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Microsoft employees protest company contract with US Army for HoloLens

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Marine Corps Robert Neller Microsoft HoloLensMarine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller uses a HoloLens to manipulate virtual objects at the Marine Corps Installations Pacific Innovation Lab aboard Camp Foster, Okinawa, Japan, April 4, 2017.US Marine photo by Lance Corporal Tayler P. Schwamb
  • A group of Microsoft employees are protesting the company’s $749 million contract with the US Army.
  • The contract involves providing HoloLens augmented reality tech for soldiers, but the workers say it makes them into unwilling “war profiteers.”
  • More than 50 employees have now signed an open letter calling on Microsoft’s leadership to change course.

A group of Microsoft employees are demanding that the company’s leadership abandon a contract with the United States Army that they say makes them into “war profiteers” — a contract that relates to Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality technology.

On Friday, a group of workers at the Redmond, Washington tech giant released an open letter in which they slammed a $749 million contract the company holds to develop a “Integrated Visual Augmentation System” (IVAS) to build “a single platform that Soldiers can use to Fight, Rehearse, and Train that provides increased lethality, mobility, and situational awareness necessary to achieve overmatch against our current and future adversaries.”

“We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used,” the letter reads. “As employees and shareholders we do not want to become war profiteers. To that end, we believe that Microsoft must stop in its activities to empower the U.S. Army’s ability to cause harm and violence.”

50 employees have signed the letter so far, and organisers say that number is expected to grow.

The organized action comes just days before Microsoft is widely expected to unveil a new HoloLens headset at the Mobile World Congress technology conference in Europe, and is a sign of the rising tide of labor activism in the American technology industry.

“We are going public with the demand to cancel the Hololens DoD contract because we want our voices to be heard on this life or death matter,” a Microsoft worker who asked to remain anonymous told Business Insider. “We haven’t heard back from Microsoft officially, or from any execs at this point — we’re hoping this open letter will help get us a response.”

Microsoft employees have also protested company bids for other military contracts before.  And multiple other tech companies have also been roiled by protests over military applications of their technology over the last year.

In June 2018, Google cancelled a US military contract after internal uproar. Amazon has also faced protests over military contracts, though CEO Jeff Bezos has said the company has no plans to end them — even implicitly rebuking Google for its actions as unpatriotic. “If big tech companies are going to turn their back on the US Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble,” Bezos said in October.

The same anonymous Microsoft worker challenged this argument, saying: “Jeff Bezos and other tech execs reap massive profits from military contracts. Patriotism is just a front. If we look at who benefits, it is certainly not the individual engineers working at these companies.”

A Microsoft spokesperson did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

Here’s the full letter:

Dear Satya Nadella and Brad Smith,

We are a global coalition of Microsoft workers, and we refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression. We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the U.S. Military, helping one country’s government “increase lethality” using tools we built. We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used.

In November, Microsoft was awarded the $479 million Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) contract with the United States Department of the Army. The contract’s stated objective is to “rapidly develop, test, and manufacture a single platform that Soldiers can use to Fight, Rehearse, and Train that provides increased lethality, mobility, and situational awareness necessary to achieve overmatch against our current and future adversaries.” Microsoft intends to apply its HoloLens augmented reality technology to this purpose. While the company has previously licensed tech to the U.S. Military, it has never crossed the line into weapons development. With this contract, it does. The application of HoloLens within the IVAS system is designed to help people kill. It will be deployed on the battlefield, and works by turning warfare into a simulated “video game,” further distancing soldiers from the grim stakes of war and the reality of bloodshed.

Intent to harm is not an acceptable use of our technology.

We demand that Microsoft:

1) Cancel the IVAS contract;

2) Cease developing any and all weapons technologies, and draft a public-facing acceptable use policy clarifying this commitment;

3) Appoint an independent, external ethics review board with the power to enforce and publicly validate compliance with its acceptable use policy.

Although a review process exists for ethics in AI, AETHER, it is opaque to Microsoft workers, and clearly not robust enough to prevent weapons development, as the IVAS contract demonstrates. Without such a policy, Microsoft fails to inform its engineers on the intent of the software they are building. Such a policy would also enable workers and the public to hold Microsoft accountable.

