Over the past year and then some, one of the unorthodox ways to gauge the severity of the pandemic has been to look at one tech giant: Apple. That might be changing, though. A recent report states that Apple will maintain a mask mandate in its U.S. Apple Stores despite the new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which in the past few days has given vaccinated people the green light to take off their masks in most settings.
Bloomberg reported this week that Apple had informed its U.S. stores that their mask mandate and covid-19-related procedures would remain in place for now. Apple’s purported instructions to its stores came shortly after the CDC relaxed its recommendations for vaccinated individuals on Thursday. Nonetheless, Bloomberg stated that Apple is continuing to evaluate health and safety measures. At least for now, it’ll still require everyone in its stores to mask up.
Apple told the outlet that its first priority was employee and consumer safety. The company was one of the first major retailers to close its stores in response to the pandemic and has been routinely opening them and closingthem when cases go up. It has required all to wear masks in its stores throughout the pandemic.
Gizmodo reached out to Apple to confirm Bloomberg’s report on Sunday but did not receive a response by the time of publication. We’ll make sure to update this blog if we do hear back.
Apple’s reported move stood out when compared to other retail giants such as Walmart, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Publix, and Starbucks, which have all recently announced that they are ending mask requirements except where required to do so by state or local guidelines. Apple wasn’t alone in its caution, however. USA Today reported that Target, Walgreens, and Kroger also kept their mask mandates in place, although some of them stated they would be reviewing the CDC’s guidance.
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Considering Apple’s cautious response to the pandemic, its decision to purportedly maintain the mask mandate in its stores isn’t entirely a surprise. Some experts were taken aback by the speed of the CDC’s decision, while others still worry that anti-vaxxers will lie about their vaccination status and put others, such as frontline workers and people unable to get vaccinated, at risk.
At the end of the day, Apple is a private business and can enforce mask mandates on its property if it chooses to do so. While its actions may not necessarily reflect the reality of the pandemic anymore, we’ve got othersources for that.
Despite creating security headaches for IT departments around the world as the password manager of choice for boomers, the Post-it Note is one of the most clever and ubiquitous office accessories ever created, and this past weekend the world, unfortunately, said goodbye—to their creator, Spencer Silver, who passed away at 80 years old.
Most don’t give a second thought to the tiny sheets of yellow paper as they struggle to squeeze another important thing to remember onto their crowded computer screens, but like many world-changing technologies, the Post-it Note was a product born from failure that went on to become more successful than what its creator was originally trying to perfect.
Born in 1941 in San Antonio, Texas, Spencer Ferguson Silver III first earned a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from Arizona State University in 1962, followed in 1966 by a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Colorado at Boulder. After graduating he was hired by 3M’s central research laboratory as a senior chemist and started his career working on the development of pressure-sensitive adhesives—the glue that most tapes rely on.
In 1969, Silver began work on developing a strong adhesive that could be used in the aircraft industry for building planes, a breakthrough that could potentially reduce weight, reduce costs, and reduce stress points, making aircraft safer in the process. That never panned out, but in the process of testing various new formulations, Silver discovered that one, in particular, demonstrated low-tack properties and could be easily removed from surfaces it had adhered to, including paper, without any tearing.
On the microscopic level, the adhesive was made of tiny acrylic spheres that would retain their stickiness even after being repeatedly applied to and removed from a surface. Officially called acrylate copolymer microspheres, they were patented by 3M in 1972 but at first, it was a product that solved a problem that no one actually had, so the company didn’t immediately commercialize it. Not even Silver was sure of what the new adhesive could be used for, so he promoted it and its unique properties at internal 3M seminars for years, until one day a fellow engineer named Art Fry sat in on one of Silver’s presentations.
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Fry had a problem of his own, but it wasn’t related to work. Every Wednesday night he would attend practices with his church’s choir and despite his best attempts to mark hymn books with paper scrap bookmarks so he knew which songs would be sung during a Sunday service, they would inevitably all fall out.
During Silver’s presentation, Fry had a eureka moment, and together the two created sticky bookmarks that wouldn’t damage the pages of a hymnal when removed. But it was when they started to use the sticky sheets for sharing notes and messages, the pair realized the potential of their creation
Originally sold as a product called Post ‘n Peel when introduced in four US cities in 1977, the nationwide rollout came on April 6, 1980, along with a new name: Post-it Notes. As for the iconic choice of Canary Yellow for the product which makes the notes very visible? It seems like it was the product of feedback from intense focus groups, but in reality, the color was simply chosen because of an excess of scrap yellow paper in another one of 3M’s adhesive labs. In 1993, Fry would eventually officially patent the product as a “repositionable pressure-sensitive adhesive sheet material” which just doesn’t have the same ring.
