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Amazon VP Resigns, Calling Out Company Firings and Working Conditions

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  • Tim Bray, Vice President and Distinguished Engineer at Amazon Web Services, resigned after the company allegedly fired employees for acting as whistleblowers who had been critical of Amazon.
  • He said their firings represent a “vein of toxicity running through the company culture,” and said warehouse employees are treated as “fungible units of pick-and-pack potential.”
  • His resignation was met with applause online as Amazon workers have repeatedly launched strikes demanding protective gear, as well as cleaner and safer working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.

What’s Been Going on at Amazon?

An Amazon Vice President resigned from his position after the company fired whistleblowers who criticized its COVID-19 response efforts, saying the actions represented a “vein of toxicity” in company culture.

Tim Bray, former VP and Distinguished Engineer at Amazon Web Services, announced his resignation in a Monday blog post. For several weeks, Amazon workers have been striking to demand cleaner and safer working conditions. They’ve also bee asking for personal protective equipment and other tools to protect their health, which they feel is in jeopardy while working. Amazon workers were among the many essential employees that led May Day strikes on Friday. 

The retail giant has faced criticism for how it has responded to these strikes. In March, they fired Chris Smalls, who led and attended a strike in New York, saying that by doing so he was in violation of a company-imposed quarantine. Leaked memos later showed a potential plan to smear Smalls by making remarks insulting his intelligence. Amazon also fired two tech workers, Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham, who had been critical of the company’s climate policies and had been trying to support warehouse workers amid their complaints.

Bray’s Resignation

While all of this was the tipping point for Bray, his frustrations with Amazon date back further. In his blog post, he said that he was among the many employees who signed a letter by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice demanding that the company pass a climate resolution. When the resolution did not pass, AECJ organized a walkout. But before they could stage it, Amazon announced a climate plan and threatened the leaders of the event with dismissal.

When jobs were not only threatened but also lost as a result of fighting against Amazon’s response to the coronavirus, he could no longer stand idly by. 

“It was clear to any reasonable observer that they were turfed for whistleblowing,” Bray wrote, speaking about Costa and Cunningham. The two were also AECJ leaders.

Bray claimed that he made his concerns clear via the appropriate channels at the company, but knew this would not be enough for him. 

“That done, remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned,” he wrote. “The victims weren’t abstract entities but real people.

“I’m sure it’s a coincidence that every one of them is a person of color, a woman, or both. Right?” he continued. 

Issues With Company Culture

He later called Amazon’s choice to fire these workers “evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture.” 

“I choose neither to serve nor drink that poison,” he added.

Amazon workers are not the only ones concerned about warehouse conditions and company firings. Attorneys-General in several states have lodged complaints of their own. In France, several Amazon warehouses have had to shut down because of the pandemic. Courts have also ruled that the company has to limit its deliveries to essential products only. 

Bray thinks that legal action also needs to be taken in the United States to prevent the company from overreaching. He also believes that when you look at the big picture, the issues at Amazon all boil down to power imbalance.  

“At the end of the day, the big problem isn’t the specifics of Covid-19 response,” Bray wrote. “It’s that Amazon treats the humans in the warehouses as fungible units of pick-and-pack potential. Only that’s not just Amazon, it’s how 21st-century capitalism is done.”

Responses

His choice to resign from Amazon made waves online. Cunnigham thanked him for taking a stand in a tweet. 

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) also applauded Bray online. 

Author and activist Naomi Klein said this his kind of courage is needed “in every workplace and walk of life.”

Amazon has yet to issue a public comment about Bray’s resignation or blog post. 

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Washington Post) (Business Insider)

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Twitter Launches Birdwatch, A Crowdsourced Effort To Combat Misinformation

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  • Twitter is launching Birdwatch, a tool where users can write informative notes to fact check tweets.
  • The program is only in a pilot phase with select users right now but Twitter plans to eventually make it widely available on the site. 
  • In addition to writing fact checks, users will also be able to rate how helpful those notes are. 
  • The company believes this will allow misinformation to be quickly corrected in a trustworthy way. 

Twitter Launches Birdwatch

Twitter is continuing its battle against misinformation by launching Birdwatch, a new tool where users can fact check tweets themselves. 

The program allows users to write notes that provide factual context to a Tweet they know contains false or misleading statements. As of now, the program is in pilot mode and is only available to a select few users who apply to it. The application is open to all Twitter users who have a verified phone and e-mail, two-factor authentication, a trusted U.S. phone provider, and have not recently broken the site’s rules. Fact checks can only be seen on the Birdwatch site, though Twitter’s eventual goal is for all Twitter users to see it on the platform directly. 

“People come to Twitter to stay informed, and they want credible information to help them do so,” the company said in a statement announcing the news Monday. “This isn’t always easy with the spread of misleading information online. Birdwatch is a community-driven approach to addressing this problem, seeking to create a better-informed world.”

Twitter users will also be able to rate the helpfulness of the notes provided, which will hopefully prevent the feature from being misused. The company says it spoke to 100 people from across the political spectrum who believe this tool could be effective. Many were apparently particularly supportive of fact checks coming from a community voice rather than Twitter or another authority. 

“We believe this approach has the potential to respond quickly when misleading information spreads, adding context that people trust and find valuable,” Keith Coleman, the Vice President of Product at Twitter wrote. 

Misinformation on Twitter

Like most social media platforms, Twitter had been trying to combat the growing spread of misinformation for years. This problem surged with the pandemic and the 2020 U.S. election. The company started adding fact-checking labels to tweets in the spring. After misinformation about election results contributed to an attack at the U.S. Capitol, the company removed President Donald Trump from its platform. Many other social media companies did the same.

