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Google's Controversial Voice Assistant Could Talk Its Way Into Call Centers
Posted by News Fetcher on July 05 '18 at 12:02 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department:
More details have emerged about where Google intends -- or at least intended until a few weeks ago -- to take its controversial AI Duplex, which it first demonstrated to the public at its developer conference in May. The AI system is capable of making calls to local businesses to place reservations on behalf of Google Assistant users. And it does so in a voice that most people can't distinguish from that of a normal human being. This resulted in a public outcry at the implication of people in the future not knowing whether they were talking to humans or machines, which led Google to adapt the bot's introduction so it clearly explains it's not a human. The Information reports: Some big companies are in the very early stages of testing Google's technology for use in other applications, such as call centers, where it might be able to replace some of the work currently done by humans [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source], according to a person familiar with the plans. The market for cloud-based customer call center market is expected to hit more than $20.9 billion by 2022, up from around $6.8 billion last year, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets. [...] At least one potential customer, a large insurance company, is looking at ways it can use the technology, according to the person with knowledge of the project, including for call centers where the voice assistant could handle simple and repetitive customer calls while humans step in when the conversations get more complicated. But the ethical concerns that overshadowed the original presentation have slowed work on the project, this person said.

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Net Neutrality Makes Comeback in California; Lawmakers Agree To Strict Rules
Posted by News Fetcher on July 05 '18 at 10:41 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's a-win department:
California lawmakers announced a deal Thursday to restore key protections in a widely watched bill to give Californians strong net neutrality protections. From a report: The California net neutrality bill that could impose the toughest rules in the country is being resurrected. The bill was approved in its strongest form by the California Senate, but was then gutted by the State Assembly's communications committee, which approved the bill only after eliminating provisions opposed by AT&T and cable lobbyists. Bill author Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has been negotiating with Communications Committee Chairman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) and other lawmakers since then, and announced the results today. Wiener said the agreement with Santiago and other lawmakers resulted in "legislation implementing the strongest net neutrality protections in the nation." A fact sheet distributed by Wiener's office today said the following: Under this agreement, SB 822 will contain strong net neutrality protections and prohibit blocking websites, speeding up or slowing down websites or whole classes of applications such as video, and charging websites for access to an ISP's subscribers or for fast lanes to those subscribers. ISPs will also be prohibited from circumventing these protections at the point where data enters their networks and from charging access fees to reach ISP customers. SB 822 will also ban ISPs from violating net neutrality by not counting the content and websites they own against subscribers' data caps. This kind of abusive and anti-competitive "zero rating", which leads to lower data caps for everyone, would be prohibited, while "zero-rating" plans that don't harm consumers are not banned.

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How Cheap Smartphones Siphon User Data in Developing Countries
Posted by News Fetcher on July 05 '18 at 10:41 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's cost-of-low-cost-phones department:
Newley Purnell, reporting for WSJ: For millions of people buying inexpensive smartphones in developing countries where privacy protections are usually low, the convenience of on-the-go internet access could come with a hidden cost: preloaded apps that harvest users' data without their knowledge. One such app, included on thousands of Chinese-made Singtech P10 smartphones sold in Myanmar and Cambodia, sends the owner's location and unique-device details to a mobile-advertising firm in Taiwan called General Mobile, or GMobi. The app also has appeared on smartphones sold in Brazil and those made by manufacturers based in China and India, security researchers say. Taipei-based GMobi, with a subsidiary in Shanghai, says it uses the data to show targeted ads on the devices. It also sometimes shares the data with device makers to help them learn more about their customers. "If end users want a free internet service, he or she needs to suffer a little for better targeting ads," said a GMobi spokeswoman. [...] GMobi is one of several entities using the combination of low-cost smartphones and low regulations to siphon off reams of user data. Shanghai-based Adups and Indian digital advertising firm MoMagic offer similar firmware-updating services in partnership with smartphone makers.