Silver went on to work for 3M for 28 years, and when he retired in 1996 his name was on over 22 US patents and he received several awards, including the American Chemical Society Award for Creative Invention in 1998. In 2011, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. On May 8, 2021, Silver died of ventricular tachycardia at his home in St. Paul, Minnesota. The product he helped create may not have directly put rovers on Mars or smartphones in people’s hands, but somewhere in the world, there’s an office or lab with at least a couple of tiny yellow squares holding the secrets to the next big innovation.
Yes, the budget for Amazon’sLord of the Rings series is almost half a billion dollars, but the woman behind it is happy to explain. In a new interview, head of Amazon Studios Jennifer Salke doesn’t deny last month’s reports that the show cost the studio about $465 million; she also blames both the market for original content between streamers and a bit of misunderstanding of the process for why the number is so big.
“The market is crazy, as you saw with the [almost $500 million] Knives Out deal,” Salke told the Hollywood Reporter in a roundtable that included Netflix’s Bela Bajaria, Disney’s Dana Walden and creatives Shonda Rhimes and Ava DuVernay.
“This is a full season of a huge world-building show. The number is a sexy headline or a crazy headline that’s fun to click on, but that is really building the infrastructure of what will sustain the whole series,” she continued. “But it is a crazy world and various people on this Zoom, mostly Bela and me, have been in bidding situations where it starts to go incredibly high. There’s a lot of wooing and we have to make decisions on where we want to stretch and where we want to draw the line. As for how many people need to watch Lord of the Rings? A lot. [Laughs.] A giant, global audience needs to show up to it as appointment television, and we are pretty confident that that will happen.”
Oh, and of note, that $465 million reportedly doesn’t include the $250 million Amazon spent to get the rights to the franchise. (For what it’s worth, $465 million is also less than the cost of Jeff Bezos’ recently acquired “superyacht.”) So, indeed, a lot people are going to have to watch. Basically, all the people.
What Salke says makes sense, of course. Streamers are spending big money to bring in audiences to help sustain those investments. Plus, that $465 million will include lots of sets, props, costumes, and basic needs that won’t have to be paid for in full again. So maybe next season is closer to $200 million or something like that.
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Either way, it’s a big bet on a franchise that obviously has lots of name recognition, but almost seems like it’s being slightly overvalued here. We’ll watch the show. You’ll watch the show. But will your parents, grandparents, kids, etc? Only the elves in Rivendell know for sure.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.
Elon Musk may have sent Dogecoin’s stock plummeting after he bombed on Saturday Night Live on May 8, but that doesn’t mean the Tesla and SpaceX CEO isn’t doing his part to boost the volatile cryptocurrency.
On Monday, CNN reported that SpaceX had committed to accepting a payment solely comprised of Dogecoin from the Canada-based Geometric Energy Corporation in order to confirm that company’s spot for an 88-pound satellite aboard an upcoming space mission.
“This is not a joke,” Geometric Energy Corporation CEO Samuel Reid told CNN of the planned payment, without getting into specifics about how or why the deal had come to pass.
The mission in question — fittingly called Doge-1 — is scheduled to take off in early 2022. According to Geometric Energy Corporation’s vice president of commercial sales, Tom Ochinero, the transaction is intended to “demonstrate the application of cryptocurrency beyond Earth’s orbit and set the foundation for interplanetary commerce.”
“Indeed, through this very transaction, DOGE has proven to be a fast, reliable, and cryptographically secure digital currency that operates when traditional banks cannot and is sophisticated enough to finance a commercial Moon mission in full,” Ochinero said in a statement. “It has been chosen as the unit of account for all lunar business between SpaceX and Geometric Energy Corporation and sets precedent for future missions to the Moon and Mars.”
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The announcement comes on the heels of a mass sell-off of the cryptocurrency that saw shares of the coin drop by more than 40% after Musk referred to it as “a hustle” during his dismal Saturday Night Live performance. But rather than reflecting a genuine anxiety among investors, the sudden dip in share prices was more likely triggered by trigger-fingered investors hoping to use Musk’s much-hyped SNL appearance to make a quick buck off of what is already known to be an extremely mercurial crypto.