Brad Smith’s suggestion that employees concerned about working on unethical projects “would be allowed to move to other work within the company” ignores the problem that workers are not properly informed of the use of their work. There are many engineers who contributed to HoloLens before this contract even existed, believing it would be used to help architects and engineers build buildings and cars, to help teach people how to perform surgery or play the piano, to push the boundaries of gaming, and to connect with the Mars Rover (RIP). These engineers have now lost their ability to make decisions about what they work on, instead finding themselves implicated as war profiteers.

Microsoft’s guidelines on accessibility and security go above and beyond because we care about our customers. We ask for the same approach to a policy on ethics and acceptable use of our technology. Making our products accessible to all audiences has required us to be proactive and unwavering about inclusion. If we don’t make the same commitment to be ethical, we won’t be. We must design against abuse and the potential to cause violence and harm.

Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to do more. But implicit in that statement, we believe it is also Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to do good. We also need to be mindful of who we’re empowering and what we’re empowering them to do. Extending this core mission to encompass warfare and disempower Microsoft employees, is disingenuous, as “every person” also means empowering us. As employees and shareholders we do not want to become war profiteers. To that end, we believe that Microsoft must stop in its activities to empower the U.S. Army’s ability to cause harm and violence.

Microsoft Workers

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Wedding attack and tech: How OpenText’s investigations service beats the traditional approach

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At its heart, an investigation is a hunt for relevant facts in order to tell a story — a story that drives strategies for organizations, including law firms.

Tracy Drynan, head of OpenText Recon Investigations — a seamless end-to-end service that helps companies and law firms find evidence for all types of investigations including internal investigations, litigation assessments, compliance and regulatory investigations, c-suite vetting and more — says these stories are a more powerful tool than most people think.

The team led by Drynan arms both in-house and external counsel with the information needed to guide their corporate and outside lawyers with the information needed to guide their clients: an investigation empowers them. What differentiates OpenText Recon is the speed with which the team utilizes specialized tools and workflows to efficiently locate evidence. This approach gains insights into patterns, gaps and relationships in a fraction of the cost of a traditional eDiscovery review, and more quickly gathers the relevant facts to create that critical story.

“Whether it be litigation or a regulatory investigation or an internal audit, often time is of the essence,” Drynan says. “Being able to make decisions that affect your bottom line, your liability, your risks which ultimately challenge your resources, even public opinion, is critical.”

Too often, an archaic model is applied to investigations — one derived when we still existed in a paper society — that analyzes all available information but doesn’t actively hunt for relevant facts, and that produces a disconnect. An efficient model does not need to analyze every piece of information.

“It’s flawed for this reason,” Drynan says. “When you review a set of information, even when you apply advanced analytics and information retrieval science, it is still at the end bucketed for a team to analyze it contiguously. In a way, we are still following the pre-electronic paradigm — we are reviewing almost paper documents one by one, and that unfortunately is handicapping both the talent and the technology in the hunt for the facts.”

While lawyers may make a living hunting facts and building narratives, Drynan would argue their approach could be improved and points out that many of the companies hired by firms to help out during an investigation still apply that outdated model. OpenText Recon breaks that pattern and approaches the hunt differently — they don’t compartmentalize anything, which means the team can identify patterns more easily. Those patterns become the clues, which become the facts, that become the story that allow lawyers to make those critical decisions. The result is not a stack of documents, but a more nuanced report outlining the important facts to analyze.

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Canada takes aim at Netflix, Airbnb in $6.5B big-tech tax plan

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Canada’s federal government is planning to force foreign-based technology firms such as Netflix Inc. and Airbnb Inc. to charge their users a sales tax in a move aimed at boosting the government’s coffers by as much as $6.5 billion over the next five years. 

The new taxation plans, outlined in the government’s Fall Economic Statement, attempt to level the playing field between Canadian companies and foreign-based digital corporations that were largely exempt from paying federal sales taxes. Some provinces — such as Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Quebec — introduced taxes on streaming services like Netflix earlier this year. 

