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Apple, Google, Other Silicon Valley Tech Giants Ordered To Pay $415M In No-Poaching Suit


United States District Judge Lucy Koh today approved a $415 million settlement in the Silicon Valley no-poaching case. The dollar figure comes after a previous $324 million settlement was rejected as being too low.

More than 64,000 workers are part of the case. The suit stems from a secret agreement among large tech firms like Google, Apple and Intel to not poach employees from one another. The effect of that sort of arrangement depresses employee mobility, and, therefore, wages.

Perhaps the victory that results here on behalf of the working portion of Silicon Valley is moral, but it still feels light. The dollar figure, before taxes and the like, is just under $6,500 apiece. The amount is based on the individual base salaries between 2005 and 2009 of the workers listed in the suit.

There’s no way to tell what each individual would be able to negotiate for themselves over the years, had the policy not been in place, but given what we know about technology salaries today, the settlement amount is paltry.

The case has proven an embarrassment to the companies, who spend heavily on employee retention and care; a pledge to have a pool for employee use is nice, but when you are working at the same time to systemically limit the earnings potential of your staff, the side-hug can feel slightly disingenuous.

Facebook was a notable ‘no’ to the agreement. You can spin that as Facebook having its own employees’ best interest in mind, or that it was hot enough back then that it didn’t want to disarm. Regardless, its decision stands out.

The case, and its precipitant situation are not new. As TechCrunch reported in 2012, a Steve Jobs comment gave partial cause for the class-action suit.

We must do whatever we can to stop cold calling each other’s employees and other competitive recruiting efforts between the companies.

The dollar amount in question is sufficiently diminutive that it’s doubtful that it contains much in the way of a corrective lesson for the companies at fault. Still, it’s something.


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Watch This Robot Hunt And Kill Destructive Starfish


Dear friends: there is now a robot that can kill starfish underwater by hunting them down and injecting them with poison. The starfish in question is the Crown of Throns Sea Star, a destructive seadweller that has been hurting coral reefs for a while. They are so pervasive that they create massive populations – 100,000 per kilometer – in a few years.

So now there’s a robot that swims around and kills them. The COTSBot from the Queensland University of Technology can identify the starfish using machine learning and low power computers. Because most of the hunting technology is built into the robot the COTSBot doesn’t have to connect to the surface as it hunts and when it’s ready to exterminate it simply injects a chemical called thiosulfate-citrate-bile salts-sucrose agar that destroys the fish, resulting in “discolored and necrotic skin, ulcerations, loss of body turgor, accumulation of colourless mucus, loss of spines [and] large, open sores that expose the internal organs.”

It’s taken about ten years to get this far and it can’t quite kill all of the starfish all the time – only enough to make it easier for predators and humans to kill the remaining ones. In the end, however, these starfish are doomed. You can read more about the COTSBOT at QUT’s website and simply sit back and wait until these autonomous hunter/killers learned to search for humans.

via Spectrum

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Now Kids Can Build Their Own HD Display With The Kano Screen Kit


Kano‘s crazy cool educational PC is about to get a bit more visual. Kano CEO Alex Klein tweeted out that the company has launched a pre-order for an HD display kit.

Kano, which raised a $15M Series A in May, has been aiming to create an invaluable educational experience for kids by helping them get acquainted with how computers work through putting the kit together. The Raspberry Pi based platform is a great, affordable way to show kids some of the bare basics of computers and is a great DIY project for hobbyists as well.

The website highlights the educational potential of the kit:

The Screen Kit is a portable, playful HD display you build yourself. It’s a new make-it-yourself moment, to demystify the display, and take Kano portable. Billions of liquid crystals. Two million pixels. The Screen Kit has a unique modular design. You learn how alpha, gamma, and pixels work by putting them together yourself. It’s creative learning for kids and big kids.

The 10.1 inch high-definition screen boasts a sleek design that helps make the entire Kano system more portable and can be hooked up to a third party battery to provide a truly mobile experience.

The screen alone is available for a special pre-order price of $110, while you can get the screen and Kano kit for $250. Just be sure to get it before the pre-order ends on September 11.

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Mozilla Drops First Public Preview Of Firefox For iOS


Mozilla is beginning to preview its iOS Firefox browser, rolling it out today for testing in New Zealand, according to a company blog post. The goal is for the company to gather data so that they are able to bring Firefox for iOS to the App Store for the rest of the globe “later this year.”

Firefox specified the goal of the preview in a blog post:

Our goal is to create a great browsing experience for iOS with Firefox. With this first public preview we will be collecting feedback in one country, before we extend availability to get feedback in a few more countries prior to a full public launch.

TechCrunch broke the news in December that Firefox was headed for iOS, since then the company has been developing the app and navigating iOS restrictions to provide as complete an experience as possible for loyal Firefox fans.

The company is using this preview to collect feedback on a few features. First, its Intelligent Search feature, which provides a mobile-friendly suggested search result experience across search providers. They are also looking for feedback on Firefox Accounts, a feature which unifies the Firefox browser experience across mobile and desktop. The preview also debuts Visual Tabs, which it bills as “an intuitive way to keep track of your open tabs.”