In the days leading up to Musk’s hosting duties, shares of Dogecoin had traded so furiously on the popular brokerage app Robinhood that the company issued a statement on Sunday morning to say that it was working to resolve processing issues of the cryptocurrency.
Americans had prepared today (and also last week) for MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell to unleash his nebulous avant-garde invention, Frank: a social media platform billed as a cross between YouTube and Twitter with elements of newspapers and television, except with free speech. We’ll have to wait a little longer to see the nexus realized.
Frank is currently down for an indeterminate length of time, but Lindell is offering an alternative spectacle. The homepage of FrankSpeech.com currently hosts the “Frankathon,” a 48-hour Lindell-hosted livestream broadcast set in a sort of news studio. He has a mug. The event opened today in full meltdown conspiracy mode.
“It was the biggest attack on a website, probably in history,” Lindell said of the failed launch. While Lindell has not yet specified exactly who attacked his website and how, the theory seems to be evolving live, with increasing certainty that this was the biggest cyberattack of all time. (A bucket of clues include attackers from “all over the world,” “Zuckabuck from Facebook,” and the inability to talk about “vaccines and machines.”) At this writing, Lindell says that 15 million viewers have tuned in.
We’ve reached out to My Pillow for comment and will update when we hear back.
Lindell’s headline news, though, is the announcement that My Pillow is counter-suing Dominion Voting Systems for $1.6 billion for defamation, which he has framed as a defense of free speech. Court records show the lawsuit, which claims violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, was filed on Monday in the U.S. District Court in Minnesota.
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The sum is slightly higher than the $1.3 billion in damages Dominion is currently seeking from Lindell in its own defamation suit, targeting Lindell’s wild fabrications that the company conspired with Democrats to steal the election from Donald Trump. (The site showed a looping video of Lindell’s claims, which I won’t repeat here. Dominion has also sued Fox News for allowing Lindell to make such claims without challenging their veracity.) Lindell has enlisted a legal A-team including prominent First Amendment attorney Nathan Lewin and Alan Derschowitz, primarily known for advising on the O.J. Simpson trial and defending Harvey Weinstein. (Both, the Daily Beast has noted, are longtime registered Democrats.) In a motion to dismiss, My Pillow’s attorneys argue that Dominion has engaged in “lawfare,” using the suits to “restrict the marketplace of ideas to one viewpoint.”
Dominion has argued that Lindell’s “viewpoint” (read: hysterical accusations) has caused them irreparable harm and led to an onslaught of violent threats against employees.
Dershowitz, appearing on the Frankathon this morning via video, made a crystal clear point to distance himself from certain harmful misinformation that would likely be welcome on Lindell’s platform. Unprompted, he said, of free speech:
I defend the right of bigots and ignoramuses to say the Holocaust didn’t occur. It’s wrong, it’s foolish, it’s bigoted, it’s insulting. It affects my family. But I think they’re right to say it. If you want to say the Earth is flat, say the Earth is flat. The geologists will come and prove you wrong, historians will be wrong about the Holocaust.
Lindell also said:
“…It would be like if My Pillow was out there, and all these people were saying there’s rocks and knives in my pillows. And I would just say what I would do as the owner. I would say, ‘hey, everybody, look… there’s no rocks or knives.’”
Dershowitz does plan to uncover the truth behind Dominion’s election conduct in discovery, in which he’ll demand access to Dominion’s machines and source code, in case completely unsubstantiated social media-sourced conspiracy theories prove to be true.
You can watch unfolding events here. Steve Bannon and Diamond and Silk are on the docket. And you can view the lawsuit below.
FedEx is facing pressure to reconsider its policy of forcing employees to lock up their phones during work, following Thursday night’s deadly shooting at a ground facility in Indianapolis.CNN reported that, around 11 p.m. ET, a man opened fire in the parking lot at the facility, killing eight and injuring several others before dying of suicide.
The no-phone policy would have necessarily prevented workers from dialing 911 and, horrifically, left victims unable to reach loved ones as they were dying. A state police sergeant tweeted a few hours after the shooting that they’d set up a family reunification center at a nearby Holiday Inn for family members “attempting to come to the scene.” The New York Times reported that families gathered at the hotel were still waiting for information on Friday morning.
