Microsoft on Thursday joined the ranks of tech companies requiring returning workers to be vaccinated, as Amazon delayed its plan to reopen offices until next year.
The earliest date for fully reopening Microsoft’s US facilities will be October 4, according to the computing giant based near Amazon in the state of Washington.
“Starting in September, we’ll also require proof of vaccination for all employees, vendors and any guests entering Microsoft buildings in the United States,” Microsoft said in response to an AFP inquiry.
Microsoft and other tech firms said they are closely tracking the pandemic and adapting plans as the situation evolves, keeping employee health as a top priority.
E-commerce colossus Amazon confirmed that it is delaying return of employees to its corporate offices until January of next year instead of having them come back in September as originally hoped.
“We require employees to wear masks in our offices, with the exception of those who have verified full vaccination,” Amazon told AFP.
Google and Facebook last week said workers returning to offices will need to be vaccinated against Covid-19, in the latest move by firms and US government agencies.
Spikes in infections due to a Delta variant of the virus have ramped up concerns in the United States, where more than 600,000 people have died in the pandemic.
Google last week made campuses off-limits to unvaccinated employees and extend its global work-from-home option through October 18.
“Anyone coming to work on our campuses will need to be vaccinated,” Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said in a blog post.
Google and Facebook were among companies worldwide that abandoned campuses early last year, letting people work remotely rather than risk exposure to Covid-19 in offices.
“We will be requiring anyone coming to work at any of our US campuses to be vaccinated,” Facebook vice president of people Lori Goler said in response to an AFP inquiry.
“We will have a process for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons and will be evaluating our approach in other regions as the situation evolves.”
Many unions and critics of mandates have spoken out against required vaccinations, citing personal freedom arguments.
Microsoft said that employees who are not vaccinated due to medical or religious reasons will be accommodated.
Rising pandemic concerns are also slowing the return to offices in the financial sector, with investment management giant Black Rock telling US workers it extended its “re-acclimating period” a month to the start of October.
Wells Fargo and US Bank have also delayed having employees return to offices, according to a CNN report.
China on Tuesday criticised the US for “fabricated” allegations that Beijing was behind the massive cyberattack on Microsoft.
“The US has mustered its allies to carry out unreasonable criticisms against China on the issue of cybersecurity, this move is fabricated out of nothing… (and) wholly motivated by political purposes,” said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.
The Pentagon said Tuesday it scrapped a massive $10 billion cloud computing contract, sidestepping a bitter dispute between Amazon and Microsoft over allegations of political bias that swayed the bidding.
A Defense Department statement said the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract was canceled because it no longer meets current needs and that it would start a process for a new “multi-cloud/multi-vendor” computing contract.
Microsoft in late 2019 won the contract, sparking a challenge by Amazon on grounds that vengeful politics by former president Donald Trump may have improperly influenced the outcome.
Officials said that instead of going forward with the deal in the face of litigation, the government would start over with the aim of getting the most up-to-date technology.
“JEDI, conceived with noble intent, was developed at a time when the department’s needs were different,” Defense Department spokesman John Sherman said during a press briefing.
“Now, we want to leverage multiple cloud environments.”
Sherman equated arming US “war fighters” with cutting-edge, 21st century cloud computing capabilities to providing top armor or weaponry, saying the technology landscape has shifted since the JEDI contract was stalled by litigation.
A statement said the Pentagon would seek proposals from Amazon and Microsoft on a new contract, noting that the two vendors appear at the moment to be the only cloud service providers capable of meeting the department’s requirements.
Staying on mission
The 10-year JEDI program was designed see all military branches sharing information in a cloud-based system boosted by artificial intelligence.
Amazon alleged it was shut out of the deal because of former president Donald Trump’s vendetta against the company and its chief executive Jeff Bezos.
Sherman maintained that it was urgent to move ahead and that “the overriding factor is not what may have happened in previous administrations; what was said or not said, the litigation.”
Amazon had been considered the lead contender to provide technology for JEDI, with Amazon Web Services dominating the cloud computing arena and the company already providing classified servers for other government agencies including the CIA.
Amazon argued in court documents that the Pentagon’s choice of Microsoft was mystifying if not for Trump’s repeated “expressed determination to, in the words of the president himself, ‘screw Amazon.'”
US defense officials will reach out to Amazon and Microsoft to solicit bids for parts of the new cloud contract, which Sherman said will have an overall value in the billions, without specifying an amount.
Microsoft president of US regulated industries Toni Townes-Whitley said in a post that the technology giant “respects and accepts” the decision.
