Google delays return to office, mandates vaccines

Google’s decision to extend its remote-work follows a similar move by other tech giants such as Apple. (File/AfP)
Google’s decision to extend its remote-work follows a similar move by other tech giants such as Apple. (File/AfP)
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Updated 30 July 2021

Google delays return to office, mandates vaccines

Google’s decision to extend its remote-work follows a similar move by other tech giants such as Apple. (File/AfP)
  • Google delays return to the office until mid-October and requires all workers to be vaccinated prior to returning
  • Various US government agencies already have announced demands for all their employees to be vaccinated

SAN RAMON: Google is postponing a return to the office for most workers until mid-October and rolling out a policy that will eventually require everyone to be vaccinated once its sprawling campuses are fully reopened.
The more highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus is driving a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Google’s Wednesday announcement was shortly followed by Facebook, which also said it will make vaccines mandatory for US employees who work in offices. Exceptions will be made for medical and other reasons.
In an email sent to Google’s more than 130,000 employees worldwide, CEO Sundar Pichai said the company is now aiming to have most of its workforce back to its offices beginning Oct. 18 instead of its previous target date of Sept. 1.
The decision also affects tens of thousands of contractors who Google intends to continue to pay while access to its campuses remains limited.
“This extension will allow us time to ramp back into work while providing flexibility for those who need it,” Pichai wrote.
And Pichai disclosed that once offices are fully reopened, everyone working there will have to be vaccinated. The requirement will be first imposed at Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters and other US offices, before being extended to the more than 40 other countries where Google operates.
“This is the stuff that needs to be done, because otherwise we are endangering workers and their families,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University and a former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore. “It is not fair to parents to be expected to come back to work and sit shoulder-to-shoulder with unvaccinated people who could be carrying a potentially deadly virus.”
Because children under the age of 12 aren’t currently eligible to be vaccinated, parents can bring the virus home to them from the office if they are around unvaccinated colleagues, Wen said.
Various government agencies already have announced demands for all their employees to be vaccinated, but the corporate world so far has been taking a more measured approach, even though most lawyers believe the mandates are legal.
Delta and United airlines are requiring new employees to show proof of vaccination. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are requiring their employees to disclose their vaccination status, but are not requiring staffers to be vaccinated.
Less than 10 percent of employers have said they intend to require all employees to be vaccinated, based on periodic surveys by the research firm Gartner.
While other major technology companies may follow suit now that Google and Facebook have taken stands on vaccines, employers in other industries still may be reluctant, predicted Brian Kropp, chief of research for Gartner’s human resources practice.
“Google is seen as being such a different kind of company that I think it’s going to take one or two more big employers to do something similar in terms of becoming a game changer,” Kropp said.
Google’s vaccine mandate will be adjusted to adhere to the laws and regulations of each location, Pichai wrote, and exceptions will be made for medical and other “protected” reasons.
“Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,” Pichai explained.
Google’s decision to require employees working in the office to be vaccinated comes on the heels of similar moves affecting hundreds of thousands government workers in California and New York as part of stepped-up measures to fight the delta variant. President Joe Biden also is considering mandating all federal government workers be vaccinated.
The rapid rise in cases during the past month has prompted more public health officials to urge stricter measures to help overcome vaccine skepticism and misinformation.
The vaccine requirement rolling out in California next month covers more than 240,000 government employees. The city and county of San Francisco is also requiring its roughly 35,000 workers to be vaccinated or risk disciplinary action after the Food and Drug Administration approves one of the vaccines now being distributed under an emergency order.
It’s unclear how many of Google’s workers still haven’t been vaccinated. In his email, Pichai described the vaccination rate at the company as high.
Google’s decision to extend its remote-work follows a similar move by another technology powerhouse, Apple, which recently moved its return-to-office plans from September to October, too.
The delays by Apple and Google could influence other major employers to take similar precautions, given that the technology industry has been at the forefront of the shift to remote work triggered by the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Even before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March 2020, Google, Apple and many other prominent tech firms had been telling their employees to work from home. This marks the third time Google has pushed back the date for fully reopening its offices.
Google’s vaccine requirement also could embolden other employers to issue similar mandates to guard against outbreaks and minimize the need to wear masks in the office.
While most companies are planning to bring back their workers at least a few days a week, others in the tech industry have decided to let employees do their jobs from remote locations permanently.


