Amazon now says remote work OK 2 days a week

he company’s new remote-work plan is similar to other large tech companies. (File/AFP)
he company’s new remote-work plan is similar to other large tech companies. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 June 2021

Amazon now says remote work OK 2 days a week

he company’s new remote-work plan is similar to other large tech companies. (File/AFP)
  • Employees at Amazon won’t have to work in offices full time after coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
  • This follows backlash from some employees to what they interpreted as the expectation they would have to return to the office full time once states reopen.

SEATTLE: Corporate and tech employees at Amazon won’t have to work in offices full time after coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

The Seattle Times reports the online retail giant said in a company blog post Thursday that those workers can work remotely two days a week. In addition, the employees can work remotely from a domestic location for four full weeks each year.

Amazon’s work policy update follows backlash from some employees to what they interpreted as the expectation they would have to return to the office full time once states reopen.

Some tech companies had launched recruiting campaigns that seemed targeted in part at Amazon workers’ dismay over an end to remote work.
Most Amazon employees will start heading back to offices as soon as local jurisdictions fully reopen — July 1 in Washington state — with the majority of workers in offices by autumn, the company said previously.

Amazon has about 75,000 employees in the greater Seattle area. The company’s new remote-work plan is similar to other large tech companies.
Google said last month that it expected roughly 60 percent of its workforce to come into the office a few days a week, and for 20 percent to work from home full time. Google also gave all employees the option to work remotely full time four weeks per year. Facebook and Microsoft have both said most workers can choose to stay remote.

Amazon’s new policy could add to the challenges faced by Seattle’s traditional business core. In pre-pandemic times, tens of thousands of Amazon workers commuted into the South Lake Union neighborhood north of downtown every day. Most haven’t returned.

More than 450 downtown retailers, restaurants and other street-level business locations have closed permanently in the 16 months since the pandemic sent office workers home, according to a Downtown Seattle Association survey.

Of the roughly 175,000 people who worked in downtown offices before the pandemic, 80 percent continue to work remotely, according to association data.


US blocks websites linked to Iranian disinformation including Press TV and Houthi's Al-Masirah

US blocks websites linked to Iranian disinformation including Press TV and Houthi's Al-Masirah
Updated 23 June 2021

US blocks websites linked to Iranian disinformation including Press TV and Houthi's Al-Masirah

US blocks websites linked to Iranian disinformation including Press TV and Houthi's Al-Masirah
  • Iranian news agencies said that the US government had seized several Iranian media websites

DUBAI: The US Justice Department on Tuesday blocked some three dozen websites, many of them associated with Iranian disinformation activities, a US government source said, adding an official announcement was expected.
The source in Washington spoke after notices appeared earlier on Tuesday on a number of Iran-affiliated websites saying they had been seized by the United States government as part of law enforcement action.
Iranian news agencies said that the US government had seized several Iranian media websites and sites belonging to groups affiliated with Iran such as Yemen’s Houthi movement.
Some sites later started to display as normal.
The website of the Arabic-language Masirah TV, which is run by the Houthis, read:
“The domain almasirah.net has been seized by the United States Government in accordance with a seizure warrant ... as part of a law enforcement action by the Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement and Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
The site quickly opened up a new, working website at www.almasirah.com.
Iran’s Arabic language Alalam TV said on its Telegram channel: “US authorities shut down Al-Alam TV’s website.”
A US Justice Department spokesperson had no immediate comment. Two US government sources indicated that the Justice Department was preparing an announcement on this issue.
The notices appeared days after a prominent hard-liner and fierce critic of the West, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected as Iran’s new president and after envoys for Iran and six world powers including Washington adjourned talks on reviving their tattered 2015 nuclear accord and returned to capitals for consultations.
Notices also appeared on websites of Iran’s English-language Press TV and Lualua TV, an Arabic-language Bahraini independent channel which broadcasts from Britain.
“In what seems to be a coordinated action, a similar message appears on the websites of Iranian and regional television networks that claims the domains of the websites have been ‘seized by the United States Government’,” Press TV said on Twitter.
Last October, US prosecutors seized a network of web domains which they said were used in a campaign by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to spread political disinformation around the world.
The US Justice Department said then that it had taken control of 92 domains used by the IRGC to pose as independent media outlets targeting audiences in the United States, Europe, Middle East and Southeast Asia.
The semi-official Iranian news agency YJC agency said on Tuesday the US move “demonstrates that calls for freedom of speech are lies.” 


