The week in tech

Google sacks dozens of employees over sexual harassment

It appears that numerous Google employees forgot to follow their companies unofficial motto “don’t be evil” as a slew of sexual harassment allegations make the headlines this morning.

Instead of being able to boast about their year-on-year revenue growth of 21% in the three months through September, Google’s parent company Alphabet is in hot water after the New York Times alleged on Thursday that it protected top male executives against misconduct allegations.

According to the New York Times, the “father of Android” Andy Rubin received a $90m exit package despite facing sexual misconduct allegations. A spokesperson for Rubin has denied the allegations, the newspaper said.

According to the report, two unnamed Google executives said then-chief executive Larry Page asked Rubin to resign after the company confirmed a complaint by a female employee about a sexual encounter in a hotel room in 2013. Google then gave Rubin a hero’s farewell when he left the company in 2014. Rubin also received a $90 million exit package, paid in instalments of about $2 million a month for four years. The last payment is scheduled for next month.

This does not appear to be an isolated incident. After the publication of the article, Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, wrote in an email to employees that the company had fired 48 people in positions of authority for misconduct.

Pichai’s letter said the article was “difficult to read” and that Google was “dead serious” about providing a “safe and inclusive workplace”.

“We want to assure you that we review every single complaint about sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct, we investigate and we take action,” he continued.

None of the employees dismissed in the past two years had received an exit package, Mr Pichai added.

Diversity in tech is essential for business success: How to achieve it?

SAP’s Shuchi Sharma discusses with Information Age the importance of embracing diversity in tech, and how organisations can achieve it

Tech stocks fall and then rise again, did Tesla set the trend?

Is Tesla becoming a bellwether stock? The shares crashed in the summer – falling by 30%, and then, three months later, it was a wider tech stock sell-off. Shares in Amazon fell by around 10% during the first three weeks of October, Facebook fell by a similar amount, Alphabet lost around 9%.

And then Tesla came along with their results. It was not the first ever profit by Tesla, but it was the first ever profit that was not distorted by government subsidies or tax breaks. Investors suddenly asked the question that techies thought they already knew the answer to anyway; is Elon Musk actually doing it? If the results from its latest quarter are any guide, the answer is yes.

Tesla shares did not soar so much as scream out in ecstasy, rising 24% in just a few days.

As this article goes to the press, the typesetters prepare to do their magic, and the printing press is warmed up, tech stocks are rising – Amazon up 7% in 24 hours, for example, Twitter up 15%, Microsoft up 5% — after Microsoft and Twitter beat market expectations. Although, Alphabet’s 21% increase in revenue growth, stellar by the standards of normal companies, was a tad disappointing in an environment where investors have got used to expecting exceptional.

Even so, the impression is that Tesla has not only proven its doubters wrong but maybe its results are such that tech cynics may have to ring up Deliveroo and ask for a delivery of humble pie.

Has Tesla saved tech stocks from meltdown?

Tesla may be the ultimate contrary stock, while all around, stock markets seem to be in free-fall, shares in Tesla shoot up like a SpaceX rocket. They may have just saved tech’s bacon

“Cambrian Explosion” of AI in the UK

The UK could be in third place in the global ranking for the AI industry, behind China and the US, according to a major report by the Big Innovation Centre and Deep Knowledge Analytics.

The 2200-page report released on Wednesday, which is the largest analysis conducted in this area to date, features profiles of 1000 companies, 600 investors, 80 influencers, 35 tech hubs and research institutes, as well as multiple private and government entities working around the development of the UK AI-industry. Notably, the report also features input from the All Party Parliamentary Group on AI.

Lord Clement-Jones CBE, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on AI and Chair of the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, said: “As shown in the report of the UK AI landscape, we have now reached the inflection point which can be reasonably described as the Cambrian Explosion of AI in the UK. Our previous reports by the Lords Select Committee on AI in the UK Parliament highlighted the nation’s very strong potential to become a global leader in AI, provided that sufficient commitments from the UK Government were made in order to prioritise it as a matter of national strategic importance from investment in industry to trust in data and algorithms.”

He added: “There’s been a substantial surge of activities on the part of the UK throughout the past several months, ranging from the excellent work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on AI to the establishment of the Government Office for AI. There are also well-funded Government and private sector partnerships and initiatives such as the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. It is clear that the UK has strongly confirmed its commitment to prioritise the further development of AI as a core part of its national agenda.”

However, according to the report, Britain faces a brain-drain as other international hubs such as Silicon Valley successfully poach its top tech talent from universities.

Is this the Cambrian Explosion of AI in the UK?

A major report by Big Innovation Centre and Deep Knowledge Analytics suggests the UK is on its way to third place in the global rankings for the AI industry

The UK slaps Facebook with maximum fine over Cambridge Analytica scandal

Facebook has been fined £500,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The penalty is the maximum allowed under the old data protection regulations that applied before GDPR took effect in May.

The ICO’s investigation found that between 2007 and 2014, Facebook processed the personal information of users unfairly by allowing application developers access to their information without sufficiently clear and informed consent, and allowing access even if users had not downloaded the app, but were simply ‘friends’ with people who had.

Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner, said: “Facebook failed to sufficiently protect the privacy of its users before, during and after the unlawful processing of this data. A company of its size and expertise should have known better and it should have done better.”

“We considered these contraventions to be so serious we imposed the maximum penalty under the previous legislation. The fine would inevitably have been significantly higher under the GDPR. One of our main motivations for taking enforcement action is to drive meaningful change in how organisations handle people’s personal data.

“Our work is continuing. There are still bigger questions to be asked and broader conversations to be had about how technology and democracy interact and whether the legal, ethical and regulatory frameworks we have in place are adequate to protect the principles on which our society is based.”

What the Cambridge Analytica scandal means for big data

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Andrew Ross

As a reporter with Information Age, Andrew Ross writes articles for technology leaders; helping them manage business critical issues both for today and in the future