TechSummit Rewind #050

Editor’s Note: This is the TechSummit Rewind, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.

Apple, Microsoft, Samsung among tech firms implicated in child labor report

Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft are among the tech companies and carmakers implicated in a new Amnesty International report that sheds light on apparent child labor practices in the sourcing of minerals used to create batteries.

The report created in partnership with Africa-focused NGO Afrewatch delvers into the world of cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which accounts for half of the world’s cobalt sourcing, finding that children as young as seven are working in dangerous conditions for a dollar or two of income each day.

Beyond allegations of children laboring in between or instead of school, the report claimed that working conditions are extremely hazardous. Aside from the issue of working in cramped conditions daily with little to no protection, Amnesty claimed that 80 miners died in southern DRC during the last four months of 2015. According to the organization, many more deaths have since gone unreported since bodies can be buried in the rubble of an accident.

The report focused on Congo Dongfang Mining and Huayou Cobalt, DRC-based subsidiaries of Chinese and Korean companies respectively that “buy cobalt from [traders in] areas where child labor if rife.” The cobalt is then sold to battery component makers, who use it to develop batteries which are then sold to carmakers and tech companies.

According to Amnesty, 16 multinational companies were traced as Huayou Cobalt customers.

Samsung SDI, the Korean tech giant’s battery division claimed to have no dealing with either Huayou Cobalt or CDM to TechCrunch, adding that they “conduct written evaluations and on-site inspections in areas such as human rights, labor, ethics, environment, and health and safety on a two-year basis and awards them with certification.”

“It is a major paradox of the digital era that some of the world’s richest, most innovative companies are able to market incredibly sophisticated devices without being required to show where they source raw materials for source raw materials for their components.

“The abuses in mines remain out of sight and out of mind because in today’s global marketplace consumers have no idea about the conditions at the mine, factory, and assembly line. We found that traders are buying cobalt without asking questions about how and where it was mined.”

-Emanuel Umpula, Afrewatch executive director

“Amnesty International and Afrewatch are calling on multinational companies who use lithium-ion batteries in their products to conduct human rights due diligence, investigate whether the cobalt is extracted under hazardous conditions or with child labor, and be more transparent about their suppliers.”

-Amnesty International, Afrewatch; in a joint statement

“Microsoft is fully committed to the responsible sourcing of raw materials used in our products. That is why we work closely with and support organizations like Pact that are focused on addressing human rights issues in mining. We are specifically engaged with them on a pilot project to eradicate child labor in the Katanga region of the Congo related to cobalt mining.”

-Microsoft, in a statement to TechCrunch

“We appreciate the concerns Amnesty International raised. As discussed in our recent conversation, we share your interest in and dedication to improving the lives of workers around the world. Apple believes every worker in our supply chain has a right to safe, ethical working conditions.

“Underage labor is never tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards. We not only have strict standards, rigorous audits and industry-leading preventative measures, but we also actively look for any violations. Any supplier found hiring underage workers must 1) fund the worker’s safe return home, 2) fully finance the worker’s education at a school chosen by the worker and his or her family, 3) continue to pay the worker’s wages, and 4) offer the worker a job when he or she reaches the legal age.”

-Apple, in a statement to TechCrunch

General Motors salvages Sidecar for parts


General Motors has acquired the technology and most of the assets of Sidecar. The company is also bringing about 20 employees from the Sidecar team on board, including co-founder and chief technology officer Jahan Khanna.

Netflix whizzes past 75 million subscribers thanks to record international growth

Earns Netflix

Netflix announced its fourth quarter earnings Monday, notching $1.823 billion in revenue and $43 million in profit.

The Los Gatos, CA-based company added a record 5.99 million new subscribers in the quarter: 1.56 million in the U.S. and 4.04 million internationally. Netflix also projected that over six million new subscribers would sign up this quarter.

Netflix is planning a slate of 30 new original shows and 30 children’s programs for 2016.

“We’re releasing more shows in the next quarter than many networks will in a whole year.”

-Ted Sarandos, Netflix chief content officer

Samsung changes Galaxy Note 5 internals to fix upside-down S Pen bug

Galaxy Note 3 color options (1)

Samsung has revised the Galaxy Note 5’s hardware to fix the dreaded upside-down S Pen bug.

“Samsung can confirm that the Note 5 internal S Pen mechanism has been changed to avoid the issue caused by inserting the S Pen incorrectly. As always, we recommend following proper instructions for storing the S Pen.”

