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Friday, August 16, 2013

LeanIn.org Offers Paid Internship After Uproar Over Volunteer Position

LeanIn.org â€" the organization started by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, to promote women’s career empowerment â€" is paying a heavy price for an unpaid internship.

The nonprofit group took a public relations shellacking this week over a posting by its editor, Jessica Bennett, seeking a “Lean In editorial intern,” who would work part time, for no pay. “Must be HIGHLY organized with editorial and social chops and able to commit to a regular schedule through end of year. Design and web skills a plus!” she wrote Tuesday on her Facebook page.

Work for free for a group that urges women to speak up and be paid what they are worth? The irony â€" some would say audacity â€" of the request immediately set off an online uproar. It didn’t help that Ms. Sandberg, whose net worth exceeds $1 billion, just sold $91 million of Facebook stock, apparently giving her plenty of cash to finance dozens of internships if she chose.

“Surely Lean In can LEAN BACK and offer an hourly wage. These kind of opportunities leaves out women who want to make a contribution, but can’t afford the opportunity cost of taking an unpaid role,” wrote one commenter, Jennifer Audrey Kauffman, in a sentiment echoed by others.

The tech gossip blog Valleywag picked up on the controversy, which quickly went viral.

Ms. Bennett, who has occasionally freelanced for The New York Times, quickly backtracked, posting a follow-up item saying, “This was MY post, on MY feed, looking for a volunteer to help me in New York. LOTS of nonprofits accept volunteers. This was NOT an official Lean In job posting. Let’s all take a deep breath.”

But that explanation, which contradicted her previous post, did little to settle things down. Indeed, the whole episode revved up a long-running debate over the fairness and legality of unpaid internships. In several prominent cases, interns have sued their employers, arguing that they were really performing traditional work functions and should be paid accordingly.

By Thursday, LeanIn.org’s president, Rachel Thomas, weighed in, offering half-apology and half-explanation:

We recognize there is an ongoing public debate on the appropriate use of unpaid interns. So we want to share the facts with you and our community.

Like many nonprofits, LeanIn.Org has attracted volunteers who are passionate about our mission. We’ve had four students ask to volunteer with us. They worked flexibly when they could, and often remotely.

These volunteers helped support our message and community, and gained valuable experience doing so. They did not displace or delay the hiring of paid employees. The posting that prompted this discussion was for a position that doesn’t fall within LeanIn.Org’s definition of a “volunteer.”

As a startup, we haven’t had a formal internship program. Moving forward we plan to, and it will be paid.

We support equality â€" and that includes fair pay â€" and we’ll continue to push for change in our own organization and our broader community.

Ms. Bennett did not respond to a Facebook message seeking comment on the matter.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Sandberg referred calls to LeanIn.org.

Andrea Saul, a LeanIn.org spokeswoman, said, “We’re a new entity. We’re not going to do everything perfectly.”

Ms. Saul declined to disclose the group’s budget, but she said that it currently had a paid staff of six people. The organization is financed by donations from Ms. Sandberg as well as the profits from her best-selling book “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.”

No word yet on how much the new internship will pay, but odds are that it will be less than the $6,000 or so a month that engineering interns at Facebook generally make.

Under Scrutiny, Baby App Maker Amends Learning Claims

A children’s advocacy group has withdrawn a complaint of deceptive marketing against the maker of eight mobile apps for babies, now that the company has amended its claims about the products.

Last week, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a nonprofit group in Boston, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission saying that the app developer, Open Solutions, had marketed the apps to teach infants reading, pronunciation, math and logic skills â€" in the absence of evidence that the products could do so. The group also filed a similar complaint against apps made by Fisher-Price.

Since then, Open Solutions has changed the descriptions of its apps for babies in the iTunes store.

Last week, one app by Open Solutions, called Baby Hear and Read Verbs, said the product would help infants “learn how to read, pronounce and spell basic verbs.”

Now, the app no longer claims to teach language skills. Instead, the description, aimed at parents, says, “You can run simple slide show for the youngest where no children cooperation is needed.”

Stefan Babinec, an executive at Open Solutions, which is based in Bratislava, Slovakia, did not return an e-mail seeking comment.

In a statement, Susan Linn, the director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said her group applauded Open Solutions “for taking such decisive action to remedy their false and deceptive marketing.”

The group also reiterated its complaints about the marketing of certain apps, called Laugh and Learn, from Fisher-Price, saying the company “continues to claim its apps teach language and math skills.”

In a statement last week, Kathleen Alfano, the senior director of child research at Fisher-Price, said that the company conducts extensive research “to create appropriate toys for the ways children play, discover and grow” and that it had “appropriately extended these well-researched play patterns into the digital space.”

