Zoom, which thrived on the remote work revolution, wants workers back in the office part-time

Zoom, which thrived on the remote work revolution, wants workers back in the office part-time
Zoom is asking employees who live within a 50-mile radius of its offices to work onsite two days a week. (AP)
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Updated 08 August 2023
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Zoom, which thrived on the remote work revolution, wants workers back in the office part-time

Zoom, which thrived on the remote work revolution, wants workers back in the office part-time
  • The new policy will be rolled out in August and September
  • Zoom saw explosive growth during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic as companies scrambled to shift to remote work

NEW YORK: The company whose name became synonymous with remote work is joining the growing return-to-office trend.
Zoom, the video conferencing pioneer, is asking employees who live within a 50-mile radius of its offices to work onsite two days a week, a company spokesperson confirmed in an email. The statement said the company has decided that “a structured hybrid approach – meaning employees that live near an office need to be onsite two days a week to interact with their teams – is most effective for Zoom.”
The new policy, which will be rolled out in August and September, was first reported by the New York Times, which said Zoom CEO Eric Yuan fielded questions from employees unhappy with the new policy during a Zoom meeting last week.
Zoom, based in San Jose, California, saw explosive growth during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic as companies scrambled to shift to remote work, and even families and friends turned to the platform for virtual gatherings. But that growth has stagnated as the pandemic threat has ebbed.
Shares of Zoom Video Communications Inc. have tumbled hard since peaking early in the pandemic, from $559 apiece in October 2020, to below $70 on Tuesday. Shares have slumped more than 10 percent to start the month of August. In February, Zoom laid off about 1,300 people, or about 15 percent of its workforce.
Google, Salesforce and Amazon are among major companies that have also stepped up their return-to-office policies despite a backlash from some employees.
Similarly, to Zoom, many companies are asking their employees to show up to the office only part-time, as hybrid work shapes up to be a lasting legacy of the pandemic. Since January, the average weekly office occupancy rate in 10 major US cities has hovered around 50 percent, dipping below that threshold during the summer months, according to Kastle Systems, which measures occupancy through entry swipes.


Israeli minister uses explicit language, vows annexation of West Bank

Israeli minister uses explicit language, vows annexation of West Bank
Updated 24 June 2024
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Israeli minister uses explicit language, vows annexation of West Bank

Israeli minister uses explicit language, vows annexation of West Bank
  • Bezalel Smotrich says government ‘will establish sovereignty first on the ground and then through legislation’
  • Rhetoric comes after reports of Israeli plans to pass ‘authority over the territory into hands of civilians’

LONDON: Israel’s far-right minister Bezalel Smotrich has made one of the most explicit and forceful declarations yet regarding the annexation of the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank.

Speaking at a meeting of his Religious Zionism party, Smotrich, who serves as Israel’s finance minister and also holds a ministerial role in the Defense Ministry, used unequivocal language, referring to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria, asserting that they are “an integral part of Israel.”

Smotrich declared at the conference: “We will establish sovereignty … first on the ground and then through legislation. I intend to legalize the young settlements.”

He stressed that his “life’s mission is to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Smotrich’s remarks represent a new escalation in the Israeli government’s rhetoric, marking a clear and unambiguous stance on the annexation issue.

The use of explicit language underscores the minister’s hardline position and his commitment to changing the status of the West Bank through legal and practical measures.

This development follows revelations in The New York Times and The Guardian last week accusing the Israeli government of planning to “quietly pass authority over the territory into the hands of civilians” and other pro-settler civil servants, instead of the military.

Smotrich explained in leaked recorded remarks made at a gathering of supporters in the West Bank that these “mega-dramatic” administrative changes would transfer powers to the Civil Administration, led by Smotrich within the Defense Ministry.

The transfer would reduce the likelihood of legal checks on settlement expansion and development, as the Civil Administration is responsible for planning and construction in Area C of the West Bank, which is about 60 percent of the total land.

Smotrich added that the new system would result in the government avoiding international criticism by keeping the Defense Ministry involved, making it seem as if the military remained the main player in governing the West Bank.

“It will be easier to swallow in the international and legal context,” he said.

Smotrich’s comments are likely to further inflame tensions in the region and draw sharp criticism from Palestinian leaders and the international community, who view the annexation plans as a violation of international law and a significant obstacle to peace efforts.

