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California passes landmark bill requiring contract workers to be labeled as employees • WSJ
Alejandro Lazo:
<p>Uber and Lyft have said the proposed law could upend their businesses and lobbied to change the bill. Gov. Newsom, in an interview Tuesday, said he remains personally involved in talks with Uber, Lyft and other gig-economy companies that have sought exemptions from the measure, known as Assembly Bill 5, as well as some of the unions supporting it.

“As it relates to Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, others, some of the gig platforms, these remain ongoing negotiations, and regardless of what happens with AB5, I am committed, at least, to continuing those negotiations,” Mr. Newsom said.

The governor said it was in the best interest of the state to “stay at the bargaining table, to continue to negotiate” and that talks will continue even though a deal wasn’t reached with the companies during this year’s legislative session.

“By no means this delay is a denial, and I’m fully committed—and expressed that to all sides—fully committed to continuing,” he said. “Not jump-starting, not-reconvening.”

In a statement following the vote in the state Senate, Lyft said it was ready to begin a ballot-measure fight next year to win provisions to exclude it from the law.</p>


Uber similarly said that it would not call its drivers "employees" because their work is outside the usual course of Uber's business." That's going to be a fun one for the lawyers. The gig economy sure is resistant to the idea that it might have to fit with the rest of the economy.
california  uber  gigeconomy 
7 days ago by charlesarthur
Uber lays off 435 people across engineering and product teams • TechCrunch
Megan Rose Dickey:
<p>Uber has laid off 435 employees across its product and engineering teams, the company announced today. Combined, the layoffs represent about 8% of the organizations, with 170 people leaving the product team and 265 people leaving the engineering team.

The layoffs had no effect on Eats, which is one of Uber’s top-performing products, and Freight, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Meanwhile, the company is lifting the hiring freeze on the product and engineering teams that has been in effect since early August, according to the source…

…Of those laid off, more than 85% are based in the U.S., 10% in the Asia-Pacific and 5% in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, according to the source.

The layoffs came after Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi asked every member of his executive leadership team if they were to start from scratch, would their respective organizations would look like the way they do today.

“After careful consideration, our Engineering and Product leaders concluded the answer to this question in many respects was no,” the spokesperson said.</p>


Uber's PR instincts, putting this out when tech and to some extent stock markets would be stuffed with Apple stuff, is still good.
uber  jobs 
8 days ago by charlesarthur
‘Empty’ Uber cabs driving pollution and congestion • The Sunday Times
Nicholas Hellen:
<p>Uber was launched in Britain with a promise that its smart technology, which matches passengers with the nearest vehicle for hire, would reduce traffic.

In 2014 Travis Kalanick, then its chief executive, told the Institute of Directors: “In our current model here in London there are 7½ cars taken off the road for every fully utilised Uber that is on the road.”

But James Farrar, a former Uber driver who obtained the figures after a two-year legal battle, said they provided hard evidence that the company’s approach added to congestion.

“They are competing on immediacy and availability and they do not carry any of the costs [of buying the cars]. That is going to lead to oversupply. You will cause congestion and these drivers will not have enough work.”

The figures, which tracked three drivers for a combined 7,500 hours, confirm that when they are looking for their next job they do not park, but typically spend 94% of their time cruising the streets, to maximise their chances of being offered another passenger.

David Dunn, 58, one of the three drivers, said he quit driving for Uber in Glasgow because he was having to work 80-hour weeks to recoup the £37,000 that he had spent on a car.</p>


This doesn't of course show how much of the time non-Uber taxis spend noodling around looking for trade, but it seems reasonable to think that if there are fewer taxis available, they spend less time not carrying passengers. Given that, maybe you'd want a licensing authority to mandate a maximum number of cars at some times, or that a certain proportion be electric (though that won't help congestion), or similar. It's the <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/ride-sharing-firms-say-they-help-ease-traffic-congestion-new-ncna1003051">same story in the US</a>.
uber  congestion 
11 weeks ago by charlesarthur
Uber’s path of destruction • American Affairs Journal
Hubert Horan:
<p>Most public criticisms of Uber have focused on narrow behavioral and cultural issues, including deceptive advertising and pricing, algorithmic manipulation, driver exploitation, deep-seated misogyny among executives, and disregard of laws and business norms. Such criticisms are valid, but these problems are not fixable aberrations. They were the inevitable result of pursuing “growth at all costs” without having any ability to fund that growth out of positive cash flow. And while Uber has taken steps to reduce negative publicity, it has not done—and cannot do—anything that could suddenly pro­duce a sustainable, profitable business model.

Uber’s longer-term goal was to eliminate all meaningful competition and then profit from this quasi-monopoly power. While it has already begun using some of this artificial power to suppress driver wages, it has not achieved the Facebook- or Amazon-type “plat­form” power it hoped to exploit. Given that both sustainable profits and true industry dominance seemed unachievable, Uber’s investors de­cided to take the company public, based on the hope that enough gullible investors still believe that the compa­ny’s rapid growth and popularity are the result of powerfully effi­cient inno­vations and do not care about its inability to generate profits.

These beliefs about Uber’s corporate value were created entirely out of thin air. This is not a case of a company with a reasonably sound operating business that has managed to inflate stock market expectations a bit. This is a case of a massive valuation that has no relationship to any economic fundamentals. Uber has no competitive efficiency advantages, operates in an industry with few barriers to entry, and has lost more than $14bn in the previous four years. But its narratives convinced most people in the media, invest­ment, and tech worlds that it is the most valuable transportation company on the planet and the second most valuable start-up IPO in U.S. history (after Facebook).

Uber is the breakthrough case where the public perception of a large new company was entirely created using the types of manufactured narratives typically employed in partisan political campaigns. Narrative construction is perhaps Uber’s greatest competitive strength.</p>


He then rips apart its economics; you'll be happy to take an Uber (well, perhaps; it's putting taxi drivers who make a profit out of business) but certainly avoid the shares.
uber  business  economics 
june 2019 by charlesarthur
Uber will start deactivating riders with low ratings • TechCrunch
Megan Rose Dickey:
<p>Uber is now requiring the same good behavior from riders that it has long expected from its drivers. Uber riders have always had ratings, but they were never really at risk of deactivation — until now. Starting today, riders in the U.S. and Canada are now at risk of deactivation if their rating falls significantly below a city’s average.

“Respect is a two-way street, and so is accountability,” Uber Head of Safety Brand and Initiatives Kate Parker wrote in a blog post. “Drivers have long been required to meet a minimum rating threshold which can vary city to city. While we expect only a small number of riders to ultimately be impacted by ratings-based deactivations, it’s the right thing to do.”</p>


Black Mirror: <a href="https://www.theverge.com/2016/10/24/13379204/black-mirror-season-3-episode-1-nosedive-recap">less a warning, more an instruction manual</a>.
uber  rating  nosedive  blackmirror 
may 2019 by charlesarthur
Report: Uber and Lyft’s rise tanked wheelchair access to taxis • The San Francisco Examiner
Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez:
<p>SFMTA [San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency] also recommends state regulators instate a local “advisory body” to keep a watchful eye on Uber and Lyft’s disability services.

That’s especially key, as without any prompting from state or local lawmakers Uber and Lyft have for years left wheelchair users at the curb.

The report highlights a steep drop-off of ramp-enabled taxi services for people who use wheelchairs during the rise of Uber and Lyft. While wheelchair users can ride Muni buses, and have access to pre-planned trips using San Francisco’s robust paratransit services, impromptu trips are needed by us all, the report notes.

From a scheduling change at the doctor’s office to a sudden (and perhaps welcome) romantic date, life happens. But whereas years ago San Francisco’s estimated 5,000 people who use wheelchairs could catch a cab, that’s less possible now, especially because Uber and Lyft do not widely provide wheelchair accessible vehicles in San Francisco.

While SFMTA cannot track all wheelchair taxi trips, it can measure the riding habits of wheelchair users who partake in city subsidies.

In 2013 there were roughly 1,400 monthly subsidized wheelchair-ramp taxi rides, but by 2018 that number dropped to roughly 500 monthly requests.

That’s not because there were fewer wheelchair users, or because those wheelchair users requested fewer rides, according to SFMTA. There simply weren’t enough taxi drivers available anymore after the rise of Uber and Lyft, with people left stranded.</p>
uber  lyft  wheelchair  accessibility 
may 2019 by charlesarthur
Uber's losses reach double digits in IPO debut debacle • Yahoo
Jeran Wittenstein and Sam Unsted:
<p>The ride-hailing giant dropped as much as 11% to $37.08 in New York. The San Francisco-based company sold 180 million shares at $45 apiece on Thursday, and on Friday it never traded above that price, ending the day down 7.6% at $41.57 even as other stocks gained.

“Sentiment does not change overnight, and I expect some tough public market times over the coming months,” CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told staff in an email.

The share slump reflects investor skepticism about the size of the ride-hailing market, Uber’s ability to execute on food and package delivery and its push into autonomous vehicles, said Ygal Arounian of Wedbush Securities. The IPO also comes as investors shy away from riskier assets given U.S.-China trade tensions, said the analyst, who has an outperform rating on Uber and sees the stock reaching $65 in the next year.</p>


I link to this only to note it; I don't think the first few days or weeks are anything either way. What's going to matter is its financial results, and that's going to play out over years. (Has anyone analysed how a company's shares perform on its first day compared to how it performs over its life?)
uber  ipo 
may 2019 by charlesarthur
The Uber IPO is a moral stain on Silicon Valley • NY Times
Farhad Manjoo:
<p>Uber — and to a lesser extent, its competitor Lyft — has indeed turned out to be a poster child for Silicon Valley’s messianic vision, but not in a way that should make anyone in this industry proud. Uber’s is likely to be the biggest tech I.P.O. since Facebook’s. It will turn a handful of people into millionaires and billionaires. But the gains for everyone else — for drivers, for the environment, for the world — remain in doubt. There’s a lesson here: If Uber is really the best that Silicon Valley can do, America desperately needs to find a better way to fund groundbreaking new ideas.

Today’s Uber is more responsible than yesterday’s: Travis Kalanick, Uber’s onetime Night King, was ousted as chief executive in 2017, and Dara Khosrowshahi, its new chief, has led a thorough rehabilitation. Yet Uber’s early insiders paid no real price for their sins. Mr. Kalanick’s stake will be worth nearly $9bn. Tech giants — including Apple, Google and Jeff Bezos, who all acquired significant stakes in Uber — will make a killing. Saudi Arabian petromonarchs will too.

Not Uber’s drivers. Recent studies show that Uber drivers make poverty wages — about $10 an hour after their vehicle expenses are deducted from their pay. Drivers’ fortunes might only worsen after the company goes public. Uber lost nearly $2bn in 2018, and the best long-term hope for Uber’s business is that drivers disappear altogether, replaced by cars that drive themselves. In rushed pursuit of that profitable vision, one of Uber’s self-driving cars killed a pedestrian last year.

The environmental gains have also yet to materialize.</p>
Uber  ipo 
may 2019 by charlesarthur
Uber's IPO and local network effects • Tech-Thoughts
Sameer Singh on Uber's IPO prospectus, and the problems he sees ahead:
<p>Unlike Airbnb and Amazon, Uber's network effects exist purely within a tight geographical radius (within a few miles). Both Amazon and Airbnb could scale up a supply network in one location, leverage that to grow demand in another which would then attract more supply in that location and so on. However, Uber needs to scale up a supply network in one location and then start from scratch all over again at the next one. In other words, when Uber expands into a new market, its only advantage is capital. This is especially troublesome when first movers in local markets (e.g. Grab in Southeast Asia, Didi in China, Yandex in Russia, Ola in India etc.), have already established local supply networks, which makes competition even more of an uphill climb. 

