National Labor Relations Board rejected Damore’s claim that Google fired him unjustly


A federal body overseeing labor disputes advised the dismissal of Jeremy Damore’s claim that Google fired him unjustly for his controversial memo regarding inclusion and diversity programs at the company. Citing similar precedents, the National Labor Relations Board counsel deemed parts of the memo “so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive” as to shed their status as protected speech in the workplace.

The NLRB memo, issued on January 16 and published publicly yesterday, does not constitute an official ruling or legal action. It is however the official advice of a federal lawyer who specializes in this field, and its conclusion, that the complaint be dismissed, would likely have been followed by the regional board being advised. Instead, Damore withdrew the complaint.

In her handling of the complaint, Jayme Sophir (Associate General Counsel of the NLRB’s Division of Advice) examined the public documents relating to the case — viz. the memo itself and the post by CEO Sundar Pichai, among other things — and internal ones, such as posts to employee forums and emails sent to and from Damore and others.

Sophir found that Damore’s memo contained a great deal of protected speech, as he clearly seems deeply concerned with company policies that he thinks discriminatory. His opinions on those programs and advice for Google regarding them are certainly protected, she found, and an email from an HR manager to Damore emphasizes this (brackets NLRB’s):

I want to make clear that our decision is based solely on the part of your post that generalizes and advances stereotypes about women versus men. It is not based in any way on the portions of your post that discuss [the Employer’s] programs or trainings, or how [the Employer] can improve its inclusion of differing political views. Those are important points.

But she also cited several precedents where employees, in the course of “concerted activities regarding working conditions,” exceeded the bounds of protected speech, such as accusations that a foreman was a Klansman, or making degrading allusions to a co-worker’s sexual orientation. These forms of speech could be banned and the speakers in question disciplined or fired “as a reasonable precaution against discord and bitterness.”

Portions of Damore’s memo fell under the same category as these examples, Sophir found (brackets mine to interpret redacted portions).

The Charging Party’s use of stereotypes based on purported biological differences between women and men should not be treated differently than the types of conduct the Board found unprotected in these cases. [Damore’s] statements about immutable traits linked to sex—such as women’s heightened neuroticism and men’s prevalence at the top of the IQ distribution—were discriminatory and constituted sexual harassment, notwithstanding [his] effort to cloak [his] comments with “scientific” references and analysis, and notwithstanding [his] “not all women” disclaimers.

Google’s firing of Damore, therefore, was justified. (Pichai has said he doesn’t regret it, either.)

Damore’s defenders have steadfastly maintained that the memo does not say outright that women are biologically less suited to engineering than men, and that critics are being uncharitable in their reading of his arguments. While that may stand up in comment section arguments, it’s harder to assert that Sophir, an expert in the field who evaluates such situations for her profession, failed to closely read the memo.

The charge that Google violated the law in firing Damore was advised to be dismissed, should he not withdraw the complaint — which he did. The case was closed on January 19, three days after the NLRB’s memo was issued.

It’s not the end of the road for Damore, though this decisive refutation of his complaint is a significant and public setback. He has also filed a class action lawsuit against the company and is agitating in other ways against the political correctness he feels led to his dismissal.

Featured Image: Getty Images

National Labor Relations Board rejected Damore’s claim that Google fired him unjustly


A federal body overseeing labor disputes advised the dismissal of Jeremy Damore’s claim that Google fired him unjustly for his controversial memo regarding inclusion and diversity programs at the company. Citing similar precedents, the National Labor Relations Board counsel deemed parts of the memo “so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive” as to shed their status as protected speech in the workplace.

The NLRB memo, issued on January 16 and published publicly yesterday, does not constitute an official ruling or legal action. It is however the official advice of a federal lawyer who specializes in this field, and its conclusion, that the complaint be dismissed, would likely have been followed by the regional board being advised. Instead, Damore withdrew the complaint.

In her handling of the complaint, Jayme Sophir (Associate General Counsel of the NLRB’s Division of Advice) examined the public documents relating to the case — viz. the memo itself and the post by CEO Sundar Pichai, among other things — and internal ones, such as posts to employee forums and emails sent to and from Damore and others.

Sophir found that Damore’s memo contained a great deal of protected speech, as he clearly seems deeply concerned with company policies that he thinks discriminatory. His opinions on those programs and advice for Google regarding them are certainly protected, she found, and an email from an HR manager to Damore emphasizes this (brackets NLRB’s):

I want to make clear that our decision is based solely on the part of your post that generalizes and advances stereotypes about women versus men. It is not based in any way on the portions of your post that discuss [the Employer’s] programs or trainings, or how [the Employer] can improve its inclusion of differing political views. Those are important points.