A partner of a FedEx employee who has been confirmed safe also said this morning that friends and family were still fearfully awaiting news. A WRTV reporter tweeted video, in which Vanessa Waters told an assembled crowd: “Because they cannot take their phones in, a lot of these people are upset, they don’t know if their loved ones are alive or hurt. … I think [the no-phone] rule should change.”
FedEx confirmed to Business Insider that the company is considering a change to its no-phone policy, though when asked by Gizmodo, a FedEx spokesperson troublingly side-stepped the topic. They only explained that the phone policy is in place to “minimize potential distraction around package sortation equipment and dock operations.”
“Our immediate priorities are the safety and well-being of our team members and cooperation with law enforcement at this time,” they added.
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Others, who identified themselves as parents and friends of FedEx employees, have tweeted pleas to the police for information and blamed FedEx for preventing victims from calling for help. Out of respect for potential mourners, Gizmodo has chosen not to reach out.
In 2014, a 19-year-old shot and wounded six people at a FedEx facility. The Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as any incident in which four or more people are injured or killed by gun violence, lists a total of 148 mass shootings this year.
If you or someone you know is having a crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.
Amazon has won the first round in its fight to squash a union in its Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse. Hundreds of contested ballots remain, but Amazon has reached the minimum threshold of 1,608 “no” votes needed to prevent workers from joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The public count of uncontested ballots has concluded at 1,798 no votes to 738 votes in favor.
The good news is that a roughly 30% portion of “yes” votes signals a minor victory, in the opinion of some labor experts. The union will keep fighting, and workers have made headway.
Today, the union announced that it plans to ask the NLRB to overturn the results of the election, alleging that Amazon illegally “created an atmosphere of confusion, coercion and/or fear of reprisals and thus interfered with the employees’ freedom of choice.” In a statement shared with Gizmodo, RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum cited Amazon’s mandatory lectures “filled with mistruths and lies”; anti-union ads that “flooded the internet”; and “lying” about union dues. (Amazon has misleadingly suggested throughout the election that voting in favor of a union would force workers to join and pay dues.)
Appelbaum also pointed to the mailbox which the USPS installed on the warehouse premises at Amazon’s behest.
On Thursday, More Perfect Union published heavily redacted emails, obtained by the RWDSU, showing that the USPS specifically altered and installed the mailbox for Amazon. The box materialized around the same time that Amazon reportedly mailed employees instructions on how to “VOTE NO.”
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“Amazon is reaching out to me today about the status as they wanted to move quickly on this,” a USPS strategic account manager wrote to local USPS employees.
While they confirmed that the box must be “USPS-approved,” one sent photos of the box with custom alterations “to make room for more letters.”
This arguably defies an NLRB order specifically stating that Amazon can’t install its own ballot dropbox.
“The use of equipment clearly belonging to the Employer, such as pass-through boxes or vending machines, likewise implies a problematic amount of Employer involvement in election proceedings,” the NLRB had told Amazon, per its request to install a private ballot box outside the warehouse.
“While the Employer’s creativity in seeking new ways to protect the health of election participants is laudable,” NLRB Regional Director Lisa Henderson wrote, “I agree that, in practice, utilization of the Employer’s extensive resources would tend to give the appearance to voters that the Region is accepting benefits from the Employer and is no longer a neutral party.”
RWDSU echoed these complaints against the allegedly unauthorized mailbox, arguing in an email to media that it was effectively a way for Amazon to flex its power and, in turn, intimidate workers into voting the way the company wanted.
“Even though the NLRB definitively denied Amazon’s request for a drop box on the warehouse property, Amazon felt it was above the law and worked with the postal service anyway to install one,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU, said in a statement. “They did this because it provided a clear ability to intimidate workers. We demand an investigation over Amazon’s behavior in corrupting the election.”
In an email to Gizmodo, Amazon reiterated its previous claims that the box was installed to expand voting access and that only the USPS could access it. “We said from the beginning that we wanted all employees to vote and proposed many different options to try and make it easy,” the company said. “The RWDSU fought those at every turn and pushed for a mail-only election, which the NLRB’s own data showed would reduce turnout. This mailbox—which only the USPS had access to—was a simple, secure, and completely optional way to make it easy for employees to vote, no more and no less.”
A USPS spokesperson didn’t deny that the box was selected for Amazon’s needs. “The box that was installed – a Centralized Box Unit (CBU) with a collection compartment – was suggested by the Postal Service as a solution to provide an efficient and secure delivery and collection point.”