“The DoD faced a difficult choice: Continue with what could be a years-long litigation battle or find another path forward,” Townes-Whitley said in a post.
“What matters now is the way forward, as the DoD has a critical unmet need to bring the power of cloud and AI to our men and women in uniform, modernizing technology infrastructure and platform services technology.”
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Amazon and Microsoft have already been deemed capable of meeting defense department needs for the new cloud initiative. Defense officials planned to also reach out to Google, Oracle, IBM and other computing titans to assess whether they are will and able to enter the bidding for some of the jobs.
The department aimed to begin awarding contracts early next year with a hope of having systems starting to deploy by 2025.
Microsoft will be able to submit a bill to the government for terminating the JEDI contract, the amount of which has not been determined, according to Sherman.
Microsoft on Thursday said it is working on software to let people play Xbox video games on internet-linked televisions without the need of consoles.
The news came as Microsoft and other video game industry heavyweights prepare to show off coming titles at an annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) being held virtually beginning Saturday due to the pandemic.
“As a company, Microsoft is all-in on gaming,” chief executive Satya Nadella said in introducing the plan.
“Three billion consumers look to gaming for entertainment, community, creation, as well as a real sense of achievement, and our ambition is to empower each of them, wherever they play.”
Microsoft has been playing on the strength of its Xbox unit as it vies with Luna and Stadia cloud gaming services run, respectively, by Amazon and Google.
The Xbox team is working with TV makers to embed software that will let video games typically enjoyed on its consoles be played directly from the cloud, requiring only hand-held controllers, according to Microsoft.
The US-based technology giant also announced it is building devices that will plug into any television screen or computer monitor to stream Xbox gameplay without any consoles.
In coming weeks, cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions will be possible through internet browsers Chrome, Edge, and Safari, according to Microsoft.
“There’s still a place for consoles and PCs and frankly, there always will be, but through the cloud, we will be able to deliver a robust gaming experience to anyone connected to the internet,” said Xbox unit head Phil Spencer.
“And with the cloud, gaming players can participate fully in the same Xbox experience as people on local hardware.
Xbox Game Pass had some 18 million subscribers worldwide at the end of last year, according to figures released by Nadella.
Video gameplay has surged during the pandemic, as people turned more than ever to the internet for entertainment.
Overall consumer spending on video gaming in the United States totaled just shy of $15 billion in the first quarter of this year, up 30 percent from the same period in 2020, according to industry tracker NPD Group.
Microsoft will stream an Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase on Sunday, featuring games from its studios around the world.
Microsoft said it is retiring Internet Explorer, the browser it created more than 25 years and which is now largely abandoned as people instead use competitors like Google’s Chrome or Apple’s Safari.
“We are announcing that the future of Internet Explorer on Windows 10 is in Microsoft Edge,” the company said in a blog post Wednesday, referring to its other browser.
“Not only is Microsoft Edge a faster, more secure and more modern browsing experience than Internet Explorer, but it is also able to address a key concern: compatibility for older, legacy websites and applications,” Microsoft said.
People ribbed Internet Explorer in tweets on Thursday.
“RIP Internet Explorer, I never used it, but after it dies we can’t make fun of it anymore,” wrote someone with the handle Arcader UwU.
“I still fondly remember how I used it to download Chrome on every new Windows system,” said Hrishikesh Pardeshi.
“This browser might seem old and outdated nowadays, but back in the day, everyone needed it. RIP Internet Explorer 1995-2022,” said someone called TheCool_ColdMan.
Microsoft said that as of June 15, 2022 Internet Explorer will be retired and no longer be supported by the company.
But Internet Explorer-based websites and applications will work with Edge at least until 2029, Microsoft said, because many organizations have websites based on the now-doomed browser.
Chrome, Google’s browser, controls 65 percent of the market, said Statscounter. Safari, created by Apple and available on Apple computers and devices, is second with nearly a 19 percent market share as of April of this year.
Firefox and Edge are in third and fourth place with 3.59 percent and 3.39 percent respectively.
Microsoft said Monday it would start reopening its headquarters offices next week and implementing a “hybrid workplace” that brings back more employees around the world after a year of remote work during the pandemic.
The move is the first formal reopening plan to be announced by Big Tech firms which have kept most employees on remote work where feasible during the past year.
“Our approach is data-driven and research-backed,” said a tweet from the tech giant which employs some 160,000 people worldwide.
“As of today, after over a year in which most Microsoft employees have worked remotely, several of our work sites around the globe have reached a stage that meets or exceeds government requirements to accommodate more workers,” executive vice president Kurt DelBene said in a blog post.
