- Google said it will soon make its video chatting service, Google Meet, free for all users, a move many see as an attempt to rival Zoom.
- Google Meet emphasized its focus on privacy and security, areas where Zoom has fallen short, noting that it does not allow anonymous users to join meetings and gives hosts control of admitting and denying entry.
- It also won’t enforce 60-minute time caps on its free tier until Sept 30, while Zoom’s free tier limits calls to 40 minutes.
- Zoom saw a 7% dip in shares after the announcement, but many feel its name recognition will help it maintain its place as the top teleconferencing service.
Free Version of Google Meet
Google said Wednesday that it was making its video chatting service, Google Meet, free to consumers, a move that could make it a tougher competitor against the widely-used teleconferencing service, Zoom.
Google Meet was previously only available to paying customers of G Suite, the company’s line of apps including Gmail, Drive, and Docs. Anyone was able to join a video meeting through the service by clicking a shared link, but the meeting had to be created by a user with a G Suite membership.
But soon, a free version of the product will available for all consumers. In a blog post, G Suite president Javier Soltero wrote, “Starting in early May, anyone with an email address can sign up for Meet and enjoy many of the same features available to our business and education users, such as simple scheduling and screen sharing, real-time captions, and layouts that adapt to your preference, including an expanded tiled view.”
Competitor to Zoom
Video chatting has become more and more crucial as the coronavirus pandemic forces non-essential services all over the world to remain closed. Virtual gatherings have not only allowed for social connections with friends and family, but they’ve also been essential for schools and businesses to keep their operations running remotely.
On Tuesday, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said Google Meet is adding 3 million new users a day during the pandemic, up from 2 million new users a day earlier this month. Pichai also said the service has 100 million meeting participants a day.
But despite Google Meet’s success, Zoom has absolutely dominated the video chatting industry. It made a huge leap from 10 million daily users in December to 300 daily users as of now.
Still, Zoom hasn’t been without criticism. The service has been met with complaints regarding its privacy and dating-sharing policies, on top of frustrations over “Zoombombing,” when uninvited guests crash a video session.
It seems like Google may have taken a shot a Zoom about those concerns in its announcement by emphasizing its focus on security. “We’ve invested years in making Meet a secure and reliable video conferencing solution that’s trusted by schools, governments and enterprises around the world,” the company said early on in its blog post.
It stressed that the service was “designed, built and operated to be secure at scale,” with some of its key features including the ability to admit or denying users into conferences and not allowing anonymous users into meetings, among other measures. These features seem to hit exactly the places where Zoom has admitted it’s fallen short.
On top of that, Zoom’s free tier offers free video meetings of up to 100 people, but they’re capped at 40 minutes. Google Meet, by contrast, allows for the same number of people to join a call and limits meeting to 60 minutes; however, the company says it won’t even enforce that rule until after Sept. 30.
Google isn’t the only company striving to reach and surpass Zoom’s success. Last week, Facebook announced Messenger Rooms, a feature that allows video chatting with people though Messenger even if they don’t have a Facebook. Microsoft is also pushing its own video chatting app, Teams.
After Google’s announcement, Zoom reportedly saw a drop in shares by 7% on Wednesday, according to MarketWatch. However, some think that Zoom carries too much name recognition at this point to be booted out of its position at the top of the teleconferencing industry.
According to The New York Times, Google business chief Philipp Schindler was on a video call with thousands of employees last month when someone on the call asked about Zoom’s success. As Schindler replied, his young son reportedly barged into the room and asked if Schindler was on a Zoom call with his workers.
“Mr. Schindler tried correcting him, but the boy went on to say how much he and his friends loved using Zoom,” the newspaper reported.
See what others are saying: (Market Watch) (CNET) (CNN)
Facebook Is Reviewing More Than 2,200 Hours of Footage for Next-Gen AI
The project, which could prove to be revolutionary, is already raising some big privacy concerns.
Facebook’s Next-Gen AI
Facebook announced Thursday that it has captured more than 2,200 hours of first-person video that it will use to train next-gen AI models.
The company said it aims to make the AI, called Ego4D, capable of understanding and identifying both real and virtual objects through a first-person perspective using smart glasses or VR headsets. In effect, that could potentially help users do everything from remembering where they placed forgotten items to recording others in secret.
Facebook listed five key scenarios the project aims to tackle and gave real-world examples of how each may look for people who will eventually use the AI.
- “What happened when?” With that scenario, Facebook gave the example, “Where did I leave my keys?”
- “What am I likely to do next?” There, Facebook gave the example, “Wait, you’ve already added salt to this recipe.”
- “What am I doing?” For example, “What was the main topic during class?”
- “Who said what when?” For example, “What was the main topic during class?”
- “Who is interacting with whom?” For example, “Help me better hear the person talking to me at this noisy restaurant.”
Facebook said the amount of footage it has collected is 20 times greater than any other data set used by the company.
