Photo by from Siri won’t be so sneaky about snooping anymore. That’s the gist of from Apple this morning. It’s a move that could pressure its fellow tech giants Amazon and Google to follow suit. Apple says it will no longer retain audio recordings of users interacting with its Siri voice assistant unless they opt in. And when they do, only Apple’s own employees, not contractors, will review the audio samples as part of the company’s efforts to monitor and improve the quality of Siri’s responses. The announcement follows assigning teams of people, in some cases contractors and not direct employees, to review audio clips of their users interacting with their voice assistants, unbeknownst to those users. The resulting outcry over the privacy invasions led each company to reconsider their policies. Both Apple and Google have put their practices of human review on hold pending reviews. by giving users the ability to opt out of voice recording and “manual review” of their interactions with its Alexa voice assistant, while still subtly discouraging users from taking that step by warning them that “voice recognition and new features may not work well” for them if they take that step. Apple, with this morning’s announcement, goes further by saying it will no longer retain audio recordings by default, instead requiring users to opt in if they want to participate. Here is Apple’s summary of the changes it’s planning to make. As a result of our review, we realize we haven’t been fully living up to our high ideals, and for that we apologize. As we previously announced, we halted the Siri grading program. We plan to resume later this fall when software updates are released to our users — but only after making the following changes: First, by default, we will no longer retain audio recordings of Siri interactions. We will continue to use computer-generated transcripts to help Siri improve. Second, users will be able to opt in to help Siri improve by learning from the audio samples of their requests. We hope that many people will choose to help Siri get better, knowing that Apple respects their data and has strong privacy controls in place. Those who choose to participate will be able to opt out at any time. Third, when customers opt in, only Apple employees will be allowed to listen to audio samples of the Siri interactions. Our team will work to delete any recording which is determined to be an inadvertent trigger of Siri. Apple is committed to putting the customer at the center of everything we do, which includes protecting their privacy. We created Siri to help them get things done, faster and easier, without compromising their right to privacy. We are grateful to our users for their passion for Siri, and for pushing us to constantly improve. Apple suspended the program after that contractors reviewing Siri recordings for quality control regularly heard “confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex.”
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks about Windows 10 in Redmond. (GeekWire File Photo) Microsoft marked a major shift in its business with a subtle but significant change in the way it describes one of its most important goals. The company’s 2019 Form 10-K report, made public Thursday in , removes a longstanding reference that described Windows 10 as “the cornerstone” of its ambition to make computing more personal. It’s the latest signal that Microsoft has evolved beyond the flagship operating system that transformed the company into a tech juggernaut and fueled the rise of the personal computer industry. Windows remains one of Microsoft’s biggest products, used by hundreds of millions of people around the world, but more than five years into Satya Nadella’s tenure as CEO, it’s no longer the company’s primary growth engine. Numbers reported elsewhere in the annual filing make this point clear. The filing includes a breakdown of Microsoft revenue by major product lines, which is different from the broader divisional results in the company’s quarterly earnings results. This alternative view of the numbers shows that Windows is growing at a slower pace than any of the company’s other big businesses. Windows posted revenue gain of 4 percent in 2019, to $20.4 billion for the year. That compares to double-digit percentage growth in many past years. By comparison, the company’s booming server and cloud services business grew by 24 percent to $32 billion, surpassing Office to become Microsoft’s largest product line by revenue for the first time. This confirms a milestone that was also reflected . This ability to find a new source of growth is one of the main reasons Microsoft has climbed back to the top as the most valuable company in the world. Appropriately enough, GeekWire identified the change in the boilerplate 10-K language using the “Compare Docs” feature in Microsoft Office, automatically highlighting language that has changed between different versions of documents. (This is also how we discovered last year that .) This is the key sentence that was included in the 10-K for the past several years in some form: “Windows 10 is the cornerstone of our ambition, providing a foundation for the secure, modern workplace, and designed to foster innovation through rich and consistent experiences across the range of existing devices and entirely new device categories.” That strong endorsement of the operating system was replaced with language that puts Windows in the context of a larger strategy. Here’s the section as it reads now. We strive to make computing more personal by putting users at the core of the experience, enabling them to interact with technology in more intuitive, engaging, and dynamic ways. In support of this, we are bringing Office, Windows, and devices together for an enhanced and more cohesive customer experience. Windows 10 continues to gain traction in the enterprise as the most secure and productive operating system. It empowers people with