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Trump further targets tech-friendly work visa programs in latest immigration restrictions

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The Trump administration on Tuesday outlined new rules tightening restrictions placed on guest worker visa programs, including the H-1B program favored by tech industry firms.

The rules tighten eligibility around foreign workers, so employers must meet more stringent criteria around the jobs they’re hiring for and how much they’re paying. That may make it harder for companies to receive H-1B visas as part of the annual lottery that awards 60,000 slots to foreign workers, not including renewals. The new rules follow a June order from President Donald Trump suspending a range of guest worker visa programs through the end of the year, with the White House citing domestic job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic as the motivator.

The Trump administration says the goal is to ensure companies that rely on guest worker visas can’t use those programs to replace American workers with cheaper foreign labor. “For too long, this program has been misused as an inexpensive labor program, replacing American jobs in the process,” reads a White House press release issued late Tuesday. “These critical reforms will improve the quality of the H-1B program without changing the annual statutory cap for H-1B visas.”

In addition to shrinking the pool of available roles that qualify for an H-1B and requiring companies pay visa holders at higher rates similar to US workers, the new rules also reduce the amount of time a worker can be placed at a third-party worksite, from three years to one year.

This means that if a company is not hiring a foreign worker to work at its headquarters or primary place of business, it can no longer keep those employees in the country longer than 12 months without a renewal. (Two of the top five firms awarded the most H-1B visas in 2019 are Indian IT and consulting companies that operate offices in the US but are based overseas.)

Google, one of the fiercest critics of the Trump administration’s immigration restrictions and a top 10 H-1B visa sponsor, condemned the White House’s earlier restrictions in June as a ploy to target immigrants. “Immigrants have not only fueled technological breakthroughs and created new businesses and jobs but have also enriched American life,” Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said at the time. “America’s continued success depends on companies having access to the best talent from around the world. Particularly now, we need that talent to help contribute to America’s economic recovery.”

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Samsung moves to autoblock spam calls, but only on its top-end phones

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Apple rolled out automatic spam call detection and blocking functionality on iPhones with iOS 13. Now, a ton of Samsung users are set to get the same feature on their devices starting with the Galaxy Note 20 series.

Samsung already provides spam and fraud call detection through its dialer that’s powered by Hiya, a spam and call detection company. Now it’s extending the service to automatically blocking those calls on devices that are running One UI 2.5 software.

[Read: What audience intelligence data tells us about the 2020 US presidential election]

Currently, only the Note 20 series and the Z Fold 2 has the One UI 2.5 pre-installed. Other devices ranging from the Galaxy S20 to Galaxy S9 series and Galaxy Note 10 series will get this update later. Samsung is also supposed to roll out this update for a couple of A-series phones including the A71 and the A51 as well.

Smart call filtering on Samsung

As a consumer, you don’t really need to do anything to block these calls. Hiya leverages its database and cloud service to identify these calls and block them.

There are other popular apps such as Truecaller that help you to identify spam calls and block them. However, you’d need to install that app and tweak the settings of your phone (for both iOS and Android) to enable call blocking.

In addition to this announcement, Samsung has also extended its partnership with Hiya for spam detection solutions until 2025. The call identification company said that there more than 40 countries primarily in North and South America and Europe where this feature will be enabled on the eligible phone. It added that it’s working to get more countries on the list.

There’s a massive spam call issue in India, and that’s why probably TrueCaller has more than 185 million active users in the country. It’s a bummer that this feature is not available in the market where Samsung has a massive presence.

For more gear, gadget, and hardware news and reviews, follow Plugged on Twitter and Flipboard.

Published October 22, 2020 — 11:00 UTC

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Google tests smart displays that activate without a wake word

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A new feature being internally tested at Google could remove the need to say “Hey Google” before voicing commands to Nest Hub smart displays, Android Central reports. Instead, the feature codenamed “Blue Steel” could allow the device to simply sense your presence, and proactively listen for commands without first needing to hear the wake word.

The functionality has been shown off in a video posted to YouTube by Jan Boromeusz, who Android Central notes previously leaked features like the Nest Hub’s new dark mode prior to its official announcement. In the video, Boromeusz can be seen asking for a variety of information, all without once uttering the words “Hey Google.” His Nest Hub Max smart display is reportedly running leaked internal firmware meant for testing within Google, and it’s unclear if the company has any plans to release the functionality publicly.

The speculation is that the Nest Hub Max is using its existing ultrasound sensing to sense a person’s presence and start listening. At the moment, the smart display uses this to simply adjust the information it shows. However, in the future, this same technology could allow it to listen out for voice commands when it knows you’re nearby. Ars Technica speculates that it could also use its camera’s Face Match feature to get a better idea of who’s speaking. Boromeusz shows an option to turned Blue Steel on and off in the smart display’s settings menu.

If released to the public, Blue Steel could raise privacy concerns. A key element of current smart speakers and displays is that they only pay attention to what you’re saying after they hear the wake word. Relying upon proximity detection alone increases the risk of the devices hearing something they’re not supposed to, at the expense of your privacy.

That said, “Blue Steel” could make for a useful optional feature for some. Having to repeatedly say “Hey Google” or “Ok Google” before every voice command can be a pain, and this potentially makes accessing information you need far quicker.

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Here integrates what3words’ super simple address system into its in-car API

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Geocoding startup what3words — which chunks the world into 3mx3m squares, giving each a unique three-word label to simplify location sharing — has nabbed another in-vehicle integration, via a partnership with Here Technologies.

The pair said today that OEMs using Here’s navigation platform can include what3words as an in-car nav feature directly through the Here Search API, instead of needing to integrate itself. Existing users of the platform will be able to be given access to what3word’s addressing tech via an update.

Here says its map data services can be found in 150 million vehicles worldwide at this point.

It’s by no means the first such integration for what3words which has found cars to be a natural fit for its simplified, ‘rolls-off-the-tongue’ addressing system. The 2013-founded startup inked a partnership with Ford last year, for example. It also counts Daimler as an investor.

Letting drivers speak or type three words to input a location into their car’s GPS system has clear benefits vs requiring they correctly specify a full address. what3words also pinpoints a more specific location than a typical postcode — and works for destinations that don’t have a street address (the start of a hiking trial or specific lay-by; a particular entrance for a campus etc).

what3words further notes that its tech has been adopted by global car companies, logistics providers and mobility apps, including Mercedes-Benz, Tata Motors, DB Schenker, Hermes and Cabify.

In recent years the novel addressing system has also found favor with Airbnb as a way of simplifying location sharing for less traditional types of stays.

Commenting on its latest partnership in a statement, what3words CEO and co-founder, Chris Sheldrick, said: “We are seeing increasing demand from automakers and mobility services. Now that we are embedded in Here, we can enable our address system simply and easily in both new and legacy vehicles.”

“Automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers can now provide the what3words service to their customers through the Here Search API instead of having to integrate it themselves,” added Jørgen Behrens, SVP and chief product officer at Here Technologies in another supporting statement. “This will allow drivers to navigate easily in dense, urban environments with non-standard addressing schemes or seamlessly get to any location, be it a local pub or a trailhead.”

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