But she also cited several precedents where employees, in the course of “concerted activities regarding working conditions,” exceeded the bounds of protected speech, such as accusations that a foreman was a Klansman, or making degrading allusions to a co-worker’s sexual orientation. These forms of speech could be banned and the speakers in question disciplined or fired “as a reasonable precaution against discord and bitterness.”

Portions of Damore’s memo fell under the same category as these examples, Sophir found (brackets mine to interpret redacted portions).

The Charging Party’s use of stereotypes based on purported biological differences between women and men should not be treated differently than the types of conduct the Board found unprotected in these cases. [Damore’s] statements about immutable traits linked to sex—such as women’s heightened neuroticism and men’s prevalence at the top of the IQ distribution—were discriminatory and constituted sexual harassment, notwithstanding [his] effort to cloak [his] comments with “scientific” references and analysis, and notwithstanding [his] “not all women” disclaimers.

Google’s firing of Damore, therefore, was justified. (Pichai has said he doesn’t regret it, either.)

Damore’s defenders have steadfastly maintained that the memo does not say outright that women are biologically less suited to engineering than men, and that critics are being uncharitable in their reading of his arguments. While that may stand up in comment section arguments, it’s harder to assert that Sophir, an expert in the field who evaluates such situations for her profession, failed to closely read the memo.

The charge that Google violated the law in firing Damore was advised to be dismissed, should he not withdraw the complaint — which he did. The case was closed on January 19, three days after the NLRB’s memo was issued.

It’s not the end of the road for Damore, though this decisive refutation of his complaint is a significant and public setback. He has also filed a class action lawsuit against the company and is agitating in other ways against the political correctness he feels led to his dismissal.

Featured Image: Getty Images

Google launches a lightweight ‘Gmail Go’ app for Android


Google has added a notable addition to its line of “Go” edition apps – the lightweight apps designed primarily for emerging markets – with the launch of Gmail Go. The app, like others in the Go line, takes up less storage space on users’ smartphones and makes better use of mobile data compared with the regular version of Gmail.

The app offers standard Gmail features like multiple account support, conversation view, attachments, and push notifications for new messages. It also prioritizes messages from friends and family first, while categorizing promotional and social emails in separate tabs, as Gmail does.

But like other Go apps, Gmail Go doesn’t consume as much storage space on the device.

In fact, according to numerous reports, Gmail Go clocked in at a 9.51 MB download, and takes up roughly 25 MB of space on a device, compared with Gmail’s 20.66 MB download, and 47 MB storage space.

Google has not made a formal announcement about Gmail Go’s launch, but several sites have spotted its availability on the Google Play store this week. We’ve asked Google for more information about the app’s feature set, and what exactly is it that Go does to reduce the burden on low-end smartphones. The company so far has not responded, but we’ll update this post as more information becomes available.

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However, some early adopters have pointed out that scrolling on Gmail Go is a much more choppy experience than on the standard Gmail. But overall, there doesn’t seem to be too many noticeable differences between the two apps, in terms of feature set.

That’s not always the case with the Go-branded apps. For example, YouTube Go has several unique features, like the ability to download videos for offline viewing, and sharing videos with friends nearby, for example.

Gmail Go is joining a growing list of Go edition apps, including YouTube Go, Files Go, Google Go, Google Maps Go, Google and Assistant Go.

Google’s Project Fi now offers data coverage in 170 countries


Project Fi, Google’s multi-network cell service, now provides you with data coverage in 170 countries.

That’s up from the 135 countries the company has long offered service in. New countries where service is now available include the likes of Belize and Myanmar.

The good thing here is that Project Fi still doesn’t charge you extra for your data usage in these countries. You’ll still pay the usual $10/GB, no matter where you are and SMS usage is unlimited, too. Voice calls to the U.S. from all supported countries cost $0.20/minute.

T-Mobile, which offers unlimited international data for most of its post-paid plans, says it covers “140+ countries.”

Depending on how you count, there’s just under 200 countries in the world. Chances are that Project Fi now has you covered in most of them. As far as I can see, neither Google’s nor T-Mobile’s plans cover Nauru, though, so if you’re looking to see some depleted phosphate reserves in the middle of the Pacific, you are out of luck.

If you’re not sure if you’re covered because you are flying to an extra-exotic locale, Google also wants to help you there. If your Gmail account includes messages (maybe from your airline) about an upcoming international trip, it’ll now automatically notify you if your Fi account will work at your destination.

Google also recently introduced its own version of an unlimited plan for Project Fi. The so-called Bill Protection feature always caps your data bills at a maximum of $60 per month (for individual accounts). This applies to international data, too.