YouTube wins user copyright fight in top EU court ruling

In response to the court ruling a YouTube spokesperson said: “YouTube is a leader in copyright and supports rights holders being paid their fair share.” (File/AFP)
In response to the court ruling a YouTube spokesperson said: “YouTube is a leader in copyright and supports rights holders being paid their fair share.” (File/AFP)
Updated 22 June 2021

YouTube wins user copyright fight in top EU court ruling

In response to the court ruling a YouTube spokesperson said: “YouTube is a leader in copyright and supports rights holders being paid their fair share.” (File/AFP)
  • Youtube wins long-running copyright-infringement fight against the European Union.
  • Last year, the EU overhauled law requiring YouTube, Facebook’s Instagram and other sharing platforms to install filters to prevent users from uploading copyrighted materials.

LUXEMBOURG: Google’s YouTube has scored a win in its latest copyright-infringement challenge after Europe’s top court said online platforms are not liable for users uploading unauthorized works unless the platforms failed to take quick action to remove or block access to the content.
The case marks the latest development in a long-running battle between Europe’s $1 trillion creative industry and online platforms, with the former seeking redress for unauthorized works that are uploaded.
It is also part of the wider debate on how much online platforms and social media should do to police the posting of unauthorized, illegal or hateful content, an issue that European Union regulators are targeting with tough new rules that could come into force next year.
“As currently stands, operators of online platforms do not, in principle, themselves make a communication to the public of copyright-protected content illegally posted online by users of those platforms,” the EU Court of Justice said.
“However, those operators do make such a communication in breach of copyright where they contribute, beyond merely making those platforms available, to giving access to such content to the public,” judges said.
The EU court said platforms could also be liable if they do not put in place the appropriate technological tools to tackle copyright breaches by their users or where they provide tools on their platforms for illegal sharing of content.
In response to the court ruling a YouTube spokesperson said: “YouTube is a leader in copyright and supports rights holders being paid their fair share.”
“That’s why we’ve invested in state of the art copyright tools which have created an entirely new revenue stream for the industry. In the past 12 months alone we have paid $4 billion to the music industry, over 30 percent of which comes from monetised user generated content.”
YouTube found itself in the dock after Frank Peterson, a music producer, sued the company and Google in Germany over the uploading to YouTube by users in 2008 of several phonograms to which he holds the rights.
In a second case, publishing group Elsevier took legal action against file-hosting service Cyando in Germany after its users uploaded several Elsevier works on its platform Uploaded in 2013 without its approval.
A German court subsequently sought advice from the EU Court of Justice, which ruled on both cases on Tuesday.
Existing EU rules exempt YouTube and its peers from such liability regarding copyright when they are told of violations and remove them.
The EU last year overhauled its copyright rules for the first time in two decades to help its creative industries by adopting a key provision known as Article 17. This requires YouTube, Facebook’s Instagram and other sharing platforms to install filters to prevent users from uploading copyrighted materials.
But this has drawn criticism from civil rights groups worried about potential censorship by authoritarian governments and risks to freedom of expression.
Several EU countries have yet to transpose the EU law into national legislation, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The European Commission has also proposed much a more wide-ranging Digital Services Act, which sets stringent obligations on very large online companies, online platforms and hosting services, backed by fines up to 6 percent of a company’s revenue for non-compliance.
This would apply to websites, Internet infrastructure services and online platforms such as online marketplaces, social networks, content-sharing platforms, app stores, and online travel and accommodation platforms.
The draft rules need to be thrashed out with EU countries and EU lawmakers before they can become law, likely to be next year.


EU investigates Google’s conduct in digital ad tech sector

Google is restricting access by third parties to user data for ad purposes on websites and apps. (File/AFP)
Google is restricting access by third parties to user data for ad purposes on websites and apps. (File/AFP)
Updated 22 June 2021

EU investigates Google’s conduct in digital ad tech sector

Google is restricting access by third parties to user data for ad purposes on websites and apps. (File/AFP)
  • EU launches a new antitrust investigation against Google to determine whether the company is stifling competition in digital advertising technology.