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Charter Launches Mobile Service, Throttles All Video To 480p
Posted by News Fetcher on July 05 '18 at 09:22 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
Charter Communications launched its mobile broadband service on June 30, and it's throttling all video streams to DVD quality. From a report: "DVD-quality video streaming is supported. Video typically streams at 480p," Charter notes in the "Pricing & Other Info" section of its mobile sign-up page. The quality limit is similar to one just imposed by Comcast, which previously did not impose any video quality limits on its mobile service. Comcast is letting existing customers get 720p video streams "on an interim basis at no charge," and the company announced plans to charge extra for longer-term access to HD quality. But Charter hasn't announced any plans to let customers stream in HD over its mobile service, for free or otherwise. HD video "is not currently an option for Spectrum Mobile," a Charter spokesperson told Ars.

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The World's Largest Phone Network China Mobile Censors Content -- Even in the United States
Posted by News Fetcher on July 05 '18 at 09:22 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
Isaac Stone Fish, reporting for The Washington Post: On Monday, the U.S. Department of Commerce recommended the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) deny a license to China Mobile, the state-run company that is the world's largest phone network by subscribers. (It reaches more people than Verizon and AT&T combined.) The Commerce Department suggested the move because of the national security risk China Mobile poses. Indeed, because China Mobile is an arm of the Chinese state, there are legitimate concerns that Beijing could use it to gather data on American citizens. There is, however, a previously unreported concern with China Mobile that adds to worries about the company's suitability in the United States. According to several interviews with frequent Chinese travelers to the United States, those with China Mobile as their carrier are often unable to access American websites and apps that are banned in China. A Chinese journalist who regularly travels to the United States for work, and who asked to speak anonymously, said she couldn't access Facebook or the New York Times in the United States with her China Mobile number. Even Google Maps is banned, leading to some frustrating travel experiences. When she was visiting a friend in Brooklyn, the Chinese journalist said, "it took me a long time to find her place because my VPN failed me and I couldn't use Google Maps." She was referring to a Virtual Private Network, a method that some Chinese use to circumvent the Chinese censorship apparatus.

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How Much Americans Could Save by Ridesharing Driverless Cars Over Owning
Posted by News Fetcher on July 05 '18 at 08:04 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's working-out-economics department:
An anonymous reader shares a study: Self-driving cars promise safer roads, less traffic and increased mobility. Some autonomous vehicle proponents also maintain they will save time and money. But will they really save Americans time and money? And even if they do, are Americans ready to give up driving? Online insurer Esurance surveyed consumers, analyzed trends, and spoke to experts to find out. "Like with most new technology, we'll see consumer perceptions evolve and adoption accelerate as the promised benefits of self-driving cars are realized," said Haden Kirkpatrick, head of strategy and innovation at Esurance. The reality is that the first fully autonomous cars will be very pricey and beyond the reach of most Americans. Manufacturers expect the early buyers will be businesses and the very wealthy. One developer says prices won't start coming down enough for most families and individuals to buy them until 2025 or beyond. Until the price of ownership of self-driving vehicles comes down, most people will experience driverless vehicles through ridesharing, according to researchers. According to Esurance research, in the best-case scenario, a family that gives up its car in favor of driverless ridesharing could save $4,100 in annual transportation costs. Other research confirms that a 20 percent improvement in efficiencies of the personal transportation system, would generate a five percent increase in household incomes.

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The EU's Controversial Copyright Law Has Been Rejected -- For Now
Posted by News Fetcher on July 05 '18 at 08:04 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's some-relief department:
Members of the European Parliament have voted to reject a controversial copyright law in its current form, deciding to return to the issue in September. From a report: The law would have put a greater responsibility on individual websites to check for copyright infringements. But the web's inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee and others had expressed concerns about the proposed rules, which they said threatened internet freedom. Opponents greeted the decision as a victory. Julia Reda, a Pirate Party MEP who had campaigned against the legislation tweeted: "Great success: Your protests have worked! The European Parliament has sent the copyright law back to the drawing board." BPI Music, which represents UK record labels, had supported the bill and tweeted: "We respect the decision... we will work with MEPs over the next weeks to explain how the proposed directive will benefit not just European creativity, but also internet users and the technology sector."

