Astronomers spot possible moon-forming region for the first time

While scientists have found plenty of exoplanets over the years, they've yet to spot to moons orbiting those worlds outside our solar system. Now, a group of astronomers has discovered (PDF) what's believed to be a region with exomoons-in-the-making for the first time. Myriam Benisty and team from the University of Grenoble found the disk of dust — the moon-forming region — around a young exoplanet in a star system dubbed PDS 70 located 370 light years from Earth. 

The team found the first protoplanet (PDS 70b) in the system back in 2018 using European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile. A year later, they found another young gas giant (PDS 70c) using the same equipment. The astronomers believe based on the data they have that the star system is only 10 million years old and that both gas giants are several times bigger than Jupiter. To know more about the system, they focused all other possible instruments on it, including the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. ALMA is made up of 66 short-wavelength radio dishes, and its observations made it possible to spot the dust around PDS 70c.

The disk of dust spans a distance slightly wider than that between Earth and the Sun, and there's enough mass in there for three moons the same size as ours. Benisty says the moons may have already formed, but there's no conclusive proof yet because they can't be seen with ALMA. According to Science, the Extremely Large Telescope, which will be the world's largest optical telescope when it's built, may have the power to see if the moons have already formed around the protoplanet. The telescope is still under construction, though, and scientific operations won't start until 2027 at the earliest. 

Kaseya deploys a master decryption key to unlock systems hit by REvil attack

Back on July 2nd, Russia-linked ransomware group REvil staged what ended up as a massive attack on IT management software giant Kaseya, as well as its clients and their customers. The group took advantage of vulnerabilities in the Kaseya software companies use to send out updates to computer networks, allowing it to distribute ransomware to as many as 1,500 businesses and organizations worldwide. Most of them are just small businesses, and some of the victims in New Zealand are schools, which aren't your typical ransomware targets. Now, Kaseya has announced that it has obtained a universal decryptor and will help those "impacted by the incident."

REvil originally demanded a payment of $70 million for a universal decryptor that will unlock the data owned by victims of the July 2nd attack. In mid-July, however, the group suddenly fell off the face of the internet. The critical sites it uses to communicate with victims vanished shortly after President Biden revealed that he talked to Russian President Vladimir Putin about ransomware attacks originating from his country. It's still unclear if the group disappeared from the internet as a result of that talk, of an offensive cyber operation conducted by US authorities or of something else entirely. 

In its announcement, Kaseya said it "obtained the tool from a third party" and that it worked with software company Emsisoft to confirm that it can unlock victims' data. It also said that it formed teams to actively help "customers affected by the ransomware to restore their environments" and that its representatives will contact clients who haven't heard from the company yet.

When BleepingComputer asked Kaseya if it paid the ransom to obtain the key, the company replied that it "can't confirm or deny that." The publication also asked the FBI if it was involved in obtaining the decryption key, but the agency refused to comment on an ongoing investigation. That means that key's origin is still a mystery, though we doubt its source matters for the victims that just want to access their locked data.

Apple Music’s lossless and spatial audio streaming arrive on Android devices

Apple has recently updated its Music app for Android, but it left out a couple of new features you may have been waiting for: support for lossless streaming and spatial audio. Engadget has confirmed that the tech giant has started rolling out the new high-quality streaming options, even though they aren't specifically mentioned in the Android app's release notes. 

The company first announced that it's making the streaming options available to subscribers at no extra charge back in May, promising immersive experiences similar to what Tidal HiFi and Amazon Music HD offer. Both options arrived for Apple users back in June, but they're limited to certain albums. Apple promised to make Dolby Atmos content easy to find with curated playlists and special badges, though, and it said lossless streaming will eventually come to its entire catalog with 75 million tracks.

You will need to use compatible speakers or headphones to be able to enjoy these new immersive listening experiences, though. Apple previously said that AirPods and Beats earbuds and headphones with an H1 or W1 chip, as well as the speakers on the latest iPhones, iPads and Macs will work with Dolby's spatial audio. You'd have to look up your device's features to make sure it can also access spatial audio streaming. Meanwhile, lossless audio requires a wired connection and won't work with wireless audio devices. 

