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Google becomes latest tech firm to delay reopening as Delta variant spreads | Google

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Google has backtracked on plans to welcome most workers back to its sprawling campus in September, becoming the latest Silicon Valley company to delay reopening amid a surge in Covid cases.

The company announced Wednesday it is postponing a return to the office until mid-October and rolling out a policy that will eventually require everyone who returns in person to be vaccinated.

The decision sees Google join Apple and Netflix in postponing calling employees back to the office due to concerns about the highly transmissible Delta variant, which now accounts for more than 80% of new cases in the US. Twitter also halted reopening plans and closed offices last week due to the Delta variant.

In an email to Google’s more than 130,000 employees worldwide, chief executive officer Sundar Pichai said the company is now aiming to have most of its workforce back to its offices beginning 18 October instead of its previous target date of 1 September.

Google’s delay also affects tens of thousands of contractors who Google intends to continue to pay while access to its campuses remains limited.

“This extension will allow us time to ramp back into work while providing flexibility for those who need it,” Pichai wrote. This marks the third time Google has pushed back the date for fully reopening its offices.

Pichai said that once offices are fully reopened, everyone working there will have to be vaccinated. The requirement will be first imposed at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, and other US offices, before being extended to the more than 40 other countries where Google operates.

Facebook announced a similar policy on Wednesday, saying it will make vaccines mandatory for US employees who work in offices. Apple is reportedly also considering requiring vaccines.

“This is the stuff that needs to be done, because otherwise we are endangering workers and their families,” said Dr Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University and a former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore. “It is not fair to parents to be expected to come back to work and sit shoulder-to-shoulder with unvaccinated people who could be carrying a potentially deadly virus.”

Because children under the age of 12 aren’t currently eligible to be vaccinated, parents can bring the virus home to them from the office if they are around unvaccinated colleagues, Wen said.

The delays from these companies could influence other major employers to take similar precautions, given that the technology industry has been at the forefront of the shift to remote work triggered by the spread of Covid-19.

Even before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March 2020, Google, Apple and many other prominent tech firms had been telling their employees to work from home. Many others in the tech industry have decided to let employees do their jobs from remote locations permanently.

Google’s decision to require employees working in the office to be vaccinated comes on the heels of similar moves affecting hundreds of thousands government workers in California and New York as part of stepped-up measures to fight the delta variant. Joe Biden is expected to announce a mandate that all federal government workers be vaccinated.

The rapid rise in cases during the past month has prompted more public health officials to urge stricter measures to help overcome vaccine skepticism and misinformation.

While other major technology companies may follow suit now that Google and Facebook have taken stands on vaccines, employers in other industries still may be reluctant, predicted Brian Kropp, chief of research for the research firm Gartner. Less than 10% of employers have said they intend to require all employees to be vaccinated, based on periodic surveys by Gartner.

“Google is seen as being such a different kind of company that I think it’s going to take one or two more big employers to do something similar in terms of becoming a game changer,” Kropp said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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Irish payroll tech company BrightPay merges with UK’s Relate

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The two companies will get funding from investor Hg to hire more employees and innovate new technologies across Ireland and the UK.

Irish payroll management tech company BrightPay has announced a merger with London-based accounting software company Relate Software in a bid to integrate services for SMEs across the two islands.

Based in Co Meath, BrightPay has been operating in Ireland for more than 25 years and employs more than 70 people in the country. It provides payroll software services to more than 330,000 employers in Ireland and the UK.

Upon merging, BrightPay CEO Paul Byrne and Relate co-founder and CEO Ray Rogers will remain investors and become co-CEOs of the new entity. The other co-founders of each company will also continue to invest in the new business and develop products.

Byrne said that Relate’s track record in the sector will help them become the leading service for many businesses and accountancy firms.

Private equity investor Hg, which focuses on software and service businesses in Europe and North America, will become the majority investor in the combined business. “Their deep sector knowledge has proven invaluable to us and will be instrumental in fuelling the further growth of BrightPay/Relate,” Byrne added.

New hires and technologies

The merger will benefit from the combination of BrightPay’s expertise in payroll software with Relate’s experience in accountancy management tech. Together with Hg, the new business will invest in new technologies such as cloud and automation to improve their services.

Rogers, founder and CEO of Relate, said: “Combining products from both businesses will provide a compelling offering for our customers, with the scope and backing for further innovation and development.

“I’m looking forward to working with Paul and am also excited to welcome Hg, a leading software investor with a track record of supporting growth in Irish software businesses.”