You may still be wondering how Amazon possibly won so many votes to begin with—didn’t the RWDSU claim that, 3,000 workers out of 5,800 signed cards expressing interest in the election? Actually, three labor experts who’d spoken in conversations leading up to the count told Gizmodo that a loss wouldn’t surprise them.
First, many of the employees who signed the cards may have left the company. Amazon’s warehouses run on a breakneck turnover rate; the Seattle Times has found that turnover was 100% for Amazon’s frontline workers during the pandemic, and workers constantly report that they feel that management is constantly out to fire them.
More importantly: outsiders’ social media feeds look entirely different from the information bubble Amazon workers are living in.
As has been widely reported, Amazon workers have been confined for several hours a day with a team of higher-ups hell-bent on coercing them not to unionize. The company festooned the toilet stalls with propaganda; sent incessant text messages to workers; employed experienced union-busting consultants; reportedly photographed workers’ badges if they countered Amazon’s claims; disingenuously presented unionization as a sure path to lower-income; and held captive audience meetings subjecting workers to videos and presentations. And this is just what slipped past the non-disclosure agreements. In a press call this afternoon, RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum confirmed that Amazon “was telling people the facility might close if the union won the election.” (Though its legal case for shuttering a single warehouse is likely wobbly.) We’ve reached out to Amazon to address to this claim.
They were under tremendous pressure.
“It seems to me that there’s always this disconnect,” prominent labor author Nelson Lichtenstein told Gizmodo over the phone, before the results of the vote. He was referring to the public’s impression that media attention equates to successful union organizing—something he observed of organizing attempts at Walmart in the mid-2000s.
“There’s a large, liberal pro-union sort of public. And then inside the store or distribution center or the factory—it’s a different world because there’s a monopoly of information by the management. And people who aren’t denizens of the web, that’s what they know. That’s always been part of the problem.”
Prior to the outcome, Harvard labor researcher Benjamin Sachs told Gizmodo that even securing a third of the vote should be considered a win. “Given how voraciously Amazon has fought this campaign, to get 30 or 40% of the vote would be a sign that organizing Amazon really may be possible,” Sachs said. He added that a defeat “should serve as a wake-up call to all of us—including Democrats now in power in Washington—that we need a new labor law, one that actually protects workers’ rights to form a union.”
Workers in Bessemer energized that push at a critical moment. Current legislation, the PRO Act, could specifically make it far easier for workers at other warehouses to unionize. (It passed the House last month; see more details on the PRO Act’s union-related provisions here.) The Bessemer union drive is the perfect hook for Democrats to hang their hat on; it’ll be a lot harder for anti-Big Tech Republican senators, like squirrelishly not-not pro-Amazon union Marco Rubio, to defend “no” votes.
At the moment, the loss is disheartening for Bessemer employees, who’ve likened the warehouse to a sweatshop whose management allegedly works them “to death” and blows through laborers like they’re disposable.
Like countless entry-level Amazon employees, workers in Bessemer have repeatedly described being treated like machinery. When Sen. Bernie Sanders visited the warehouse last month, one person said that a woman collapsed with a heart attack in the extreme heat, despite employees’ pleas for air conditioning. Others said that they lose an hour of pay if they’re one minute late. They said they’ve been told that wage raises permanently “tap out” at less than $17 per hour. Echoing years of the same claims, they say they lose large chunks of their break time walking across the vast warehouse to a break station or bathroom. And then there’s the surveillance system which tracks them down to the second, fomenting constant fear of retribution.
America just spent a year watching struggling workers put their lives on the line to fulfill Amazon orders, for $15 an hour, throughout the pandemic. During the same time, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, has been picking up a billion here and a billion there like sidewalk change; $13 billion in a single day, more than the GDP of a small country. Overall, he accumulated approximately $74 billion in additional net worth since March 2020. The Institute for Policy Studies found that Bezos could have paid every one of his 876,000 workers a $105,000 bonus, just with the extra profits he made during the pandemic.
To put it another way, that’s roughly enough dollar bills stacked on top of each other to reach the moon and back. You’ve probably heard these sorts of comparisons on TikTok, but it is an amount of money that is offensive to think about. He’ll be blasting some of that money into space, it seems.
Amazon has lost something—if a decent reputation counts as a valuable asset. The company passed up the pandemic opportunity to scrub its image as a psychotic mercenary willing to break its workers’ bodies for its bottom line. Instead, Amazon blew it spectacularly, and Bezos reportedly directed his underlings to go ballistic on Twitter.