Trying to Make Google Glass Fashionable

In the 2006 movie “The Devil Wears Prada,” with a high-end fashion magazine’s office as its backdrop, there’s a memorable scene when the character Miranda Priestly, played by Meryl Streep, is picking between two belts for a photo shoot that look almost identical. As she surveys them in her hand, her assistant, Andy Sachs, played by Anne Hathaway, starts to laugh quietly.

“Something funny?” Ms. Streep asks.

“No. No, no. Nothing’s…” Ms. Hathaway says as she pauses to collect her thoughts. ”You know, it’s just that both those belts look exactly the same to me.”

Ms. Streep then spirals into a lengthy tirade pointing out that the fashion magazine they both work for can change what society decides to wear in public.

Google seems to be hoping that this theory still applies today. Google Glass is being featured in a 12-page spread in Vogue magazine’s September fashion issue, propped up on the faces of models wearing haute couture outfits.

As my colleague Claire Cain Miller noted in February, as Google and other companies build wearable technology like glasses and watches, the biggest challenge hasn’t been privacy issues or the technological hurdles of building these products. Mostly, the challenge has been trying to make these products seem stylish.

This has proved quite difficult.

People I’ve spoken with in Silicon Valley who own a pair of Google Glass share a somewhat similar feeling. While they love the glasses for their technological prowess, many say they feel incredibly self-conscious when wearing them in public.

Ari Mir, chief executive of Pocket Change, a start-up based in San Francisco, went through this when he first procured a pair, noting that when he first tried them on he was smitten. “Google Glasses are going to change the world!!!!” he wrote enthusiastically on Facebook in July. “They far exceed every expectation I had.”

But when I see Mr. Mir in San Francisco at social gatherings, he’s often without his Google Glass. “Where’s your Glass?” I asked him a few weeks ago at dinner.

“I love them, they’re amazing, but I feel like a dork wearing them in public,” he replied. He added: “This will change as the form factor gets smaller.”

But don’t expect them to become smaller anytime soon. In May, when Brad Stone of Bloomberg Businessweek talked to Sergey Brin, who is directing the Google Glass project, Mr. Brin pointed to the device perched on his nose and said, “You know, this is basically done.”

So if Mr. Brin thinks the design is complete and the people who wear them think they are too “dorky,” Google only has one course of action left: make people think Google Glass is cool. What better place to do that than Vogue?

“The Vogue September issue has become a cultural touchstone ahead of New York’s Fashion Week,”said Chris Dale, who manages communications for the Glass team at Google. ”Seeing Glass represented so beautifully in this issue is a huge thrill for the entire Glass team.”

At the end of Ms. Streep’s tirade in “The Devil Wears Prada,” she concludes by noting to her assistant that “you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room.”

Let’s see if that same theory applies to technology in a fashion magazine.

Witness Accounts of Sectarian Attacks Across Egypt

As my colleague David Kirkpatrick in Cairo reported, supporters of the ousted Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, have lashed out across Egypt since two pro-Morsi sit-ins were violently dispersed by the armed forces, blocking bridges and highways, storming government buildings and attacking churches of the country’s Christian minority.

Scores of churches across Egypt have come under attack since the assault on the two protest camps, highlighting Egypt’s sectarian divisions and reflecting a belief among some supporters of Mr. Morsi that Egyptian Christians are in some way to blame for his ouster.

Christians make up roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s 84 million people and have long complained of prejudice at the hands of the Muslim majority, as well as official indifference to their plight. Sectarian attacks have become more common since the downfall of the former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and many Christians feared for their well-being during the one-year tenure of Mr. Morsi. He reneged on a campaign promise to appoint a Christian vice president and failed to halt an unprecedented hours-long attack in April on St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, the seat of the Coptic Orthodox pope.

But the steady drumbeat of sectarian incidents since Mr. Mubarak’s downfall appears to have been eclipsed by the explosion of anti-Christian attacks over the last three days, which the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood has been reticent, at best, to condemn. An English-language statement e-mailed to journalists denouncing the church attacks was sent only 24 hours after widespread attention was drawn to an Arabic statement posted to a Facebook account affiliated with a branch of Mr. Morsi’s party that called the Coptic pope complicit in the deaths of 500 Islamist protesters on Wednesday. The statement on Facebook also suggested that Egyptian Christians had declared “war on Islam.”

“After all this people ask why they burn the churches,” said the statement, an English-language version of which was posted on Thursday to a Web site, MB in English, that tracks and translates inflammatory statements by the Brotherhood. “Burning houses of worship is a crime, but for the Church to declare war against Islam and Muslims is the worse offense. For every action there is a reaction.”