While details of the transactions have not been disclosed, the combined business will have more than 190 employees with plans to hire more people across Ireland and the UK.

“Both BrightPay and Relate are very highly regarded businesses and champions in their field,” said Jonathan Boyes, Hector Guinness and Thomas Martin of Hg in a joint statement. “The two companies bring together core operational strengths whilst also unlocking a high-quality, complementary suite of products to a newly combined customer base.”

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New UK broadband rules will make it easier to switch supplier | Broadband

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The UK media regulator, Ofcom, has introduced a new service to make it easier for customers to switch broadband supplier to get a better deal.

Ofcom hopes the new process, One Touch Switch, will encourage people to seek out better deals after research found that more than two-fifths of people were put off switching broadband suppliers because of the hassle.

People can already switch between providers that use Openreach’s broadband network – such as BT, Sky and TalkTalk – through a process requiring a customer to only contact their new supplier.

However, until now customers looking to change networks or technologies – such as between Virgin Media’s network and a provider on Openreach or other smaller networks such as Hyperoptic or CityFibre – had to deal with both the new and old supplier simultaneously.

Ofcom research found that a quarter of customers making such a switch faced attempts by their provider to stop them. The One Touch Switch process aims to eliminate these issues, including customers having to sort out the end and start dates of their old and new services.

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“Household finances are strained at the moment, so switching broadband provider could help keep your bills down,” said Lindsey Fussell, the network and communications group director at Ofcom. “We’re making it as easy as possible for you to break up with your broadband provider and take advantage of the deals on offer.”

Ofcom said the new rules will also mean that suppliers will have to compensate customers if they are left without internet for more than one working day during a switch. All suppliers must introduce Ofcom’s new simplified switching process by April 2023.

The regulator has introduced a range of measures in recent years to make sure customers have access to the best deals. These include cracking down on the so-called “loyalty penalty” by which customers who stick with their broadband, mobile or pay-TV supplier are not offered the same discount deals as new customers.

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India, Japan flex cyber-defence muscles as China seethes • The Register

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India and Japan have each flexed their cyber-defence muscles in ways that China can’t miss.

Japan’s flex was the Monday launch of a national cyber-security policy that for the first time names China, Russia, and North Korea as sources of heightened threat. The policy also calls for Japan’s Self Defence Force to increase its digital capabilities.

The new plan was released as expected under Japan’s policy of refreshing its defensive plans every three years. The theme for the policy is “Cybersecurity for all” and chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato said its aim is to ensure that no part of Japanese society goes without the protections it needs.

Kato said the plan was also developed because Japan’s government “recognised a threat” and therefore a need to strengthen its online defences. The policy documents list many recent infosec incidents – such as the attack on SolarWinds and Microsoft’s Exchange flaw – as the sort of thing Japan needs to counter.

India’s flex came from vice-president M. Venkaiah Naidu, who on Monday visited a military museum and remarked that India’s security forces should “prepare themselves to dominate not only in a conventional war but also establish their superiority in the new and emerging areas of conflict such as information and cyber warfare along with the increasing use of robotics and drones in the battlefield”.

“The nation is assured that any misadventure by an adversary will be given a befitting reply by the Indian Army,” Naidu said.

While the position of vice-president is largely ceremonial – the officeholder is backup to the head of state, but actual power resides with Parliament – Naidu’s words have weight. Doubly so as he stated India faces “both symmetric and asymmetric threats from outside and within” and then asserted India’s sovereignty over Jammu & Kashmir and argued that previous arrangements that gave the territory autonomy were temporary.

Mentioning Jammu & Kashmir is significant, as the disputed India/China border is in the territory. The territory is also the subject of a dispute with Pakistan.

Kashmiri separatists, which India labels Pakistan-supported terrorists, and China, will all have noticed the veep urging India to arm itself in the kinetic and digital realms.

China has certainly noticed last week’s meeting of “The Quad” – the grouping of Australia, the USA, Japan, and India – and its announcement of plans to develop infosec standards it hopes the world will follow.

China’s foreign ministry has labelled The Quad a “closed and exclusive clique” informed by “outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality and ideological bias”.

Spokesperson Hua Chunying addressed the issue at a press conference in response to a question from Russian news agency TASS. “For some time, these countries have been keen on insinuating China with the so-called ‘rules-based order’, playing up and inciting the so-called ‘China threat’ theory, and driving a wedge between regional countries and China.”

Te actions of Japan and India actions suggest the wedge is working. ®

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