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How Smart TVs in Millions of US Homes Track More Than What's on Tonight
Posted by News Fetcher on July 05 '18 at 06:42 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's aggressive-expansion department:
The growing concern over online data and user privacy has been focused on tech giants like Facebook and devices like smartphones. But people's data is also increasingly being vacuumed right out of their living rooms via their televisions, sometimes without their knowledge. From a report: In recent years, data companies have harnessed new technology to immediately identify what people are watching on internet-connected TVs, then using that information to send targeted advertisements to other devices in their homes. Marketers, forever hungry to get their products in front of the people most likely to buy them, have eagerly embraced such practices. But the companies watching what people watch have also faced scrutiny from regulators and privacy advocates over how transparent they are being with users. Samba TV is one of the bigger companies that track viewer information to make personalized show recommendations. The company said it collected viewing data from 13.5 million smart TVs in the United States, and it has raised $40 million in venture funding from investors including Time Warner, the cable operator Liberty Global and the billionaire Mark Cuban. Samba TV has struck deals with roughly a dozen TV brands -- including Sony, Sharp, TCL and Philips -- to place its software on certain sets. When people set up their TVs, a screen urges them to enable a service called Samba Interactive TV, saying it recommends shows and provides special offers "by cleverly recognizing onscreen content." But the screen, which contains the enable button, does not detail how much information Samba TV collects to make those recommendations.

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An Employee of NSO Group, Which Sells Powerful Spyware, Allegedly Stole Company's Tools For Personal Profit
Posted by News Fetcher on July 05 '18 at 05:20 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
Joseph Cox, reporting for Motherboard: NSO Group sells some of the most potent, off-the-shelf malware for remotely breaking into smartphones. Some versions allow a law enforcement or intelligence agency to steal essentially all meaningful data from an iPhone with no interaction from the target. Others just require the victim to click one link in a carefully crafted text message, before giving up their contacts, emails, social media messages, GPS location, and much more. NSO only sells its tools to government agencies, but a newly released, explosive indictment alleges that a company employee stole NSO's spyware product, dubbed Pegasus, and tried to sell it to non-authorized parties for $50 million worth of cryptocurrency. These capabilities "are estimated at hundreds of millions of [US] dollars," a translated version of the indictment reads. Several Israeli outlets were the first to report on and upload the indictment. The news shows a danger often highlighted by critics of the malware industry: that hacking tools or exploits typically reserved for law enforcement or intelligence agencies may fall into other hands. Omri Lavie, the co-founder of NSO, told Motherboard in an online chat "no comment."

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German Police Accused of Carrying Out Some Pretty Stupid Raids
Posted by News Fetcher on July 04 '18 at 10:40 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's assuming-control department:
Catalin Cimpanu, writing for BleepingComputer: Two privacy-focused organizations have this week accused German police of carrying out raids at their offices and members' private homes on some pretty shoddy reasoning that makes no sense and hints at the police's abuse of power. The first of these organizations is Zwiebelfreunde, a non-profit group based in Dresden that runs Tor relay servers and supports privacy and anonymity projects by providing legal and financial help. One of the ways it helps these projects includes collecting donations from European users into its bank account and then relaying the raised money to overseas projects. Today, members of the Zwiebelfreunde project revealed that German police had raided their Dresden office and the homes of three members located in the cities of Augsburg, Jena, and Berlin. The raids took place on June 20, and police told Zwiebelfreunde members they were in relation to the RiseUp project, a provider of anonymous XMPP and email services.