LONDON: European Union regulators have launched a fresh antitrust investigation of Google, this time over whether the US tech giant is stifling competition in digital advertising technology.
The European Commission said Tuesday that it has opened a formal investigation into whether Google violated the bloc’s competition rules by favoring its own online display advertising technology services at the expense of rival publishers, advertisers and advertising technology services.
The commission, the EU’s executive arm and the bloc’s top antitrust enforcer, is looking in particular at whether Google is restricting access by third parties to user data for ad purposes on websites and apps.
“Online advertising services are at the heart of how Google and publishers monetize their online services,” said Margrethe Vestager, the EU commission’s competition chief and executive vice president for digital. Google collects data to be used for targeted advertising while it also sells advertising space and acts as a middleman between online advertisers and publishers, she said.
“We are concerned that Google has made it harder for rival online advertising services to compete in the so-called ad tech stack,” Vestager said.
An email seeking comment was sent to Google’s press office.


Kantar reveals 2021’s most valuable brands

Kantar reveals 2021’s most valuable brands
Updated 22 June 2021

Kantar reveals 2021’s most valuable brands

Kantar reveals 2021’s most valuable brands
  • New ranking demonstrates pandemic’s role in driving brand growth

DUBAI: Global data analytics and consulting company Kantar has released its ranking of the top 100 most valuable brands of the year.

The total value of the top 100 brands has grown by 42 percent, to reach a new record of over $7 trillion, demonstrating a significant rebound from the pandemic. The increase — more than four times the study’s annual average percentage increase over the past 15 years — has been driven by confidence derived from vaccine availability, economic stimulus packages and improving GDP outlooks, according to the report.

“2020-1 has been a record year for brand growth, and despite many facing a difficult year, our research has again proven that strong brands deliver superior shareholder returns, are more resilient and recover more quickly,” said Nathalie Burdet, chief marketing officer of Kantar.

American brands account for more than half of the top 100 brands, with Amazon and Apple leading the way.

Amazon maintained its position as the world’s most valuable brand, growing by 64 percent to $684 billion. It became the first half-a-trillion-dollar brand, alongside Apple, at No. 2, which is valued at $612 billion.

The high rankings of Amazon and Apple are reflective of the growth of big tech companies with seven out of the top 10 brands coming from the technology sector. These include Google at No. 3, Microsoft at No. 4, Tencent at No. 5, Facebook at No. 6 and Alibaba at No. 7

Technology has also enabled non-tech brands to grow during the last year with several of them having to expand their digital presence and pivot to online sales. That explains why this year Zoom and Spotify made it on the top 100 list for the first time. Zoom came in at No. 52 with a valuation of $36.9 billion, while Spotify came in at No. 54 following a 454 percent growth in subscribers between 2015 and 2020.

“With global e-commerce growing from 12 to 15 percent of all sales in 2020, it has been a positive year for brands involved in that value chain — from the retailers through to the couriers like FedEx and UPS,” added Burdet.

This year, five brands doubled their value. At No. 47 is Tesla, the fastest-growing brand, which grew its value by 275 percent to $43 billion. The other four are all Chinese brands: Moutai, Meituan, TikTok and Pinduoduo.

The predominance of Chinese brands on the list marks China’s lead over Europe with Chinese brands having grown from 11 percent of the top 100 value in 2011 to 14 percent today. On the other hand, European brands represent 8 percent of the ranking’s value versus 20 percent in 2011.

The pandemic played a crucial role in driving brands’ value this year. As consumers spent more time at home, the top 10 media and entertainment brands experienced a growth of over 50 percent with gaming chip providers NVIDIA and AMD entering the ranking for the first time.

The time spent working from home also blurred the lines between loungewear and formal wear resulting in a rise in athleisure clothing, which was driven by Adidas, Nike, Puma and Lululemon all securing over 50 percent value growth.

Even the luxury category saw a 34 percent brand growth. Kantar attributes this growth to brands investing in reputation, especially for sustainable and ethical purposes, which has increasingly become a driver for brand growth. For example, LVMH invested in its corporate reputation through pandemic-related initiatives, sustainable transformation and support for social movements such as Black Lives Matter, while L’Oréal Paris secured brand growth across its beauty brands by driving female empowerment.

“This year’s results show that brand building remains critical to securing growth,” said Burdet.