If you are one of the thousand Amazon workers who’ve contacted the RWDSU about a unionization effort: do not stop. Persistence wins. And if you ultimately succeed, you could help recalibrate wealth inequality, which has risen in almost precise inverse proportion to union membership. You could help stop the churn of entry-level workers throughout the country that keeps wages low. (As of November, Amazon employed around 810,000 people in the United States, though due to its rabid turnover rate, the number of people who have been employees is likely astronomically higher.) You could even help wrestpower to decide our planet’s fate.
Update 4/9/2021 11:08 a.m.: This post has been updated to include the RWDSU’s announcement that it plans to file objections to the election.
Update 4/9/2021 11:30 a.m.: This post has been updated to reflect the final tally of uncontested ballots.
Update 4/9/2021 1:22 p.m.: We’ve amended the post with RWSDU president Stuart Applebaum’s claim that Amazon threatened to shutter the warehouse. A previous version of this post suggested the possibility that the company might threaten to shut down facilities, as it has in France.
You might not think of Pinterest as being as creator-driven as some of its contemporaries, but that’s an image the company clearly wants to change. This week, the company rolled out a buffet of new creator-focused features in the moderation space, with a focus on playing nice.
The big-ticket item is a new set of policies catered towards creators that the company fittingly dubs its “Creator Code.” These guidelines, per the company, are meant to promote content that’s “inclusive and compassionate,” while keeping out content that doesn’t vibe with the overall Pinterest ethos. Believe it or not, Pinterest has historically had a bit of an issue with accidentally harboring hateful content—from anti-vax memes to photos of child abuse.
“We’ve been building Pinterest for 11 years, and ever since our users routinely tell us that Pinterest is the ‘last positive corner of the internet’,” Pinterest Co-founder Evan Sharpe said in a statement. “In that time, we’ve also learned that you need to design positivity into online platforms as deliberately as much as you design negativity out.”
For now, the only creators that are being asked to oblige by the new Creator Code are those with access to Story Pins—an feature that allows creators to assemble pictures, pages, and videos on their Pinterest page in a unique, scrapbook-esque way. Right now, there’s a limit on the number of pages with access to these Pins, and the names getting that access is largely limited to major creators on the platform.
As for what the Code actually entails, it’s pretty simple: be kind, be factual, and “do no harm.”
On top of this, the company’s offering new tools to keep the comments section under their content as friendly as possible. Creators can now remove content, or feature particularly “positive” contributions, for example. There are also going to be “Positivity Reminders”—similar to what YouTube rolled out a few months back—reminding commenters to “reconsider potentially offensive comments” before they post.
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Pinterest is also offering a pretty big incentive to play nice on their platform: a Creator Fund that, per TechCrunch, is doling out $500,000 to elevate creators throughout the U.S.—particularly those from “underrepresented communities.” Per the company, those funds don’t only go toward creating their content, but also let them run ads on the platform and get “creative strategy consulting” from the pros at Pinterest itself.
Boston Robotic’s Spot quadruped robot seems to be hitting the battlefield with a group of French Army trainees in a series of drills and simulations that explore how these currently unarmed robots could work side-by-side with humans.
The soldiers-in-training used Spot for various reconnaissance tasks during a two-day trial of the technology.
As reported by news outlet Ouest-France, Spot and some robot friends are supplying intelligence and support for ground troops. The other robots included the French-made pack robot called the Nexter ULTRO and Shark Robotics Barakuda, a wheeled drone that carries a heavy blast shield to protect the students.
The tests, which took place in late March, were part of a project by the École Militaire Interarmes school at a French army camp Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan.
“Four students carried this applied research exercise project to three scenarios: an offensive action with the capture of a crossroads, a defensive action by day and then at night, and urban combat,” said Coëtquidan engineer Gérard du Boisboissel. Spot apparently ran out of battery during one of the exercises and had to be carried home.
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This is neither the first nor likely the last time soldiers use robots in battlefield training. Google acquired Boston Dynamics in 2013 and although there hasn’t been much information on the robots’ military usage, the company allegedly took military funding over the years. Further, robotic quadrupeds from China-based Unitree Robotics appear to be readying for battle, according to a recent report. The test in France, however, seems to be the first time Spot has been seen in a true military setting. Luckily, the French haven’t armed this little fellow yet although it’s not like people haven’t tried.