“Currently, Microsoft work sites in 21 countries have been able to accommodate additional workers in our facilities — representing around 20 percent of our global employee population. On March 29, Microsoft will also start making this shift at our Redmond, Washington, headquarters and nearby campuses.”
DelBene said the hybrid model would allow flexibility in allowing some employees to continue remotely while bringing back some to the office when conditions permit.
“At each of our global work sites, the hybrid workplace model strikes a balance, providing limited additional services on campus for those who choose to return, while supporting those who need to work remotely or feel more comfortable doing so,” he said.
“Our goal is to give employees further flexibility, allowing people to work where they feel most productive and comfortable, while also encouraging employees to work from home as the virus and related variants remain concerning.”
At the headquarters in the northwest state of Washington “we’ve been closely monitoring local health data for months and have determined that the campus can safely accommodate more employees on-site while staying aligned to Washington state capacity limits,” DelBene added.
Microsoft will adjust levels of in-person and remote work at each of its locations to factor in health conditions, with various stages of reopening.
A company survey found 54 percent of employees favored a “soft open” which gives people the option to spend a portion of time in the office.
Just as global technology giants including Google Inc., HUAWEI, and top social networking company, Facebook, another international tech heavyweight, Microsoft Corporation, has disclosed plans to partner with the Federal Government for the benefit of the Nigerian people, especially young people.
Specifically, Microsoft is now offering support for the Digital Transformation pillar of the Federal Government’s Economic Sustainability Plan. This will be a continuation of the technology company’s investment in Nigeria after the establishment of an African Technology Development Centre in 2020, all in affirmation of the efforts of the Buhari administration in the creation of a viable technology ecosystem in Nigeria.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, (SAN), on Thursday, noted in a virtual meeting with Microsoft Corporation team led by its President, Mr Brad Smith that the company’s interest in supporting the efforts of the Federal Government is a welcome development and could be leveraged to address issues affecting the youths especially in engaging them productively.
While Google Inc. in July 2020 announced plans to establish its first Google Launchpad Space outside the United States in Lagos, Facebook, in September of same year made public its decision to open an office in Lagos as part of its planned expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa. HUAWEI on the other hand last November promised the Vice President that the company will position Nigeria as a technology center for the African continent.
Speaking on the need to constantly engage with the youths, the Vice President noted that Nigeria’s case is peculiar given that the youths constitute a larger percentage of the country’s population hence the need for all stakeholders to pay more attention to that demography.
His words: “It seems to me that there is just a wave of general anger around the world and people are generally impatient. Impatient with government, impatient with practically all of the formal structures there are.
“But I am open and happy to hear what views there might be on trying to engage and engage even more with young people (and in our case, that is 70% of our population, if not more). So, we are really talking not just about the youth population but the Nigerian populace because that is the majority. So, whatever it is that we are able to deploy to be more inclusive, to engage even more, is really a solution for the entire populace as opposed to a solution for just a segment of our population especially given the fact that young people constitute 70% or even more.”
Speaking on the government efforts in developing the technology space especially in boosting viable sectors of the economy, Prof. Osinbajo noted that “we have a digital innovation initiative which we hope will be the foundation for doing far more in the digital space than we are doing at the moment.”
Continuing, Prof. Osinbajo emphasized that “just looking at agriculture, this is obviously something that we’ve spent quite a bit of time and resources on especially in the past few years. We have also seen the development of a good number of agric-tech type companies and fin-techs that are also working in the agric sector. So, it’s a whole load of innovation around the agric tech space, especially in the past few years. So, I think we really are up for programmes that will support these sorts of agric-tech initiatives”.
Referring to the partnership with Microsoft, especially the establishment of the development centre, the Vice President said “I have always wondered how Microsoft can just be a much more effective partner with us as a country.
“Beginning with the African Development Centre which I think is excellent, I think it shows the commitment of Microsoft in developing the digital centre here in Nigeria. And it also shows the company’s confidence in the sort of talents that we have and the commitment of government to ensuring that we develop that talent in the best possible ways that we can.”
Assuring investors in the Nigerian economy of the commitment of the Buhari administration in creating the right environment for businesses to thrive, the Vice President said “we are all working to create the right environment for innovation and creativity. That remains an issue that we are dealing with on a daily basis, and I think that the challenges are the challenges of the sort that we are going to have to be dealing with (in my view) even in the coming years.”
On his part, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Ali Isa Pantami, said the Federal Government has already put in place the necessary structures to partner with Microsoft and other tech companies in developing Nigeria’s technology ecosystem.