Activision Blizzard sued by California over alleged sexist ‘frat boy’ culture

Activision Blizzard is facing a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for fostering what the agency describes as a "frat boy" workplace. As first reported by Bloomberg Law, the DFEH sued the gaming giant after a two-year investigation wherein it came to the conclusion that the company discriminated against female employees. In addition to receiving smaller salaries than their male counterparts, female employees were also allegedly subjected to constant sexual harassment.

The DFEH enumerated several findings from its investigation in its complaint (PDF). Activision Blizzard's workforce is only about 20 percent women, and very few of them reach top roles in the company, the court document reads. Further, those who do reach higher roles earn less salary and total compensation than their male peers. Other female employees in non-executive roles are also paid less, promoted more slowly and terminated more quickly.

DFEH also said that the defendant's "frat boy" culture is a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women." Female employees constantly have to fend off unwanted sexual comments, the agency wrote. They have to endure being groped during "cube crawls," in which male employees would drink alcohol as they make their way around various cubicles, as well. The document mentioned one particularly egregious case, in which a female employee took her own life during a business trip with a male supervisor who brought sex toys with him on the trip. According to Bloomberg, that employee was severely harassed prior to her death, with her nude photos passed around during a company holiday party.

Activision Blizzard's HR department received a lot of harassment, discrimination and retaliation complaints, the DFEH said. However, the defendant allegedly failed to take "effective remedial measures in response" to them. Also, people were apparently discouraged from making complaints, since human resource personnel were known to be close to the alleged harassers.

The state agency has filed the lawsuit to force the video game titan to comply with California's workplace protections. It's also seeking unpaid wages and pay adjustments for female employees.

Activision Blizzard, however, denies DEFH's allegations. In a statement, the company said that the agency's lawsuit "includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard's past." It called the DFEH's complaint "inaccurate" and described the lawsuit as the "type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State's best businesses out of California."

The whole statement, courtesy of Kotaku, reads:

"We value diversity and strive to foster a workplace that offers inclusivity for everyone. There is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind. We take every allegation seriously and investigate all claims. In cases related to misconduct, action was taken to address the issue.

The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past. We have been extremely cooperative with the DFEH throughout their investigation, including providing them with extensive data and ample documentation, but they refused to inform us what issues they perceived. They were required by law to adequately investigate and to have good faith discussions with us to better understand and to resolve any claims or concerns before going to litigation, but they failed to do so. Instead, they rushed to file an inaccurate complaint, as we will demonstrate in court. We are sickened by the reprehensible conduct of the DFEH to drag into the complaint the tragic suicide of an employee whose passing has no bearing whatsoever on this case and with no regard for her grieving family. While we find this behavior to be disgraceful and unprofessional, it is unfortunately an example of how they have conducted themselves throughout the course of their investigation. It is this type of irresponsible behavior from unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.

The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today. Over the past several years and continuing since the initial investigation started, we’ve made significant changes to address company culture and reflect more diversity within our leadership teams. We’ve updated our Code of Conduct to emphasize a strict non-retaliation focus, amplified internal programs and channels for employees to report violations, including the “ASK List” with a confidential integrity hotline, and introduced an Employee Relations team dedicated to investigating employee concerns. We have strengthened our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and combined our Employee Networks at a global level, to provide additional support. Employees must also undergo regular anti-harassment training and have done so for many years.

We put tremendous effort in creating fair and rewarding compensation packages and policies that reflect our culture and business, and we strive to pay all employees fairly for equal or substantially similar work. We take a variety of proactive steps to ensure that pay is driven by non-discriminatory factors. For example, we reward and compensate employees based on their performance, and we conduct extensive anti-discrimination trainings including for those who are part of the compensation process.

We are confident in our ability to demonstrate our practices as an equal opportunity employer that fosters a supportive, diverse, and inclusive workplace for our people, and we are committed to continuing this effort in the years to come. It is a shame that the DFEH did not want to engage with us on what they thought they were seeing in their investigation."

