Coinbase Announces Cryptocurrency-Focused Index Fund ( 26

In an interview with CNBC on its "Fast Money" segment, Coinbase's President and COO Asiff Hirji said the digital-currency platform would launch a cryptocurrency-focused index fund. Details are scarce but Hirji said it will be intended to give retail investors broad exposure to virtual currencies, and would be targeted to accredited investors on Day 1. He also said the index fund would be market-cap weighted.

UPDATE: Coinbase has since issued a blog post detailing the announcement. They are also introducing Coinbase Index, which "is a measure of the financial performance of all assets listed on GDAX, weighted by their market capitalization."

Researcher Admits Study That Claimed Uber Drivers Earn $3.37 An Hour Was Not Correct ( 101

Last week, an MIT study using data from more than 1,100 Uber and Lyft drivers concluded they're earning a median pretax profit of just $3.37 per hour. Uber was less than pleased by their findings and used a blog post to highlight problems with the researchers' methodology. "Now the lead researcher behind the draft paper has admitted that Uber's criticism was actually pretty valid -- while also asking Uber and Lyft to make more data available, in order to improve his analysis," reports Fortune. From the report: The issue with the draft paper from MIT's Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR), Uber's chief economist Jonathan Hall said, was this: The researchers asked drivers how much money they made on average each week from such services, but then asked "How much of your total monthly income comes from driving" -- without specifying that such income must relate to on-demand services. Of course, many people driving for Uber and Lyft also earn money from regular jobs and other income sources. And this, Hall alleged, skewed the researchers' results.

"Hall's specific criticism is valid," wrote Stephen Zoepf, the executive director of Stanford's Center for Automotive Research, who led the MIT study, on Monday. "In re-reading the wording of the two questions, I can see how respondents could have interpreted the two questions in the manner Hall describes." Zoepf said he would be updating the CEEPR paper, but in the meantime he recalculated the figures using a methodology suggested by Hall, and found that the median profit was $8.55 per hour, rather than $3.37, and only 8% of drivers lose money on on-demand platforms. Using another methodology, he added, the median rises to $10 per hour and only 4% of drivers lose money.


Google Is Selling Off Zagat ( 33

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechCrunch: Seven years after picking up Zagat for $151 million, Google is selling off the perennial restaurant recommendation service. The New York Times is reporting this morning that the technology giant is selling off the company to The Infatuation, a review site founded nine years back by former music execs. The company had been rumored to be courting a buyer since early this year. As Reuters noted at the time, Zagat has increasingly become less of a focus for Google, as the company began growing its database of restaurant recommendations organically. Zagat, meanwhile, has lost much of the shine it had when Google purchased it nearly a decade ago. The Infatuation, which uses an in-house team of reviewers to write up restaurants in major cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and London, is picking up the service for an undisclosed amount. The site clearly believes there's value left in the Zagat brand, even as the business of online reviews has changed significantly in the seven years sinceGoogle picked it up.

Uber Spent $10.7 Billion in Nine Years. Does It Have Enough to Show for It? ( 91

An anonymous reader shares a report: What makes Uber Technologies the most valuable venture-backed technology company in the world? Investors say size and growth. The business is transforming global transportation networks. On closer inspection of its financial performance, Uber also pioneered a very expensive way of establishing a market and staying on top. Uber has had little trouble finding investors eager to buy into its vision. It relishes telling backers about gross bookings, or the amount riders pay for service. That number is enormous, totaling $37 billion last year. But most of that goes to drivers. Uber's cut, or net revenue, came to $7.4 billion. Compared to public companies with similar valuations, Uber's revenue lags well behind. At the same time, Uber has worked to downplay its persistent losses. Because the company doesn't disclose financial results with much consistency, it's easy to lose sight of how much of investors' money Uber has spent. Since its founding nine years ago, Uber has burned through about $10.7 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter. Over the past decade, only one public technology company in North America lost more in a year than Uber lost in 2017. None has burned such a tremendous amount in the first stage of its life, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Uber Booked Half the Theater For the Opening Night of a Play Inspired By the Scandals that Took Down Former CEO Travis Kalanick ( 33

Uber booked more than half of the seats available for the London premiere of "Brilliant Jerks," a satirical play inspired by the car-ride startup's numerous scandals, and featuring a character similar to former CEO Travis Kalanick. From a report: The company purchased 50 of 90 available seats for the show's opening night at London's Vault theater, as originally reported by the Financial Times. The Financial Times reports that the play was inspired in part by the now-infamous blog post by Susan J. Fowler on Uber's toxic and sexist work culture, setting off a chain of events that ultimately led Kalanick to resign as chief executive of the company he cofounded. According to the Vault's website, "Brilliant Jerks tells the story of three people -- a driver, a coder, and a CEO -- working for one tech monolith, but living worlds apart."

