- Boeing admitted that it knew of a safety issue with its 737 Max 8s, the model involved in both the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes, and did not report it until after the Lion Air accident.
- Boeing discovered that many of its Max 8s did not have a key safety feature that determined when the plane was receiving conflicting data from its sensors, because the company had made that feature an optional premium add-on.
- The company claims this feature is not essential, but others argue that it could have prevented the crashes because conflicting sensor data caused both planes to repeatedly nosedive after an automated system was triggered.
Boeing released a statement Sunday saying that the company was aware of a problem with a safety feature in its 737 Max 8s in 2017, but did not disclose the issue to regulators or airlines until after a Max 8 operated by Lion Air crashed in October 2018, killing 189.
The announcement also comes nearly two months after another Max 8, operated by Ethiopian Airlines, crashed just outside of Addis Ababa. That crash killed all 157 people on board.
According to the statement, within a few months of delivering the Max 8 planes to buyers, Boeing’s engineers found a problem with an essential warning light. The feature, which is called an Angle of Attack (AOA) Disagree alert, tells pilots if the sensors on either side of the plane are giving contradictory information about the direction of the plane’s nose.
Boeing intended for this feature to be on all the Max 8 models as it had been a feature on the previous generations of 737s. However, after months of delivering the planes, their engineers found that the sensors only worked on Max 8’s where buyers had also purchased a separate, optional safety feature.
This basically means that a key safety feature that the company thought was standard was actually optional– sort of like a premium add-on.
Following the discovery, a review was launched after the engineers discovered the problem. “That review, which involved multiple company subject matter experts, determined that the absence of the AOA Disagree alert did not adversely impact airplane safety or operation,” according to company’s statement.
Boeing said it reported the problem to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) a year after they knew about it. The FAA determined that the problem was “low-risk,” but still told Boeing they should have informed them earlier.
Boeing also reported the problem to the airlines that operated the planes. However, only 20 percent of buyers had purchased the optional indicator, according to the New York Times, which meant that an important warning light did not work on most of the 737s.
Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines
Unsurprisingly, neither of the two flights that crashed had that indicator.
Immediately, after the Ethiopian Airline crash, people began drawing lines between the Lion Air crash off the coast of Indonesia just four months earlier. In addition to the fact that both planes were Max 8, the pilots of both planes reported issues and requested to return to the airports they took off from but did not make it back.
Following the incident, tons of countries grounded their Max 8 planes until Boeing investigated the situation. Numerous pilots also came forward to say that they had not been fully informed about software changes to the MAX 8’s autopilot and that they had not been trained to use the new software
The pilots specifically referenced a new feature that causes the plane to automatically correct the planes level if it’s sensor’s think it is flying at an angle that puts it at risk of stalling. Investigations from both the Lion Air and the Ethiopian Airlines crashes found that this software was engaged, and that it caused the noses of both the planes to be pushed down repeatedly.
Boeing initially responded to the pilots by arguing that there should not be a problem as long as pilots followed procedures. Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, later said that the company would update the Max 8’s software and provide training.
However, throughout the whole process, Boeing executives have denied that there is anything wrong with the planes.
The Debate Goes On
Boeing still maintains that this feature is not essential.
“Neither the angle of attack indicator nor the AOA Disagree alert are necessary for the safe operation of the airplane,” the company said in Sunday’s statement. “They provide supplemental information only, and have never been considered safety features on commercial jet transport airplanes.”
Others disagree. If AOA sensors on the Max 8 think that the nose of the plane is too high, the automated control system forces the nose of the plane down automatically. That is exactly what happened to both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines planes.
In fact, investigators of both crashes found that a faulty sensor gave the system incorrect data, which then forced the nose of the plane down repeatedly. Logically, experts say, it seems like if those two flights had this safety feature that Boeing itself said tells pilots when sensors are giving contradictory information, this would likely not have happened.
Boeing is still refusing to draw that line. The combination of the lack of knowledge that their planes did not have key safety feature and the fact that they didn’t disclose their knowledge of this issue for a year just add to Boeing’s problems.
In their statement Sunday, Boeing also pushed back on the criticism that the aircraft certification system Boeing and the FAA have in place is flawed, which is the subject of congressional inquiries, a Department of Transportation panel, and a criminal investigation.
During a Congressional hearing in March, Daniel Ewell, the acting head of the FAA, stated that the agency’s certification procedures “are extensive, well-established and have consistently produced safe aircraft designs for decades,” also adding that the FAA was “fully involved” in certifying the 737 Max.
However, this was contradicted by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who said the FAA has allowed plane manufacturers to help certify that their own aircraft meets safety standards.
Boeing’s management of the Max 8’s design has continually come under fire, which in turn has resulted in strained relations with airlines and customers, several federal investigations, and huge financial losses.
Still, time and time again, Boeing has continued to essentially skirt responsibility, even as the Max 8, which was the fastest-selling plane in the company’s history, remains grounded world-wide.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (New York Times) (Washington Post)
Twitter to Investigate Auto-Crop Algorithm After Accusations of Racial Bias
- Twitter users believe they discovered a racial bias in an algorithm the platform uses to automatically select which part of an image it shows in a photo preview.