YouTube TV raises pricing, expands with Turner, NBA, MLB additions


YouTube TV today announced a significant expansion of its channel lineup thanks to new deals with Turner, NBA TV, and MLB Network. A number of Turner-owned networks will be added to YouTube TV’s base package starting now, including TNT, TBS, CNN, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, HLN, truTV, and Turner Classic Movies. NBA TV and MLB Network will soon follow.

Unfortunately for cord cutters, the company is tweaking its pricing plan, too. Next month, YouTube TV will cost $5 more per month, bringing it more in line with competitors at $40 per month for new sign-ups.

The good news is that existing YouTube TV subscribers will remain grandfathered in to the current $35 per month plan, which today includes access to over 50 networks like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, CW, ESPN, AMC, FX, FXX, Disney Channel (plus Disney Jr. and XD), E!, USA, Bravo, Syfy, MSNBC, Telemundo, Sprout, Freeform, NatGeo, and others, including some regional sports networks.

In addition, those who sign up before the new pricing kicks in on March 15, 2018, will also be able to keep YouTube TV for the current $35/month price.

Above: All of YouTube TV’s networks available today, including the new Turner channels

The company says the decision to adjust the pricing was not necessarily due to the cost of the new networks.

“This is really an adjustment to the market skinny bundle that has evolved and market pricing,” explains Heather Moosnick, Director of Content Partnerships at YouTube TV. “We went out with a ‘skinnier’ bundle than others because we were very sensitive to price – particularly since our goal is to get users who have never subscribed to cable – or who have cut the cord – back to subscribing to live TV,” she says.

The YouTube TV demographic is, in fact, very young.

While YouTube won’t confirm the recent reports that its service is trailing Hulu Live TV with just over 300,000 users to Hulu Live’s 450,000, it would say that the majority of YouTube TV subscribers are 35 or under.

“The majority of users are millennials, and that makes sense because we’re really building this service for YouTube users, for video streamers, and for this next generation who have decided that they love live TV, but not the way it’s delivered,” Moosnick says.

With the new additions, YouTube TV will gain a number of channels younger users may prefer. For example, CNN attracts an audience that’s seven years younger than Fox News and five years younger than MSNBC in primetime. Turner has also been shifting its programming in recent years to reach younger viewers. While total viewership may have been impacted by cord cutting, Turner’s TNT and TBS both now reach a younger overall audience, the company has said.

Another key change with the new additions is the increased access to sports programming.

Viewers will be able to watch NBA games, NBA All-Star weekend, NBA Playoff games, MLB Postseason games, the PGA Championship and UEFA soccer.

The 24-hour networks NBA TV and MLB TV aren’t arriving today, but will soon.

And in a few months, YouTube TV will offer the ability to subscribe to NBA League Pass for watching out-of-market live games, as well as the streaming service MLB.TV.

The ability to further customize the YouTube TV experience through add-on subscriptions isn’t new. The service today offers Showtime, Fox Soccer Plus, Shudder, and Sundance Now for additional monthly charges. But this a la carte programming model is something YouTube TV plans to heavily pursue in the future as it builds out the service.

“We are planning on adding more content as buy-throughs,” Moosnick confirms. “There’s no reason not to do that…I’d expect to see more content coming into the ecosystem as a la carte and buy-through channels. We’re excited about that because it provides users with more optionality within a [user interface] and experience that is of high-quality and super reliable,” she adds.

The benefit in a la carte isn’t only in the increased revenue per user, but also the ability to further personalize YouTube TV’s recommendations, Moosnick notes.

However, the way YouTube TV will sell future add-ons may not always be as it is today – a model similar to Amazon Channels, where users pick and choose additions one-by-one. The company is also exploring the Sling TV-like idea of bundling channels into low-cost add-ons, Moosnick says.

“We’re open to individual channels – but if the best way to bring them is through packages, then we’ll be looking to do that,” she says.

Alongside the programming and pricing announcements, YouTube TV says the service is now available in all top 100 U.S. markets, or 85 percent of the country.

This includes new market additions Lexington, Dayton, Honolulu, El Paso, Burlington, Plattsburgh, Richmond, Petersburg, Mobile, Syracuse, Champaign, Springfield, Columbia, Charleston, Harlingen, Wichita, Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.

Most markets have the big four broadcast networks available (NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX), and a large percentage have at least three.

Still, there’s a lot of competition today in the streaming TV space – DirecTV Now, Sling TV, Hulu Live TV, PlayStation Vue. fuboTV, and Philo are all challengers of a sort. But YouTube aims to compete not just on lineup and feature set (cloud DVR, family sharing, e.g), but also on the quality and stability of the signal.