Silicon Valley Is Over, Says Silicon Valley ( 304

An anonymous reader shares a New York Times report: In recent months, a growing number of tech leaders have been flirting with the idea of leaving Silicon Valley. Some cite the exorbitant cost of living in San Francisco and its suburbs, where even a million-dollar salary can feel middle class. Others complain about local criticism of the tech industry and a left-wing echo chamber that stifles opposing views. And yet others feel that better innovation is happening elsewhere. "I'm a little over San Francisco," said Patrick McKenna, the founder of High Ridge Venture Partners who was also on the bus tour. "It's so expensive, it's so congested, and frankly, you also see opportunities in other places." Mr. McKenna, who owns a house in Miami in addition to his home in San Francisco, told me that his travels outside the Bay Area had opened his eyes to a world beyond the tech bubble. "Every single person in San Francisco is talking about the same things, whether it's 'I hate Trump' or 'I'm going to do blockchain and Bitcoin,'" he said. "It's the worst part of the social network."

[...] Complaints about Silicon Valley insularity are as old as the Valley itself. Jim Clark, the co-founder of Netscape, famously decamped for Florida during the first dot-com era, complaining about high taxes and expensive real estate. Steve Case, the founder of AOL, has pledged to invest mostly in start-ups outside the Bay Area, saying that "we've probably hit peak Silicon Valley." But even among those who enjoy living in the Bay Area, and can afford to do so comfortably, there's a feeling that success has gone to the tech industry's head. "Some of the engineers in the Valley have the biggest egos known to humankind," Mr. Khanna, the Silicon Valley congressman, said during a round-table discussion with officials in Youngstown.


The Slow Death of the Internet Cookie ( 97

Sara Fischer, writing for Axios: Over 60% of marketers believe they will no longer need to rely on tracking cookies, a 20-year-old desktop-based technology, for the majority of their digital marketing within the next two years, according to data from Viant Technology, an advertising cloud. Why it matters: Advertising and web-based services that were cookie-dependent are slowly being phased out of our mobile-first world, where more personalized data targeting is done without using cookies. Marketers are moving away from using cookies to track user data on the web to target ads now that people are moving away from desktop. 90% of marketers say they see improved performance from people-based marketing, compared with cookie-based campaigns.

Flippy the Robot Takes Over Burger Duties At California Restaurant ( 226

Chain eatery CaliBurger announced today that its location in Pasadena is the first to employ Flippy, a burger-flipping robot developed by Miso Robotics. The robot is able to take over the cooking duties after a human puts the patties on the grill. KTLA reports: "The kitchen of the future will always have people in it, but we see that kitchen as having people and robots," said David Zito, co-founder and chief executive officer of Miso Robotics. Flippy uses thermal imaging, 3D and camera vision to sense when to flip -- and when to remove. "It detects the temperature of the patty, the size of the patty and the temperature of the grill surface," explained Zito. The device also learns through artificial intelligence -- basically, the more burgers that Flippy flips, the smarter it gets. Right now, cheese and toppings are added by a co-worker. CaliBurger CEO John Miller says the robot can cut down on costs as it will work a position that has a high turnover rate. "It's not a fun job -- it's hot, it's greasy, it's dirty," said Miller about the grill cook position. Less turnover means less time training new grill cooks. Flippy costs about $60,000 minimum and is expected to be used at other CaliBurger locations soon.

Europe Plans Special Tax For Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon ( 253

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Register: Bruno Le Maire, France's minister for the economy, has revealed that a plan to levy a special tax on Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon will soon be revealed by European authorities. Le Maire told French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche "A European directive will be unveiled in the coming weeks, the minister reveals, and it will mark a considerable step forward." The minister told the paper that a tax of between two and six per cent has been considered, with the proposal to be "closer to two than six." The proposed tax will be levied on the four companies' turnover, rather than profits. Taxing turnover is hoped to offer a simple way to tax the companies, as all use legal-but-cynical ways to minimize their taxable income. Le Maire added that a turnover tax is seen as being quick to implement and that the four companies know they're going to have to pay more tax in Europe, so may be amenable to such an arrangement.