Twitter’s battle with misinformation is nowhere near over. Still, the company hopes a community-centered tool like Birdwatch will be beneficial to the site. 

In its announcement, Twitter acknowledged the potential problems a tool like this could pose but maintained that it is still a “model worth trying.”

“We know there are a number of challenges toward building a community-driven system like this — from making it resistant to manipulation attempts to ensuring it isn’t dominated by a simple majority or biased based on its distribution of contributors,” Coleman wrote. “We’ll be focused on these things throughout the pilot.”

In an effort to prioritize transparency with Birdwatch, all data contributed to the program will be publicly available and downloadable. Twitter also plans on publishing the code that powers it. 

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (NBC News) (Washington Post)

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SpaceX Boosts a Record 143 Satellites Into Orbit With Rideshare Launch

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  • SpaceX sent 143 satellites into orbit Sunday, breaking the record for most satellites lofted into space on a single launch.
  • It marked the first of SpaceX’s dedicated rideshare program, “SmallSat Rideshare,” which splits up the payload of the rocket launch among multiple customers who want to send satellites of their own. 
  • However, the new launch has also triggered conversations about the increasing number of satellites congesting low-earth orbit.
  • Experts fear that overcrowding there could create a rise in potentially catastrophic orbital collisions and dangerous levels of space debris. Now, many are calling for regulations to be put in place.

SpaceX Breaks Record

SpaceX launched 143 satellites into orbit Sunday, setting a new world record for most satellites sent into space on a single rocket.

The mission, dubbed Transporter-1, surpassed the previous 104-satellite mark set in February 2017 by India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

The launch was the first of SpaceX’s dedicated rideshare program, “SmallSat Rideshare,” which is essentially a carpool for satellites.

Ridesharing efforts are a recent innovation that came in response to growing demands for low-cost access to space by smaller companies and institutions. The idea is to split up the payload of the rocket launch among multiple customers who want to send satellites of their own.

It could prove to be a profitable new venture for SpaceX, which charges a relatively low $1 million to launch a 440-pound satellite and $5,000 for every 2.2 pounds above that base level.

On this latest mission, SpaceX launched 133 satellites for a broad variety of government and private customers, as well as 10 of its own Starlink satellites.

Concerns of Overcrowding and Need for Regulation

While widely celebrated by smaller institutions and companies focused on space, the launch has also triggered conversations about the increasing number of satellites congesting low-earth orbit.

Experts fear that overcrowding in that area could create a rise in potentially catastrophic orbital collisions and dangerous levels of space debris. Now, many are calling for regulations to be put in place.

“Given the recent increase in non-traditional commercial space operations, including satellite servicing, space tourism and the deployment of large numbers of satellites to provide worldwide internet access, updates to the existing roles and responsibilities may be appropriate,” NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel wrote in its 2020 annual report.

“As things stand today, there are no clear lines of authority for directing coherence among the many entities that operate in space.”

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (CNN) (Quartz)

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FDA Recalls 11,000 Ice Cream Containers and Sportsmix Pet Food Products

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  • Over 11,000 cartons of Weis Markets ice cream were recalled after a customer discovered an “intact piece of metal equipment” inside a 48-ounce container of the brand’s Cookies and Cream flavor. 
  • The FDA also expanded a recall of Sportsmix pet food over concerns that the products may contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins.
  • So far, more than 70 dogs have died and more than 80 pets have become sick after eating Sportsmix food. The agency recommends taking your pet to a veterinarian if they have eaten the recalled products, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

Metal Pieces in Weis Ice Cream Cause Massive Recall

The Food and Drug Administration announced two major product recalls this week following serious consumer complaints.

The first came Sunday when the agency revealed that over 11,000 cartons of Weis Market ice cream were recalled. “The products may be contaminated with extraneous material, specifically metal filling equipment parts,” the FDA’s statement explained.

At least one customer discovered an “intact piece of metal equipment” inside a 48-ounce container of the brand’s Cookies and Cream flavor.

Those containers were available in 197 Weis Market grocery stores, but they have already been pulled from shelves. The products have a sell-by date of October 21, 2020, and customers who purchased the product can return it for a full refund.

Along with removing 10,869 units of the Cookies and Cream containers, the brand also recalled 502 3-gallon bulk containers of Klein’s Vanilla Dairy Ice Cream.

Those bulk containers were not for retail sale, but were instead sold to one retail establishment in New York and have since been removed.

Sportsmix Recall Follows 70 Pet Deaths, 80 Illnesses

The second major recall came Tuesday when the FDA expanded a recall of Sportmix dog food.

According to the agency, the product may contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins – toxins produced by the Aspergillus flavus mold, which can grow on corn and other grains used as ingredients in pet food.

As of Tuesday, more than 70 pets have died and more than 80 have gotten sick after eating Sportsmix pet food. Not all the cases have been officially confirmed as aflatoxin poisoning at this time. This count also may not reflect the total number of pets affected.

For now, the FDA is asking pet owners and veterinary professionals to stop using the impacted Sportsmix products that have an expiration date on or before July 9, 2022, and have “05” in the date or lot code.

More detailed information about the recalled products can be found on the FDA’s announcement page.

Pets experiencing aflatoxin poisoning may have symptoms like sluggishness, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice, and/or diarrhea. In some cases, this toxicity can cause long-term liver issues without showing any symptoms. Because of this, pet owners are being advised to take their animals to a veterinarian if they have eaten the recalled products, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

There is currently no evidence that pet owners who have handled the affected food are at risk of aflatoxin poisoning. Still, the FDA recommends that wash your hands after handling pet food.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (USA TODAY) (PEOPLE)

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