Service quality issues have plagued a number of rival services at terrible times. Most recently, for example, Hulu Live TV crashed for some viewers at the end of the Super Bowl.

In the future, YouTube TV may consider bundling its service in new ways, too, as a way to increase distribution.

“We’re always looking for new ways to let users know about our service and to partner with others to make it more convenient for users to buy the subscription….We’re very interested in working with partners to make it easier to get YouTube TV,” Moosnick hints.

How Chrome’s built-in ad blocker will work when it goes live tomorrow


Chrome’s built-in ad blocker will go live tomorrow. It’s the first time Google will automatically block some ads in Chrome, but while quite a few online publishers are fretting about this move, as a regular user, you may not even notice it.

The most important thing to know is that this is not an alternative to AdBlock Plus or uBlock Origin. Instead, it’s Google’s effort to ban the most annoying ads from your browser. So it won’t block all ads — just those that don’t conform to the Coalition for Better Ads guidelines. When Google decides that a site hosts ads that go against these guidelines, it’ll block all ads on a given site — not just those annoying prestitials with a countdown or autoplaying video ads with sound.

Here are the kinds of ads that will trigger the new ad blocker in Chrome:

If you end up on a site where Chrome is blocking ads, you’ll see a small pop-up in Chrome (yeah — Chrome will pop up a notification to alert you when it blocked a pop-up…) that gives you the option to sidestep the ad blocker and allow ads on that site.

Under the hood, Google is using the same patterns as the public and community-curated EasyList filter rules. It’s worth noting that while Google made some modifications to those rules, it doesn’t exempt its own ad networks  from this exercise. If a site is in violation, ads from AdSense and DoubleClick will also be blocked.

Chances are that you’ll see a bit of a performance boost on sites where ads are being blocked. That’s not the focus here, though, and Google says it’s at best a secondary effect. Some early ad blockers also had some issues with excessive memory usage that sometimes slowed down the browser. Google admits that there is some memory overhead here to hold the blocking list in memory, but even on mobile, that’s a negligible amount.

It’s worth noting that the recommendations of the Coalition for Better Ads focus on North America and Western Europe. Because of this, those are also the regions where the ad filtering will go live first. Google, however, is not classifying sites by where the individual Chrome user is coming from. Instead, it’s looking at where the majority of a site’s visitors come from. So if a user from India visits a site in Germany where ads are being blocked, that user won’t see ads even if the filtering isn’t live for Indian sites.As Google’s product manager for the Chrome Web Platform Ryan Schoen told me, 42 percent of publishers that were in violation have already moved to other ads. Of course, that means the majority of sites that Google warned about this issue did not take any action yet, but Schoen expects that many will do so once they see the impact of this. While ad blockers are often among the most popular extensions, they don’t come pre-installed, after all. This one does, and Google’s approach of blocking all ads on a site will surely sting.

Indeed, this decision to block all ads may seem rather harsh. Schoen, however, argues that it’s the only practical solution. In Google’s view, publishers have to take responsibility for the ads they show and take control of their ad inventory. “The publisher can decide which ad networks to do business with but ultimately for us, the users, by navigating to a specific site, they enter a relationship with that site,” he said. “We do think it’s the responsibility of the site owner to take ownership of that relationship.”

Still, so far, it looks like Chrome will only block just less than one percent of all ads — something that will make some publishers breathe a sigh of relief and scare others. For users, though, this can only be a good thing in the long run.

Featured Image: Getty Images

AMP for email is a terrible idea

Google just announced a plan to “modernize” email, allowing “engaging, interactive, and actionable email experiences.” Does that sound like a terrible idea to anyone else? It sure sounds like a terrible idea to me, and not only that, but an idea borne out of competitive pressure and existing leverage rather than user needs. Not good, Google. Send to trash.

See, email belongs to a special class. Nobody really likes it, but it’s the way nobody really likes sidewalks, or electrical outlets, or forks. It not that there’s something wrong with them. It’s that they’re mature, useful items that do exactly what they need to do. They’ve transcended the world of likes and dislikes.

As evidence consider the extreme rarity of anything other than normal versions of those things. Moving sidewalks, weirdo outlets, sporks — they only exist in extreme niches like airports and lunchables. The originals have remained unchanged for as long as millennia for a good reason.

Email too is simple. It’s a known quantity in practically every company, household, and device. The implementation has changed over the decades, but the basic idea has remained the same since the very first email systems in the ’60s and ’70s, certainly since its widespread standardization in the ’90s and shift to web platforms in the ’00s. The parallels to snail mail are deliberate (it’s a payload with an address on it) and simplicity has always been part of its design (interoperability and privacy came later).