On Wednesday, the Egyptian military said in a statement that it would repair and rebuild the damaged churches and pay all related expenses.

Bloggers and activists have begun two separate efforts to compile and verify accounts of sectarian attacks. Their work draws together information from social media, the Arabic- and English-language news media as well as personal accounts from eyewitnesses, said Amira Mikhail, an Egyptian-American law student behind one of the efforts, and Rayna Stamboliyska, a writer who has organized the other.

Many of the accounts reported in the two projects are backed up by pictures shared on Twitter and videos posted to YouTube, and others appear to be supported by statements made by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a prominent Egyptian human rights group that tracks sectarian incidents. It posted news about individual attacks in a series of updates to Twitter.

Many of the sectarian attacks took place in Upper Egypt, the country’s poorer central and southern region, which is an important center of Egyptian Christianity and has also long been a hotbed of hard-line Islamism. But there have also been attacks in the urban centers of northern Egypt, including Cairo, the capital, and Alexandria, the country’s largest seaport.

Ms. Mikhail drew attention via Twitter to a video posted to YouTube that she said showed a Christian taxi driver being killed by a mob that swarmed his car as he drove down a wide street in Alexandria. The cameraman, filming from a balcony, can be heard screaming and eventually breaking down into sobs. “They are killing him, they are killing him,” the man screamed. “Let him go, you sons of dogs, you unbelievers! He is dying, someone call the police!”

A video posted to YouTube that the activist Amira Mikhail said showed a Christian taxi driver in Alexandria being attacked and killed by a group of Morsi supporters.

Ms. Mikhail’s project pointed out a picture posted on Twitter by one user who said it showed damage to the Mar Mina church in Beni Hilal, Minya, an attack confirmed by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. On either side of its burned door, a vandal has spray-painted the word “Islamic,” shorthand for an exclusionary Islamist slogan, “Egypt is Islamic.”

The second effort to curate and verify accounts of sectarian violence, which was also organized in part by Mostafa Hussein, a physician, activist and blogger in Cairo, drew attention to a series of photographs posted online that claimed to show flames engulfing the Amir Tadros Church, also in Minya. One picture was posted to Twitter, while the rest were collected in an online album.

But it was not just churches that were attacked. Sectarian incidents appear to have touched a range of other institutions affiliated with churches, including the offices of a Y.M.C.A. in Minya, according to a picture posted on Twitter that was highlighted by Ms. Stamboliyska’s project.

Ms. Stamboliyska and Mr. Hussein also noted pictures posted to Twitter by two separate users, which claimed to show fire damage at a Christian school in Minya, the St. Joseph School.

Grainy video posted to YouTube by an account that focuses on news from Sohag, an Upper Egyptian province, claimed to show a group of Morsi supporters attacking and setting fire the to the Mar Girgis Church, the seat of the bishop of Sohag. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights confirmed that attack in an update posted to Twitter. Mada Masr, an English-language news Web site in Cairo, reported on Wednesday that Sohag residents said the church was set ablaze around 9:30 a.m. in the absence of any police presence, and that vandals destroyed a number of nearby shops owned by both Christians and Muslims.

In the YouTube video, a large group of Morsi supporters can be seen in the street, yelling and shouting as gunshots fire in the background. Nearby, a thick column of black smoke hangs in the sky.

Video posted to YouTube claimed to show a large group of Morsi supporters attacking and setting fire to a church in Sohag, Egypt.

Ms. Mikhail’s project also drew attention to similar pictures posted to Twitter by two different users, both of which claimed to show fire damage to the interior of the Mar Girgis Church in Sohag.

The project organized Ms. Stamboliyska also pointed out a picture posted to Twitter that claimed to show the Mar Girgis Church burning from the outside. In the picture, a large group of men can be seen standing in front of the building, as a pillar of black smoke rises into the sky.

The same project also noted a picture posted on Twitter that claimed to show the St. Mary’s Church burning in the village of Nazla, in Fayoum, an oasis province south of Cairo. That attack was also confirmed by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

Latest Updates on Protests in Egypt

Video of street fighting in Cairo on Friday from the Egyptian journalist Sharif Kouddous.
The Lede is following events in Egypt on Friday, where Islamist protesters have taken to the streets to demonstrate against the military-backed government that killed hundreds this week.

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10:21 A.M. Witness Accounts of Violence in Cairo

Although few of Egypt’s activist bloggers are on the streets, where the protesters marching on Friday are mainly Islamist supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, several Egyptian and international journalists have been uploading witness accounts, video and photographs of the violence in Cairo to social networks.