He said the National Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurship Policy, the National Policy on E-governance, among others, have been adopted by the Buhari administration to support the growth of technology and innovation in the country.
Earlier in his remarks, Mr. Smith, noted that his company’s vision for investment in Nigeria was one that would lead to the creation of Africa’s most viable technology ecosystem.
Mr Smith said the company’s investment in Nigeria is a demonstration of its enthusiasm about the digital transformation ongoing in Nigeria under the Buhari administration.
He proposed a 90-day timeline for stakeholders on the government side and from Microsoft, to iron out details of the various areas of collaboration.
Other participants at the meeting include Microsoft Corporation’s Country Manager for Nigeria and Ghana, Mr Akin Banuso, among others.
The European Union on Tuesday will unveil tough draft rules targeting tech giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook, whose power Brussels sees as a threat to competition and even democracy.
The landmark proposals — which come as Silicon Valley faces increasing scrutiny around the world — could shake up the way Big Tech does business by menacing some of the globe’s biggest firms with mammoth fines or bans from the European market.
EU sources told AFP the long-trailed legislation would see the internet behemoths facing fines of up to 10 percent of their EU turnover for breaking some of the most serious competition rules.
It also proposes banning them from the EU market “in the event of serious and repeated breaches of law which endanger the security of European citizens”, one of the sources said.
The Digital Services Act and its accompanying Digital Markets Act will lay out strict conditions for doing business in the EU’s 27 member countries as authorities aim to rein in the spread of disinformation and hate speech online, and Big Tech’s business dominance.
Around ten of the largest companies — including Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft — would be designated as internet “gatekeepers” under the legislation and subjected to specific regulations to limit their power over the market.
But the proposals will go through a long and complex ratification process, with the EU’s 27 states, the European Parliament, and a lobbying frenzy of companies and trade associations, influencing the final law.
“The idea is not to do away with the large platforms, but to impose rules on them to prevent them from posing risks to our democracy,” the EU’s industry commissioner Thierry Breton said.
– Illegal content –
The details of the proposals have until now been carefully guarded by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, even though a few have leaked.
France and the Netherlands have already come out in favour of Europe having all the tools it needs to rein in the gatekeepers, including the power to break them up.
The main intention of the new rules is to update legislation that dates back to 2004, when many of today’s internet giants either did not exist or were in their infancy.
For the past decade the EU has taken the lead worldwide in trying to grapple with the power of big tech, for example slapping billions in antitrust fines on Google, but critics believe the method has been too cumbersome and done little to change behaviour.
The EU has also ordered Apple to pay billions of euros in back taxes to Ireland but that decision was quashed by the EU’s highest court.
The Digital Services Act is now being touted as a way to give the commission sharper teeth in pursuing social media platforms when they allow illegal content online, such as extremist propaganda, hate speech, disinformation and child pornography.
Activist group Avaaz called the proposed legislation a “bold and brave move” and insisted Brussels must make sure it is fully enforced.
“This is a strong framework and the EU has the heft and democratic values to hold the platforms to account, regulate the reach of disinformation and protect the free speech of the users,” Avaaz legal director Sarah Andrew said.
Under the Digital Markets Act, the EU is seeking to give Brussels new powers to enforce competition laws more quickly and to push for greater transparency in their algorithms and use of personal data.
Tech giants will also need to inform the EU ahead of any planned mergers or acquisitions under the regulations, Breton said.
The EU’s moves comes as regulators around the world have increasingly become concerned about the financial and social power of big tech.
US authorities have taken up the call, with several major antitrust cases putting Google under the gun in addition to a legal bid to strip Facebook of its Instagram and Whatsapp products.
Britain’s government was on Tuesday also expected to announce proposed legislation to tackle “online harms” by introducing the threat of huge fines for internet giants.
Moscow on Tuesday vehemently rejected claims by Microsoft that Russia was behind cyberattacks on companies researching coronavirus vaccines and treatments, saying it was being made a scapegoat.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told state news agency RIA Novosti it had become “politically fashionable” to pin the blame for cyber attacks on Moscow.
Russia announced in August that it had registered the world’s first coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V — named after the Soviet-era satellite — but did so ahead of large-scale clinical trials.
In October, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia had also registered its second coronavirus vaccine, EpiVacCorona.
“We do not need anything other than a normal approach towards the projects we already have in Russia and are promoting including in cooperation with foreign partners,” Ryabkov said.
Ryabkov also claimed that Russian companies themselves were frequently becoming targets of foreign cyber attacks.
He said Russia and the United States should allow experts to look into the issue.