Notably, the pattern of local network effects isn't limited to the ridesharing business. It also affects food delivery, grocery delivery, classifieds, C2C marketplaces or any service that needs to be delivered locally (and in-person). One common theme among these industries is that tend to be regionally fragmented. Apart from Uber, can you think of a single, standalone and global player in ridesharing, food delivery or classifieds? The very nature of local network effects makes it nearly impossible (or in Uber's case, prohibitively expensive) for these businesses to expand to multiple markets.

Uber has been attempting to divest local units and find other avenues of growth to make up for their network effect handicap. Micromobility is one that Uber seems particularly bullish about. The fact that nearly 50% of vehicle trips are under three miles clearly shows that there is latent demand for scooter and bike rental services. But the <a href="http://www.tech-thoughts.net/2018/07/scooters-and-value-chains.html">complete lack of network effects</a> strains pricing power and unit economics even further.</p>


Singh hasn't been writing much lately, which is a loss to us all. He always has a smart take. There's a remark in here about "asymptotic network effects" - when a network gets "good enough" - which can probably be broadened to social networks too.
uber  network 
april 2019 by charlesarthur
Uber used secret spyware to try to crush Australian start-up GoCatch • ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Sean Nicholls, Peter Cronau and Mary Fallon:
<p>GoCatch was a major competitor to Uber when the US company launched in Australia in 2012. At the time, both companies were offering a new way to book taxis and hire cars using a smartphone app.

Surfcam was developed in Uber Australia's head office in Sydney in 2015.

A former senior Uber employee has told Four Corners that the idea behind the use of the Surfcam spyware was to starve GoCatch of drivers.

"Surfcam when used in Australia was able to put fledgling Australian competitors onto the ropes," the former employee with direct knowledge of the program said on the condition of anonymity.

"Surfcam allowed Uber Australia to see in real time all of the competitor cars online and to scrape data such as the driver's name, car registration, and so on".

It allowed Uber to directly approach the GoCatch drivers and lure them to work for Uber.

"GoCatch would lose customers due to poaching of its drivers draining their supply. With fewer and fewer drivers, GoCatch would eventually fold," the former Uber employee said.</p>


Uber really had a particular charm in those days. Though the company insisted that it was a "rogue employee" and that when they found out, he was told to stop. Choose your own adventure on whether you believe them.
uber  australia 
march 2019 by charlesarthur
Uber escapes criminal charges for 2018 self-driving death in Arizona • Ars Technica
Timothy Lee:
<p>"After a very thorough review of all evidence presented, this office has determined that there is no basis for criminal liability for the Uber corporation," wrote Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Sullivan Polk in a letter dated Monday.

Tempe is in Maricopa County, not Yavapai County. But Maricopa County once collaborated with Uber on a public safety campaign. So prosecutors referred the case to Yavapai County to avoid any potential for a conflict of interest.

While Uber appears to be off the hook, Uber driver Rafael Vasquez could still face criminal charges. Dashcam video showed Vasquez repeatedly looking down at her lap in the final minutes before the crash—including five agonizing seconds just before her car struck Herzberg. Records obtained from Hulu suggest that Vazquez was streaming the television show The Voice just before the fatal crash.

Yavapai County Attorney Polk said she didn't have enough information to decide whether it would be appropriate to charge Vasquez. </p>


"The driver of the self-driving car is responsible for this death." That's going to be fun to prosecute. Vasquez was given a horrible task: in charge of a potentially lethal device, but with minimal time to avert it killing. A weird formulation of the trolley problem.
uber  selfdrivingcar  death 
march 2019 by charlesarthur
Uber releases Ludwig, an open source AI 'toolbox' built on top of TensorFlow • VentureBeat
Kyle Wiggers:
<p>Want to dive earnestly into artificial intelligence (AI) development, but find the programming piece of it intimidating? Not to worry — Uber has your back. The ride-hailing giant has <a href="https://eng.uber.com/introducing-ludwig/">debuted Ludwig</a>, an open source “toolbox” built on top of Google’s TensorFlow framework that allows users to train and test AI models without having to write code.

Uber says Ludwig is the culmination of two years’ worth of work to streamline the deployment of AI systems in applied projects and says it has been tapping the tool suite internally for tasks like extracting information from driver licenses, identifying points of interest during conversations between driver-partners and riders, predicting food delivery times, and more.

“Ludwig is unique in its ability to help make deep learning easier to understand for non-experts and enable faster model improvement iteration cycles for experienced machine learning developers and researchers alike,” Uber wrote in a blog post. “By using Ludwig, experts and researchers can simplify the prototyping process and streamline data processing so that they can focus on developing deep learning architectures rather than data wrangling.”</p>


You have to want to dive earnestly, because it's not just "here's some pictures, this is what they are, off you go".
ai  uber 
february 2019 by charlesarthur
Alex Rosenblat’s Uberland: review • NY Mag
Adrian Chen:
<p>One thing you get from reading Alex Rosenblat’s Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work, is that there is nothing inevitable about management trending in a positive direction. Drawing on four years of ethnographic research among Uber drivers, Rosenblat has produced a thoroughly dystopian report that details how millions of drivers are now managed by a computerized system that combines the hard authoritarianism of Frederick Winslow Taylor with the cynical cheerleading of Michael Scott.

But wait: Isn’t the whole point of Uber that you can be your own boss? After all, Uber talks of its drivers not as employees but “partners.” In its propaganda, Uber portrays itself not as a taxi company at all but a technology platform that connects drivers directly to riders. “FREEDOM PAYS WEEKLY,” reads one recruitment ad reproduced in Uberland.

Next to it, there’s a picture of a breezy millennial with shaggy hair and a five-o’clock shadow, a scarf draped rakishly around his neck. He looks so noncorporate that he might not be wearing any pants.

In order to put that idea to rest, Rosenblat must first untangle the myths that made it seem possible in the first place. If you think about it, it’s bizarre that taxi drivers became a symbol of cutting-edge technological disruption. Cab drivers have typically occupied a benighted role in the public imagination: hustlers, criminals, or, at best, misanthropic folk philosophers. Rosenblat offers a valuable history of the ideological work that went into the “gentrification” of the profession.</p>
ai  uber  algorithm 
january 2019 by charlesarthur
The deadly recklessness of the self-driving car industry • Gizmodo
Brian Merchant:
<p>The newest and most glaring example of just how reckless corporations in the autonomous vehicle space can be involves the now-infamous fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona, where one of Uber’s cars struck and killed a 49-year-old pedestrian. The Information obtained an email reportedly sent by Robbie Miller, a former manager in the testing-operations group, to seven Uber executives, including the head of the company’s autonomous vehicle unit, warning that the software powering the taxis was faulty and that the backup drivers weren’t adequately trained.

“The cars are routinely in accidents resulting in damage,” Miller wrote. “This is usually the result of poor behavior of the operator or the AV technology. A car was damaged nearly every other day in February. We shouldn’t be hitting things every 15,000 miles. Repeated infractions for poor driving rarely results in termination. Several of the drivers appear to not have been properly vetted or trained.”

That’s nuts. Hundreds of self-driving cars were on the road at the time, in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Santa Fe, and elsewhere. The AV technology was demonstrably faulty, the backup drivers weren’t staying alert, and despite repeated incidents—some clearly dangerous—nothing was being addressed. Five days after the date of Miller’s email, a Volvo using Uber’s self-driving software struck Elaine Herzberg while she was slowly crossing the street with her bicycle and killed her. The driver was apparently streaming The Voice on Hulu at the time of the accident.

This tragedy was not a freak malfunction of some cutting-edge technology—it is the entirely predictable byproduct of corporate malfeasance.</p>


There isn't a great deal that's new here (apart from his efforts to get Tesla to explain its thinking on autonomous driving), but gathering it in one place is quite startling.
selfdrivingcar  uber 
december 2018 by charlesarthur
Will Uber survive the next decade? • NY Mag
Yves Smith:
<p>Uber has never presented a case as to why it will ever be profitable, let alone earn an adequate return on capital. Investors are pinning their hopes on a successful IPO, which means finding greater fools in sufficient numbers.

Uber is a taxi company with an app attached. It bears almost no resemblance to internet superstars it claims to emulate. The app is not technically daunting and and does not create a competitive barrier, as witnessed by the fact that many other players have copied it. Apps have been introduced for airlines, pizza delivery, and hundreds of other consumer services but have never generated market-share gains, much less tens of billions in corporate value. They do not create network effects. Unlike Facebook or eBay, having more Uber users does not improve the service.

Nor, after a certain point, does adding more drivers. Uber does regularly claim that its app creates economies of scale for drivers — but for that to be the case, adding more drivers would have to benefit drivers. It doesn’t. More drivers means more competition for available jobs, which means less utilization per driver. There is a trade-off between capacity and utilization in a transportation system, which you do not see in digital networks. The classic use of “network effects” referred to the design of an integrated transport network — an airline hub and spoke network which create utility for passengers (or packages) by having more opportunities to connect to more destinations versus linear point-to-point routes. Uber is obviously not a fixed network with integrated routes — taxi passengers do not connect between different vehicles.</p>


The context: Uber just announced a $1bn loss for the quarter. Never mind, they'll make it up in volume.
uber  finance  business 
december 2018 by charlesarthur
Did Uber steal Google’s intellectual property? • The New Yorker
Charles Duhigg:
<p>After [the former DARPA Grand Challenge for self-driving vehicles participant, Anthony] Levandowski arrived at Google, his plan was to send out hundreds of cars, equipped with cameras, to photograph America’s roads. Then he encountered Google’s bureaucracy.

The company was less than a decade old, but it had almost seventeen thousand employees, including a thick layer of middle managers. Levandowski recently told me, “One of the reasons they wanted us was because Larry Page knew we were scrappy—we would cut through red tape.” Page, Google’s co-founder and chief executive, often complained that the company had become bloated, and had lost the hacker mentality that had fuelled its initial success. By the time Levandowski arrived, Google’s apparatchiks were in ascent.

“Hiring could take months,” Levandowski told me. “There was a program called WorkforceLogic, and just getting people into the system was super-complicated. And so, one day, I put ads on Craigslist looking for drivers, and basically hired anyone who seemed competent, and then paid them out of my own pocket. It became known as AnthonyforceLogic.” Around this time, Levandowski went to an auto dealership and bought more than a hundred cars. One of his managers from that period told me, “When we got his expense report, it was equal to something like all the travel expenses of every other Google employee in his division combined. The accountants were, like, ‘What the hell?’ But Larry said, ‘Pay it,’ and so we did. Larry wanted people who could ignore obstacles and could show everyone that you could do something that seemed impossible if you looked for work-arounds.”

Levandowski and his team were asked to map a million miles of U.S. roads within a year. They finished in nine months, and then set up an enormous office in Hyderabad, India, to begin mapping every street on earth.</p>


This isn't the heart of the story - this is back in 2007 - but it illustrates something pertinent about both Levandowski and Page, particularly the latter: he'll forgive if you get the results.

It also goes into Silicon Valley's culture, which it says is built on one big idea: betrayal.
google  uber  ethics  waymo 
october 2018 by charlesarthur
Forget viewability: your ads aren’t serving • Ad Exchanger
Daniel Rosenblatt is in charge of Uber's "rider display marketing":
<p>In late Q4, we launched a series of small rich-media-based mobile brand campaigns to dip our toes in the water and establish performance benchmarks. We ran the tests for a few days then reviewed the data. This health check uncovered some odd trends.

