Amazon Accused, Yahoo Katie, One Windows, ZTE Smartwatch [Tech News Digest]

Today in Tech News Digest, Amazon has its warehouse working conditions investigated, Katie Couric ditches ABC for Yahoo, Google Shopping enjoys a makeover, Microsoft spells out its vision for the future, Google Translate edges closer to being Star Trek tech, ZTE announces a smartwatch, and Yahoo sends a bizarre internal memo out to its Outlook-loving workforce.

Amazon’s Working Conditions Investigated

Amazon has been accused of risking the physical and mental health of its employees thanks to unfavorable working conditions. The BBC sent an undercover reporter into a UK-based Amazon warehouse to be employed as a picker. This job involves collecting orders as they come in, with the products spread across the 800,000 sq ft of storage space.

The BBC claims that the reporter was meant to collect an order every 33 seconds, with a scanner tracking his performance. If his picking rate was too low he was told he could face disciplinary action. Furthermore, each shift was 10-and-a-half hours long, and the reporter covered 11 miles of walking during that time.

Amazon has rejected accusations that the working conditions are “all the bad stuff at once,” as suggested by Professor Michael Marmot, an expert on stress at work. Marmot claims that with the “characteristics of this type of job, the evidence shows increased risk of mental illness and physical illness.” Amazon has stated that an independent expert found no evidence of this.

Consumer Affairs makes it clear that this is not the first time such criticisms have been leveled at Amazon, with various investigations and exposés having occurred previously. It’s all a question of perspective, of course, but this report should at least act as a reminder that ordering a product online means someone, somewhere is working hard on your behalf.

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Katie Couric Joins Yahoo

Yahoo has hired Katie Couric as its “global anchor,” with Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer describing Couric as “the face of Yahoo News.” Couric, who is currently employed by ABC News both as a special correspondent and host of ‘Katie’, will join Yahoo in 2014. What she’ll actually be doing has been left rather vague, with Mayer simply stating that Couric will be working with the “editorial team to pioneer a new chapter of digital journalism.

As stated by AllThingsD, Couric has dabbled in digital journalism in the past, but she’s massively well known for being a recognizable face of old media rather than new media. Thus her move from ABC to Yahoo is a huge feather in the cap for Yahoo, and in particular, Mayer. Grabbing such a big name is likely to have cost Yahoo millions, so it has to be considered a gamble at this stage.

Google Shopping Overhaul

Google Shopping has been overhauled to make it more visually appealing, as well as responsive, across a range of devices. New features include a “visually similar” search option, easy previews, a 360-degree view of selected products, and ‘Shortlists’. The latter is a way of keeping all the products you’re interested in purchasing in one place. Ah, consumerism at its finest.

One Windows Future

Microsoft is working its way towards having just one version of Windows, at least according to Microsoft’s head of devices, Julie Larson-Green. At the recent UBS Global Technology Conference, she said, “We have the Windows Phone OS. We have Windows RT and we have full Windows. We’re not going to have three.” Paring three operating systems down to one universal operating system is a tricky task, but Microsoft seems up for the challenge. Whether the company can turn this vision into a reality is, however, yet to be seen.

Google Translate Improved

The Google Translate app for Android has been updated, with the result being faster and more simple translations. As well as a new look and support for gesture control, you can now enjoy a “translated back and forth conversation by catching the foreign language with a press on the microphone icon.” This brings Google Translate closer to being the universal translator from sci-fi folklore than ever before. Ce qui est assez étonnant.

ZTE Announces Smartwatch

ZTE is the latest company to have announced it’s working on a smartwatch. The Chinese telecom company plans to unveil its smartwatch at the beginning of 2014, and is promising similar specs as the Samsung Galaxy Gear, but delivered at a cheaper price. The ZTE smartwatch will only be compatible with ZTE smartphones, though the company has plans for a wider Android-compatible offering in the future. This is assuming smartwatches have a future, of course, which is something many tech pundits are unwilling to bet on.

The Strangest Internal Memo Ever

And finally, in what has to be (at least one of) the strangest internal memos from a tech company to have leaked on the Internetz, Yahoo execs have implored their employees to use Yahoo Mail. Until recently the company used Microsoft’s Outlook (which is odd in itself) but it now wants its entire workforce to ditch the Microsoft email service in favor of its own.

Cue the memo, which includes references to “The Itsy-Bitsy Pterodactyl,” “Ayn Randian Objectivism,” and, most intriguingly of all, “yuppie dinosaur parents.” All while taking a pop at Microsoft, naturally. Ah, Silicon Valley, how we love/hate/envy/pity you.

Tech News Digest… Breaking News Into Bite-Sized Chunks.

Image Credit: Alan Levine

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