Kantar tracks the stock market performance of the strongest brands and has seen that these brands recover twice as fast as other key indices, she added. The firm’s analytics show that 70 percent of the success of a brand depends on four fundamentals: providing superior experience across consistently branded touchpoints; a range of well-designed and functional products and services; convenience; and exposure through great advertising.

“However, [the pandemic] has emphasized consumer values such as trust and reliability. Those brands that are evolving their values, projecting leadership on these issues, are demonstrating differentiation and standing out,” said Burdet.


A deeper look into ‘The Journey’ the first Saudi-Japanese anime

Saudis flew to Tokyo to work closely with Japanese experts to learn the skills and techniques needed to bring “The Journey” to life. (Supplied)
Saudis flew to Tokyo to work closely with Japanese experts to learn the skills and techniques needed to bring “The Journey” to life. (Supplied)
Updated 22 June 2021

A deeper look into ‘The Journey’ the first Saudi-Japanese anime

Saudis flew to Tokyo to work closely with Japanese experts to learn the skills and techniques needed to bring “The Journey” to life. (Supplied)
  • The film, the first Saudi-Japanese anime, is a collaboration between Manga Productions Company in the Kingdom and Toei Animation Studios in Japan.
  • “The Journey” is in cinemas across the Kingdom now. It can be viewed in Japanese or Arabic, with English and Arabic subtitles.

RIYADH: The history of the Arabian peninsula, and the conquest of Makkah in particular, is at the heart of new movie “The Journey,” the first Saudi-Japanese anime.

The film is a cultural collaboration between Saudi Manga Productions Company and Japan’s Toei Animation Studios. Set 1,500 years ago, it tells the story of a warrior, called Aws, who rises above his troubled past to redeem himself and his faith by leading a team into battle to defend the holy city of Makkah.

Anime, and Japanese culture in general, have long been popular in Saudi Arabia. It is hoped that “The Journey” will pave the way for more co-productions that combine the rich heritage and culture of the Kingdom with the distinctive Japanese style of animation.

During production of the film, Saudis flew to Tokyo to work closely with Japanese experts to learn the skills and techniques needed to bring “The Journey” to life.

“This was our first movie ever, and for Toei Animation, they are veterans, they are experts in the field,” Abdullah Al-Hussainy, the assistant art director and background designer on the film, told Arab News. “However we are experts in Arab culture; it is our playground and they are beginners in that, meaning we were teaching each other and it was a mutual educational journey.”

He said that the very different backgrounds and experience of the Saudi and Japanese members of the production team created a “clash of cultures” at times during the making of the film.

“The Japanese have a very high culture and they are very attached to it, so now we are coming with our culture also and we are very attached to it, so that was an interesting clash between us,” said Al-Hussainy.

Ultimately, he explained, this cross-cultural collaboration between the two studios enriched the creative process and helped to bring to life in Japanese style a story steeped in Arab heritage and tradition.

The Saudi team was determined to get as much hands-on learning experience in Tokyo as possible, working with and learning from industry experts to ensure the quality of the groundbreaking film. Great attention was paid to every aspect of the animation process, including the vibrant color palette, the art style, character development and design, and the intricate storyline.

At all stages, care was taken to ensure that Arab traditions and heritage were authentically portrayed on screen. During battle scenes, for example, the way that the characters draw and use their swords is distinctively Middle Eastern.

“Body language is different from country to country,” Noor Aljijakli, the film’s associate producer, told Arab News. “For example, how they fight with swords. The Japanese have Samurai and they can’t help but to draw (sword fights that way) but these movie characters are Arabs — we act differently, we fight differently, the shapes of our swords are different.”

The production team chose four different art styles to tell the stories in the movie that highlight the main character’s development, including flashbacks.

“These stories are very important for the main character Aws,” Aljijakli said. “They mean a lot for him and his wife and his family and beloved ones, because Aws has struggled. His faith was tested many times and those stories helped him to stand on his feet one more time.”

The music in the film also reflects the cooperation between the two studios and the melding of cultures. The carefully crafted score blends traditional anime-style music with Arabian instruments, including strings and drums. Japanese composer Kaoru Wada spent time in various parts of Saudi Arabia, including Jeddah, Taif and Riyadh, listening to local musicians playing Arab instruments such as the oud, goblet drum and mijwiz.

“The Journey” is in cinemas across the Kingdom now. It can be viewed in Japanese or Arabic, with English and Arabic subtitles.