Zoom has made a fortune built on video conferencing. Now it is set to lose — if not a fortune — then a large "chunk of change" over the privacy and security issues that were widely reported last year. The San Jose, Calif-based company has reached an agreement in a class action suit that will see it pay a total of $85 million to two different groups that claim their privacy was breached by security flaws in the app. According to the action Zoom:

  • shared certain information with third parties
  • should have done more to prevent unwanted meeting disruptions by third parties
  • advertised its Zoom Meetings App as being encrypted “end-to-end” when Plaintiffs contend it was not at that time
  • the alleged conduct violated California state and federal laws.

Zoom denies these allegations, while the Court has not decided who is right. Claims must be submitted by March 5th, 2022. Paper Claim Forms are available at the website or by calling a toll-free number.

There are two groups eligible to file a claim:

  • If you paid for a Zoom Meetings App subscription between March 30th, 2016, and July 30th, 2021, you can file a claim for $25 or 15%  of what you paid for that subscription (excluding optional add-ons).
  • If you don’t make first group but you “registered, used, opened, or downloaded the Zoom Meeting App” between March 30th, 2016, and July 30th, 2021, you can file a claim for $15.

If you have only used Zoom with an “Enterprise-Level Account” or a government account, you’re excluded from the settlement. 

The settlement has been preliminarily approved by the court, and a final approval hearing is scheduled for April 7th, 2022. Keep in mind that if the court does not approve the settlement nothing will be handed out.

It’s a tough one for Zoom and a decision that it will have to put behind it in order to move forward which is already happening rapidly.

Zoom Adds Feature, Attendance Status

In other unrelated developments Zoom meetings will now have a feature called "Attendance Status," which makes it easier for hosts to track whether participants joined the meeting and whether anyone arrived late. Participants invited to a meeting who have not yet joined will be identified in a “Not Joined" section in the participants panel, along with their calendar response (Accepted, Declined, Maybe, No response).

Microsoft Releases Teams, Standalone for SMBs

Sticking with the video communications market, this week also saw the release of a new standalone version of Teams for small businesses. The new Teams Essentials will cost organizations $4 per user/month and will give those who have signed up for it access to the main features of Teams without having to invest in Microsoft 365. Essentials looks to all intents and purposes like a major play for the market that Zoom works in and has even changed to a simpler chat interface to allow for easier communication.

“It’s the first standalone offering of Microsoft Teams designed specifically with small businesses in mind,” explains Jared Spataro, head of Microsoft 365. “It brings together features small businesses need to serve customers, including unlimited group video calls for up to 30 hours, group chat, file sharing and calendaring.” 

Spataro, head of Microsoft 365 Teams writes that Essentials is designed to support collaboration, connection and productivity in a hybrid work environment. Microsoft 365 does the same and more, but costs and extra $2 per user/month, which for a small business can stack up. “We know how difficult the past 20 months have been for small businesses. They’ve had to demonstrate extreme flexibility to adapt, often with limited access to tools and technology,” Spataro writes. So, what do you get?

Teams Essentials provides expansive limits and features for hosting professional meetings and collaborating in one place. Among the features that will make it attractive are:

  • Unlimited group meetings for up to 30 hours
  • Meetings with up to 300 people
  • 10 GB of cloud storage per user

Teams Essentials also includes existing and new capabilities available in the free version of Teams including:

  • Simple, easy invitations, require only an email address. Users are not required to sign up
  • In addition to Outlook Calendar integration, new Google Calendar integration makes it easy to schedule meetings in Microsoft Teams.
  • Professional meeting tools and capabilities like meeting lobby, virtual backgrounds, Together mode, live closed captions and live reactions.

Citing stats from LinkedIn, Sparato says SMB open job postings are up 81.9% year over year compared to Nov. 1, 2020. Essentials, he said, responds to the need the flexibility to hire from anywhere and technology that opens the door to new employee workstyles, such as synchronous and asynchronous collaboration.