First, our click-through rates were almost zero. For in-app static 300x250s with impression and click trackers, we could sometimes see as high as 2% click-through rates (CTRs). But exciting, motion-enabled, dynamic ads were generating sub-0.10% CTRs. It just didn’t make sense. On top of that, incrementality was completely flat across various short-term metrics.

Something was wrong. We were buying significant inventory across well-known, major exchanges, but it was as if our ads weren’t being served at all.</p>

When he looked into it, it turned out that publishers were saying their pages could accept any ad, even if they couldn't; and ad networks weren't bothering to check.

Upshot: Uber pulled all its ads from the networks that didn't bother to check. But clearly, there are tons of ads which aren't being shown. That saying about "50% of my money spent on advertising is wasted"? Still true online, it seems.
Advertising  online  uber 
september 2018 by charlesarthur
Uber drivers and other gig economy workers are earning half what they did five years ago • Recode
Rani Molla:
<p>The gig isn’t as good as it used to be for people working through online transportation apps in the US.

On average, drivers who transport people (Uber or Lyft) or things (Uber Eats or Postmates) through an app made 53% less in 2017 than they did in 2013, according to <a href="https://www.jpmorganchase.com/corporate/institute/report-ope-2018.htm">a new study by the JPMorgan Chase Institute</a> that looks at online gig economy payments into Chase checking accounts.

The average monthly payments to those who worked for a transportation app in a given month declined to $783 from $1,469. Meanwhile, people working for leasing apps — Airbnb, Turo, Parklee and other apps that let you rent assets like your home, car or parking space — saw their incomes from those platforms rise 69% to $1,736 on average.

[IMAGE]

This is happening as online gig work has become more popular, thanks in large part to the growth in the number transportation jobs.

The share of the working population that has participated in the online gig economy at any point in a year rose from less than 2% in 2013 to nearly 5% in 2018. That’s about the same share of people employed in the public administration sector.</p>


That seems like a lot. (In the UK, the proportion in the whole public sector, which includes local and central government, is a little under 20%. Not sure what the US definition of "public administration" includes or excludes.)
uber  driver  payment  gig 
september 2018 by charlesarthur
A new study says ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft are causing urban traffic woes • Axios
Steve LeVine and Henrietta Reily:
<p>Bruce Schaller, a former New York deputy commissioner of transportation and author of the report, tells Axios that when people use a ride-hailing company, they are opting to do so rather than take public transportation, walk or bike. They generally are not choosing between hailing and driving themselves.

U.S. ridership is surging, he said — up 37% last year, to 2.6bn passengers, from 2016. And hailing added 5.7bn miles of driving a year to the nine cities in the study compared with six years ago — Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington.

Uber and other ride-hailing services may not have exacerbated traffic initially. "But now they are clearly a source of congestion, and to deal with congestion you have to deal with them," he said. Schaller's report aligns with an October study released by UC Davis. It found that, in U.S. cities, 49% to 61% of ride-hailing trips would have not been made at all — or by walking, biking, or public transit.

Regina Clewlow, a transportation research scientist and an author of the UC Davis study, told Axios that no one expected such consumer demand for the rides.

"Cities were blindsided by the dramatic growth of ride-sharing companies," she said. Clewlow urged continued investment in public transportation. "There’s no way that ride hailing could move people around as efficiently as mass transit."

This outcome also repeats history.</p>


That history is: providing more traffic methods increases traffic.
uber  transport  globalwarming 
september 2018 by charlesarthur
The monopoly-busting case against Google, Amazon, Uber, and Facebook • The Verge
Russell Brandom:
<p>Antitrust crusaders have built up serious momentum in Washington, but so far, it’s all been theory and talk. Groups like Open Markets have made a strong case that big companies (especially big tech companies) are distorting the market to drive out competitors. We need a new standard for monopolies, they argue, one that focuses less on consumer harm and more on the skewed incentives produced by a company the size of Facebook or Google.

Someday soon, those ideas will be put to the test, probably against one of a handful of companies. For anti-monopolists, it’s a chance to reshape tech into something more democratic and less destructive. It’s just a question of which company makes the best target.

To that end, here’s the case against four of the movement’s biggest targets, and what they might look like if they came out on the losing end.</p>


A good read. Blocking acquisitions is quite a big part of it.
google  amazon  facebook  uber  monopoly 
september 2018 by charlesarthur
Uber narrows loss but is a long way from finding profit • Reuters
Heather Somerville:
<p>Uber’s net loss narrowed to $891m in its second quarter ending June 30 from $1.1bn a year earlier. Its adjusted loss before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization was $614m, down from $773m a year earlier.

Net revenue rose more quickly than gross bookings in the second quarter from the prior period as the company dialed back on promotional subsidies of rides.

But its growth faces risks from decisions like that by New York City this month to cap licenses for ride-hailing services for one year. Uber has also had to grapple with corporate scandals and has lingering and costly legal battles, including over its classification of drivers as independent contractors, and federal probes to resolve.

“I remain unimpressed,” said Brent Goldfarb, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland. Improving losses by cutting “the lowest hanging fruit doesn’t mean the underlying model is profitable.”</p>


With $12bn in quarterly gross bookings (inc rides and Uber Eats), up 40% yoy, 6% qoq. Net revenue of $2.8bn, up 60% yoy, 8% qoq.

With those metrics, it seems quite a long way from finding its breakeven.
uber  finance 
august 2018 by charlesarthur
2016: beware of Uber vomit scam, passenger says • Gothamist
Mike Moffitt:
<p>A New York City ride-share passenger was sickened to discover that Uber charged her $200 in addition to the fare in order to clean up vomit that she supposedly spewed over the car.

But Meredith Mandel told Gothamist that when she and her companions reached their destination in Williamsburg shortly before 1:30 a.m., they left the Uber vehicle without even a belch, much less puddles of puke.

When she saw the PayPal charge — $19 plus the $200 cleaning fee — for the two-mile trip, she naturally was outraged.</p>

Naturally. Just proving that this scam, highlighted here yesterday, isn't new at all. Though it has reversed the positions of power. In the old days, if you hurled in the taxi, it was tough for them to extract your money. Now it's easy; the harder thing is proving you didn't.
Uber  taxi  vomit  scam 
july 2018 by charlesarthur
Vomit fraud could make your Uber trip really expensive • Miami Herald
Catalina Ruiz Parra:
<p>The next time you use Uber, check your bill. The trip could turn out to be expensive — not just for the distance but for a type of fraud that is on the rise.

It’s called “vomit fraud,” a scam repeatedly denounced in social networks yet still taking place around the world.

And Miami, of course, is a common spot.

What is it? Passengers request Uber cars, which deliver them to their destination. So far so good.

But soon the passenger receives a note from Uber reporting an “adjustment” in the bill and an extra charge that can range from $80 to $150, depending on the driver’s degree of crookedness.

If you think that’s frustrating, you’re right. But the worst is still to come.

The passenger, unaware of what’s happening, tries to contact Uber. The only way to do that is through the “help” button on the company’s app or internet page.

The first reply usually goes something like this: “I understand that it can be disconcerting to receive adjustments to the tariff after your trip ended … In this case, your driver notified us that during your trip there was an incident in the vehicle and therefore a cleanup fee of $150 was added.”

The message is accompanied by photos of the alleged incident — vomit in the vehicle. The Uber driver had sent the images to the company, which considered them sufficient evidence to add the cleanup charge to the bill.</p>


I'd imagine the drivers just have a stock or multiple pictures that they send. (Does Uber check the EXIF data for the photo?) Or perhaps they throw some vegetable soup over it? Either way, Uber is caught in the middle - and regulators say it's not up to them.
uber  scam  vomit 
july 2018 by charlesarthur
Uber executive Hornsey resigns in email to staff following discrimination probe • Reuters
Salvador Rodriguez:
<p>The allegations raise questions about chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi’s efforts to change the toxic culture of the firm after he took over in August last year from former CEO Travis Kalanick following a series of scandals.

Khosrowshahi praised ["chief people officer" Liane] Hornsey in an email to employees, which was seen by Reuters, as “incredibly talented, creative, and hard-working.” He gave no reason for her departure.

Hornsey acknowledged in a separate email to her team at Uber, also seen by Reuters, that her exit “comes a little out of the blue for some of you, but I have been thinking about this for a while.”

She also gave no reason for her resignation and has not responded to requests for comment about the investigation.

The allegations against her and Uber’s human resources department more broadly were made by an anonymous group that claims to be Uber employees of color, members of the group told Reuters.

They alleged Hornsey had used discriminatory language and made derogatory comments about Uber Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion Bernard Coleman, and had denigrated and threatened former Uber executive Bozoma Saint John, who left the company in June.

“This person ultimately was the reason behind (Saint John’s) departure from Uber,” the anonymous employees said in an email, referring to Hornsey.</p>


I'd been thinking that St John's departure seemed remarkably soon after she had joined; she's a woman who seemed to be on an upward path.
uber  discrimination 
july 2018 by charlesarthur
Uber test car driver streamed Hulu before fatal crash • Consumer Reports
Jeff Plungis and Keith Barry:
<p>The Tempe police report says distraction was a factor in the crash that killed the pedestrian, Elaine Herzberg.

During Vasquez’s ride in the Uber vehicle, which was recorded on video inside the vehicle as part of the testing, she looked down 204 times, mostly in the direction of the lower center console near her right knee, according to the police report. She was looking down for 5.2 of the final 5.7 seconds prior to the crash, the report says.

A log of Vasquez’s account provided by the video-streaming service Hulu, under a search warrant, showed that “The Voice” was streaming on her account in the final 43 minutes of the drive and that the streaming ended at 9:59 p.m., the approximate time of the collision, the police report says. 

The police concluded that the crash wouldn’t have occurred if Vasquez had been paying attention to the roadway, and indicated that she could be charged with vehicular manslaughter. Details from the police report were published Thursday by the Arizona Republic, Reuters, and other media outlets.</p>


In which case what's the point of it being "self-driving"? It's the limitations that make this pointless. You couldn't trust it on motorways, side roads, at night. In which case there's no point having it. Self-driving systems have to be really, really good, or else not employed at all, because driver inattention will be a thing, and accidents will keep happening.
selfdrivingcar  uber 
june 2018 by charlesarthur
139 NY taxi medallions will be offered at bankruptcy auction • New York Post
John Aidan Byrne:
<p>A record 139 taxi medallions will be offered for sale in bankruptcy auction this month — the latest sign that a deluge of ride-sharing apps like Uber are squeezing cabbies out of business and deeper into debt, as well as pinching the incomes of for-hire drivers, according to analysts.

The medallions will be auctioned for a fraction of their original value — some likely having cost their owners as much as $1m or more apiece.

A minimum of 20 will be sold, the auctioneers say. The collection is part of the 13,587 licensed medallions required to operate New York City’s fleet of iconic yellow cabs. Back in 2013, a medallion fetched a whopping $1.3m.

Today, prices have plunged to between $160,000 to $250,000 each, as a wave of ride-sharing vehicles floods the market.

Last year, 46 medallions were reportedly sold at an auction in Queens for an average price of $186,000, snatched up by Connecticut-based MGPE, a hedge fund presumably seeking yield on a distressed asset.

For-hire vehicles on New York’s congested streets have surged from 50,000 in 2011, when Uber entered the New York market, to about 130,000 today.

Not surprisingly, earnings for yellow cabbies have fallen off the cliff — full-time average annual earnings, before taxes, are down from $45,000 as recently as 2013, to as low as $29,000 today, according to some estimates.</p>

Which leads to the obvious question: is Uber bad? Here it has pretty much bankrupted thousands of people (or, perhaps, groups who bought a medallion together).