Six Tech Companies Filing Net Neutrality Lawsuit ( 31

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Hill: Six technology companies, including Kickstarter, Foursquare and Etsy, have launched a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in an effort to preserve net neutrality rules. The companies, which also include Shutterstock, Expa and Automattic, on Monday filed their petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The companies join Vimeo and Mozilla, as well as several state attorneys general who have also filed lawsuits against the FCC in support of the net neutrality rules. Like the other lawsuits, their new case hinges on the Administrative Procedure Act, which they argue prevents the FCC from "arbitrary and capricious" redactions to already existing policy. "Already, over 30,000 Etsy sellers participated in the FCC's public comment process, and tens of thousands more reached out to Congress in support of net neutrality. Now we're bringing their stories and experiences to the courts," said Althea Erickson, head of advocacy and impact at Etsy.

Remote Work is Going To Keep Increasing, Study Says ( 108

Freelancing website Upwork has published its annual Future Workforce Report, which explores hiring behaviors of over 1,000 U.S. managers. It finds: As companies struggle to fill the skills gap, they're embracing agile, remote teams to get work done. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of companies today have remote workers, yet a majority lack remote work policies.

Companies have the resources, but lack the policies to support remote work: While companies feel confident they have the resources in place to support remote work, many lack a formal policy. Sixty-four percent of hiring managers feel that their company has the resources and processes in place to support a remote workforce, yet the majority (57 percent) lack a remote work policy.
Companies with work-from-home policies have become more lenient & inclusive: As companies increasingly embrace remote work, they're evolving their work-from-home policies. Nearly half (45%) of hiring managers said their company's work-from-home policy has changed in the past five years, with 60 percent saying it has become more lenient and inclusive. This increased inclusivity is making it easier for companies to find the talent they need. Over half (52%) of hiring managers that work at companies with work-from-home policies believe hiring has become easier in the past year.
Findings indicate remote work is likely to become the new normal: Over half (55%) of hiring managers agree that remote work has become more commonplace as compared to three years ago. Five times as many hiring managers expect more of their team to work remotely in the next ten years than expect less.


Tencent's WeChat Hits 1 Billion Milestone as Lunar New Year Boosts Monthly Active Users ( 25

WeChat hit the milestone of one billion monthly active users during the Lunar New Year in February, a "remarkable number" according to Tencent Holdings chief executive Pony Ma Huateng who disclosed the figure at a Two Sessions media briefing in Beijing on Monday. From a report: The user numbers are up from 980 million in the third quarter of 2017, as reported in Tencent's third quarter results. More than 688 million WeChat users sent or received digital versions of hongbao, the traditional Chinese red packet containing cash and given as a gift during the new year holiday season, pushing the monthly active users of WeChat hongbao to 800 million, Ma revealed on Saturday, as reported by Chinese tech media 36Kr.
The Internet

Google Fiber Is a Faint Echo of the Disruption We Were Promised ( 173

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Some eight years on and Google Fiber's ambitions are just a pale echo of the disruptive potential originally proclaimed by the company. While Google Fiber did make some impressive early headway in cities like Austin, the company ran into numerous deployment headaches. Fearing competition, incumbent ISPs like AT&T and Comcast began a concerted effort to block the company's access to essential utility poles, even going so far as to file lawsuits against cities like Nashville that tried to expedite the process. Even in launched markets, customer uptake wasn't quite what executives were expecting. Estimates peg Google Fiber TV subscribers at fewer than 100,000, thanks in large part to the cord cutting mindset embraced by early adopters. Broadband subscriber tallies (estimated as at least 500,000) were notably better, but still off from early company projections. Even without anti-competitive roadblocks, progress was slow. Digging up city streets and burying fiber was already a time-consuming and expensive process. And while Google has tried to accelerate these deployments via something called "microtrenching" (machines that bury fiber an inch below roadways), broadband deployment remains a rough business. It's a business made all the rougher by state and local regulators and lawmakers who've been in the pockets of entrenched providers like Comcast for the better part of a generation.