After lying about the fact that some of its workers are under so much pressure that they are forced to relieve themselves in bottles in order to meet their quotas, Amazon has quietly said it’s sorry in its own very weird way and acknowledged that drivers do in fact do this. It then promptly pointed the finger at other companies like UPS and Uber and said drivers at those companies do it, too.
In a news article posted late on the Friday before Easter, Amazon apologized to Democratic Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, who it fought with in a bonkers Twitter blowup last week over the peeing in bottles issue. Pocan was commenting on another random, aggressive response from Amazon retail chief Dave Clark, who was fighting with Sen. Bernie Sanders for not being progressive enough.
“Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a ‘progressive workplace’ when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles,” Pocan tweeted at the time.
And then, despite the fact that there is ample evidence that the company’s workers are unfortunately placed in situations that make them pee in bottles, Amazon exploded and decided to lie. (In case you were wondering, a Recode report states that the company’s aggressive communications moves came after CEO Jeff Bezos expressed his dissatisfaction that Amazon officials weren’t pushing back hard enough against “inaccurate” or “misleading” criticisms).
“You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us. The truth is that we have over a million incredible employees around the world who are proud of what they do, and have great wages and health care from day one,” the Amazon News account tweeted back at Pocan. “We hope you can enact policies that get other employers to offer what we already do.”
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The e-commerce giant’s response baffled the internet and didn’t earn it a lot of fans. After sitting on that for a few days, Amazon apparently determined that it wasn’t the company’s finest moment.
In the news article, Amazon said that its tweet in response to Pocan had been “incorrect” and did not contemplate its large driver population, instead focusing only on employees at its fulfillment centers. The company also added that the tweet did not receive “proper scrutiny,” and didn’t hold up to its accuracy standards.
Both points are debatable. It should be said that employees at fulfillment centers don’t exactly have it easy to go to the bathroom, either. Employees at fulfillment centers have reported frequently holding their pee to avoid spending “time off task,” which some workers say can lead to disciplinary action and even termination, per Motherboard.
Amazon denies this, though, saying that in its fulfillment centers employees can go to the bathroom at any time. Considering that some employees claim they don’t even get meal or rest breaks because of the amount of work the company piles on them, that claim is a bit hard to believe.
Now, here’s where Amazon acknowledged the problem facing its drivers on the road that forces them to pee in bottles, but doesn’t recognize its role in this at all, instead choosing to attribute this to traffic, rural routes, and the pandemic. Yet, there was nothing in the company’s statement about the workload it puts on its drivers—Motherboard states drivers often deliver 300 packages a day on a 10-hour shift—and the consequences they face, including disciplinary action and termination, if they don’t meet their productivity quotas.
“[W]e know that drivers can and do have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic or sometimes rural routes, and this has been especially the case during Covid when many public restrooms have been closed,” Amazon wrote. “This is a long-standing, industry-wide issue and is not specific to Amazon.”
The company added that although this was an industry-wide problem, it wanted to solve it, but didn’t know how to yet.
As if denying any responsibility wasn’t enough, Amazon then goes on to point the finger at other companies, such as Uber and UPS, whose drivers have also apparently had relievethemselves in bottles or other containers. It includes links to nine links to stories from other news outlets, and even the Pew Charitable Trust, about Uber, UPS, and other companies and embeds a handful of tweets from people sympathetic to its plight.
Honestly, it’s just not a classy move from Amazon here. These companies are under the spotlight right now because of a tweet war they started (yet, who knows what the future holds). And if this is supposed to be an apology, it doesn’t exactly make sense to start saying, “Well other companies do it, too,” instead of owning up to your mistakes. This is not to say that these companies don’t deserve scrutiny, however.
But the biggest fail of Amazon’s weird apology was probably the people that it didn’t apologize to: its workers that are forced to relieve themselves in bottles, and frankly any other thing that isn’t a proper restroom. These are the people who deprive themselves of food and water while driving for Amazon to avoid going to the bathroom, these are the people who are forced to pee and poop in extreme conditions, these are people who accept being treated with less dignity because of fear of losing their jobs. It’s a fear Amazon has created.
These are the people who deserved an apology. Pocan, the person who actually received it, issued the same call in a Twitter post on Saturday.
“Sigh. This is not about me, this is about your workers—who you don’t treat with enough respect or dignity,” he wrote. “Start by acknowledging the inadequate working conditions you’ve created for ALL your workers, then fix that for everyone & finally, let them unionize without interference.”