But: look at the number of vehicles on the streets. It's easier to get a cab to go where you want to.

The convenience of many has been acquired through the pain of a few. That doesn't make their pain any less, but this was inevitable one way or another.
Uber  newyork  tax  medallion 
june 2018 by charlesarthur
Preliminary report released for crash involving pedestrian, Uber Technologies test vehicle • NTSB
<p>The <a href="https://goo.gl/2C6ZCH">report</a> states data obtained from the self-driving system shows the system first registered radar and LIDAR observations of the pedestrian about six seconds before impact, when the vehicle was traveling 43 mph. As the vehicle and pedestrian paths converged, the self-driving system software classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle with varying expectations of future travel path. At 1.3 seconds before impact, the self-driving system determined that emergency braking was needed to mitigate a collision. According to Uber emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior. The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action. The system is not designed to alert the operator.

In the report the NTSB said the self-driving system data showed the vehicle operator engaged the steering wheel less than a second before impact and began braking less than a second after impact. The vehicle operator said in an NTSB interview that she had been monitoring the self-driving interface and that while her personal and business phones were in the vehicle neither were in use until after the crash.

All aspects of the self-driving system were operating normally at the time of the crash, and there were no faults or diagnostic messages.</p>


It doesn't do emergency braking when it's under computer control, but it doesn't alert the "driver" either. That's all sorts of wrong. It's a pity that someone had to die for this huge error to become apparent.
ai  safety  uber  selfdrivingcar 
may 2018 by charlesarthur
Uber to close self-driving operations in Arizona after fatal crash • AZ Central
Ryan Randazzo:
<p>Uber is shutting down its self-driving car tests in Arizona, where one of the cars was involved in a fatal crash with a pedestrian in March, the company said Wednesday.

The company notified about 300 Arizona workers in the self-driving program that they were being terminated just before 9a.m. Wednesday. The shutdown should take several weeks.

Test drivers for the autonomous cars have not worked since the accident in Tempe, but Uber said they continued to be paid. The company's self-driving trucks have also been shelved since the accident.

Uber plans to restart testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh once federal investigators conclude their inquiry into the Tempe crash. The company also said it is having discussions with California leaders to restart testing.

Uber has engineering hubs in Pittsburgh and San Francisco, and the company said it is easier to test vehicles near those workers. Engineers from those hubs frequently traveled to Arizona to work on the testing project here.</p>


That's pretty harsh on the 300 workers. Here one day, gone the next.
uber  arizona 
may 2018 by charlesarthur
Uber finds deadly accident likely caused by software set to ignore objects on road • The Information
Amir Efrati:
<p>Uber has determined that the likely cause of a fatal collision involving one of its prototype self-driving cars in Arizona in March was a problem with the software that decides how the car should react to objects it detects, according to two people briefed about the matter.

The car’s sensors detected the pedestrian, who was crossing the street with a bicycle, but Uber’s software decided it didn’t need to react right away. That’s a result of how the software was tuned. Like other autonomous vehicle systems, Uber’s software has the ability to ignore “false positives,” or objects in its path that wouldn’t actually be a problem for the vehicle, such as a plastic bag floating over a road. In this case, Uber executives believe the company’s system was tuned so that it reacted less to such objects. But the tuning went too far, and the car didn’t react fast enough, one of these people said…

…Uber’s findings may cause other self-driving car developers to examine the kind of software tuning they do to deal with potential false positives. The entire industry has been wondering whether the accident was caused by issues that might also apply to them. Aside from Uber, Alphabet’s Waymo and dozens of companies ranging from General Motors’ Cruise to startups like Aurora Innovation and Voyage are testing self-driving cars. Developers such as Nvidia and Toyota said they temporarily suspended testing of autonomous vehicle prototypes in the wake of the crash.

In the collision investigation, Uber found that a vital piece of the self-driving car was likely working properly: the “perception” software, which combines data from the car’s cameras, lidar and radars to recognize and “label” objects around it. In this case, the software is believed to have seen the objects. The problem was what the broader system chose to do with that information.</p>


Hell of a scoop by Efrati. And how do you get around this problem for self-driving cars? Plastic bags and other opaque debris are going to be a constant feature of roads.
uber  crash 
may 2018 by charlesarthur
How Uber is moving the “blue dot” and improving GPS accuracy in big cities • The Verge
Andrew Hawkins:
<p>All at once, satellites went from tracking airplanes to tracking the smartphones of individuals walking through dense cities. Not only did these satellites lose their line-of-sight advantage, they had to contend with a forest of tall buildings acting as mirrors to refract and distort the signals. This phenomenon, commonly referred to as “shadowing,” can create a location error of up to 100 meters or more, especially in high-value markets like New York City and San Francisco. That can wreak havoc on the most sensitive aspect of Uber’s business: the pickup.

“So this obviously presents problems for us because we might think that a driver is on a different road than they actually are,” Iland says. “And that can cause ETAs to be totally off.”

To fix the problem, Iland and Irish [whose company Shadow Maps was bought by Uber in 2016] used a process called occlusion modeling, by which Uber’s algorithm looks at a full 3D rendering of the city and does a probabilistic estimate of where you are based, which satellites you can see, and which you can’t. There are around 30 satellites in the US’s GPS constellation, as well as a constellation of Russian GLONASS satellites. (China and the European Union are in the process of launching their own GPS satellites.) Using public data from the satellites available to software developers, Uber is able to use a process of elimination to get a more accurate read on where you are when you’re trying to hail a ride.

“Pretend there are only three satellites,” Iland says. “So, if I can see satellites C and D with high signal strength, but I can’t see satellite B, then I’m probably on the left side of the street where satellite B is blocked by a building. If I can see B and C, but I can’t see D, then I’m probably on the right side of the street. And so we’re using the satellite visibility information as part of the algorithm, instead of just assuming that all satellites are line of sight.”</p>


Because (as it explains) that means drivers and riders can find each other more accurately.
uber  navigation  gps 
april 2018 by charlesarthur
Could self-driving trucks be good for truckers? • The Atlantic
Alexis C. Madrigal:
<p>Uber does not believe that self-driving trucks will be doing “dock to dock” runs for a very long time. They see a future in which self-driving trucks drive highway miles between what they call transfer hubs, where human drivers will take over for the last miles through complex urban and industrial terrain.

For that reason, Woodrow says that he saw their version of self-driving trucks as complementing humans, not replacing them. To make their case, Uber created a model of the industry’s labor market based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Then, they created scenarios that looked at a range of self-driving-truck adoption rates and how often those autonomous trucks would be on the road in comparison to human-driven vehicles.

Their numbers for autonomous-truck adoption are intentionally very aggressive, Woodrow says, corresponding to 25, 50, and 70 percent of today’s trucks being self-driven. These do not reflect an Uber prediction that between 500,000 and 1.5 million self-driving trucks will be on the road by 2028, but rather they allow the model to show the dynamics in the labor market that might result from widespread adoption. “Imagine that self-driving trucks are incredibly successful and impactful,” he says. “What would that mean?”

The other set of numbers in the model—the utilization rate of the self-driving trucks—is the component that leads Uber to a different analysis of the effect that these vehicles will have on truckers. Basically, if the self-driving trucks are used far more efficiently, it would drive down the cost of freight, which would stimulate demand, leading to more business. And, if more freight is out on the roads, and humans are required to run it around local areas, then there will be a greater, not lesser, need for truck drivers.</p>

Also read <a href="https://medium.com/@UberATG/the-future-of-trucking-b3d2ea0d2db9">the full Uber writeup</a>. Note how the narrative is shifting around these things: let robots do the boring stuff, let humans do the trickier things.
Selfdrivingcars  trucks  uber 
february 2018 by charlesarthur
A conversation about how public transport really works | FT Alphaville
Jarrett Walker spoke to Izabella Kaminska of the FT's Alphaville; he blogs at <a href="http://www.humanTransit.org">HumanTransit.org</a>, where he continues the campaign to inform the world about the physical constraints of urban geometry:
<p>transport is fundamentally a physical, spatial problem. It is not fundamentally a communications problem or to the extent that it was a communications problem, we’ve gone most of the way, I think, in taking that friction out of the system. And what Uber is discovering, I think, what a lot of these tech firms are discovering is that taking that friction out of the system did not transform the fundamental reality of space and the math of labour and so on, which have really been the facts that have determined what’s possible in passenger transport and will continue to determine those things.

No, of course, the driverless car people will say, no, cars will fit closer together and they’ll be smaller and so we’ll fit more of them over the bridge but that’s a linear solution to an exponential problem. The other dimension of this problem that you must keep in mind is the problem of what we, in the business, call induced demand. And induced demand is the very simply idea that when you make something easier, people are more likely to do it and this is why, for example, when you widen a motorway, the traffic gets worse or it fills up to the same level of congestion that you had before…

…I don’t want to deny the fact that being in the city, being on public transport, having the richness of interacting with a great diversity of people is not always fun; it means you get to interact with some crazy people and some difficult people but more importantly, it is simply the deal that life in a city is. There is no other way for everyone to live in a city. There is a way for elites to live in a city without having to interact with people; you can come and go in limousines; you can come and go to your penthouse by helicopter.

And this is where we get to the problem of elite projection, which is the danger of very fortunate people, whose taste and experience is, therefore, extremely unusual, using their own tastes to determine how a city should be designed; that’s a fundamental problem but, I think, I want to acknowledge the fact that life in the city has its own difficulties, that you don’t always want to deal with the company of strangers. But even more fundamentally, that is simply the deal you signed onto when you decided to live in a city, rather than in a suburb where you can drive your car everywhere and only see people you intend to see.

There’s a tremendous risk and when you think about this idea, this fantasy that at some point, Uber will scale to the point that they can bring their prices down to the point that everyone can afford them.</p>


The whole interview is terrific (and not behind the usual FT paywall). Highly recommended.
design  cities  uber 
january 2018 by charlesarthur
Uber’s secret tool for keeping the cops in the dark • Bloomberg
Olivia Zaleski and Eric Newcomer:
<p>In May 2015 about 10 investigators for the Quebec tax authority burst into Uber Technologies Inc.’s office in Montreal. The authorities believed Uber had violated tax laws and had a warrant to collect evidence. Managers on-site knew what to do, say people with knowledge of the event.

Like managers at Uber’s hundreds of offices abroad, they’d been trained to page a number that alerted specially trained staff at company headquarters in San Francisco. When the call came in, staffers quickly remotely logged off every computer in the Montreal office, making it practically impossible for the authorities to retrieve the company records they’d obtained a warrant to collect. The investigators left without any evidence.

Most tech companies don’t expect police to regularly raid their offices, but Uber isn’t most companies.</p>


The tool is called Ripley:
<p>From spring 2015 until late 2016, Uber routinely used Ripley to thwart police raids in foreign countries, say three people with knowledge of the system. Allusions to its nature can be found in a smattering of court filings, but its details, scope, and origin haven’t been previously reported.

The Uber HQ team overseeing Ripley could remotely change passwords and otherwise lock up data on company-owned smartphones, laptops, and desktops as well as shut down the devices. This routine was initially called the unexpected visitor protocol.</p>


In <a href="https://twitter.com/matthewstoller/status/951491737540808704">the words of Matt Stoller</a>: "Uber often looks like a criminal conspiracy that happens to run a ride-sharing service."
uber  legal  ripley 
january 2018 by charlesarthur
Uber is not price competitive with transit • Medium
Paris Marx:
<p>Uber’s strategy of reporting large losses to develop a customer base is not unique; many tech companies have taken a similar path before it. The tech press has compared Uber favorably with Amazon — now the fourth largest company in the world by market cap — because the latter reported growing losses every year from 1994 to 2000, during which time investors worried it would ever turn a profit. But there’s an important detail left out of those stories: how the scale of Uber’s losses compare to Amazon’s.

In WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us, Tim O'Reilly writes that Amazon lost $2.9bn over its first five years before turning a profit in 2001. That may seem like a lot, until Uber’s losses are placed beside it.

<img src="https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/1200/1*_6t8U-t84EQOICzxWOxqOQ.jpeg" width="100%" />

In 2016 alone, Uber lost $2.8bn, almost as much as Amazon lost over five years; but the losses didn’t stop there. Over the first three quarters of the 2017 fiscal year, Uber has already lost $3.2bn, with a loss of $1.5bn in the most recent quarter. A chart of Uber’s financials shows its losses have gotten worse in each quarter of 2017, suggesting annual losses for the year will likely hit $5bn, and the company has no realistic path to profitability.</p>


Well, it does have a path to profitability - raise its prices. Except that (it's later explained)
<p>"Transportation industry expert Hubert Horan has <a href="https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/11/can-uber-ever-deliver-part-one-understanding-ubers-bleak-operating-economics.html">detailed</a> how “[d]rivers, vehicles and fuel account for 85% of urban car service costs” — costs which cannot be reduced with scale".</p>


And Marx (this one) does look at the question of driverless filling the gap.
uber  financials 
january 2018 by charlesarthur
Uber reduces ambulance usage across the country, study says • Mercury News
Tracy Seipel:
<p>In what is believed to be the first study to measure the impact of Uber and other ride-booking services on the U.S. ambulance business, two researchers have concluded that ambulance usage is dropping across the country.

A <a href="http://www2.ku.edu/~kuwpaper/2017Papers/201708.pdf">research paper released Wednesday</a> examined ambulance usage rates in 766 U.S. cities in 43 states as Uber entered their markets from 2013 to 2015.

Co-authors David Slusky, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Kansas, and Dr. Leon Moskatel, an internist at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, said they believe their study is the first to explain a trend that until now has only been discussed anecdotally.

Comparing ambulance volumes before and after Uber became available in each city, the two men found that the ambulance usage rate dipped significantly.

Slusky said after using different methodologies to obtain the “most conservative” decline in ambulance usage, the researchers calculated the drop to be “at least” 7%.

“My guess is it will go up a little bit and stabilize at 10% to 15% as Uber continues to expand as an alternative for people,’’ Moskatel said.</p>


Here's the kicker for Britons saying "huh? Ambulances are free though":
<p>Slusky added, with health care taking a big chunk out of most people’s budgets, many consumers these days have to weigh a few factors before calling an ambulance. “They have to think about their health — and what it’s going to cost me,” he said. “And for many of us with high-deductible plans, an ambulance ride would cost thousands of dollars."</p>
uber  ambulance 
december 2017 by charlesarthur
Judge stalls Uber trade-secret theft trial after discovering biz ran a trade-secret stealing op • The Register
Kieren McCarthy:
<p>A judge today delayed the start of a trade-secret theft case against Uber – after evidence that the upstart operated a secret trade-secret-stealing unit was revealed at the last minute.

US district judge William Alsup said it would be a "huge injustice" for the trial to start as scheduled next week, after he was sent a letter by the US Attorney for Northern California last week that shed light on Uber's secretive Strategic Services Group.

"If even half of what's in that letter is true it would be a huge injustice to force Waymo to go to trial and not be able to prove the things that are said in that letter," Alsup said during a hearing Tuesday morning in Uber's home city, San Francisco.

Further intrigue followed the testimony of Uber's former security analyst Richard Jacobs who Judge Alsup threatened to subpoena to give testimony and appears to have been the source of the information about the secretive unit…

…According to the security analyst, Uber actively sought to steal trade secrets from its rivals and set up the unit to do so.

The unit worked in parallel to Uber, and used "anonymous servers" that were separate from the main company to carry out its work. The unit also ran its own Wickr messaging service that was "invisible… not part of the regular server system," and which automatically deleted messages, covering its trails.

The judge and Waymo's lawyer quizzed Jacobs at the hearings, asking about specific allegations including that Uber had acquired the code base of rival operators as well as details of their drivers and business metrics.</p>


Ooof. That's a black op.
uber  secret 
november 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber breach and response draw global government scrutiny • WSJ
Stu Woo:
<p>Government officials world-wide said they would look at Uber Technologies Inc.’s handling of a major data breach last year.

Uber said Tuesday that it paid hackers $100,000 in an effort to conceal a data breach that affected 57 million accounts. In addition to the names, emails and phone numbers of riders, about 600,000 U.S. drivers’ license numbers were accessed, Uber said.

A Federal Trade Commission spokesman said the agency is “closely evaluating the serious issues raised,” while Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn) said on Twitter that the Senate Commerce Committee should hold a hearing to “demand Uber explain their outrageous breach—and inexplicable delay in informing its consumers and drivers.”

San Francisco-based Uber said it would notify owners of the affected accounts in coming days. It fired its chief security officer and a deputy for their role in the breach and covering it up, and Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi apologized.

At least three European government agencies are looking into Uber’s handling of the breach, and the New York State Attorney General’s office has opened an investigation.</p>


So screwed. But just as with privacy infringements by big companies, the convenience of just ordering a cheap taxi means people will overlook it.
uber  hacking 
november 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber paid hackers to delete stolen data on 57 million people • Bloomberg
Eric Newcomer:
<p>Hackers stole the personal data of 57 million customers and drivers from Uber Technologies Inc., a massive breach that the company concealed for more than a year. This week, the ride-hailing company ousted Joe Sullivan, chief security officer, and one of his deputies for their roles in keeping the hack under wraps.

Compromised data from the October 2016 attack included names, email addresses and phone numbers of 50 million Uber riders around the world, the company told Bloomberg on Tuesday. The personal information of about 7 million drivers were accessed as well, including some 600,000 U.S. driver’s license numbers. No Social Security numbers, credit card details, trip location info or other data were taken, Uber said.

At the time of the incident, Uber was negotiating with U.S. regulators investigating separate claims of privacy violations. Uber now says it had a legal obligation to report the hack to regulators and to drivers whose license numbers were taken. Instead, the company paid hackers $100,000 to delete the data and keep the breach quiet. Uber said it believes the information was never used but declined to disclose the identities of the attackers.</p>


Github to AWS processing of rider data. Uber broke all sorts of rules in keeping this quiet.
<p>In January 2016, the New York attorney general fined Uber $20,000 for failing to promptly disclose an earlier data breach in 2014. After last year’s cyberattack, the company was negotiating with the FTC on a privacy settlement even as it haggled with the hackers on containing the breach, Uber said. The company finally agreed to the FTC settlement three months ago, without admitting wrongdoing and before telling the agency about last year’s attack.</p>


And how do you really know that the hackers haven't just kept a copy?
security  uber  ethics 
november 2017 by charlesarthur
Understanding Uber: it's not about the app • London Reconnections
"John Bull":
<p>One of the primary responsibilities of the taxi regulator in most locations is the consideration of passenger safety. This is very much the case in London – both for individual drivers and for operators.

The expectation of drivers is relatively obvious – that they do not break the law, nor commit a crime of any kind. The expectation of operators is a bit more complex – it is not just about ensuring that drivers are adequately checked before they are hired (and that those checks are processed by a mutually approved company), but also that their activity is effectively monitored while they are working. Just as importantly, the operator is responsible for making sure that any customer complaints are taken seriously and acted upon appropriately.

The nature of that action can vary. The report of a minor offence may warrant only the intervention of the operator themselves or escalation of the incident to TfL via the regular (but slow) reporting channels. It is expected, however, that serious crimes will be dealt with promptly, and reported directly to the police as well.

On 12 April 2017, the <a href="http://cdn.londonreconnections.com/2013/12042017-NB-to-Helen-Chapman_Redacted-1.pdf">Metropolitan Police wrote to TfL</a> expressing a major concern. In the letter, Inspector Neil Bellany claimed that ULL were not reporting serious crimes to the police. They cited three specific incidents by way of example.</p>


This is very long, and very detailed, and explains very well that this is not about "disliking Uber" and wasn't "decided by Sadiq Khan". It was a decision by TfL, prompted by the police, and it's about regulation.

But it's notable how right-wing reflexive reaction has been that it's about "stifling innovation" and that it's a "political decision". It's dangerous when companies which are breaking regulations try to get the public to back them in doing so. (Via Alex Hern.)
uber  apps  business  london 
september 2017 by charlesarthur
Taxi medallions, once a safe investment, now drag owners into debt • The New York Times
Winnie Hu:
<p>Owning a yellow cab has left Issa Isac in deep debt and facing a precarious future.

It was not supposed to turn out this way when Mr. Isac slid behind the wheel in 2005. Soon he was earning $200 a night driving. Three years later, he borrowed $335,000 to buy a New York City taxi medallion, which gave him the right to operate his own cab.

But now Mr. Isac earns half of what he did when he started, as riders have defected to Uber and other competitors. He stopped making the $2,700-a-month loan payment on his medallion in February because he was broke. Last month, it was sold to help pay his debts.

“I see my future crashing down,” said Mr. Isac, 46, an immigrant from Burkina Faso. “I worry every day. Sometimes, I can’t sleep thinking about it. Everything changed overnight.”

Taxi ownership once seemed a guaranteed route to financial security, something that was more tangible and reliable than the stock market since people hailed cabs in good times and bad. Generations of new immigrants toiled away for years to earn enough to buy a coveted medallion. Those who had them took pride in them, and viewed them as their retirement fund.

Uber and other ride-hail apps have upended all that.</p>


The New York taxi medallion business is crashing, hard. Difficult not to see this as people who happened to be looking in the wrong direction when the articulated lorry of technological change came down the road.
taxi  uber  debt 
september 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber faces investigation of possible foreign-bribery law violations • WSJ
Douglas MacMillan and Aruna Viswanatha:
<p>Under former Chief Executive Travis Kalanick, the eight-year-old company spread rapidly to more than 70 countries around the world in part by giving regional teams authority to adapt to local markets and expand as quickly as possible, sometimes flouting local laws.

In South Korea and France, for example, it was found to violate transportation laws. In Singapore, local managers bought more than 1,000 defective cars last year and rented them out to drivers, only fixing the safety defect after one of the cars caught on fire, an investigation by The Wall Street Journal this month found. Uber said it has since added safety measures and fixed all the defective cars in Singapore.

News of the preliminary bribery probe comes as Uber plans to usher in a new chief executive, Expedia Inc. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, to replace Mr. Kalanick, who resigned in June following months of scandals, legal issues and an internal investigation into allegations of sexism. Mr. Khosrowshahi said Tuesday he plans to accept the job once his employment contract his ironed out.

As Mr. Khosrowshahi steps in, Uber faces growing pressure from U.S. authorities. The Justice Department is separately pursuing a criminal investigation into “Greyball,” a software tool employees used to evade law-enforcement officials, people familiar with the matter said in May. Uber hasn’t commented on the probe.</p>


Uber looks like the Augean stables just at the moment.
uber  bribery 
august 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber’s new CEO • Stratechery
Ben Thompson has the best analysis of why the surprise choice for Uber's new boss, formerly at Expedia, actually makes a great deal of sense:
<p>Most news stories are making the obvious point that Khosrowshahi is qualified because he is a CEO for a tech company in the travel industry. What is even more relevant, though, is that Khosrowshahi is the CEO of an aggregator…</p>


Khosrowshahi (journalists will probably build in a keyboard shortcut for his name) chose not to buy Booking.com because its margins were low, and Expedia at the time was attached to the high-margin merchant model:
<p>…Booking.com, unlike Expedia, had minimal transactions costs for customers and suppliers. Hotels could sign up for Booking.com on their own instead of having to negotiate a deal, which meant it was Booking.com that led the industry in growth for many years; the full payoff of owning discovery in a world of drastically reduced distribution and transaction costs comes not from extracting margin from a limited set of suppliers, but rather from expanding the market to the greatest extent possible, creating the conditions for a virtuous cycle of more customers -> more suppliers -> more customers.