“However, Washington has persistently steered clear of such dialogue,” Ryabkov added.
Last week, Microsoft urged a crackdown on cyber-attacks perpetrated by states and “malign actors” after a spate of hacks disrupted healthcare organisations fighting the coronavirus.
The US tech giant said the attacks came from Russia and North Korea.
The Kremlin has previously denied US claims that Russian military intelligence was behind cyberattacks targeting Ukraine’s power grid, the 2017 French election, and the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, describing them as “Russophobia”.
American tech giant Microsoft said Sunday its offer to buy TikTok was rejected, leaving Oracle as the sole remaining bidder ahead of the imminent deadline for the Chinese-owned video app to sell or shut down its US operations.
TikTok is at the center of a diplomatic storm between Washington and Beijing, and President Donald Trump has set Americans a mid-September deadline to stop doing business with its Chinese parent company ByteDance — effectively compelling a sale of the app to a US company.
The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported that Oracle had won the bidding war, citing people familiar with the deal, although the company did not immediately confirm that to AFP.
But two Chinese state media outlets — CGTN and China News Service — said Monday that ByteDance will not sell TikTok to Oracle either, citing unnamed sources.
The Oracle bid would need approval from the White House and Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a source told the Journal, with both parties under the belief it would meet US data security concerns.
Microsoft had indicated at the beginning of August that it was interested in acquiring TikTok’s US operations, but announced Sunday that bid had been rejected.
“ByteDance let us know today they would not be selling TikTok’s US operations to Microsoft,” it said in a statement.
“We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests.”
In early August, Trump issued an executive order stating that if a purchase agreement was not reached by September 20, the platform would have to close in the United States.
Trump claims TikTok could be used by China to track the locations of federal employees, build dossiers on people for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.
– Disputed dangers –
In late August, China’s commerce ministry published new rules potentially making it more difficult for ByteDance to sell TikTok to a US entity by adding “civilian use” to a list of technologies that are restricted for export.
ByteDance had vowed to “strictly abide” by the new export rules.
“We believe Microsoft would only buy TikTok WITH its core algorithm which the Chinese government and ByteDance was not willing to budge,” Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives said in a note.
“Given the need now to get a green light from Beijing after its export rules were changed a few weeks ago, TikTok’s days in the US likely are numbered with a shutdown now the next step,” the analyst said.
Downloaded 175 million times in the United States, TikTok is used by as many as a billion people worldwide to make quirky, short videos on their cellphones. It has repeatedly denied sharing data with Beijing.
Microsoft said it would have “made significant changes to ensure the service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety, and combatting disinformation.”
A deal with Microsoft could also have included Walmart, which joined forces with the tech giant during negotiations.
Ives said that even with Microsoft out of the picture, “while Oracle is technically the remaining bidder, without willing to sell its core algorithm we see no TikTok sale on the horizon.”
“Oracle could be a technology partner, but a sale/divestiture of the US operations for TikTok remains the focus.”
TikTok meanwhile has filed a lawsuit challenging the US crackdown, contending that Trump’s order was a misuse of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act because the platform is not “an unusual and extraordinary threat.”
Controversially, Trump has demanded that the US government get a cut of any deal, which critics contend appears unconstitutional and akin to extortion.
The bidding for TikTok comes during a broader deterioration of relations between the world’s top two economies in recent months, with both exchanging fierce recriminations over trade, human rights, and the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
US tech giant Microsoft said Sunday its offer to buy TikTok was rejected, as a deadline looms for the Chinese-owned video app to sell or shut down its US operations.
TikTok has been at the center of a diplomatic storm between Washington and Beijing, and President Donald Trump gave Americans a deadline to stop doing business with TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance — effectively compelling a sale of the app to a US company.
Trump claims that TikTok could be used by China to track the locations of federal employees, build dossiers on people for blackmail and conduct corporate espionage.
“ByteDance let us know today they would not be selling TikTok’s US operations to Microsoft,” the US tech giant said in a statement referring to TikTok’s owner.
“We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests,” the statement added.
Following Trump’s executive order, Microsoft and Oracle were possible suitors to take over TikTok operations.
Microsoft said that it would have “made significant changes to ensure the service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety, and combatting disinformation.”
TikTok has filed a lawsuit challenging the crackdown by the US government, contending that Trump’s order was a misuse of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act because the platform is not “an unusual and extraordinary threat.”
Downloaded 175 million times in the US, TikTok is used by as many as a billion people worldwide to make quirky, short-form videos on their cellphones. It has repeatedly denied sharing data with Beijing.