhaps, see a flood of Tinder followers.
Happy endings. The theft of personal tax data of 5 million Bulgarians has a different ending than most big hacks. Police arrested a 20-year-old man who will be charged with the crime.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The “gig economy” has many shades of meaning. To some, it’s the ability for high-paid knowledge workers to go mobile and work remotely. But to others, it’s a portion of the low-paid service economy cracking off from traditional employment into contractor status. New York Times reporter Andy Newman recently spent a few days in the less lucrative gig economy in the role of a bicycle food delivery man. It was not exactly a low stress gig:
I was sent to a service entrance where a fellow deliveryman led me down a Dumpster-lined corridor to a crammed holding pen where couriers huddled in near-silence, food packs on their backs.
I had stumbled through a dystopian portal. I thought of what a colleague had said the day before: “You’re one step above an Amazon drone.” I thought of something Professor van Doorn had said, that the couriers’ real value to the app companies is in the data harvested like pollen as we make our rounds, data that will allow them to eventually replace us with machines. One by one, office workers approached a window in the wall to claim their lunches. I handed my customer a spicy salami, sun-dried tomato and Brie sandwich from a restaurant a mile’s ride away. “Thank you,” she said brightly. “Have a nice day!” She did not tip.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Apple Card: Are the Limited Rewards Worth It for the Privacy? By Xavier Harding
China’s Biggest Private Sector Company Is Betting Its Future on Data By Clay Chandler
eBay CEO: Why We Should Teach All Students to Code By Devin Wenig
How Facebook’s $5 Billion Fine Should Be Spent By Jeff John Roberts
Your Smart TV Is Getting Too Smart for Your Own Good By Ashwin Rodrigues
BEFORE YOU GO
The annual San Diego Comic Con fest ran over the weekend and did not disappoint. I was most intrigued by the trailer (and other bits of info) for the new Star Trek series bringing back Patrick Stewart as an older, wiser Captain Jean-Luc Picard, last seen on screen in the 2002 movie Star Trek: Nemesis. But there were lots of other fascinating reveals, including the trailer for the third season of HBO’s WestWorld and the announcement that Natalie Portman will play a female version of Thor in an upcoming movie. If you want to dig in even more, The Verge has a summary of all the news from Comic Con. It’s quite a listing.