Levi Strauss Replaces Human Sanding With Automated Lasers ( 237

_Sharp'r_ writes: Stressing jeans used to require 300 to 400 workers with sandpaper all day. Now Levi Strauss does a better job by shooting their new jeans with computer-guided lasers in intricate patterns generated in CAD systems. Along the way, they save water and "will cut the number of chemicals it uses to produce jeans from 1,000 to a few dozen," reports Bloomberg.

Bad iPhone Notches Are Happening To Good Android Phones ( 260

The Verge's Vlad Savov argues that Android smartphone manufacturers are copying the iPhone's design (specifically, the iPhone X's notch) with more speed and cynicism than ever before: I've been coming to Mobile World Congress for close to a decade now, and I've never seen the iPhone copied quite so blatantly and cynically as I witnessed during this year's show. MWC 2018 will go down in history as the launch platform for a mass of iPhone X notch copycats, each of them more hastily and sloppily assembled than the next. No effort is being made to emulate the complex Face ID system that resides inside Apple's notch; companies like Noa and Ulefone are in such a hurry to get their iPhone lookalike on the market that they haven't even customized their software to account for the new shape of the screen. More than one of these notched handsets at MWC had the clock occluded by the curved corner of the display. Asus is one of the biggest consumer electronics companies in the world, and yet its copycat notch is probably the most galling of them all. The Zenfone 5 looks and feels like a promising phone, featuring loud speakers, the latest Sony imaging sensor with larger-than-average pixels, and a price somewhere south of $499. I should be celebrating it right now, but instead I'm turning away in disgust as Asus leans into its copying by calling Apple a "Fruit Company" repeatedly. If you're going to copy the iPhone, at least have the decency to avoid trying to mock it.

It would be stating the obvious to say that this trend is not a good one. I'm absolutely of the belief that everyone, Apple included, copies or borrows ideas from everyone else in the mobile industry. This is a great way to see technical improvements disseminated across the market. But the problem with these notched screens on Android phones is that they're purely cosmetic. Apple's notch at the top of the iPhone X allows the company to have a nearly borderless screen everywhere else, plus it accommodates the earpiece and TrueDepth camera for Face ID. Asus et al have a sizeable "chin" at the bottom of their phones, so the cutouts at the top are self-evidently motivated by the desire to just look -- not function, look -- like an iPhone X.


Google's Slack Competitor 'Hangouts Chat' Comes Out of Beta ( 52

Frederic Lardinois reports via TechCrunch: Hangouts Chat, Google's take on modern workplace communication, is now generally available and is becoming a core part of G Suite. Hangouts Chat was first announced at Google Cloud Next 2017, together with Hangouts Meet. While Meet went right into public availability, though, Chat went into an invite-only preview. Now, Google is rolling Chat out to all G Suite users over the course of the next seven days (so if you don't see it yet, don't despair). For all intents and purposes, Hangouts Chat is Google's take on Slack, Microsoft Teams and similar projects. Since Google first announced this project, Atlassian also joined the fray with the launch of Stride. Like its competitors, Chat is available on iOS, Android and the web.

Chat currently supports 28 languages and each room can have up to 8,000 members. What's maybe just as important, though, is that Google has already built an ecosystem of partners that are integrating with Chat by offering their own bots. They include the likes of Xero, RingCentral, UberConference, Salesforce, Zenefits,, Jira, Trello, Wrike and Kayak. There's even a Giphy bot. Developers can also build their own bots and integrate their own services with Chat.


Uber Challenges Study Suggesting Its Drivers Earn $3.37 Per Hour ( 271

An MIT study using data from more than 1,100 Uber and Lyft drivers concluded they're earning a median pretax profit of just $3.37 per hour. But now Reuters reports: Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi criticized the MIT study in a tweet on Friday as "Mathematically Incompetent Theories (at least as it pertains to ride-sharing)," and linked to a response by Uber chief economist Jonathan Hall that challenged the study's methodology. Hall's rebuttal to the study said the likely misinterpretation of a survey question and the study's "inconsistent logic" produced a wage result that was below similar studies elsewhere. He said the study used a "flawed methodology" compared with a survey that found drivers' average hour earnings were $15.68. "The earnings figures suggested in the paper are less than half the hourly earnings numbers reported in the very survey the paper derives its data from," wrote Hall.

The MIT study's lead author, Stephen Zoepf, told Reuters in an email on Saturday, "I can see how the question on revenue might have been interpreted differently by respondents" and called Hall's rebuttal thoughtful. "I'm re-running the analysis this weekend using Uber's more optimistic assumptions and should have new results and a public response acknowledging the discrepancy by Monday," he wrote.