-A Samsung spokesperson, to Android Central

Minecraft: Education Edition is launching this summer

MinecraftEdu, a tweaked version of the Microsoft-owned game that its name derives from, is now working on a new version of the game called Minecraft: Education Edition. It’ll be available as a free trial this summer, before individual and group pricing models are introduced for those that want long-term access.

The game will feature enhanced maps with a coordinate system to help teachers and students navigate together, digital portfolios, and simple world importing/exporting. Some of these were in MinecraftEdu, but Microsoft stresses that they’re working with creator TeacherGaming on new tools like a second-screen teacher experience. Educators using MinecraftEdu can still do so for now, but Microsoft will be offering them 12 months of free Minecraft: Education Edition access.

Dick Costolo becomes Index Ventures partner, fitness startup co-founder

Dick Costolo

Six months after stepping down as Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo has announced that he’s cofounding a new fitness-focused startup with former cofounder and CEO Bryan Oki.

The new startup is a “software platform that reimagines the path to personal fitness” aimed at health professionals, coaches, and therapists working in the fitness realm.

Costolo also revealed that he’s becoming a partner at venture capital firm Index Ventures.

Google rolling out ability to install apps directly from search results

Google search reuslts app install

Google is rolling out the ability to install apps from inside Google search results without opening the Play Store.

You can test this by opening the Google app and searching for the name of an app. It should appear at the top of the results with an install button. However, most are sent to the Play Store when they tap that button. Those with the new feature will see a Play Store-esque permission popup, followed by a mini Play Store frame appearing for the installation.

First Amazon Dash-powered devices go live to automatically reorder supplies

Amazon Dash Replenishment

Select Brother printers, a GE washing machine, and the Gmate SMART blood glucose monitor are among the first group of Amazon’s “Dash Replenishment”-powered devices.

These devices can be activated using either the company’s website or app. According to Amazon, the Brother printers are Dash-ready now, with the other devices ready by the end of the month.

For example, Brother connected printers that measure toner or ink levels have their customers sign up for automatic re-ordered on the Brother website. For those buying new printers, that signup will be part of the printer’s setup process.

However, these printers are placing Amazon orders on your behalf. According to Brother, over 45 models are immediately compatible with Amazon’s service.

GE’s new washer works in a similar fashion, offering its own smart technology that knows how much detergent to use per load and when you need to order more.

Gmate’s SMART Blood Glucose Meter will also include a feature that sends you more testing strips and lancets when your supplies run low.

Amazon also announced expanded relationships with Whirlpool, which previously committed to integrating Dash Replenishment into its Smart Top Load washer and Dryer. Now, the company’s Smart Dishwasher will also be powered by Dash.

GOJO, maker of Purell, will link up its touch-free hand sanitizer dispensing systems using the company’s Smartlink technology with Amazon Dash as well.

Starbucks now lets you save songs played in-store to Spotify

Starbucks songs
Spotify in the Starbucks app photographed on Fridday, January 8, 2015. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)

Starbucks and Spotify are expanding their relationship with a new digital music experience for Starbucks customers allowing them to identify songs played in stories, download and save them to a Spotify playlist.

The feature is live now at the company’s 7,500 U.S. stores.

To use this feature, they’ll need to first launch the Starbucks app at a participating store. They’ll be greeted by a “Now Playing” section along with a “Recently Played” section where they can browse through tracks and choose those they want to save. From here, customers can also “love” a song to influence the store’s future playlist, share a song on social media, or play it on Spotify.

“Music has played a pivotal role in our stores for over 40 years and we have been at the forefront of how to integrate it into a retail experience. Today is the next era in that experience. We are merging the physical and digital, providing new access points for Spotify as they continue to grow globally, placing more control into our customers’ hands and giving artists the world’s largest stage for them to share their talent.”

-Howard Schultz, Starbucks chairman and CEO

Apple’s U.S. diversity barely improved last year

Apple China Android

Apple’s U.S. workforce is slightly more diverse than it was last year, but the company is still overwhelmingly white and male, according to the company’s latest EEO-1 Federal Employer Information report. 30 percent of Apple’s U.S. employees are women, compared to 29 percent in its previous report. About 8.6% of its workforce is black, compared to eight percent in 2014, and 11.7 percent is Hispanic or Latino, compared with 11.5 percent. Among executives, senior officials, and managers, nearly 83 percent are male, and 83.5 percent are white.


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