- Many argued that the auto-cropping tool showed a white bias after testing the theory with photos of Black and white people, cartoon characters, and even dogs.
- However, others who tested the theory generated results that did not support this idea. Regardless, most users admit that these experiments have their limitations and agree that the current results at least show that this is something worth looking into.
- The company released a statement saying it tested its system for bias in the past but admitted it needs to conduct further analysis of it. Online, Twitter employees seemed to welcome the public discourse and the company promised to share its results as well as further actions it may take.
Potential White Bias
Twitter responded to concerns over its automatic cropping algorithm Sunday after users believed they discovered a racial bias in the tool.
In 2018, Twitter began auto-cropping photos in its timeline previews to prevent them from taking up too much space in the main feed and to allow multiple photos to appear in the same tweet. To do this, the company uses several algorithmic tools that focus on the most important part of the picture, like faces or text.
However, users recently began to spot issues with the algorithm. The first person credited for highlighting a potential problem was PhD student Colin Madland. He made his discovery while highlighting a different racial bias he thinks he found on the video-conference company Zoom.
Madland tweeted that when his Black colleague uses a virtual background on Zoom, his head is erased. When he uploaded examples to show this happening to his Black colleague and not himself, he noticed that Twitter was only showing his own face in its preview.
Soon after, others followed up with more targetted experiments. Cryptographic and infrastructure engineer Tony Arcieri, for example, tweeted out two long images with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and Former President Barack Obama.
The two photos have the politicians stacked on top of each other in different orders but with white space in between them. The experiment showed that Twitter would focus on McConnell, no matter what order the photos were stacked in.
Another user found that the algorithm even focused on McConnell when two photos of Obama were present in a single stack.
I wonder what happens if we increase the number of Obamas. pic.twitter.com/sjrlxjTDSb— Jack Philipson (@Jack09philj) September 19, 2020
A similar white preference appeared in examples of Black and white men in suits, Simpsons characters Lenny and Carl, and even black and white dogs.
Examples That Don’t Support White Bias Theory
Others looking into this theory of a white bias found results that did not support the idea.
For example, one user found that photos of Obama were cropped for the preview over photos of Donald Trump.
Still, some researching the trends noted that these experiments do have their limitations and are likely influenced by tons of other factors. Some believe the algorithm recognized high profile figures or considers brightness and contrast, among other photo elements.
Twitter’s Chief Design Officer (CDO), Dantley Davis, even suggested that the choice of cropping sometimes takes brightness of the background into consideration.
However, ohers found examples that rejected that idea. Regardless, all these tests did a lot to convince people that there was something worth looking at here, including Davis, who has been experimenting himself.
He’s not alone in his research. In fact, plenty of other Twitter users have been going to great lengths to track their results as they try to study what is going on.
Twitter Promises to Investigate
On Sunday, a Twitter spokesperson eventually released a statement admitting that the company had work to do.
“Our team did test for bias before shipping the model and did not find evidence of racial or gender bias in our testing,” the company explained.
“But it’s clear from these examples that we’ve got more analysis to do. We’ll continue to share what we learn, what actions we take, and will open source our analysis so others can review and replicate.”
Davis also isn’t the only employee that has appeared to welcome all of this public discourse. The company’s Chief Technology Officer, Parag Argawal tweeted, “This is a very important question. To address it, we did analysis on our model when we shipped it, but needs continuous improvement. Love this public, open, and rigorous test — and eager to learn from this.”
See what others are saying; (The Next Web) (The Guardian) (Mashable)
Perfume Brand Apologizes for Replacing John Boyega in the Chinese Version of an Ad He Directed
- Jo Malone London, a perfume and candle brand, apologized to its global brand ambassador John Boyega after it reshot his personal advert without him for the Chinese market.
- Last year, Boyega conceived, starred in, and directed a commercial for the band, which showcased his friends and family and was shot in his diverse hometown on Peckham, London.
- Without Boyega’s knowledge, the company replicated the concept with Chinese actor Liu Haoran and did not feature a single Black person in the remake.
- After backlash, Jo Malone London apologized and said, “The concept for the film was based on John’s personal experiences and should not have been replicated.”
The perfume and candle brand Jo Malone London apologized to actor John Boyega after it replicated the personal advert he made for the company without him for the Chinese market.
In 2019, the brand named the Star Wars actor its first male global ambassador. Under the role, Boyega shot an advert for the company based on his roots and personal experiences.
The short film was called, “A London Gent,” and according to several reports, it was his creative concept and a project he directed. It showcased him enjoying time with his real-life friends and family in his diverse hometown of Peckham, London.
“There’s a mixture of things you see me do in the film, you see me in a professional environment on a film set, then with family and it’s about breaking free of the concept of ‘going back or returning to your roots’ but more about the roots existing with this new side of my life,” he said of the commercial last year in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily.