AI-first interfaces ranging from voice-activated commands through Cortana, inking, immersive 3D content storytelling, and mixed reality experiences. Windows also plays a critical role in fueling our cloud business and Microsoft 365 strategy, and it powers the growing range of devices on the “intelligent edge.” Our ambition for Windows 10 monetization opportunities includes gaming, services, subscriptions, and search advertising. Microsoft didn’t provide a comment in response to a GeekWire inquiry. Last year, Microsoft embarked on a of its engineering teams that put Windows on the back burner somewhat by splitting it among two major groups, putting a greater emphasis on cloud computing. The move also coincided with the Microsoft had huge hopes for Windows 10, predicting in 2015 that the operating system would be on within a couple years. That didn’t end up happening, and Microsoft revised its goals downward. However, to keep things in perspective, Windows 10 is still on , per the company’s latest update in March.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. (GeekWire File Photo) Amazon is on a record run of profits, crushing its previous high mark again with in the first quarter. But it hasn’t always been that way. For much of the tech giant’s existence as a public company, it ran slim profits or posted losses as it plowed whatever money it had back into growing the business. However, in the fourth quarter of 2017, when it posted more than $1 billion in net income for the , the company began a trend of skyrocketing profits that continues today. Here are the key numbers behind the trend. The simple math behind the Amazon’s rapidly rising profits is that revenue is outpacing spending. Revenue barely beat expectations in the first quarter, through it grew at a healthy 17 percent year-over-year clip to $59.7 billion. Meanwhile, Amazon’s operating expenses grew by 12 percent to $55.1 billion. Amazon’s $3.6 billion in net income in the first quarter represents a rise of 118 percent over the prior year. Amazon posted earnings of $7.09 per share, shattering analyst expectations of $4.72 per share. Despite these record increases, Amazon remains well behind fellow tech giants in the profit department. Earlier this week, Microsoft reported net income of $8.8 billion, more than double Amazon’s record this quarter on about half the revenue of its rival. Amazon Web Services is an important factor, as it is responsible for, and that isn’t likely to change any time soon. AWS – 13% of Amazon's sales, 50% of operating margin — Ari Levy (@levynews) Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky pointed to reduced hiring in 2018 and slowing growth of the company’s warehouse footprint as primary drivers of the reduced costs. In 2016 and 2017, Amazon grew its warehouse square footage by about 30 percent per year. In 2018, that number was cut in half to 15 percent growth. An Amazon Fulfillment Center in Dupont, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Amazon finished the first quarter with a reduction in headcount for the second year in a row, following slowdowns from the busy holiday season. Headcount growth slowed in 2018 overall to 14 percent, down from jumps in the 40 percent range for each of the prior two years. RELATED: We didn’t put a lot of new fulfillment capacity or infrastructure in place, at least compared to Q1 of last year, and hiring was moderate,” Olsavsky said on a call with investors Thursday. “We do expect this growth rate to be higher for all of 2019, so most of that will happen in the next three quarters.” However, Olsavsky dropped a bombshell on Amazon’s earnings call Thursday afternoon, saying the company plans to replace two-day shipping with one-day shipping as the standard delivery time for Amazon Prime. Amazon intends to invest $800 million into that initiative in the second quarter alone, a move that could surely eat into profits today and going forward. “We’re able to do this because we’ve spent 20-plus years expanding our fulfillment and logistics network,” he said. “But this is still a big investment and a lot of work to do ahead of us.” He added: “We have a network tuned to two-day delivery right now, so we do need to build more one-day capacity with our transportation partners. But we have a head start and we are moving quickly.”
(BigStock Photo) Amazon Web Services recently changed a policy that required security researchers to get permission before testing applications running on some of its most important services for security flaws, allowing customers to run tests against its services without having to fill out a form. Teri Radichel, CEO of Seattle security firm 2nd Sight Labs, , and multiple AWS employees including , vice president/distinguished engineer and leader of the bedrock EC2 compute service, acknowledged the update was legit. The as of Friday morning, but the email said that security professionals will now be able to conduct penetration tests on apps using core services such as EC2, RDS databases, and the AWS Lambda serverless service without first registering their intentions with the company. Behold…Rules for pentesting on AWS just changed… — Teri Radichel (@TeriRadichel) that looks for flaws in a company’s security defenses, where friendly hackers use common attack protocols to find weak areas before criminal hackers do. Lots of companies conduct this research on their own networks or hire outside firms, but authorized penetration tests can look the same to cloud providers as unauthorized attempts to breach the security of the service itself. to allow customers to test their applications without first getting permission. For both companies, getting permission was not all that difficult, but nobody likes filling out forms and AWS told would-be penetration testers that they could expect to wait up to a week before getting the go-ahead to proceed. An AWS representative did not have an immediate update on the details of the change.