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Netflix is Testing a New 'Ultra' Tier of Service
Posted by News Fetcher on July 04 '18 at 06:41 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's shape-of-things-to-come department:
Netflix may be introducing a new, higher tier of service. From a report: Known as Ultra, the new tier would allow four devices to receive Ultra HD video and audio streaming simultaneously, according to Italian blog Tutto Android. Netflix currently has three subscription plans: $7.99 Basic, $10.99 Standard and $13.99 Premium. Basic allows users to watch Netflix on one screen at a time; Standard allows viewing on two screens; and Premium allows four screens. Screens can be TVs, laptops, tablets or smartphones. "We continuously test new things at Netflix and these tests typically vary in length of time," Smita Saran, a Netflix spokeswoman, said in an email. "In this case, we are testing slightly different price points and features to better understand how consumers value Netflix."

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US Online Piracy Lawsuits Break Record Numbers
Posted by News Fetcher on July 04 '18 at 05:21 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
Copyright cases in the United States are dominated by two companies -- Malibu Media and Strike 3 Holdings -- that are generally unknown to the public at large. This year alone, they have filed more than 1,700 lawsuits, which as TorrentFreak reports, sets a new file-sharing lawsuit record in the most recent quarter.

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In This Economy, Quitters Are Winning
Posted by News Fetcher on July 04 '18 at 04:00 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's changing-market-dynamics department:
An anonymous reader shares a report: Workers are choosing to leave their jobs at the fastest rate since the internet boom 17 years ago and getting rewarded for it with bigger paychecks and/or more satisfying work. Labor Department data show that 3.4 million Americans quit their jobs in April, near a 2001 peak and twice the 1.7 million who were laid off from jobs in April. Job-hopping is happening across industries including retail, food service and construction, a sign of broad-based labor-market dynamism. Workers have been made more confident by a strong economy and historically low unemployment, at 3.8% in May, the lowest since 2000. Ms. Enoch started getting interview opportunities the same day she began sending out applications online. The trend could stoke broader wage growth and improve worker productivity, which have been sluggish in the past decade. Workers tend to get their biggest wage increases when they move from one job to another. Job-switchers saw roughly 30% larger annual pay increases in May than those who stayed put over the past 12 months, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

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Firefox and Chrome Pull Popular Browser Extension Stylish From Their Stores After Report Claimed It Logs and Shares Browsing History, Credentials
Posted by News Fetcher on July 04 '18 at 01:23 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's end-of-road department:
sombragris writes: Stylish, a popular extension available for Chrome and Firefox which allows for easy customization of any website, now phones home and shares its users' browser history with its corporate parent, according to blogger Robert Heaton. This prompted Firefox to ban the extension from its addons site and prompt all users to disable it. The discussion can be seen in the relevant bug report. In Heaton's words: Stylish is no longer a well-meaning product with your best interests at heart. If you use and like Stylish, please uninstall it and switch to an alternative like Stylus, an offshoot from the good old version of Stylish that works in much the same way, minus the spyware. Google too has pulled the extension from its extension store.

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Chinese Smartphone Maker Xiaomi Says It is Working To Enter the US Market Next Year
Posted by News Fetcher on July 04 '18 at 01:23 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's up-next department:
China's Xiaomi is pressing ahead with plans to enter the United States next year, saying its U.S. connections should help the consumer-focused smartphone maker skirt the political resistance met by some of its compatriot rivals. From a report: Senior Vice President Wang Xiang told Reuters on Tuesday that the U.S. market was "very attractive" and that the firm was adding engineering resources to develop versions of its handsets that are compatible with U.S. cellphone networks. "Next year we hope we can do something there," Wang said, adding talks with U.S. carriers are yet to produce concrete agreements.