Slack is now officially part of Salesforce

Salesforce has completed its $27.7 billion acquisition — its biggest one to date — of business messaging app Slack. When the companies first announced the purchase back in December 2020, they said Slack founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield will continue to lead the messaging service as a unit within its new parent organization. They also said that Slack will become the new interface of Customer 360, which is a Salesforce tool where you can add and access the company's apps.

In Salesforce's announcement about the acquisition's completion, it confirmed both points and said the purchase will allow them to deliver a "Slack-first Customer 360." It will give clients "a single source of truth for their business, and a single platform for connecting employees, customers, and partners with each other and the apps they use every day."

While Slack has become synonymous with messaging service for businesses following its launch in 2019, it suffered from losses last year after Microsoft positioned its Teams app as a competing product in the middle of the pandemic. Slack even filed an antitrust complaint against the tech giant with the European Commission for bundling Teams with the Office suite. Salesforce announced Slack's acquisition half a year after the EU complaint was filed.

Salesforce President and COO Bret Taylor and Slack CEO and Co-Founder Stewart Butterfield will be hosting an event next month to share more details about the messaging app's integration. It will happen on August 17th at 1PM ET and will be streamed on the Salesforce website.

Twitter starts testing Reddit-like downvote button on iOS

Some Twitter users on iOS might see a new button that looks like Reddit's downvote button in people's replies. That's part of the social network's latest experimental feature designed to give it more insight on what kind of replies users find relevant in a conversation. According to Twitter Support's announcement, the goal is to be able to gather enough data, so the platform can work on ways to surface more relevant responses. In long threads, for instance, the best replies don't always show up immediately and might be buried underneath tons of other people's tweets.

The random testers who get the feature might see different versions of it. Some may see upvote and downvote buttons, while others might only see a downvote button right next to Twitter's heart/like option. A third version will show testers thumbs up and down buttons instead. The number of downvotes a reply gets will not be visible to the public, and users' downvotes will be visible to them alone. Meanwhile, upvotes will show up as likes. 

At the moment, votes won't change the order of responses similar to how Reddit buries replies that get a ton of downvotes. As Twitter User Researcher Cody Elam explains in a series of tweets, the experiment's purpose isn't to shame users, but to give "people the power to privately voice their opinion on the quality of replies" and to give the company a "more nuanced feedback." He added: "We’re hoping to learn more about the quality of replies that people vote on and if voting is a feature that people find valuable."

This isn't the first time Twitter started testing the Reddit-like feature. A few months ago, the social network started experimenting with Facebook-style emoji reactions that also included upvote and downvote buttons. 

Google Maps’ new features are designed to help you navigate life after lockdown

Google has introduced a few Maps features that could help you ease back into the world, now that COVID-19 vaccines are available. One of the most useful changes to Maps is the expansion of transit crowdedness predictions to over 10,000 cities in 100 countries. 

Companies are expecting their staff to get back to the office in the near future, and crowdedness prediction can let you know if the train or bus line you're waiting for has a lot of open seats, or if it's already crowded. That way, you can decide whether to hop on or wait for the next one in hopes that it isn't as jam-packed. Maps can make predictions by combining AI tech with contributions from people using Google Maps, along with historical location trends.

Google Maps
Google

If you're in New York and Sydney, you can even see a train's level of crowdedness down to transit car level in real time. Maps will mark the least crowded cars, so you can line up for one of them, thanks to data from transport agencies in the areas. It's still a pilot at the moment, but Google says the feature will be available in more cities soon. 

In addition, the tech giant has launched a new Timeline Insights tab for the Maps app. So long as you're on Android and you have Location History switched on, you'll be able to view "monthly trends about how you’re navigating the world." For instance, that's where you can see how much time you spend at different places, such as shops or airports, and the distance and time for each mode of transportation you've taken. The tech giant says it developed the feature after users told the company that they want "to be more intentional about how they spend their time" after living through the pandemic.