Smotrich, who has pushed to legalize illegal settlements in the West Bank and approve thousands of new homes in Palestinian territories since becoming a minister, has been at the center of controversy in recent times.

US media have speculated that he could face sanctions for his role in destabilizing the West Bank.


Lebanon minister threatens to sue The Telegraph over ‘ridiculous’ airport weapons-storage claims

Lebanon minister threatens to sue The Telegraph over ‘ridiculous’ airport weapons-storage claims
Updated 24 June 2024
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Lebanon minister threatens to sue The Telegraph over ‘ridiculous’ airport weapons-storage claims

Lebanon minister threatens to sue The Telegraph over ‘ridiculous’ airport weapons-storage claims
  • Hezbollah storing Iran-made weapons at Beirut airport, says report
  • Ali Hamieh invited media and officials to inspect the site on Monday

LONDON: Lebanon’s Public Works and Transport Minister Ali Hamieh has threatened to sue The Telegraph for reporting claims that Hezbollah was using Beirut-Rafic Hariri Airport to smuggle weapons into the country.

At a press conference in Beirut on Sunday, Hamieh, the caretaker minister affiliated with Hezbollah, denied the allegations and described them as “ridiculous.”

He called for an “open to all” inspection of the site on Monday and announced plans to sue The Telegraph for defamation.

“The airport has been always a target of the Israeli enemy, and everything written in The Telegraph is untrue; no weapons are entering or leaving through the airport,” Hamieh said.

He said Lebanon’s customs officials “represent the state in protecting Beirut airport, and their integrity cannot be questioned,” and that they have “nothing to hide.”

The Telegraph published the report on Sunday alleging that Hezbollah was storing huge quantities of Iran-sourced weapons, missiles and explosives at Beirut-Rafic Hariri Airport.

The cache allegedly includes Iran-made Falaq unguided artillery rockets, Fateh-110 short-range missiles, road-mobile ballistic missiles, M-600 missiles that can reach up to 321 km, and other precision-guided weapons.

It also mentioned quantities of RDX, an explosive known as cyclonite or hexogen.

The British outlet cited an “anonymous airport worker” as the sole source of the claims.

Hamieh claimed The Telegraph had not consulted the British Department of Transport, which conducted a field visit of the airport in January.

He added that The Telegraph had initially claimed its source was an official from the International Air Transport Association, but later changed it to an unnamed worker.

“Is it conceivable that a reputable newspaper would change its sources within an hour?” Hamieh asked.

The Air Transport Union in Lebanon has denied the claims, stating that they were “mere illusions and lies aimed at endangering Beirut Airport and its civilian workers, as well as travelers to and from it, all of whom are civilians.”

The report was met with skepticism by some social media users, who slammed the British daily’s allegations as propaganda aimed at destabilizing the country.


Apple holds talks with rival Meta over AI: report

Apple holds talks with rival Meta over AI: report
Updated 24 June 2024
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Apple holds talks with rival Meta over AI: report

Apple holds talks with rival Meta over AI: report
  • Pressure has been on Apple to persuade doubters on its AI strategy, after Microsoft and Google rolled out products in rapid-fire succession.

WASHINGTON: Apple is talking to major rival Meta about integrating the Facebook parent company’s generative AI into its products, as it tries to catch up with rivals on artificial intelligence, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
The report comes after Apple also struck a deal with OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT, to help equip its Apple Intelligence suite of new AI features for its coveted products.
For months, pressure has been on Apple to persuade doubters on its AI strategy, after Microsoft and Google rolled out products in rapid-fire succession.
It has developed its own, smaller artificial intelligence but said that it will turn to others such as OpenAI to boost its in-house offering.
According to the Journal, which cited sources close to the matter, Meta has held discussions with Apple over integrating its own generative AI model into Apple Intelligence.
Apple senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi said in early June that Apple also wanted to integrate capabilities from Google’s generative AI system, Gemini, into its devices.

The iPhone maker is also expected to discuss partnerships with other AI companies in different regions like China, where Microsoft-backed OpenAI chatbot ChatGPT is banned.
AI startup Anthropic has been in discussions with Apple to bring its generative AI to Apple Intelligence, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
Meta and Anthropic declined to comment, while Apple did not respond immediately to request for comment outside business hours.