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'Plugspreading' is an Abomination
Posted by News Fetcher on July 04 '18 at 12:04 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's somebody-had-to-say-it department:
Mark Serrels, writing for CNET: A man [on a train], a human man as he lives and breathes, has put his bag, his stupid goddamn bag on the seat. He thinks his bag is more important than your buttcheeks. Than your tired legs. He is undermining your right to rest those legs, to plank those weary buttcheeks on a seat. This train is busy. He is a bad person. He doesn't care. This is a metaphor. In this metaphor the terrible man-person is a tech company. The bag is their terrible plug. A plug that is not content with taking up one slot on your powerboard, but needs two. Not for power, oh no. It just wants the space to... christ, I don't know. Mess with your day? Piss you off? Make your life worse? Stop you from plugging an extra device into your powerboard for no goddamn reason. Jesus wept. I call this phenomenon "plugspreading" and it's an abomination. [...] This is bad behaviour. This is a problem. That second socket was innocent man, it was collateral damage. He did nothing to deserve this. You ruined its life, starved that socket of its purpose, its reason for existing. Plugspreading is everywhere. It's a disease.

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Is Facebook a Publisher? In Public it Says No, But in Court it Says Yes
Posted by News Fetcher on July 04 '18 at 12:04 PM
By msmash from Slashdot's whatever-works department:
From a report: Facebook has long had the same public response when questioned about its disruption of the news industry: it is a tech platform, not a publisher or a media company. But in a small courtroom in California's Redwood City on Monday, attorneys for the social media company presented a different message from the one executives have made to Congress, in interviews and in speeches: Facebook, they repeatedly argued, is a publisher, and a company that makes editorial decisions, which are protected by the first amendment. The contradictory claim is Facebook's latest tactic against a high-profile lawsuit, exposing a growing tension for the Silicon Valley corporation, which has long presented itself as neutral platform that does not have traditional journalistic responsibilities. The suit, filed by an app startup, alleges that Mark Zuckerberg developed a "malicious and fraudulent scheme" to exploit users' personal data and force rival companies out of business. Facebook, meanwhile, is arguing that its decisions about "what not to publish" should be protected because it is a "publisher." In court, Sonal Mehta, a lawyer for Facebook, even drew comparison with traditional media: "The publisher discretion is a free speech right irrespective of what technological means is used. A newspaper has a publisher function whether they are doing it on their website, in a printed copy or through the news alerts." [...] Facebook spokespeople declined to answer questions about its insistence outside of court that it is not a publisher or media entity.

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As Student-Loan Debt Soars, Alternatives, Like Income-Share Agreements, Are On the Rise
Posted by News Fetcher on July 04 '18 at 10:43 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's closer-look department:
Last year, Lavell Burton, 36, wanted to learn to code, but was surprised to find that many of coding bootcamps cost several thousand dollars upfront. Then he found a 30-week remote program, Lambda School, that was free to attend. The program would provide comprehensive web-engineering training, and would help with job placement. Once employed, graduates would be required to pay back a set portion of their salary under an arrangement called an income-share agreement, or ISA. The Atlantic dives into such income share agreements. From a report: The concept of ISAs has been around since at least the 1950s, when the economist Milton Friedman outlined them as a hypothetical model of repayment. Yet ISAs were rarely implemented until the past few years, as student-loan default spiked and schools sought to offer other ways to pay. In 2016, Purdue University launched an ISA tuition option aimed at families who might otherwise take out high-interest private loans or Direct PLUS loans for parents to fill the gap between federal student loans and the cost of tuition. Purdue hired Vemo Education, a for-profit startup, to help design and administer the program, which is largely backed by the university's funds. The private schools Clarkson University and Messiah College have since announced plans to follow suit, as has the United States Collegiate Athletic Association, which has partnered with Vemo to create ISA options for its roughly 80 member schools. Among for-profit programs, in 2012, App Academy, a coding bootcamp with locations in San Francisco and New York, began offering a twelve-week program built around an ISA. Others, like the New York Code + Design Academy, which provides a range of web engineering and design courses, and Holberton School, a two-year program in San Francisco, have similar payment options. [...] The ISA-based programs have generated hype, as well as some early success stories. Yet questions remain about whether they are a good deal for students and if they make for profitable businesses in the long run. For one thing, there's little consensus around how much is fair to reap from program graduates, and for how long. Lambda School, for example, requires graduates earning at least $50,000 to pay back 17 percent of their salary for two years, with total payments capped at $30,000. The terms can vary widely among programs. Also, while it's clear how programs like Lambda School might help some people improve their prospects, many of them are so new -- Lambda School is one year old this month -- that there isn't much data about how people do once they get through the programs. That makes it difficult for prospective students to evaluate them.