To Khosrowshahi’s credit he learned this lesson: Expedia was in big trouble in the years after he took over, and one of the changes Khosrowshahi made was to add the agency model to Expedia’s properties (Expedia now has a hybrid approach). It is a lesson that will serve him well as Uber’s CEO; the fundamental mistake made in so much Uber analysis comes from believing that drivers are the key to the model. For example, there was a very popular piece of analysis some months ago premised on evaluating the cost of driving for Uber relative to driving for a traditional cab company. It was a classic example of getting the facts right and missing the point.

In fact, what makes Uber so valuable — and still so attractive, despite all of the recent troubles — is its position with riders. The more riders Uber has, the more drivers it will attract, even if the economics are worse relative to other services: driving at a worse rate is better than not driving at a better one.</p>


Thompson's theory is that holding the choke point of aggregation systems is the way to get rich online. The problem is always figuring out whether you actually hold such a choke point. I'd love to know whether this thinking formed part of the Uber board's decision-making.

Notable that the losing candidate, Meg Whitman, worked at eBay - another aggregator.
uber  ceo  aggregation 
august 2017 by charlesarthur
Scoop: Benchmark Capital sues Travis Kalanick for fraud • Axios
Dan Primack:
<p>Key paragraph, per the suit: "Kalanick, the former CEO of Uber, to entrench himself on Uber's Board of Directors and increase his power over Uber for his own selfish ends. Kalanick's overarching objective is to pack Uber's Board with loyal allies in an effort to insulate his prior conduct from scrutiny and clear the path for his eventual return as CEO—all to the detriment of Uber's stockholders, employees, driver-partners, and customers."

Why it matters: If Benchmark's suit is successful, Kalanick would be kicked off Uber's board of directors -- thus eliminating any faint hopes of him returning to the company in a substantial role.

What to know: Benchmark was an early investor in Uber, and has a seat on its board of directors. It also helped spearhead the move to have Kalanick resign in June, and tensions between the two have contributed, in part, to the slow pace of finding a replacement. Oh, and venture capital firms don't usually sue fellow board members of their single most valuable investment.

The suit revolves around the June 2016 decision to expand the size of Uber's board of voting directors from eight to 11, with Kalanick having the sole right to designate those seats. Kalanick would later name himself to one of those seats following his resignation, since his prior board seat was reserved for the company's CEO. The other two seats remain unfilled. Benchmark argues that it never would have granted Kalanick those three extra seats had it known about his "gross mismanagement and other misconduct at Uber".</p>


Wow.
uber  kalanick 
august 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber’s search for new CEO hampered by deep split on board • The New York Times
Mike Isaac:
<p>Over the past few weeks, Ms. Whitman met with several Uber board members individually, offering advice on how to address the company’s problems. The members were encouraged by the discussions, and some believed that she was a natural fit for the vacant chief executive role. And after weeks of searching for a top candidate, they were eager to try to win her over.

That group did not include Mr. Kalanick. He and several of his allies had a competing agenda that included their own preferred candidates for the top job and the possibility of returning Mr. Kalanick into an operational role, perhaps even as chief executive. His surrogates had also recently begun talks with the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank about an investment in Uber that could provide Mr. Kalanick a route to regaining power.

Meg Whitman, the chief executive of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, announced via Twitter that she was taking herself out of the running to succeed Mr. Kalanick. Credit Drew Angerer/Getty Images
The jockeying between factions has put billions of dollars on the line, as the Uber board fights over control of the $70 billion ride-hailing giant. Interviews with more than a dozen people close to the process, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the discussions are confidential, indicate that board members’ relationships have been damaged by leaks, shifting wildly as alliances are forged and then broken.

The backbiting has taken a toll. After it was reported that she was a candidate for the chief executive job, Ms. Whitman said last Thursday that “Uber’s C.E.O. will not be Meg Whitman.” She made her announcement in a series of messages on Twitter just as the Uber board was holding a quarterly meeting, at which they had planned to call a vote on whether to appoint her to the job.</p>


They might as well give Isaac a seat on the board, since he knows as much as anyone there.
uber  whitman 
july 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber can’t be fixed — it’s time for regulators to shut it down • Harvard Business Review
Ben Edelman (who you'll recall from his "Uber scandals" page earlier this week), following the resignation of Travis Kalanick as CEO:
<p>Uber’s most distinctive capabilities focused on defending its illegality. Uber built up staff, procedures, and software systems whose purpose was to enable and mobilize passengers and drivers to lobby regulators and legislators — creating political disaster for anyone who questioned Uber’s approach. The company’s phalanx of attorneys brought arguments perfected from prior disputes, whereas each jurisdiction approached Uber independently and from a blank slate, usually with a modest litigation team. Uber publicists presented the company as the epitome of innovation, styling critics as incumbent puppets stuck in the past.

Through these tactics, Uber muddied the waters. Despite flouting straightforward, widely applicable law in most jurisdictions, Uber usually managed to slow or stop enforcement, in due course changing the law to allow its approach. As the company’s vision became the new normal, it was easy to forget that the strategy was, at the outset, plainly illegal.

Uber faced an important challenge in implementing this strategy: It isn’t easy to get people to commit crimes. Indeed, employees at every turn faced personal and professional risks in defying the law; two European executives were indicted and arrested for operating without required permits. But Uber succeeded in making lawbreaking normal and routine by celebrating its subversion of the laws relating to taxi services. Look at the company’s stated values — “super-pumped,” “always be hustlin’,” and “bold.” Respect for the law barely merits a footnote.</p>
uber  business 
june 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber scandals • Ben Edelman
Professor Ben Edelman:
<p>Uber’s rapid rise has brought an even sharper increase in disputed activities — from violating city rules on licensing and safety to invading critics’ privacy to tolerating sexual harassment.  This site indexes and organizes selected examples, providing summaries and citations for each.</p>


Edelman has done good, clever work looking at implicit discrimination by AirBnB and others. By my count he has 114 listed here, but some are probably duplicates.

At least, I <em>hope</em> so.
uber 
june 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber faces a fresh probe from U.S. regulators over its privacy practices • Recode
Tony Romm:
<p>One of the U.S. government’s most powerful consumer protection watchdogs appears to be quietly probing Uber and the company’s privacy practices.

The inquiry is under way at the Federal Trade Commission, according to four sources familiar with the matter, where the agency’s investigative staff appears to have focused its attention on some of the data-handling mishaps that have plagued the company in recent years — perhaps including employees’ misuse of “god view,” a tool that had previously allowed some at Uber to spy on the whereabouts of politicians, celebrities and others using the ride-hailing app.

The sources cautioned to Recode that FTC staff regularly question companies on consumer-protection matters, like privacy — and often, the agency chooses not to pursue any penalties while closing its investigations as quietly as it began them.

Still, the scrutiny could easily blossom into a full-fledged legal complaint against Uber — a reality the company knows well.</p>


It's getting hard to pick just one Uber story per day. But this is today's pick.
uber  privacy 
june 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber CEO to take leave of absence as Holder report is released • The Information
Amir Efrati:
<p>Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick told employees that he will take a leave of absence as the company unveiled the findings of an investigation into the ride-hailing service’s troubled workplace culture.

In his absence, a “leadership team” of his direct reports would run the company, Mr. Kalanick told employees in an email. The Uber chief didn’t disclose when he would return from the leave, saying that “it may be shorter or longer than we expect.” Mr. Kalanick said that he needed time to grieve the loss of his mother, who was killed a few weeks ago in a boating accident that seriously injured his father. “Tragically losing a loved one has been difficult for me and I need to properly say my goodbyes.”</p>

It's easy to be cynical about Kalanick doing this as the report into sexism and discrimination is released, but the effect of the sudden death of a parent is hard to estimate. (Huge long read about the Holder report <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-06-13/uber-ceo-to-take-leave-diminished-role-after-workplace-scandals">at Bloomberg</a>.)

Now Uber begins its second act.
uber  kalanick 
june 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber's Michael is said to blame board, not behavior, for ouster • Bloomberg
Eric Newcomer and Brad Stone:
<p>Uber Technologies Inc.’s newly ousted senior vice president for business, Emil Michael, has been dogged by public scandals, ever since his off-the-cuff remarks at a dinner party in 2014 about investigating a critical journalist. He was at the center of two more controversies made public this year that were included in an investigation into Uber’s culture. The former girlfriend of his boss, Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick, alleged that he tried to prevent her from speaking out about a work trip to a Korean escort-karaoke bar. He was also one of the executives recently alleged to hold conspiracy theories that the rape of an Uber passenger in India was linked to a local competitor.

At the same time, Michael, an Egyptian immigrant, helped Uber raise more than $10 billion, negotiate a truce with Uber’s Chinese rival and strike deals with top automakers like Daimler AG.

Michael believes that a weak board of directors, a lax internal legal team, coupled with his tight friendship with co-founder Kalanick, ultimately led to his downfall—not the scandals, two people close to Michael said.</p>


Remember the Doobie Brothers song "What a Fool Believes"?
uber  michael 
june 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber board to discuss CEO absence, policy changes: source • Reuters
Joseph Menn and Heather Somerville:
<p>Uber Technologies Inc's board will discuss Chief Executive Travis Kalanick temporarily stepping away from the embattled ride-hailing firm and consider sweeping changes to the company's management practices at a meeting on Sunday, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The person briefed on the matter said the board will discuss Kalanick taking time off from the company. The discussion involved the possibility that Kalanick might return in a role with less authority, this person said, either in a position other than CEO or as CEO with narrower responsibilities and subject to stronger oversight.

The source said it is not clear that the board will make any decision to change Kalanick’s role. The board is expected to adopt a number of internal policy and management changes recommended by outside attorneys hired to investigate sexual harassment and the firm's broader culture. The outside lawyers made no recommendation about Kalanick.

An Uber spokesman had no comment. Kalanick did not immediately respond to requests for comment late on Saturday.

The meeting, which Uber has not publicized, could be a pivotal moment for the world's most valuable venture-backed private company, which has upended the tightly regulated taxi industry in many countries but has run into legal trouble with a rough-and-tumble approach to local regulations and the way it handles employees and drivers.</p>


Will have been decided, and perhaps publicised, by the time you read this. Uber is becoming self-aware about its problems.
uber  kalanick 
june 2017 by charlesarthur
Fire Travis Kalanick • Financial Times
Kadim Shubber, in an op-ed:
<p>Many of Uber’s actions have been excused as aggressive but ultimately acceptable corporate behaviour. Kalanick is a fighter, we’re told. Uber is up against opponents who play hardball, and so it’s had to be tough and rough. Any problems it might have with corporate culture are ultimately fixable. Yeah, it’s played a little fast and loose, but it can grow up. Kalanick can mature.

Those arguments might just have cut it in a universe where an Uber executive didn’t keep his job for three years after digging up a rape victim’s medical records. It might be possible to imagine Kalanick as chief executive of a publicly listed Uber in a universe where he had not shielded a person who had obtained highly private and intimate information on a customer who had already been violated. In a world where Uber had not so deeply plumbed the depths of decent behaviour, Kalanick’s reign might be tolerable.

