As the Trump administration seems inclined to gut the H-1B visa program, the Washington Post reports: The H-1B program provides American companies with cheap, temporary contractors who often work longer hours than Americans and take on the monotonous programming jobs Americans scorn. Proponents of the program argue that foreign workers increase innovation at American companies as well as contribute to local economies. A few Indians who came on work visas have even gone on to become heads of important American companies.
Meanwhile, India’s growth as a global tech hub has been hampered as tens of thousands of workers have left.
Over the past decade, though, cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore have slowly but surely gained prominence. At first, Hyderabad was mostly a base for outsourcing companies servicing American clients, but now it is home to the biggest offices of Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook outside the United States. Amazon, Dell, Uber and others have major operations there. All have huge campuses in a part of the city officially known as Cyberabad.
Cyberabad’s existence is the result of investments in education and infrastructure made by N. Chandrababu Naidu, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, where Hyderabad was located until the state was bifurcated in 2014. A network of dozens of information-technology institutes trained a generation of engineers and software developers to work back-end jobs for American companies.
For that generation, getting an H-1B was the holy grail. Even though the work in America could be dull, being there provided a chance to engage with an invigorating culture of innovation that just wasn’t present in India yet. And of course, working abroad meant a huge increase in income and prestige.
But the H-1B cap meant that the bulk of Indian tech workers stayed back. The current cap — not just from India — is 65,000, plus another 20,000 who have graduated from American universities with advanced degrees, down from almost double that at the beginning of the 2000s.
Among those who do get the visas, most ultimately return to settle and work in India. In Hyderabad, many of those returnees are confident that their city can compete with Silicon Valley for India’s brightest young minds.
K.T. Rama Rao, the son of the current chief minister, was one of them. Now he’s the minister for information technology in his father’s government. He pointed to Apple as an example of how Hyderabad could absorb the thousands of workers in a potential future with far fewer H-1Bs — or without them altogether.
“Apple is already moving their maps division here, and they’re doing that because we’re producing more G.I.S. talent than anyone else in the world,” he claimed in an interview, referring to geographic information systems. “Ideally, a president of the United States would have a balanced perspective on business, but if he wants tech firms to stay, he should create better job readiness in the U.S.”
Rao said that legislation targeting big Indian outsourcing companies would wean them away from their dependency on servicing American companies. Without the visa program, they would have to engage in new lines of work that created value in Hyderabad and not abroad, he said. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter.
The company complied with a classified U.S. government demand, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said three former employees and a fourth person apprised of the events.
Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to an intelligence agency’s request by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time.
It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters. That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources, who did not want to be identified.
Reuters was unable to determine what data Yahoo may have handed over, if any, and if intelligence officials had approached other email providers besides Yahoo with this kind of request.
According to two of the former employees, Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer’s decision to obey the directive roiled some senior executives and led to the June 2015 departure of Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos, who now holds the top security job at Facebook Inc. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Big technology companies, including Google, Microsoft Corp., Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. denied scanning incoming user emails on behalf of the U.S. government, following a report that Yahoo Inc. had built such a system. [Continue reading…]
Does Netflix want Donald Trump to become the next president? Is Google trying to tip the balance in Hillary Clinton’s favor?
The key to understanding the relationships between powerful corporations and governments is to remember that corporations hope to wield influence in their own favor whoever controls Washington.
As institutional entities, corporate boards and their executives commonly hold power for much longer than U.S. presidents. Indeed, still in power after 18 years, individuals such as Larry Page and Sergey Brin have more secure positions than most dictators.
* * *
In 2012, when Robert Epstein discovered that Google was displaying a security warning blocking access to his website, instead of coming to the most obvious conclusion — that, as the warning indicated, his site was infected with malware — Epstein became convinced that he was a target of corporate malfeasance. The technology giant was supposedly out to crush the little guy. Why exactly Google would harbor “malice” against Epstein was unclear.
Maybe Epstein should have discussed the matter with a therapist to explore his paranoia. Just as importantly, he should have hired a security expert to fix his site. Instead, as a psychologist sadly lacking in self-awareness, Epstein embarked on a quixotic crusade against Google — he’s still fighting. His most recent ally in that fight is Donald Trump.
Were it not for the fact that Epstein has some credentials that sound more impressive than they really are — such as a PhD from Harvard and former editor in chief of Psychology Today — he could more easily be dismissed as just another conspiracy theorist. But when a “distinguished research psychologist” can point to his “peer-reviewed” “research study” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, he surely carries behind him the full weight of scientific authority, right? Not really.