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Already at Movie Theaters Near You: Ticket Subscriptions
Posted by News Fetcher on July 04 '18 at 09:22 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's tussle-continues department:
An anonymous reader shares a report: MoviePass, the subscription-based movie ticket service, is struggling to stay afloat. But the payment model it has popularized appears to be here to stay. AMC Theaters, the largest multiplex chain in the United States, rolled out its own MoviePass-style service on Tuesday. For $20 a month, subscribers to AMC Stubs A-List can see up to three movies a week. Also last week, the Alamo Drafthouse chain said it would begin testing a service called Season Pass that would offer unlimited movies for one monthly price. [...] AMC also said that its service was "sustainable" -- a not-so-subtle shot at MoviePass, which has three million members, most of whom pay $10 a month for the ability to see a movie a day. Many people in Hollywood and on Wall Street think that MoviePass will fail because it loses money on heavy users; Helios and Matheson Analytics, which owns MoviePass, has seen its publicly traded shares fall from $38.86 last year to 31 cents on Friday. Cinemark, a chain that has 4,566 movie screens in 41 states, began offering this subscription in December. It's very basic: for $9 a month members can see one movie a month (no 3-D) and receive a 20 percent discount on concessions, among other perks. Unused tickets roll over and never expire for paying members. There is no debit card involved, and members can reserve seats online. Sinemia: Started in 2015 in Turkey, this under-the-radar service bears the most similarity to MoviePass. Sinemia operates independently of theaters and involves a two-step process, with members selecting movies with an app and paying for them with a special debit card.

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IBM Fired Me Because I'm Not a Millennial, Alleges Axed Cloud Sales Star in Age Discrim Court Row
Posted by News Fetcher on July 04 '18 at 09:22 AM
By msmash from Slashdot's he-says-she-says department:
A laid-off IBM cloud sales ace is suing the IT giant for age discrimination, alleging he was forced out for being too old. From a report: Jonathan Langley joined Big Blue in 1993, and worked his way up the ranks over the next 24 years. Then, in 2017, as worldwide program director and sales lead of the Bluemix software-as-a-service, he was let go. According to his lawsuit paperwork, Langley, 60, "was a successful employee and his performance met or exceeded IBM's expectations." Had he "been younger, and especially if he had been a millennial, IBM would not have fired him," his filing claimed. Langley, of Texas, USA, was seemingly doing very well for himself within Big Blue. For instance, he netted a $20,000 performance bonus in January 2017, the largest such windfall within his team in Austin, we're told. His annual performance scores put him at the top or near the top of his group. Curiously, the month before, though, he was warned privately by his boss's boss -- Andrew Brown, veep of worldwide sales of IBM's hybrid cloud software -- that he needed to look for a new job, it is claimed. At the end of March 2017, Langley was formally told he would be laid off at the end of June. Langley was unable to get a role elsewhere within IBM, and its HR system marked him as having "resigned," it is claimed. In early July, days after he left the business, Langley got a letter congratulating him on his "retirement." IBM management told the US government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that Langley was laid off after his supervisor Kim Overbay ranked him, in January 2017, as the worst performing person on his team, despite him bagging the biggest bonus that quarter, and earlier meeting or exceeding performance expectations, according to the lawsuit.

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