AWS Pushes Deeper Into Robotics and Automation

Elsewhere, Amazon is pushing deeper into the automation and robotics space. Unveiled at its Re:Invent 2021 conference earlier this week, AWS IoT RoboRunner, a robotics service for companies to build and deploy applications that can help robot fleets work together, will allow organizations to connect their robots and management systems in one place, even if tech and machines are from different vendors, bringing together facility, robot, destination and task data.

The Seattle-based company said the new offering builds on the same technology used in Amazon’s fulfilment centers but is now being made available to developers looking to build advanced robotics applications for their own businesses. 

The release follows the 2018 launch of AWS RoboMaker, a cloud-based simulation service that enables robotics developers to run, scale, and automate simulation without managing any infrastructure. AWS IoT RoboRunner, for its part, lets users connect your robots and work management systems, thereby enabling you to orchestrate work across your operation through a single system view.

It does this by automatically creating centralized repositories for storing facility, robot, destination, and task data. Then, the robots working on this site are setup as a “Fleet”, and each individual robot is setup in AWS IoT RoboRunner as a “Robot” within a fleet.

Learning Opportunities

The company also announced at the conference that it is launching a new accelerator program open to robotics hardware and software start-ups around the globe. The AWS Robotics Startup Accelerator will be run with MassRobotics, a non-profit organization that already delivers robotics accelerators and events.

SnapLogic's Automation Research

Also this week, San Mateo, CA-based SnapLogic, which develops an Intelligent automation platform-as-a-service to connect enterprise released some interesting research into the impact of automation. The study, entitled, Automation: Past, Present, and Future looks at the growing adoption of automation and its role in increasing revenues, job growth and productivity.

It found that that investments in automation are directly linked to increased business revenues (up 5-7%), job growth (up 4-7%), and long-term productivity (up 15%). It also shows that the pandemic is pushing the adoption of automation with investment in the U.S. and U.K. growing by between 8% and 13% over the past year.

The report also showcases a relationship between automation, job growth, and worker productivity. Despite some claims that automation can limit opportunities for employees, the results of this report seem to suggest a different story. For example, U.S. companies adopting automation-related technologies saw an average annual increase in employment of 7%, equating to a total of 7.2 million jobs, within three months (compared to one year earlier). U.K. companies saw an average increase of 4%, estimated to amount to 676,000 jobs in total.

In the U.K., automation has the potential to increase productivity by 15% in the long-term, with notable benefits in industries such as transportation, healthcare, and social work. This translates into the potential to create up to 3.3 million additional jobs. This increased automation spending was also focused on certain core technologies:

  • Cloud Computing: Adoption of cloud solutions led the way, with 78% of U.S. and 64% of UK companies investing in the cloud to help improve and automate their companies.
  • Data Integration: Data integration was the next most popular technology implemented, with 71% of U.S. companies and 44% of U.K. companies relying on it as a part of their automation strategy.

The study was based on a survey of 1,000 businesses in the U.S. and U.K. about their automation strategies, initiatives, and results and was carried out by Cebr for SnapLogic.

Comet Raises $50M for Ongoing ML Development

Finally, this week, New York City-based Comet, which develops a machine learning operations (MLOps) platform for the enterprise announced that it has raised a $50M Series B and introduced a number of enhanced features that will make a substantial impact on data science and ML teams.

Among the updates in Comet’s latest product release are comprehensive user interface (UI) enhancements and Comet Artifacts, for managing dataset versions across any step of the ML pipeline. The updates are designed to make it simple for data science and ML teams to manage every step of the ML lifecycle.

The funding round was led by OpenView, with participation from existing investors Scale Venture Partners, Trilogy Equity Partners and Two Sigma Ventures. For clarity, ML operations is communication between data scientists and the operations or production team. It's deeply collaborative in nature, designed to eliminate waste, automate as much as possible, and produce richer, more consistent insights with machine learning

Comet is pushing the boundaries of how data science and machine learning teams work by accelerating the delivery of a complete MLOps solution focused on the needs of data scientists and ML engineers.

While other products provide either experiment tracking or model monitoring tools, Comet delivers both in a complete MLOps platform.

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