Making a claim reminiscent of the plot in the Netflix version of House of Cards, Epstein says that Google is trying to rig the election to help Hillary Clinton win.
That’s a claim that dovetails perfectly into Russia’s disinformation campaign designed to undermine the credibility of democracy in America. It should thus come as no surprise that state-sponsored RT would gladly help promote Epstein’s claims and now Kremlin-backed Sputnik joins the effort.
Likewise, as a candidate blind to his own shortcomings, Donald Trump has happily jumped on the Epstein bandwagon.
As for the scientific basis of Epstein’s research findings, all one needs to understand is the data provides to his research subjects. When provided with search results that had been skewed in favor of one candidate over another, the subjects views shift in the same direction. But here’s the thing: Epstein hasn’t unearthed a secret Google bias algorithm. He simply constructs the skewed data himself by manually rearranging search results.
Then, having observed the effects of such manipulation, he concludes that if Google was to engineer similar manipulation, it could affect an election outcome. That’s probably true. But it’s one thing to describe what’s possible and quite another to analyze what’s actually happening.
Companies such as Google and Facebook are indeed fully immersed in efforts to manipulate the way people think and feel, but just like every other business they are driven by the simple goal of profit.
Unless a political force arises in Washington that poses an existential threat to Silicon Valley, I think it’s reasonable to assume that none of the technology giants will place their business interests in jeopardy by trying to rig elections.
The New York Times reports: Want to invisibly spy on 10 iPhone owners without their knowledge? Gather their every keystroke, sound, message and location? That will cost you $650,000, plus a $500,000 setup fee with an Israeli outfit called the NSO Group. You can spy on more people if you would like — just check out the company’s price list.
The NSO Group is one of a number of companies that sell surveillance tools that can capture all the activity on a smartphone, like a user’s location and personal contacts. These tools can even turn the phone into a secret recording device.
Since its founding six years ago, the NSO Group has kept a low profile. But last month, security researchers caught its spyware trying to gain access to the iPhone of a human rights activist in the United Arab Emirates. They also discovered a second target, a Mexican journalist who wrote about corruption in the Mexican government.
Now, internal NSO Group emails, contracts and commercial proposals obtained by The New York Times offer insight into how companies in this secretive digital surveillance industry operate. The emails and documents were provided by two people who have had dealings with the NSO Group but would not be named for fear of reprisals.
The company is one of dozens of digital spying outfits that track everything a target does on a smartphone. They aggressively market their services to governments and law enforcement agencies around the world. The industry argues that this spying is necessary to track terrorists, kidnappers and drug lords. The NSO Group’s corporate mission statement is “Make the world a safe place.”
Ten people familiar with the company’s sales, who refused to be identified, said that the NSO Group has a strict internal vetting process to determine who it will sell to. An ethics committee made up of employees and external counsel vets potential customers based on human rights rankings set by the World Bank and other global bodies. And to date, these people all said, NSO has yet to be denied an export license.
But critics note that the company’s spyware has also been used to track journalists and human rights activists.
“There’s no check on this,” said Bill Marczak, a senior fellow at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. “Once NSO’s systems are sold, governments can essentially use them however they want. NSO can say they’re trying to make the world a safer place, but they are also making the world a more surveilled place.” [Continue reading…]
Farhad Manjoo writes: Imagine you are a French lawmaker. For decades, you have protected your nation’s cultural output with the diligence of a gardener tending a fragile patch against invasive killer weeds.
You have imposed quotas on the French film industry, required radio stations to play more French music than anyone seems to want to listen to, and you have worked methodically to exempt your actions from international free-trade rules.
And now, out of nowhere, come a handful of American technology companies to wash away all your cultural defenses. Suddenly just about everything that a French citizen buys, reads, watches or listens to flows in some way or another through these behemoths.
There is Facebook co-opting your news media. Amazon is dominating book sales, while YouTube and Netflix are taking over television and movies. And the smartphone, arguably the most important platform for entertainment in this era, is controlled almost entirely by Apple and Google.
This backdrop of social anxiety explains why Europe is on the march against American tech giants. European governments have been at the forefront of an effort to limit the reach of tech companies, most often through privacy regulations and antitrust investigations. Now the European Commission is considering rules that would require streaming companies like Netflix to carry and even pay for local content in the markets they serve.
