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8-14 Adar, 5777                                                     March 7-12, 2017 -- THE JEWISH OBSERVER, LOS ANGELES  --  598th Web Ed.





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Uber has been using a secret program to prevent undercover regulators from shutting down the taxi-hailing service in cities around the world.

The software, called Greyball, sought to identify officials trying to catch its drivers and deny them service, the New York Times reports.

Uber has frequently been at odds with governments - and with competitors.

Greyball was used to secure early access to cities where its operations had not been authorised.

In most cases, local officials wanted to make sure the company was subjected to the same conditions of service required by the legislation.

The New York Times said existence of the Greyball program was confirmed by four current and former Uber employees, who were not named.

Greyball identified regulators posing as ordinary passengers, by collecting data on the location used when ordering a taxi and determining whether this coincided with government offices.

It also checked credit card information to establish whether the user is linked to an institution or law enforcement authority.

Uber, the report adds, even visited phone shops to trace smartphones bought by city officials setting up multiple accounts in an effort to catch the company's drivers.

Once individuals suspected of attempting to entrap drivers were identified, they would be served a "fake" version of the Uber app, with fictitious cabs on view, and where they were successful in ordering a real one, they would have their booking cancelled. Local officials contend this is illegal.

"This program denies ride requests to fraudulent users who are violating our terms of service," Uber said in a statement.

"Whether that's people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret 'stings' meant to entrap drivers," it added.

It comes in the same week that the chief executive of Uber, Travis Kalanick, was forced to apologize after a video emerged of him swearing at one of the company's drivers. Just two weeks earlier he apologized for "abhorrent" sexism at the company. --BBCi


Google's voice-activated digital assistant will soon be available on smartphones running the latest versions of the Android operating system.

Until now, Google Assistant had only been available on the firm's own Pixel phones.

The service, like Siri on iPhones, allows users to interact with apps and ask questions.

LG was one of the first smartphone makers to reveal it would feature the assistant on its new device, the G6.

Google's update will starting rolling out this week to users with Android 6.0 Marshmallow or 7.0 Nougat installed.

"With this update, hundreds of millions of Android users will now be able to try out the Google Assistant," said Gummi Hafsteinsson, product lead for Google Assistant, in a blog post.

But other virtual assistants are out there. At the Mobile World Congress tech show in Barcelona, Lenovo Moto revealed that Amazon's Alexa assistant would be coming to the Moto Z phone.

This will happen via an alternative back - known as a MotoMod - that Amazon will sell for the Moto Z later this year.

And at the CES tech show in Las Vegas last month, Chinese tech giant Huawei announced it would include Amazon's rival Alexa assistant on its phones.

'Natural step'

Google Assistant differs from its competitors slightly in that it is designed to prompt conversations with users and respond to follow-up queries.

"It is a natural step for Google to offer Google Assistant to as many smartphones as possible because AI is at the heart of Google's strategy, said tech analyst Ian Fogg at IHS Technology.

"With the machine learning that underpins Google Assistant AI, the more people that use Assistant, the smarter it will become."

Initially, Assistant will be available to English-speaking users in the United States.

English-speaking users in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom will receive the update next.

Support for other languages will follow, Google said. --BBCi


The US Dow Jones stock index has closed at a record high for the 12th day running as Donald Trump promised a "big" infrastructure announcement.  It is the longest winning streak for the share index since January 1987.

Analysts said Wall Street was buoyed by hopes the US president would set out more on his spending and tax plans in a speech to Congress on Tuesday.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average, one of the US's three main stock indexes, finished 15 points higher at 20,837.

Ahead of the speech, Mr Trump said: "We're going to make it easier for states to invest in infrastructure and I'm going to have a big statement tomorrow night on infrastructure."

The president also said he would seek to boost defense spending by $54bn (£43bn), a 10% rise, in his proposed budget plans for 2018.
As well as significantly raising infrastructure spending, Mr Trump has previously pledged to cut taxes for US businesses.

"For the moment, whenever he speaks of those upcoming plans, we get a leg up in the market," Peter Jankovskis, director of research at Oakbrook Investments, told BBC World Service.

"Whenever he's not talking, there's enough momentum to keep it moving forward."

The S&P 500 index also edged two points higher to 2,370, while the tech-focused Nasdaq Composite index rose 17 points to 5,862. The biggest winners were shares in energy, financial and healthcare firms - areas that stand to gain if Mr Trump's policies spur faster economic growth, Mr Jankovskis said.

The Dow closed at record highs for 13 sessions in a row in January 1987, nine months before the Black Monday market crash. --BBCi


Uber is being sued for stealing trade secrets and technology from Google.  Waymo, set up by Google owner Alphabet, is taking legal action against Otto, Uber's self-driving vehicle unit that it bought last year for $700m.

The lawsuit argues that former Waymo manager Anthony Levandowski took information when he left to co-found a venture that became Otto.

Uber said it took the allegations seriously and would review the matter carefully.

The lawsuit alleges that Mr Levandowski "downloading 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files" during his time as a Google employee.

"We believe these actions were part of a concerted plan to steal Waymo's trade secrets and intellectual property," Waymo said.

Alphabet created Waymo earlier this year as a way of bringing self-driving technology - which Google has been working on for years - to market.

"Our parent company Alphabet has long worked with Uber in many areas, and we didn't make this decision lightly," the blog said. "However, given the overwhelming facts that our technology has been stolen, we have no choice but to defend our investment and development of this unique technology."

LiDAR row

The technology in question is LiDAR, a laser-based radar system that helps the self-driving cars "see" what is around them.

In court documents filed on Thursday, Waymo alleges one of its employees was recently copied in to an email intended for Otto's staff. Attached to the email were said to be machine drawings of Otto's LiDAR circuit board.

"Its design bore a striking resemblance to Waymo's unique LiDAR design," Waymo said.

"We found that six weeks before his resignation this former employee, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo's various hardware systems, including designs of Waymo's LiDAR and circuit board.

"To gain access to Waymo's design server, Mr Levandowski searched for and installed specialised software onto his company-issued laptop. Once inside, he downloaded 9.7 GB of Waymo's highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation.

"Then he connected an external drive to the laptop. Mr Levandowski then wiped and reformatted the laptop in an attempt to erase forensic fingerprints."  --BBCi