In the wake of recent controversy surrounding Facebook, it’s important to note that the footage wasn’t reaped from users. Instead, the company said it, and 13 university partners, compiled the footage from more than 700 participants around the world.
Still, that hasn’t alleviated all privacy concerns.
In an article titled, “Facebook is researching AI systems that see, hear, and remember everything you do,” The Verge writer James Vincent said that although the project’s guidelines seem practical, “the company’s interest in this area will worry many.”
Vincent pointe out that the AI announcement doesn’t mention anything in the way of privacy or removing data for people who may not want to be recorded.
A Facebook spokesperson later assured Vincent that privacy safeguards will be introduced to the public in the future.
“For example, before AR glasses can enhance someone’s voice, there could be a protocol in place that they follow to ask someone else’s glasses for permission, or they could limit the range of the device so it can only pick up sounds from the people with whom I am already having a conversation or who are in my immediate vicinity,” the spokesperson said.
Among positive reception, some believe the tech could be revolutionary for helping people around the house, as well as for teaching robots to more rapidly learn about their surroundings.
FDA Issues Its First E-Cigarette Authorization Ever
The authorization only applies to tobacco-flavored products, as the FDA simultaneously rejected several sweet and fruit-flavored e-cigarette cartridges.
FDA Approves E-Cigarette
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an e-cigarette pen sold under the brand name Vuse on Tuesday, as well as two tobacco-flavored cartridges that can be used with the pen.
This marks the first time the FDA has ever authorized the use of vaping products. In a news release, the agency said it made the decision because “the authorized products’ aerosols are significantly less toxic than combusted cigarettes based on available data.”
“The manufacturer’s data demonstrates its tobacco-flavored products could benefit addicted adult smokers who switch to these products — either completely or with a significant reduction in cigarette consumption — by reducing their exposure to harmful chemicals,” the agency added.
The company that owns Vuse, R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company, also submitted several sweet and fruit-flavored pods for review; however, those were all rejected. While the FDA did not specify which flavors it rejected, it did note that it has yet to make a decision on whether to allow menthol-flavored e-cigarettes, including ones sold under Vuse.
FDA Is Reviewing All Vape Products Still on the Market
In January 2020, the FDA banned pre-filled pods with sweet and fruity flavors from being sold. While other e-cigarette related products, including some forms of flavored vapes, were allowed to stay on the market for the time being, they were only able to do so if they were submitted for FDA review.
The FDA’s primary issue with fruity cartridges stems from statistics showing that those pods more easily hook new smokers, particularly underage smokers.
In fact, in its approval of the Vuse products, the FDA said it only authorized them because it “determined that the potential benefit to smokers who switch completely or significantly reduce their cigarette use, would outweigh the risk to youth, provided the applicant follows post-marketing requirements aimed at reducing youth exposure and access to the products.”
While some have cheered the FDA’s decision, not everyone was enthusiastic. Many critics cited a joint FDA-CDC study in which nearly 11% of teens who said they vape also indicated regularly using Vuse products.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Wall Street Journal) (The Washington Post)
Kaiser Permanente Health Workers Vote To Authorize Strike Over Pay, Staffing, and Safety
The vote could inspire unioned Kaiser workers in other states to eventually approve strikes of their own.
Workers Approve Strike
Over 24,000 unioned nurses and other healthcare workers at Kaiser Permanente hospitals voted Monday to authorize strikes against the company in California and Oregon.
The tens of thousands of workers who cast a ballot make up 86% of the Kaiser-based healthcare professionals represented by either the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) or the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. An overwhelming 96% voted to approve the strike.
According to both unions, the list of workers includes nurses, pharmacists, midwives, and physical therapists.
The vote itself does not automatically initiate a strike; rather, it gives the unions the power to call a strike amid stalled contract negotiations between Kaiser and the unions. If the unions ultimately tell their members to begin striking, they will need to give a 10-day warning.
The California and Oregon contracts expired Sep. 30, but several more Kaiser-based union contracts are rapidly approaching their expiration dates as well. That includes contracts for more than 50,000 workers in Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, Washington state, and D.C. Notably, the demands from those workers echo many of the demands made by California and Oregon’s union members.
At the center of this potential strike are three issues: staffing problems, safety concerns, and proposed revisions to Kaiser’s payment system. For months, nurses have been publicly complaining about long shifts spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, staffing shortages, and an over-reliance on contract nurses.
Because of that, they’re seeking to force Kaiser to commit to hiring more staff, as well as boost retention.
But the main catalyst for any looming strikes is pay. According to UNAC/UHCP, Kaiser wants to implement a two-tier payment system, which would decrease earnings by 26% to 39% for employees hired from 2023 onward. On top of that, those new employees would see fewer health protections.
The unions and their members worry such a system could lead to an increased feeling of resentment among workers since they would be paid different rates for performing the same job. They also worry it could exacerbate retention and hiring issues already faced by the hospital system.
Additionally, the workers want to secure 4% raises for each of the next three years, but Kaiser’s currently only willing to give 1%, citing a need to reduce labor costs to remain competitive.