What’s new in tech
A big new tax for Big Tech
Facebook and Google face a potentially significant new tax, said Felix Salmon in Axios.com. At the moment, multinationals that deal in digital products can “move profits around the world,” shifting them from high-tax countries to low-tax havens such as Ireland. Now some countries want to make it harder for the big players to get around local taxes. The U.K. is proposing a 2 percent tax on the British revenues—rather than profits—of any tech company “with more than $650 million in global revenues,” a clear swipe at U.S. tech giants. Spain, South Korea, and India are considering similar measures. Internet companies say it’s double taxation. But oil companies already pay similar taxes. “If Exxon Mobil can pay a royalty based on revenues, then why not Facebook?”
Uber’s not-quite-autonomous cars
Uber has requested permission to restart testing of its self-driving cars, said Mariella Moon in Engadget.com—this time with two human backup drivers in each computer-controlled vehicle. The company suspended the trials in March after one of its cars killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz., “the first death attributed to self-driving vehicles.” Uber’s software detected the pedestrian six seconds before impact but didn’t activate emergency braking until 1.3 seconds before the collision, when it was too late to stop. The human backup driver was distracted, watching a show on her phone. Uber has now asked the Department of Transportation for the right to resume testing on public roads. It says two people will sit in the front seats of its self-driving vehicles, its software has been tweaked to spot objects and people sooner, and a third-party firm will monitor its backup drivers in real time.
The number Alexa can’t dial
Amazon’s Echo and other smart speakers can make calls for you, said Sarah Krouse in The Wall Street Journal, but there’s one number they can’t dial: 911. Google Home and Amazon Echo devices are now installed in 20 million U.S. homes, and calling emergency services seems to be a natural use. But there are “regulatory and technical reasons” that the devices can’t contact emergency services. One is financial: Devices that can call 911 are subject to a monthly regulatory fee, which varies by state and ranges from 25 cents to $3. Charges for emergency call buttons designed for the elderly are much greater, about $40 a month.