It’s time to face facts. Uber does not have an image problem, it has a chief executive problem. And for as long as it has this problem, no person who cares in the slightest about right and wrong should keep Uber’s app on their phone, if indeed it’s still there anyway.

If the independent directors on the board are unable to push him out, given his control of the company, they should resign. Bill Gurley of Benchmark; David Bonderman of TPG Capital; Cheng Wei of Didi; Yasir Al Rumayyan of Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund; and Arianna Huffington — every second they remain enablers of an Uber run by Kalanick, they are showing they lack the spine to do what’s right when it’s staring them in the face.</p>


Arianna Huffington looks more compromised by the minute.
kalanick  uber 
june 2017 by charlesarthur
A top Uber executive, who obtained the medical records of a customer who was a rape victim, is fired • Recode
Kara Swisher and Johana Bhuiyan:
<p>A top Uber executive obtained medical records of a woman who had been raped during a ride in India, according to multiple sources.

He is no longer with the company, an Uber spokesperson said.

The executive in question, Eric Alexander, the president of business in the Asia Pacific, then showed the medical records to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and SVP Emil Michael. In addition, numerous executives at the car-hailing company were either told about the records or shown them by this group.

Alexander’s handling of the delicate situation was among 215 claims reported to two law firms — Perkins Coie and Covington & Burling — doing deep investigations into both specific and widespread mismanagement issues at the company, including around allegations of pervasive sexism and sexual harassment at Uber…

…Alexander had not been among those fired, Uber said yesterday when asked about his status. Now, after Recode contacted the company about his actions, he is no longer employed there. Uber declined to comment further.</p>


You might have thought that Uber couldn't surprise anymore. Wrong!
uber  rape 
june 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber terminated about 20 people for misconduct • The Information
Amir Efrati:
<p>Uber has fired around 20 people this year as a result of an internal investigation into workplace misconduct, such as discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying, retaliation and physical safety, company executives revealed to employees this morning, according to two people who listened to a briefing on the findings.

In addition, after about 200 investigations into possible wrongdoing, Uber issued more than 30 “remediations,” or counseling and training, to individuals at the company. More than half a dozen people were given final warnings, one of these people said.

The results come from Perkins Coie, which is one of two law firms hired by Uber to probe its workplace issues. A lead investigator from the firm spoke to Uber employees at the meeting organized to discuss the results. The results of a separate report by Covington & Burling, and led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, are due next Tuesday, Uber human resources chief Liane Hornsey told employees. She will view those results later this week.</p>


In possibly unrelated news, Bozoma St John - the amazing woman who showed off Apple Music at WWDC 2016 (she ran iTunes global and consumer marketing) - is <a href="https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/06/bozoma-saint-john/">heading to Uber</a>.
uber  discrimination 
june 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber fires former Google engineer at heart of self-driving dispute • The New York Times
Mike Isaac:
<p>Uber has fired Anthony Levandowski, a vice president of technology and the star engineer leading the company’s self-driving automobile efforts, according to an internal email sent to employees on Tuesday.

Mr. Levandowski’s termination, effective immediately, comes as a result of his involvement in a legal battle between Uber and Waymo, the self-driving technology unit spun out of Google last year. Waymo claims that Uber is using trade secrets stolen from Google to develop Uber’s self-driving vehicles, a plan aided by Mr. Levandowski, a former longtime Google employee.

Uber has long denied the accusations. But when Mr. Levandowski was ordered by a federal judge to hand over evidence and testimony to that end, he asserted his Fifth Amendment rights, seeking to avoid possible criminal charges, according to his lawyers. Uber has been unable to convince Mr. Levandowski to cooperate.</p>


The soap opera continues.
google  uber  selfdrivingcar 
may 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber allowed to continue self-driving car project but must return files to Waymo • The Guardian
Sam Levin:
<p>A judge has granted a partial reprieve to Uber in its high-profile intellectual property lawsuit with Google’s self-driving car operation, allowing the ride-hailing company to continue developing its autonomous vehicle technology.

The judge, however, has barred an Uber executive accused of stealing trade secrets from Google spin-off Waymo from continuing to work on self-driving cars’ radar technology, and has ordered Uber to return downloaded documents to Waymo. The judge also said that evidence indicates that Waymo’s intellectual property has “seeped into Uber’s own … development efforts” – suggesting that Uber could face a tough battle as the case moves ahead.

Google’s lawyers were seeking a broader injunction against Uber, which could have significantly impeded the taxi startup’s entire self-driving car program, a move that could have been a fatal setback. The partial victory for Uber follows a judge’s recommendation that federal prosecutors launch a criminal investigation into the accusations that it stole Waymo’s technology.</p>


The case has also been referred to criminal prosecutors on the basis that the code might have been stolen; and Waymo gets to review Uber's code. Uber is really screwed.
uber  waymo  lawsuit  selfdrivingcar 
may 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber’s ‘fingerprinting’ of iPhones after users delete app has sparked an FTC complaint • The Washington Post
Steven Overly:
<p>An advocacy group known for challenging the tech industry on privacy called on the Federal Trade Commission Thursday to investigate media reports that Uber could identify specific iPhone devices even after users deleted the ride-hailing app.

In a <a href="http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrftc042717.pdf">letter</a> submitted Thursday, California-based Consumer Watchdog alleged that Uber’s practice would be considered “unfair or deceptive” to its users and therefore violates a statute in the Federal Trade Commission Act designed to protect consumers from substantial and avoidable harm.</p>
uber  iphone  consumer 
april 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber loses another top executive as Marakby departs • Automotive News
Katie Burke:
<p>Sherif Marakby, vice president of global vehicle programs at Uber, left his post at the ride-hailing company on Monday.

Marakby, 51, who joined Uber in April 2016 after a 25-year career at Ford Motor Co., helped the tech company launch its self-driving ride-hailing pilot program in Pittsburgh. A source close the matter said Marakby will be taking a break before deciding what comes next.

“Self-driving is one of the most interesting challenges I’ve worked on in my career, and I’m grateful to have contributed  to what will soon be a safer future for everyone," Marakby said in a statement.

Marakby’s move to Uber after serving as Ford’s director of global electronics and engineering was viewed as a merger between legacy automakers and the Silicon Valley upstarts looking to transform the industry.</p>


"Unrelated to the Waymo lawsuit", per statement. That suggests things are even worse than you think.
uber  executive 
april 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber responds to report that it tracked users who deleted its app • TechCrunch
Kate Conger:
<p>Will Strafach, the president of Sudo Security Group, analyzed a version of Uber’s app from late 2014 and <a href="https://twitter.com/chronic/status/856250223777206273">discovered code</a> that he says reveals how Uber tracked its users’ devices.

“They were dynamically loading IOKit.framework (a private framework), then dynamically loading some symbols from it to iterate through the device registry (also very much forbidden). They have code to nab a few things from the registry, but the only persistent identifier they actually use appears to be the device Serial Number,” Strafach told TechCrunch in an email. “I believe that in iOS 9 and beyond, this is blocked by the iOS sandbox. Just to clarify, this also shows the initial concern of ‘tracking after uninstall’ was bad phrasing. The case here is tracking between uninstall/reinstall, which is still a privacy violation as Apple forbids this kind of tracking (that is why they removed the APIs for getting device UDID).”

In order to prevent Apple engineers from discovering the fingerprinting, Uber allegedly geofenced Apple’s Cupertino headquarters to hide the code used in the process. But Apple engineers based in other offices discovered the trick, according to the New York Times and confirmed by TechCrunch, leading Cook to summon Kalanick to his office in early 2015…

…Uber told TechCrunch that it still uses a form of device fingerprinting in order to detect fraudulent behavior. If a device has been associated with fraud in the past, a new sign-up from that device should raise a red flag, an Uber spokesperson said. Uber suggested that the practice of fingerprinting was modified to comply with Apple’s rules rather than discontinued altogether.

“We absolutely do not track individual users or their location if they’ve deleted the app. As the New York Times story notes towards the very end, this is a typical way to prevent fraudsters from loading Uber onto a stolen phone, putting in a stolen credit card, taking an expensive ride and then wiping the phone—over and over again.</p>
uber 
april 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber’s C.E.O. Plays With Fire - The New York Times
Mike Isaac:
<p>A blindness to boundaries is not uncommon for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. But in Mr. Kalanick, that led to a pattern of repeatedly going too far at Uber, including the duplicity with Apple [where it had monitored phones even after its app was deleted - a trick that led Tim Cook to summon him and warn him Uber could be thrown out of the App Store], sabotaging competitors and allowing the company to use a secret tool called Greyball to trick some law enforcement agencies.

That quality also extended to his personal life, where Mr. Kalanick mixes with celebrities like Jay Z and businessmen including President Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary D. Cohn. But it has alienated some Uber executives, employees and advisers. Mr. Kalanick, with salt-and-pepper hair, a fast-paced walk and an iPhone practically embedded in his hand, is described by friends as more at ease with data and numbers (some consider him a math savant) than with people.

Uber is grappling with the fallout. For the last few months, the company has been reeling from allegations of a machismo-fueled workplace where managers routinely overstepped verbally, physically and sometimes sexually with employees. Mr. Kalanick compounded that image by engaging in a shouting match with an Uber driver in February, an incident recorded by the driver and then leaked online. (Mr. Kalanick now has a private driver.)

The damage has been extensive. Uber’s detractors have started a grass-roots campaign with the hashtag #deleteUber. Executives have streamed out. Some Uber investors have openly criticized the company.

Mr. Kalanick’s leadership is at a precarious point. </p>


Plenty of examples in this well-sourced piece about Kalanick breaking the rules multiple times, right from his very first startup (which wasn't Uber).
uber  kalanick  data 
april 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber loses another executive as self-driving program lead quits • The Verge
Rich McCormick:
<p>As Uber continues to make the headlines for the wrong reasons, it also keeps on losing executives. The latest big name is to quit is Sherif Marakby — its vice president of global vehicle programs, and one of the orchestrators of its self-driving vehicle program.

Marakby was poached just last April from Ford, where he had spent the previous 25 years, rising to the rank of director of global electronics and engineering. In a statement issued at the time, Marakby said that he was focused on safety, explaining that auto accidents were the most common cause of death among young people.

He went on to oversee the creation and launch of Uber’s ongoing self-driving vehicle initiatives, but apparently decided to cut ties with the company before it reached the next phase of its plans. “Self-driving is one of the most interesting challenges I’ve worked on in my career, and I’m grateful to have contributed to what will soon be a safer future for everyone,” he said in a new statement that confirmed his departure, but didn’t offer a reasoning.</p>


He didn't like Uber. That is not the goodbye of someone who loved the place. Note how he doesn't say he's sorry to go. He joins recent departures from the head of AI labs, head of communications and VP of product and growth.

I remember when all the talk was about how Apple couldn't hold on to staff any more.
uber  staff 
april 2017 by charlesarthur
How Uber uses psychological tricks to push its drivers’ buttons • The New York Times
Noam Scheiber:
<p>As he tried to log off at 7:13 a.m. on New Year’s Day last year, Josh Streeter, then an Uber driver in the Tampa, Fla., area, received a message on the company’s driver app with the headline “Make it to $330.” The text then explained: “You’re $10 away from making $330 in net earnings. Are you sure you want to go offline?” Below were two prompts: “Go offline” and “Keep driving.” The latter was already highlighted.