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Google Search Will Now Surface Info On More Health Conditions


Google says one in 20 searches on Google Search are for health-related information and since February of this year, it’s been using its Knowledge Graph to quickly bring up medical facts when it spots a query about common health conditions. At the time, it was showing these improved results for about 400 conditions, but starting today, it’s rolling out an update that will bring that number closer to 900, including a number of neglected tropical diseases.

Google is also updating the feature’s design and making some changes to how and when it’s triggered. The company notes that when you search for something like “Frostbite symptoms” now, it’ll take you right to the symptoms tab, for example.

The company says it worked closely with a team of doctors to “curate and validate” the information it surfaces.

Doctors have apparently also been asking the company to make it easier for their patients to print the information they’re getting from the search results pages so they can take it with them to appointments. With this update, Google has now added the ability to download a PDF with the Knowledge Graph information.

For now, this feature is only available in U.S. English, but Google says it plans to expand it to more languages and regions.

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Local Services Marketplace Thumbtack Acqui-Hires HeartThis In Its First M&A Move


A year after Thumbtack raised $100 million to expand its marketplace for home services and other professional freelance jobs, the startup is making its first acquisition to beef up its engineering and product teams. It has acqui-hired talent from HeartThis, an app with 2 million users that lets consumers shop across multiples stores from a single portal.

You might think that this is a sign of e-commerce consolidation, but HeartThis and Thumbtack sit at opposite ends of the marketplace spectrum, respectively covering products and services, and at least in this case never the twain shall meet.

Thumbtack is not acquiring HeartThis’s product or technology. It will instead take on four engineers, including co-founder and CEO Andrew Gadson, to work on different projects, likely first starting with mobile services. (The two remaining HeartThis employees, co-founders Jennifer Gee and Lance Tokuda, have moved on to pursue other things, Gadson told TechCrunch.) Thumbtack itself employs around 125 people in San Francisco — have a look at its offices here — plus another 230 phone support people in Utah.

The terms of the deal have not been disclosed but at least part of it is in shares, with HeartThis investors becoming investors in Thumbtack.

“They’re happy because they believe in us,” Thumbtack co-founder and CEO Marco Zappacosta said of the HeartThis investors. “They are now betting on Thumbtack.”

HeartThis, founded in 2013, had raised $2 million with investors including Freestyle Capital500 Startups, Founder Collective, Google Ventures, Social Starts, Tekton Ventures, Tom Moss, and Karl Jacob. Thumbtack, founded in 2010, counts Google CapitalJavelin Venture PartnersSequoia CapitalTiger GlobalDraper AssociatesMHS Capital, and a long list of angels among its investors. It has raised nearly $150 million to date.)

Zappacosta says that Thumbtack looked at a dozen different teams for potential talent acquisitions before it settled on HeartThis. There will be more acquisitions to come, he says.

Could that lead Thumbtack to more fundraising? Quite possibly. “We have almost all of the $100 million we raised in the last round still in the bank,” Zappacosta says. “But we are being smart and opportunistic. We are in a thankful position where raising money is not a challenge for us and you can never say never. The capital markets are more welcoming of our story and those like ours like never before.”

The reference he’s making is to the boom we’ve seen of online marketplaces where people are coming together to sell and buy services and goods from each other, with the cream of the that crop — companies like Airbnb, Uber, Postmates and Wish — attracting hundreds of millions of dollars in venture funding to scale up. Thumbtack stands among them as one of the anointed leaders in its particular brand of marketplace, linking up home and other professional freelancers with individuals requiring their services.

Thumbtack’s bigger aim is to grow its engineering and product teams as it continues to work on building out its platform.

Specifically, while Thumbtack now covers some 1,000 categories of services for hire — from electricians through to language teachers, DJs and personal trainers — it now wants to build more tools to improve and extend the experience for the contractors who market themselves through Thumbtack.

“Today, we’re focused on introductions between buyers and sellers, consumers and contractors,” he says. “Over time, we plan to expand to facilitate more interactions, with services like CRM, invoicing, product management software and more to create an end-to-end solution.”

The idea is that this can help Thumbtack be more competitive against rivals (of which there are many smaller ones, and some larger ones like Angie’s List and Yelp, and some very big ones like Amazon and Google), and also potentially help the company expand its revenues per user.

The company matches consumer requests for jobs with a shortlist of potential contractors, and it makes revenues by charging contractors on a per-intro basis to those would-be clients, with that fee varying by category. The company has more than 200,000 professional contractors signed up (up from 75,000 a year ago), and it says that it has sent $1 billion of business though its platform since 2010, with the current rate of projects matched with professionals at over 5 million/year.

Zappacosta says that the company plans to add more categories over time, including child and elderly care and automotive services.

But those categories are not likely to include physical products any time soon, he adds. In other words, none of the technology developed by HeartThis is making its way to Thumbtack.

That’s not to say that tech and product will be dying. HeartThis picked up 2 million users over its life, and Gadson says that for now it will continue to operate as normal as the founders figure out the longer-term fate of the product.

“We built one of the highest rated shopping apps, but we didn’t see a clear path to become a dominant player in online and mobile shopping,” Gadson explains. “We’re still in discussions about what happens next, and we’ll keep users abreast of what that will be.”

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