AI search startup Perplexity has also been in discussions with Apple about bringing its generative AI technology to Apple Intelligence, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The big challenge for Apple has been how to infuse ChatGPT-style AI — which voraciously feeds off data — into its products without weakening its heavily promoted user privacy and security, according to analysts.
Apple Intelligence will enable users to create their own emojis based on a description in everyday language, or to generate brief summaries of emails in the mailbox.
Apple said Siri, its voice assistant, will also get an AI-infused upgrade and now will appear as a pulsating light on the edge of your home screen.
Launched over 12 years ago, Siri has long since been seen as a dated feature, overtaken by the new generation of assistants, such as GPT-4o, OpenAI’s latest offering.
According to Canalys, 16 percent of smartphones shipped this year will be equipped with generative AI features, a proportion it expects to rise to 54 percent by 2028.

The discussions have not been finalized and could fall through, WSJ reported, adding that deals with Apple would help AI companies to obtain a wider distribution of their products.
The size of potential financial windfall is unclear, but the talks involved AI companies selling premium subscriptions to their services through Apple Intelligence, the report said.
 


Reuters denies reporting imminent Israeli attack on Lebanon following social media claims

Reuters denies reporting imminent Israeli attack on Lebanon following social media claims
Updated 23 June 2024
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Reuters denies reporting imminent Israeli attack on Lebanon following social media claims

Reuters denies reporting imminent Israeli attack on Lebanon following social media claims

LONDON: Reuters denied on Saturday that it had reported that Israel would attack Lebanon within 48 hours, after reports circulated on social media citing the news agency as saying this.
“Any claims that Reuters reported that Israel will attack Lebanon within the next 48 hours are false. Reuters did not report this,” a Reuters spokesperson said.


Women’s journalism group rescinds courage award given to Palestinian reporter in Gaza

Women’s journalism group rescinds courage award given to Palestinian reporter in Gaza
Updated 21 June 2024
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Women’s journalism group rescinds courage award given to Palestinian reporter in Gaza

Women’s journalism group rescinds courage award given to Palestinian reporter in Gaza
  • Maha Hussaini accuses International Women’s Media Foundation of bowing to pressure she says is typical of the systematic attacks Palestinian journalists face
  • Foundation’s decision follows a report by a conservative publication that accused Hussaini of support for Hamas and antisemitic comments

LONDON: A group that represents women in journalism has rescinded a Courage in Journalism award it presented this month to Palestinian journalist Maha Hussaini.

The decision by the International Women’s Media Foundation follows a report this week by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication in the US, that alleged the freelance writer, who is based in Gaza, had posted messages on social media several years ago in which she praised terrorist actions by Hamas on at least two occasions and shared antisemitic cartoons.

The foundation said the comments in the posts “contradict the values of our organization,” adding: “Both the Courage Awards and the IWMF’s mission are based on integrity and opposition to intolerance. We do not, and will not, condone or support views or statements that do not adhere to those principles.”

Hussaini was named on June 10 as one of four recipients of the Courage Award, for her reporting during the war in Gaza. Her work included a story about the challenges women face giving birth at home during the conflict, and a harrowing account of a young girl who carried her paralyzed brother to safety during military bombing campaigns.

The IWMF describes itself as “a bold and inclusive organization that supports journalists where they are.” Its board and advisory council include prominent media figures such as former CNN journalist Suzanne Malveaux, the Washington Post’s Hannah Allam and CNN TV news anchor Christiane Amanpour.

Hussaini denounced the decision to rescind the award, accusing the Washington-based foundation of “succumbing to pressure” and “choosing to act contrary to courage.” She added that it “starkly demonstrated the systematic physical and moral attacks Palestinian journalists endure throughout their careers.”

Ina message posted on social media platform X, she added: “Each announcement of an award to a Palestinian journalist is systematically followed by extensive smearing campaigns and intense pressure on the awarding organizations from supporters of the Israeli occupation and the Zionist lobby.

“While some organizations uphold their principles and maintain their decision … others, regrettably, cave to the pressure and withdraw the prizes.”

Hussaini said she had “no regrets about any posts” and said her social media comments reflected her experiences of living under Israeli occupation and simply expressed support for resistance efforts.

The foundation’s decision was widely criticized by journalists and media groups. Some suggested Hussaini was the victim of a “vicious campaign,” others described the output of the Washington Free Beacon as “decadent and unethical” and said it had a history of targeting supporters of the Palestinian cause.