The government announced Monday that any foreign-based company selling digital products or services to consumers in Canada will be required to collect and remit the Goods and Services Tax or Harmonized Sales Tax. The new tax changes are proposed to begin on July 1, 2021. 

“Canadians want a tax system that is fair, where everyone pays their fair share, so the government has the resources it needs to invest in people and keep our economy strong. That is why we are moving ahead with implementing GST/HST on multinational digital giants and limiting stock option deductions in the largest companies,” said Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, in prepared remarks. 

“And Canada will act unilaterally, if necessary … to apply a tax on large multinational digital corporations, so they pay their fair share just like any other company operating in Canada.”

Those taxes will include any sales on products or services made through digital marketplace platforms, sales to Canadians of goods that are located in Canadian fulfillment warehouses, as well as any companies whose platforms help to facilitate short-term rental accommodations in Canada. 

However, the new taxation moves wouldn’t see streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Video, Walt Disney Co.’s Disney+, and Spotify Technology SA meet certain Canadian-content requirements, something the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission​ recommended be adopted rather than introduce new tax measures in a wide-ranging report released earlier this year. 

The CRTC estimates that those streaming services record annual revenue of roughly $5 billion, according to its most recent financial data. The federal broadcast regulator said in January that Ottawa should require foreign streaming services to invest in local programming rather than “digital taxes” that would likely get passed down to consumers. 

“It is more appropriate to establish a regime that requires such online streaming services that benefit from operating in Canada to invest in Canadian programming that they believe will attract and appeal to Canadians,” the report said. 

Ottawa will also consider new corporate-level taxes for foreign-owned digital corporations and is working with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to develop a framework it expects to provide further details on in the next budget. It expects the new measure will result in $3.4 billion in new tax revenue over the next five years once it is introduced sometime in 2022. 

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RevoluGROUP Canada Inc. RevoluPAY To Pursue Dubai Financial Services Authority PSP License

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia(GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — RevoluGROUP Canada Inc. (TSX-V: REVO), (Frankfurt: IJA2) (the “Company”) is pleased to announce that it has dispatched Company advisor Erik A. Lara Riveros to pursue the petition of a Payment Service Provider (“PSP”) Money Service Business License in the Dubai International Financial Centre (“DIFC”) from the Dubai Financial Services Authority.

Corporate Rational For a PSP License in Dubai

In May 2020, RevoluPAY was granted the European PSD2 license. In September, RevoluPAY received Pan-European passporting approval to operate in 27 E.U. countries. The Company has further expanded its international open banking reach through definitive agreements (“DA”) with BBVA, Flutterwave, and Thunes. Additionally, via direct PSD2 SEPA passporting, the Company added sixty-eight countries and territories to its financial operations roster. In November, the Company submitted petitions for both the analogous United States MSB licenses and the Canadian FINTRAC license. The MEASA region of the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia is a significant financial hub that necessitates exposure for both financial operations and a strategic base for the region’s operations. The Company considers the DIFC an excellent regional hub, having introduced robust legislation for payment services providers (“PSP”) like RevoluPAY.

Furthermore, DIFC conveniently fills the timezone gap for a global financial center between London and New York’s leading financial centers in the West and Hong Kong and Tokyo in the East. Company advisor Erik A. Lara Riveros is duly accredited with the Dubai Financial Services Authority, which should aid the Company’s plans to obtain the Dubai PSP license and establish a corporate financial hub in the region. The Company has diligently prepared all required documentation, and Mr. Lara Riveros arrives in Dubai on the 4th of December 2020 to initiate the license petition process. The global operations of RevoluPAY expect to benefit from the multi timezone capability garnered from a supplementary and PSP licensed subsidiary domiciled in the MEASA region.

License Sought in Dubai

The Company intends to pursue the Category 3D license, which covers the following activities, “Providing or Operating a Payment Account, executing Payment Transactions or Issuing Payment Instruments, including creating and maintaining accounts for executing payment transactions, issuance of personalized sets of procedures agreed upon by the users and the provider, for initiation or execution of payment instructions.”

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