Facebook, Google, Twitter face grilling by British lawmakers

Facebook, Google, Twitter face grilling by British lawmakers
Updated 28 October 2021

Facebook, Google, Twitter face grilling by British lawmakers

Facebook, Google, Twitter face grilling by British lawmakers
  • Governments on both sides of the Atlantic want tougher rules aimed at protecting social media users

LONDON: British lawmakers are set to grill Facebook and other tech giants Thursday over how they handle online safety as European efforts to regulate social media companies gain momentum.
Representatives from Facebook, Google, Twitter and TikTok will be questioned by members of a parliamentary committee scrutinizing the British government’s draft online safety legislation.
Governments on both sides of the Atlantic want tougher rules aimed at protecting social media users, especially younger ones, but the United Kingdom’s efforts are much further along. UK lawmakers are questioning researchers, journalists, tech executives and other experts for a report to the government on how to improve the final version of the online safety bill.
The hearing comes the same week YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat were questioned by a US Senate panel. They provided little firm commitment for US legislation bolstering protection of children from online harm, which lawmakers say ranges from eating disorders, sexually explicit content and material promoting addictive drugs.
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen appeared before the UK committee this week, telling members that the company’s systems make online hate worse and that it has little incentive to fix the problem. She said time is running out to regulate social media companies that use artificial intelligence systems to determine what content people see.
Haugen was a Facebook data scientist who copied internal research documents and turned them over to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. They also were provided to a group of media outlets, including The Associated Press, which reported numerous stories about how Facebook prioritized profits over safety and hid its own research from investors and the public.
The UK’s online safety bill calls for a regulator to ensure tech companies comply with rules requiring them to remove dangerous or harmful content or face penalties worth up to 10 percent of annual global revenue. The European Union is working on similar digital rules.
British lawmakers are still grappling with thorny issues such as ensuring privacy and free speech and defining legal but harmful content, including online bullying and advocacy of self-harm.
They’re also trying to get a handle on misinformation that flourishes on social media.
Maria Ressa, a Filipino journalist who shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her fight for freedom of expression under grave risks, acknowledged the challenge, telling the committee on Wednesday that a law to curb disinformation is needed.
“Regulation is our last hope,” Ressa said. “The problem is that you will be a model for everyone else around the the world, so you must be a gold standard, that’s tough.” At the same time, “doing nothing pushes the world closer to fascism,” she added.


MBC to close office in Lebanon and relocate to Saudi Arabia

MBC to close office in Lebanon and relocate to Saudi Arabia
Updated 27 October 2021

MBC to close office in Lebanon and relocate to Saudi Arabia

MBC to close office in Lebanon and relocate to Saudi Arabia
  • Staff reportedly offered a choice of moving to Riyadh or resigning

LONDON: Saudi-owned broadcaster MBC Group announced on Wednesday that it plans to shut its office in Beirut “soon” and relocate to Riyadh.

The company said the reason for the move is a push by authorities in the Kingdom to relocate all state-owned media and broadcasting companies to Saudi Arabia.

While the headquarters of MBC is currently in Dubai, the Lebanon branch was a prominent production office. The company has reportedly offered staff the choice of moving to Riyadh or resigning.

The decision to move the offices of Saudi media companies to Riyadh from other cities in the region, such as Beirut and Dubai, is the result of plans by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to establish the Kingdom as a regional business hub.

News of the move comes a day after George Kordahi, the Lebanese information minister and a former MBC presenter, caused controversy with his comments about Saudi Arabia and the war in Yemen.

When asked during an appearance on Barlamanasha3b TV what he thinks about the situation in Yemen, Kordahi said: “They (the Houthis) are defending themselves.”

He added: “Are they attacking anyone? In my opinion, this Yemeni war is absurd and should stop.”


Near acquires minority stake in data-driven marketing platform MEmob+

Near acquires minority stake in data-driven marketing platform MEmob+
Updated 27 October 2021

Near acquires minority stake in data-driven marketing platform MEmob+

Near acquires minority stake in data-driven marketing platform MEmob+
  • Singapore-based data intelligence specialist acquires minority stake in a deal that values the company at more than $25 million

DUBAI: Singapore-based data intelligence company Near has acquired a minority stake in Middle Eastern SaaS provider of data-driven marketing solutions MEmob+ in a deal that values the company at $25 million.

MEmob+ is a part of Akama Holding, the Dubai-based family office with investments in media, tech and content. It was launched in 2019 by Alexandre Hawari, CEO of Akama Holding and Ihab El-Yaman, the then-head of mobile and performance director of Mediaquest, and current CEO of MEmob+.

The MarTech company has exclusive partnerships with global and regional first party data holders, giving it access to billions of device IDs globally, including more than 400 million in the MENA region. MEmob+ supports brands’ data-driven media activities, location measurement and footfall attribution, research and analysis with a roster of more than 50 major international and regional clients.

“Near, a global giant in the data intelligence market, and MEmob+, a regional leader, were destined to find a common ground and a shared ambition,” said Hawari. 

“Our technical collaboration has now evolved into a financial one. Together, we will capitalize on the attractive growth dynamics in the emerging markets in MEA to further build out MEmob’s leadership position and create the leading global location data intelligence platform,” he added.