Finally, Trips in the Timeline tab is now available to everyone on Android, so you can relive the vacations you've had in the past. In case your favorite travel destination still isn't welcoming tourists, you can go to the section and virtually visit hotels, restaurants and other places you've previously enjoyed.

Tokyo Olympics staff will be given ear-worn devices to reduce the risk of heatstroke

Summers in Tokyo are not only hot, they're also extremely humid — together, those two elements are a recipe for heat-related illness. According to The Guardian, there are concerns that the upcoming Tokyo Olympics would lead to a rise in heatstroke cases, which is definitely a huge issue when medical services are already stretched too thin due to the pandemic. To help protect Olympics' staff from heat-related illnesses, Alibaba has designed a cloud-based solution to monitor their body temperature and heart rate. 

The Olympics staff will wear an intelligent device in their ear to track their stats and the environment index, which will be monitored through heat stress meters set up across the venues. That data will then be sent to a cloud-based technology that will identify the level of heatstroke risk in real time for each user. Those who are highly at risk of getting a heatstroke will receive alerts on their phones, along with recommended precautionary measures, such as drinking more water as soon as possible.

In 2020, Tokyo reported almost 200 heat-related deaths in the metropolis, so athletes and staff members are bracing for what could be the hottest Olympics yet. The city can be so hot and humid in the summer, officials had to move the 1964 games to October. Since that's not going to happen this time around — the event will begin on July 23rd — precautionary measures like using Alibaba's anti-heatstroke tech must be taken.

Elon Musk says Tesla will open its Superchargers to other EVs this year

Owners of non-Tesla EVs may be able to use some Superchargers by the end of 2021. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has revealed on Twitter that the company is opening up its Supercharger network to other EVs later this year. Musk has long talked about making the network accessible to other electric cars and, as CNBC notes, he mentioned late last year that some brands have are already seeking access to Tesla's charging stations. Now, we have a better idea of when that might happen.

Opening up its network to other companies won't be simple, seeing as Tesla uses a proprietary connector in North America. It has to make sure the stations will work across brands and that secure software handshake between a non-Tesla car and a Supercharger is possible. The transition could be easier in Europe where the automaker already uses standard CCS connectors. 

Electrek reported back in June that Tesla is already in talks with authorities in Norway, and that it applied for incentives to deploy charging stations that will be available even to non-Tesla vehicles "from the third quarter of 2022." Germany's minister of transport also previously revealed that he was in direct contact with Tesla and other companies to make sure existing infrastructure like the Superchargers are "also opened up to other manufacturers."

Musk unfortunately didn't elaborate on his tweet, so we've still yet to know which Superchargers will be accessible by other vehicles first. He did say, however, that the network will open up to other brands in all countries where it's available over time

Apple reportedly delays office return as US COVID-19 cases rise

Apple bosses had been pushing for employees to get back into the office in September, but they may have changed their tune due to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases. According to Bloomberg, the company is delaying its return-to-office deadline by about a month and won't be expecting employees to start working out of its facilities again until October at the earliest. It's reportedly a response to the recent uptick in coronavirus cases due to the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant in the US and around the world.

Apple originally wanted to implement a hybrid workplace arrangement starting in September, wherein most employees will be expected to show up at the office for three days a week at a minimum. "Video conference calling has narrowed the distance between us, to be sure, but there are things it simply cannot replicate," Tim Cook reportedly wrote in an internal email.

As The Verge reports, staff members tried to push back and sent the company a letter asking it to rethink its "location-flexible work policy" and to embrace remote work for the sake of inclusion and diversity. However, Apple execs insisted back then that "in-person collaboration is essential to [the company's] culture and... future." 

Bloomberg notes that Apple is one of the first tech giants is the US to delay its return to office. Google announced that it's adopting a hybrid work week back in May, but it expects 20 percent of its workforce to continue working from home full time. As for Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg previously said that he expects 50 percent of his employees to work from home within the next five to ten years. While Apple doesn't have a new data for its hybrid workplace implementation, Bloomberg's sources said that the company will give employees a month's notice in advance before they're expected to go back to work in the office.