No company owns it. It works reliably and as intended on every platform, every operating system, every device. That’s a rarity today and a hell of a valuable one.

But the tech industry has never been one to let elegance, history, or interoperability stand in the way of profit (RIP Google Reader), so that’s not much of an argument. Still, I thought it worth saying.

More important are two things: the moat and the motive.

The moat is the one between communications and applications. Communications say things, and applications interact with things. There are crossover areas, but something like email is designed and overwhelmingly used to say things, while websites and apps are overwhelmingly designed and used to interact with things.

It’s fundamentally useful to have a divide here the way it’s useful to have a divide between a book about fire and a book of matches.

Emails are static because messages are meant to be static. The entire concept of communication via the internet is based around the telegraphic model of exchanging one-way packets with static payloads, the way the entire concept of a fork is based around piercing a piece of food and allowing friction to hold it in place during transit.

The moat between communication and action is important because it makes it very clear what certain tools are capable of, which in turn lets them be trusted and used properly.

We know that all an email can ever do is say something to you (tracking pixels and read receipts notwithstanding). It doesn’t download anything on its own, it doesn’t run any apps or scripts, attachments are discrete items, unless they’re images in the HTML, which is itself optional. Ultimately the whole package is always just going to be a big , static chunk of text sent to you, with the occasional file riding shotgun. Open it a year or ten from now and it’s the same email.

And that proscription goes both ways. No matter what you try to do with email, you can only ever say something with it — with another email.

If you want to do something, you leave the email behind and do it on the other side of the moat.

This is the great genius and curse of email, that all you can do is send messages back and forth. It’s not always the best option, but it’s rarely the worst. If it’s more complicated than that, you use something other than email: a chat app, a video call, a file host. These useful items are often located adjacent to email, sometimes closely integrated, but they’re never actually part of it. This is a good thing. The closest you get is little things like adding something automatically to your calendar or scraping flight info from an itinerary. Ultimately it’s still just reading something.

What Google wants to do is bridge that moat, essentially to allow applications to run inside emails, limited ones to be sure, but by definition the kind of thing that belongs on the other side of the moat.

Why do this? Are we running out of tabs? Were people complaining that clicking “yes” on an RSVP email took them to the invitation site? Were they asking to have a video chat window open inside the email with the link? No. No one cares. No one is being inconvenienced by this aspect of email (inbox overload is a different problem), and no one will gain anything by changing it.

Well, almost no one. Which brings us to the motive.

AMP is, to begin with, Google exerting its market power to extend its control over others’ content. Facebook is doing it, so Google has to. Using its privileged position as the means through which people find a great deal of content, Google is attempting to make it so that the content itself must also be part of a system it has defined.

“AMP started as an effort to help publishers, but as its capabilities have expanded over time, it’s now one of the best ways to build rich webpages,” it writes in the blog post announcing the AMP for Gmail test. No, it isn’t. AMP is a way to adapt and deliver, on Google’s terms, real webpages built with real tools.

The excuse that the mobile web isn’t fast enough is threadbare, and the solution of a special Google-designed sub-web transparently self-serving. It’s like someone who sells bottled water telling you your tap runs too slow.

AMP for email is just an extension of that principle. People leave Gmail all the time to go to airline webpages, online shops, social media, and other places. Places that have created their own user environments, with their own analytics, their own processes that may or may not be beneficial or even visible to Google. Can’t have that!

But if these everyday tasks take place inside Gmail, Google exerts control over the intimate details, defining what other companies can and can’t do inside the email system — rather than using the natural limitations of email, which I hasten to reiterate are a feature, not a bug.

And as if that play wasn’t enough, the other one is as baldly avaricious as anything the company has ever done. Dynamic content in emails. Where have I heard that one before? That’s right: it’s Google’s entire business model for offering a free email service. Ads.

What is the vast majority of “live” content on the web, stuff that needs to call home and update itself? Not articles like this one, or videos or songs — those are just resources you request. Not chats or emails. Cloud-based productivity tools like shared documents, sure, granted. But the rest — and we’re talking like 99.9 percent here — is ads.

Ads and trackers that adapt themselves to the content around them, the data they know about the viewer, and the latest pricing or promotions. That’s how Google wants to “modernize” your inbox.

Does “engaging, interactive, and actionable email experiences” ring a little different now?

Don’t use this. Don’t encourage it. AMP and other initiatives like it are already a blight on the web, and they will be equally bad for email.

Featured Image: HeiroGraphic/Shutterstock