In 2020, its second year in operation, MEmob’s turnover grew by 76 percent. Led by El-Yaman, the team behind this growth will continue to build on its track record of performance and innovation.

Near is the global leader in privacy-led data intelligence. The company provides the world’s largest source of intelligence on people, places, and products — processing data from over 1.6 billion monthly users in 44 countries. Founded in 2012, Near is headquartered in Singapore with offices in Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Bangalore, Tokyo and Sydney.

This is Near’s first equity stake in the Middle East. It is the result of a year of research and negotiations to find the best partner to support its expansion in the Middle East and Africa. The cash-in transaction will see the funds injected into the business to accelerate its growth and development even further by increasing its customer base, backing product extension and supporting geographical expansion.

“Our investment in MEmob+ is at the intersection of our core values at Near: Innovation and scale,” said Anil Mathews, CEO of Near, who will join MEmob’s board of directors.

“We’ve watched them grow, in size and sophistication, and realized the opportunities that would come from a closer collaboration. We focus on partners with high growth and world-class management and are impressed by the leading position MEmob+ has built,” he added.


STARZPLAY signs new deal with Star TV

STARZPLAY signs new deal with Star TV
Updated 27 October 2021

STARZPLAY signs new deal with Star TV

STARZPLAY signs new deal with Star TV
  • Agreement will see STARZPLAY venturing into south Asian entertainment

DUBAI: STARZPLAY has signed a deal with the Star TV network to feature six of its popular entertainment channels on the platform.

The agreement will see STARZPLAY venturing into the south Asian entertainment market with plans for further expansion in the segment.

As part of the deal, the streaming platform has introduced a dedicated south Asian entertainment package featuring the channels Star Plus ME, Star Gold International, Jalsha Movies, Asianet Movies, Star Vijay International, and Asianet ME.

Chief executive officer of STARZPLAY, Maaz Sheikh, said: “Over the years, we have built strategic partnerships to offer rich and relevant content to our diverse audience. Our latest association with the Star TV network is an expansion of our content offering as we enter the Asian entertainment space, which is hugely popular and loved in this region.

“Star TV is a much-loved TV network in the region, and we are proud to associate with them to further expand their reach across the Middle East and North Africa region.”

Sudhir Nagpal, senior vice president and head of international business at Star India, said: “The MENA region has a large number of south Asian expatriates, and we are excited to bring our compelling and multilingual portfolio through the region’s leading streaming service STARZPLAY.”

The package for Star TV’s six entertainment channels is priced at 25 dirhams ($6.80). Three cricket channels, CricLife Max, CricLife, and CricLife 2, that STARZPLAY already has access to through a separate deal with Etisalat, will also be part of this package.


Twitter avoids revenue hit from Apple privacy changes

Twitter avoids revenue hit from Apple privacy changes
Updated 27 October 2021

Twitter avoids revenue hit from Apple privacy changes

Twitter avoids revenue hit from Apple privacy changes
  • Twitter saw a “modest” impact to ad revenue due to privacy changes Apple rolled out
  • Twitter has been working to add new features such as audio chat rooms to attract users, and also rolled out improvements to its advertising capabilities

LONDON: Twitter Inc. on Tuesday reported quarterly results that avoided the brunt of Apple Inc. privacy changes on advertising that hobbled its rivals, sending its shares up 3 percent.
The social networking site has been working to add new features such as audio chat rooms to attract users, and also rolled out improvements to its advertising capabilities to reach its goal of doubling annual revenue by 2023.
Advertising revenue was $1.14 billion during the quarter ended Sept. 30, in line with consensus estimates.
The company said it saw a “modest” impact to ad revenue due to privacy changes Apple rolled out, which prevent advertisers from tracking users on their devices without their consent.
Investors had expected Twitter would be relatively shielded from being hurt by the changes, because most of its advertisers do not rely on highly targeted ads.
Twitter’s tech peers Snap and Facebook said the Apple changes hurt their ability to target and measure digital ads, citing the updates as the reason why the companies fell short of revenue expectations.
Twitter said monetizable daily active users, its term for users who are served ads, was 211 million during the third quarter, missing analyst estimates of 212.6 million, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
While Twitter increased its number of users outside the United States by 5 million from the previous quarter, its US base remained flat.
Total revenue, which also includes money that Twitter earns from data licensing, was $1.28 billion, also in line with Wall Street targets.
Twitter said its costs this year from hiring and investing in a new data center will flow into next year, resulting in a mid-20 percent increase in total costs for 2022.
The company forecast fourth quarter revenue between $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion.
Twitter previously announced it would sell its advertising technology unit MoPub, and the deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2022.
The company said it does not expect to be able to recoup the revenue loss next year from selling MoPub, estimated between $200 million to $250 million, though it added the sale does not affect Twitter’s goal of doubling annual revenue by 2023.