The commercial was well received and actually won Best Media Campaign at The Fragrance Foundation Awards this year. Still, the brand decided to essentially replicate the commercial for the Chinese market without Boyega’s knowledge or participation.
Instead of just using Boyega’s original ad, it replaced him with Chinese actor Liu Haoran, star of the hugely popular Detective Chinatown film franchise. Boyega’s friends and family were replaced as well, which means there was not a single Black person included in the Chinese ad.
Though it’s not totally identical, it’s clear the commercial reused the same concept –minus the diversity elements. It even replicates some specific scenes like one where the camera zooms into Boyega’s eye and another where he rides a horse while his friends ride bikes.
On top of all that, the Chinese ad is also called “A London Gent,” and according to The Hollywood Reporter, Boyega only found out about this after it was put on Twitter.
Boyega hasn’t officially commented on the issue, but he’s definitely aware of the backlash. He retweeted one user who shared his ad saying, “Now, this man needs to be properly compensated for the thievery! No apology is good enough.”
That article includes a statement from the brand which reads: “We deeply apologize for what, on our end, was a mistake in the local execution of the John Boyega campaign. John is a tremendous artist with great personal vision and direction. The concept for the film was based on John’s personal experiences and should not have been replicated.”
Joe Malone also apologized to Haoran, saying he was not involved in the conception of the Chinese ad.
“While we immediately took action and removed the local version of the campaign, we recognize that this was painful and that offense was caused,” it continued.
“We respect John, and support our partners and fans globally. We are taking this misstep very seriously and we are working together as a brand to do better moving forward.”
Boyega’s Past Experiences
This is not the first time Boyega has sparked discussions about racism in China and the entertainment industry. In 2015, when “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was released, Boyega’s character was resized to be significantly smaller on the Chinese version of the movie poster.
In a recent GQ interview, Boyega also criticized Disney, saying nonwhite characters were pushed aside in the Star Wars franchise while white characters were given more nuance.
“What I would say to Disney is do not bring out a Black character, market them to be much more important in the franchise than they are and then have them pushed to the side. It’s not good. I’ll say it straight up,” he said at the time.
As for Jo Malone, it has pulled the Chinese advert, but it’s unclear if Boyega’s relationship with the brand will continue.
See what others are saying: (Insider) (Variety) (The Hollywood Reporter)
AmazonBasics Products Dangerous, Start Fires & Explode: Report
- A report by CNN has found that dozens of AmazonBasics items are dangerously flawed, leading to fires and explosions.
- 1500 reviews were found across 70 items citing dangerous flaws in the products between 2016-2020, despite Amazon saying many of these items were investigated and found to be safe.
- Currently, dozens of items are still available on the site that have been flagged by users as dangerous and potential fire hazards.
Ever seen a listing for a common everyday item on Amazon and thought, “that price is too good to be true?” Well, that may be the case. CNN reported on Thursday at least 70 items that are part of Amazon’s AmazonBasic line are fatally flawed; particularly electronics which are reported to have started hundreds of fires.
One story from Wethersfield, Connecticut features a young man who was burned after being awoken by a chair in his bedroom that was on fire. Firefighters determined that a white AmazonBasics USB cord used to charge his phone had shorted and started the fire. Other items sold under the AmazonBasics label — which was set up in 2009 and sells thousands of everyday items for cheap — have been reported in reviews to catch fire. A microwave sold under the label has over 150 reviews describing safety concerns over the device, notably pointing out its proclivity to catch fire.
CNN obtained a few defective devices from customers and sent them off to a lab in Maryland to be tested and find out why it happens so often. That research was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in the case of the burning microwaves, initial findings revealed that they featured a fatal design on a panel that covered a heating device and could start fires.
Other common items that were reported to have caught fire include power strips and car chargers. Overall, according to CNN, 1,500 reviews between 2016 and 2020 by US customers identified safety concerns from AmazonBasics products, with 10% of reviews specifically mentioning the items catching fire.
“Safe to Use”
Amazon’s initial response to the report is that some of the items identified were investigated and found to be “safe to use.”
“We take several steps to ensure our products are safe including rigorous testing by our safety teams and third party labs,” the company said in a statement to The HIll. “The appliance continues to meet or exceed all certification requirements established by the FDA, UL, FCC, Prop 65, and others for safety and functionality.”
“We’re continuously refining our processes and leveraging new technologies to ensure that AmazonBasics products are safe for their intended use. We want customers to shop our products with confidence, and if there’s ever a concern, you can contact our customer service team and we’ll promptly investigate,” The company added in a blog they posted as a response to the CNN report.
Currently, about 30 items with three or more reviews that identified dangerous flaws remain on the site. This could lead to large legal problems for the company. In the past, various courts have ruled and upheld that Amazon is not liable for defective items sold by third-party vendors on the platform. However, AmazonBasics are branded in-house items (although Amazon doesn’t manufacture these items).
Being in-house items may mean that unlike third-party vendors, Amazon possibly is not shielded by the same protections and could be liable for the destruction caused by said devices.