The European efforts are just a taste of a coming global freak-out over the power of the American tech industry. Over the next few years, we are bound to see increasing friction between the tiny group of tech companies that rule much of the industry and the governments that rule the lands those companies are trying to invade. [Continue reading…]
We are very aware of waste in our lives today, from the culture of recycling to the email signatures that urge us not to print them off. But as more and more aspects of life become reliant on digital technology, have we stopped to consider the new potential avenues of waste that are being generated? It’s not just about the energy and resources used by our devices – the services we run over the cloud can generate “digital waste” of their own.
Current approaches to reducing energy use focus on improving the hardware: better datacentre energy management, improved electronics that provide more processing power for less energy, and compression techniques that mean images, videos and other files use less bandwidth as they are transmitted across networks. Our research, rather than focusing on making individual system components more efficient, seeks to understand the impact of any particular digital service – one delivered via a website or through the internet – and re-designing the software involved to make better, more efficient use of the technology that supports it.
We also examine what aspects of a digital service actually provide value to the end user, as establishing where resources and effort are wasted – digital waste – reveals what can be cut out. For example, MP3 audio compression works by removing frequencies that are inaudible or less audible to the human ear – shrinking the size of the file for minimal loss of audible quality.
This is no small task. Estimates have put the technology sector’s global carbon footprint at roughly 2% of worldwide emissions – almost as much as that generated by aviation. But there is a big difference: IT is a more pervasive, and in some ways more democratic, technology. Perhaps 6% or so of the world’s population will fly in a given year, while around 40% have access to the internet at home. More than a billion people have Facebook accounts. Digital technology and the online services it provides are used by far more of us, and far more often.
The New York Times reports: Google is a top target for European regulators and privacy watchdogs, who openly fear and distrust its dominance. The American tech giant’s search engine alone gobbles up roughly 90 percent of the European market.
But a landmark court ruling intended to rein in Google has instead put it at the forefront of Europe’s enforcement of Internet privacy. That has upended conventional wisdom about the company and raised questions about the role of commercial interests in protecting people’s privacy, often with little or no transparency.
In the almost two years since Europeans gained the “right to be forgotten” on the Internet, Google has passed judgment in over 418,000 cases — roughly 572 a day — from people wanting links of certain search results to be removed, according to the company’s records. It has approved fewer than half of those requests, all behind closed doors.
Google’s total number of privacy-related judgments is double those of most of Europe’s biggest individual national authorities over the same period, even though these public agencies address a wider range of data protection complaints.
Despite a history of animosity toward the company, national regulators have handed over the review powers to Google with few complaints, saying they are merely following Europe’s complex data protection rules. Other search companies, including Microsoft, have been given the same authority, though their number of judgments pales by comparison.
Some consumer groups and privacy experts are not satisfied with that arrangement. They have sounded alarm bells over a for-profit company — one that relies on tapping into people’s digital lives to make billions of dollars and that is the subject of multiple privacy and antitrust investigations — playing such a central role in protecting individuals’ data, and doing so in such a secretive manner. [Continue reading…]
Lee Vinsel & Andrew Russell write: Innovation is a dominant ideology of our era, embraced in America by Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and the Washington DC political elite. As the pursuit of innovation has inspired technologists and capitalists, it has also provoked critics who suspect that the peddlers of innovation radically overvalue innovation. What happens after innovation, they argue, is more important. Maintenance and repair, the building of infrastructures, the mundane labour that goes into sustaining functioning and efficient infrastructures, simply has more impact on people’s daily lives than the vast majority of technological innovations.
The fates of nations on opposing sides of the Iron Curtain illustrate good reasons that led to the rise of innovation as a buzzword and organising concept. Over the course of the 20th century, open societies that celebrated diversity, novelty, and progress performed better than closed societies that defended uniformity and order.
In the late 1960s in the face of the Vietnam War, environmental degradation, the Kennedy and King assassinations, and other social and technological disappointments, it grew more difficult for many to have faith in moral and social progress. To take the place of progress, ‘innovation’, a smaller, and morally neutral, concept arose. Innovation provided a way to celebrate the accomplishments of a high-tech age without expecting too much from them in the way of moral and social improvement.
Before the dreams of the New Left had been dashed by massacres at My Lai and Altamont, economists had already turned to technology to explain the economic growth and high standards of living in capitalist democracies. Beginning in the late 1950s, the prominent economists Robert Solow and Kenneth Arrow found that traditional explanations – changes in education and capital, for example – could not account for significant portions of growth. They hypothesised that technological change was the hidden X factor. Their finding fit hand-in-glove with all of the technical marvels that had come out of the Second World War, the Cold War, the post-Sputnik craze for science and technology, and the post-war vision of a material abundance. [Continue reading…]