Mosa’ab Elshamy, an Egyptian photographer, and Sarah Carr, a British-Egyptian journalist and blogger following a march headed toward Ramses Square in central Cairo, reported on Twitter that clashes began after a minority of young men attacked a police station.

Soon after that, there were numerous reports of gunfire, and footage on state television showed masked men armed with rifles among the marchers on an elevated roadway across the upscale neighborhood of Zamalek.

Ms. Carr reported that some protesters, trapped on an elevated roadway when shooting broke out, made the desperate choice to jump to the street below in search of safety.

Another Egyptian journalist, Sharif Kouddous, uploaded video to YouTube of protesters scrambling for cover under the elevated roadway across Zamalek as shots rang out.

Video of protesters seeking cover from gunfire in Cairo’s Zamek neighborhood on Friday.

The BBC correspondent Jeremy Bowen reported seeing badly wounded protesters at a mosque near the clashes.

As the violence escalated, and clashes were reported between residents and the protesters, journalists, including Rawya Rageh and Sherine Tadros of Al Jazeera English, reported seeing armed men in civilian clothes on the streets.

Today’s Scuttlebot: The C.I.A.-Backed Start-Up and Facebook Blues

Every day, The New York Times’s staff scours the Web for interesting and peculiar items. On Thursday, The Washington Post said its Web site had been breached by the Syrian Electronic Army, a hacker collective that supports the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

The collective bragged in that it had also targeted Time magazine and CNN, suggesting a coordinated attack on Western media organizations. It left many wondering just who â€" or what â€" is the Syrian Electronic Army? The Times’s Nicole Perlroth in May offered some background on the group, which came on the heels of an attack on another well-known media organization, The Financial Times.

(Coincidentally, Thursday’s attacks were a day after The Times’s Web site went down, though company officials said that they didn’t suspect foul-play.)

Here’s what else we noticed today:

Facebook Use ‘Makes People Feel Worse About Themselves’
BBC News |  Using Facebook erodes overall well-being and a sense of satisfaction among young adults, researchers said. - Nick Bilton

Something’s Missing From the Golden Age of Design
Wired Opinion |  Steve Jobs inspired a generation of design thinkers. It left one entrepreneur to wonder why there aren’t more designer-led start-ups. - Ashwin Seshagiri

Meet Big Brother
Forbes |  How a philosopher in Palo Alto built Palantir, a C.I.A.-funded start-up that helped capture Bin Laden. - Ashwin Seshagiri

Economists Don’t Believe the Hyperloop
Al Jazeera |  Even if the technical aspects work, the economics of Elon Musk’s futuristic transit idea ‘do not make any sense.’ - Jenna Wortham (Related Bits post)

A Quantum Leap for the Government in Mining Twitter Feeds
The New Yorker |  Agencies don’t always need to access your private data to investigate you. What you do publicly online may suffice. - Ashwin Seshagiri

Why Is Software So Slow?
The Atlantic |  An interview with software executive Charles Simonyi on software slumps and how new apps could end drudgery. - Ashwin Seshagiri

Meet the Hackers Who Want to Jailbreak the Internet
Wired |  Meet the “Indie Web,” an effort to create a web that’s not so dependent on Facebook, Twitter and Google. - Jenna Wortham

Google Maps Easter Egg of Tardis
Maps.google.co.uk |  An easter egg inside Google Maps UK. Step inside the Tardis from “Dr. Who” by clicking the arrows on the ground. - Nick Bilton

Today’s Scuttlebot: Controversy Over Gmail Privacy

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Daily Report: Profit Tumbles at Dell as PC Sales Slow

Dell, once a major player in the PC market, missed the industrywide shift toward smartphones and tablets, and the company’s financial earnings report on Thursday reflected that mistake, Brian X. Chen reports.

Dell reported net income of $204 million for its fiscal second quarter, down 72 percent from the same quarter a year ago. Revenue was $14.5 billion, about flat from the same period a year ago, but better than the $14.18 billion that Wall Street had expected, according to a survey of analysts by Thomson Reuters.

On an adjusted basis, excluding certain costs, charges and other items, Dell’s net income was 25 cents a share, a penny better than expectations, according to Thomson Reuters.

“In a challenging environment, we remain committed to our strategy and our customers, and we’re encouraged by increasing customer interest in our end-to-end solutions offerings and continued growth in our Enterprise Solutions, Services and Software businesses,” Brian Gladden, Dell’s chief financial officer, said in a statement.

Dell’s shrinking income mirrors slowing sales of personal computers at a time when many people are buying tablets instead. To keep its momentum going, Dell cut prices for many of its products but sacrificed profit margins.

The company’s revenue for its end-user computing business, which includes personal computers, accessories and third-party software, was $9.1 billion, down 5 percent from the year-earlier period.