Saturday Uber's CEO tweeted a thank-you to MIT, "for listening and revisiting this study and its findings. Right thing to do."

YouTube Hiring For Some Positions Excluded White and Asian Men, Lawsuit Says ( 448

Kirsten Grind and Douglas MacMillan report via The Wall Street Journal (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source): YouTube last year stopped hiring white and Asian males for technical positions because they didn't help the world's largest video site achieve its goals for improving diversity, according to a civil lawsuit filed by a former employee. The lawsuit, filed by Arne Wilberg, a white male who worked at Google for nine years, including four years as a recruiter at YouTube, alleges the division of Alphabet's Google set quotas for hiring minorities. Last spring, YouTube recruiters were allegedly instructed to cancel interviews with applicants who weren't female, black or Hispanic, and to "purge entirely" the applications of people who didn't fit those categories, the lawsuit claims.

A Google spokeswoman said the company will vigorously defend itself in the lawsuit. "We have a clear policy to hire candidates based on their merit, not their identity," she said in a statement. "At the same time, we unapologetically try to find a diverse pool of qualified candidates for open roles, as this helps us hire the best people, improve our culture, and build better products." People familiar with YouTube's and Google's hiring practices in interviews corroborated some of the lawsuit's allegations, including the hiring freeze of white and Asian technical employees, and YouTube's use of quotas.


Australia Considers Making It Illegal For ISPs To Advertise Inflated Speeds ( 70

The Australian government is currently considering a bill that would make it illegal for internet service providers to exaggerate speeds, or else face a fine of up to $1 million. "One constituent says he's being charged for a 25 megabit per second download speed and a five megabit per second upload and he's actually getting less than one tenth of that," said Andrew Wilkie, the Member of Parliament who introduced the bill. "In other words, people are getting worse than dial-up speed when they've been promised a whizz-bang, super-fast connection." Motherboard reports: Internet speeds can vary based on how many people are on the network and even the hardware you use, but while we can't expect ISPs to deliver maximum speed 100 percent of the time, previous probes into their performance have shown many ISPs in the U.S. aren't delivering even the minimum advertised speeds a majority of the time for the average user. Under the proposed Australian law, ISPs are simply required to be more transparent about what consumers can expect with a specific plan. Rather than advertising only the maximum speeds, they would have to include typical speeds for the average user, indicate busy periods, and clearly list any other factors that might impact service. The bill was only introduced this week, so it's yet to be seen if it will gain traction.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos Called Out On Counterfeit Products Problem ( 169

An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNET: Here's the scenario. A small company designs and creates a product and puts it up on Amazon. Things go well. People really like it. They post hundreds of positive reviews. Sales build -- and keep building. Everything is going great. And then, boom, things go south in a hurry. Another company has created a counterfeit version of the product and is selling it under the same name only it's selling it for less, stealing all the sales. That's exactly what happened to Portland-based Elevation Lab, its founder Casey Hopkins said, accusing Amazon of being "complicit with counterfeiting" in a blog post.

The Anchor, Elevation's popular under-desk headphone mount, has been getting flooded with counterfeits, Hopkins said, noting the situation certainly isn't unique to his company. "The current counterfeit seller, Suiningdonghanjiaju Co Ltd (yeah they sound legit), has been on there for the past 5 days and taken all the sales," Hopkins wrote. Adding further insult to injury, he said Elevation has paid Amazon a "boatload of money" to advertise the product that it has "built, invested in, and shipped." Amazon has now purged the Suiningdonghanjiaju listing, which is noted in our cart as "no longer available from the selected seller." It instead defaults to Elevation's own stock. Hopkins told CNET that counterfeiters have been purged at least five times in recent weeks only to return a week later under a different seller name "to hijack the listing." He said it takes Amazon 5 days to remove the seller.
"If you have a registered brand in the Brand Registry and don't sell the product wholesale, there could be one box to check for that," Hopkins wrote. "And anyone else would have to get approval or high vetting to sell the product, especially if they are sending large quantities to FBA [Fulfillment by Amazon]. I imagine there are some algorithmic solutions that could catch most of it too. And it wouldn't hurt to increase the size of the Brand Registry team so they can do their work faster." Hopkins took a final poke at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, saying: "If you're reading this, come on, this is Day 2 activity."

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