“I’ve got screen shots with dozens of these messages,” said Mr. Streeter, who began driving full time for Lyft and then Uber in 2014 but quit last year to invest in real estate.

Mr. Streeter was not alone. For months, when drivers tried to log out, the app would frequently tell them they were only a certain amount away from making a seemingly arbitrary sum for the day, or from matching their earnings from that point one week earlier.

The messages were intended to exploit another relatively widespread behavioral tic — people’s preoccupation with goals — to nudge them into driving longer.

Over the past 20 years, behavioral economists have found evidence for a phenomenon known as income targeting, in which workers who can decide how long to work each day, like cabdrivers, do so with a goal in mind — say, $100 — much the way marathon runners try to get their time below four hours or three hours.

While there is debate among economists as to how widespread the practice is and how strictly cabdrivers follow such targets, top officials at Uber and Lyft have certainly concluded that many of their drivers set income goals. “Others are motivated by an income target for sure,” said Brian Hsu, the Lyft vice president in charge of supply. “You hear stories about people who want to buy that next thing.” He added, “We’ve started to allow drivers to set up those goals as well in the app.”</p>


Great investigation into the gamification of the gig economy. Don't miss the interactive graphics either.
uber  psychology 
april 2017 by charlesarthur
Inside Uber’s self-driving car mess • Recode
Johana Bhuiyan:
<p>taking drivers out of the equation would also increase the company’s profits: Self-driving cars give Uber 100 percent of the fare, the company would no longer have to subsidize driver pay and the cars can run nearly 24 hours a day.

But the company’s autonomous efforts are in turmoil. According to extensive interviews Recode conducted with former and current employees at the self-driving effort, many think it is at a technological standstill and plagued by significant internal tension, especially among its executive leadership.

The issues have included a wave of key talent departures and problematic demos. At least 20 of the company’s engineers have quit since November. One source says a “mini civil war” has broken out between those who joined Otto in search of the independence of a startup, and those who joined Uber’s ATG with ambitions to solidify the company’s place in the future of transportation.

Many of those issues and the resulting questions can be traced back to when Uber acquired Otto, several sources said. As part of the acquisition, Kalanick put its founder and CEO Anthony Levandowski in charge of all of its autonomous efforts.

Uber says that it’s normal for an entity that was founded two years ago as of January 2017 to see this level of attrition, particularly as the company recently paid out its employee bonuses. However, the departures began as early as November 2016. Additionally, a company spokesperson said Uber’s ATG has seen fewer departures than the overall company and has hired more people than have left since the start of the year.</p>


There was a meeting scheduled for Monday, though possibly it was brought forward?
uber  selfdrivingcar 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber suspends self-driving car program after Arizona crash • Reuters
Gina Cherelus:
<p>Uber Technologies suspended its pilot program for driverless cars on Saturday after a vehicle equipped with the nascent technology crashed on an Arizona roadway, the ride-hailing company and local police said.

The accident, the latest involving a self-driving vehicle operated by one of several companies experimenting with autonomous vehicles, caused no serious injuries, Uber said.

Even so, the company said it was grounding driverless cars involved in a pilot program in Arizona, Pittsburgh and San Francisco pending the outcome of investigation into the crash on Friday evening in Tempe.

"We are continuing to look into this incident," an Uber spokeswoman said in an email.

The accident occurred when the driver of a second vehicle "failed to yield" to the Uber vehicle while making a turn, said Josie Montenegro, a spokeswoman for the Tempe Police Department.

"The vehicles collided, causing the autonomous vehicle to roll onto its side," she said in an email. "There were no serious injuries."

Two 'safety' drivers were in the front seats of the Uber car, which was in self-driving mode at the time of the crash, Uber said in an email, a standard requirement for its self-driving vehicles. The back seat was empty.</p>


Over at Google/Waymo, they'll be groaning. Or delighted. This was inevitable (admit it), but is it better than it happened to Uber - everyone's favourite whipping boy this month - rather than the poster boy for self-driving cars, Waymo?
waymo  uber  selfdrivingcar  accident 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber president Jeff Jones is quitting, citing differences over ‘beliefs and approach to leadership’ • Recode
Kara Swisher and Johana Bhuiyan:
<p>Jeff Jones, the president of Uber, is quitting the car-hailing company after less than a year. The move by the No. 2 exec, said sources, is directly related to the multiple controversies there, including explosive charges of sexism and sexual harassment.

(UPDATE: Uber confirmed the departure, saying in a statement: “We want to thank Jeff for his six months at the company and wish him all the best.” And, in a note to staff, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said: “After we announced our intention to hire a COO, Jeff came to the tough decision that he doesn’t see his future at Uber. It is unfortunate that this was announced through the press but I thought it was important to send all of you an email before providing comment publicly.)

(UPDATE: Jones also confirmed the departure with a blistering assessment of the company. “It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business,” he said in a statement to Recode.)

Jones, said sources, determined that this was not the situation he signed on for, especially after Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced a search for a new COO to help him right the very troubled ship.</p>


Also departing: Uber's head of maps Brian McClendon, who is <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/19/business/jeff-jones-leaves-uber-ride-sharing-president.html">heading off to do politics</a>; Mike Isaac totted up the body count:
<p>The departures add to the executive exodus from Uber this year. Raffi Krikorian, a well-regarded director in Uber’s self-driving division, left the company last week, while Gary Marcus, who joined Uber in December after Uber acquired his company, left this month. Uber also asked for the resignation of Amit Singhal, a top engineer who failed to disclose a sexual harassment claim against him at his previous employer, Google, before joining Uber. And Ed Baker, another senior executive, left this month as well.</p>


This is going to leave Scruffy the Janitor helping out Travis Kalanick until a new chief operating officer is appointed.
uber  departures  resignations 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
Internal metrics show how often Uber’s self-driving cars need human help • BuzzFeed News
Priya Anand:
<p>Human drivers were forced to take control of Uber’s self-driving cars about once per mile driven in early March during testing in Arizona, according to an internal performance report obtained by BuzzFeed News. The report reveals for the first time how Uber’s self-driving car program is performing, using a key metric for evaluating progress toward fully autonomous vehicles.

Human drivers take manual control of autonomous vehicles during testing for a number of reasons — for example, to address a technical issue or avoid a traffic violation or collision. The self-driving car industry refers to such events as “disengagements,” though Uber uses the term “intervention” in the performance report reviewed by BuzzFeed News. During a series of autonomous tests the week of March 5, Uber saw disengagement rates greater than those publicly reported by some of its rivals in the self-driving car space.</p>


Once per mile. Never enough let you relax. Sure to improve, but what is the "safe" amount?
uber  selfdrivingcar 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber, it's time to get real over that $69bn price tag • Bloomberg Gadfly
Leila Abboud:
<p>Politicians and regulators, especially in Europe where governments need labor taxes to pay for social benefits, are agonizing about the “gig economy” depleting the public purse. One British lawmaker recently grilled Uber and Amazon.com Inc. executives on why taxpayers should prop up the cheap costs of internet giants.

Indeed, how Uber drivers are classified - as employees or independent contractors - is the biggest risk to its $69bn paper valuation. While Uber revenues are growing rapidly, on track to reach $5.5bn in 2016, it remains deeply unprofitable, according to Bloomberg News. In the first nine months of last year, it lost $2.2bn on sales of $3.8bn.

And this crazy cash burn is Uber operating with the cheapest labor costs it will ever know. (At least until it invents robot cars.)

The losses come largely from subsidizing drivers during periods when customer discounts mean fares don't cover costs. But maybe it's time to devote cash to a more sustainable way of keeping workers happy. Uber often tells us that its “driver partners” love their independence and flexibility, so why not prove that by offering true employment to those who want it? The drivers who genuinely prefer their freedom would get to keep it, while the disgruntled lot who keep taking Uber to court could join the staff.</p>


A couple of those points are very salient: that Uber wants to get everyone else to pay the social costs of the people it exploits (it doesn't pay tax, so doesn't pay for the roads its services exploit, hospitals that any crashes end up in, and schools people learn in); and that its losses are at a time when its labour costs could not be lower.

As labour costs rise and governments get antsy, Uber's margins will get squeezed.
uber  profit 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
The Uber bombshell about to drop • Daniel With Music
Daniel Compton:
<p>In the last few weeks Alphabet <a href="https://medium.com/waymo/a-note-on-our-lawsuit-against-otto-and-uber-86f4f98902a1#.vd51cmjdf">filed a lawsuit</a> against Uber. Alphabet and Waymo (Alphabet’s self-driving car company) allege that Anthony Levandowski, an ex-Waymo manager, stole confidential and proprietary information from Waymo, then used it in his own self-driving truck startup, Otto. Uber acquired Otto in August 2016, so the suit was filed against Uber, not Otto.

This alone is a fairly explosive claim, but the subtext of Alphabet’s filing is an even bigger bombshell. Reading between the lines, (in my opinion) Alphabet is implying that Mr Levandowski arranged with Uber to:

• Steal LiDAR and other self-driving component designs from Waymo
• Start Otto as a plausible corporate vehicle for developing the self-driving technology
• Acquire Otto for $680 million
• Below, I’ll present the timeline of events, my interpretation, and some speculation on a possible (bad) outcome for Uber. </p>


It's quite an interpretation. (Also, legal things tend not to go with bombshells. They're more like super-slow burners.) One suspect it isn't going to be that bad, but Uber could find itself a few years behind rivals if things go badly. Still, it has a ton of money which it can use to get through the hard times.
google  uber  alphabet  selfdrivingcar 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
Monopoly as the Uber business model • ON LABOR
Benjamin Sachs:
<p>Uber’s business model consists of: predatory pricing, underwritten by venture capital, aimed at securing a monopoly position in the urban car service industry.

To unpack that a bit, the argument proceeds as follows:

• Uber is unprofitable. It has grown and succeeded to date by engaging in below-cost pricing and subsidizing that pricing scheme with $13 billion in venture capital investments.  As the post put it: “Uber is a fundamentally unprofitable enterprise, with negative 140% profit margins.”  And, “Uber’s ability to capture customers and drivers from incumbent operators is entirely due to predatory competition funded by massive investor subsidies – Uber passengers were only paying 41% of the costs of their trips, while competitors needed to charge passengers 100% of actual costs.”

• Far from the popular image of technology-enabled low-cost superstar, Uber is in fact “the industry’s high cost producer, with a significant cost disadvantage in every cost category except fuel and fees where no operator could achieve any advantage."…

…• Once Uber succeeds in securing monopoly power (or, “industry dominance”) it will exercise that power by: reducing driver pay to levels below those paid by traditional operators; requiring “anyone who might ever want a cab to carry Uber’s app;” and “imposing much higher prices for peak period[s] and low density neighborhood service” which would “effectively eliminate taxi service for a major segment of (mostly lower income) users.”</p>


All technology companies - all companies, really - aspire to monopoly power. A few get it, and their behaviour once they do is pretty consistent. No reason why Uber would be any different.
uber  business  monopoly 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber employees lose faith and explore exit • FT
Leslie Hook:
<p>Recruiters in the Bay Area and executives at rival companies say they have seen an uptick in job applications from Uber employees, as its workers lose faith in the company’s leadership and start to doubt the value of their stock options.

Uber has gone from crisis to crisis over the past five weeks, prompting increasing numbers of employees to explore the idea of leaving a start-up that was once considered one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious and lucrative workplaces.

“I have seen quite a few people who have been looking to leave Uber,” said one recruiter, who previously worked at the car-hailing company. “One of the main reasons is lack of faith in senior leadership.”</p>
uber 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber’s VP of product and growth Ed Baker has resigned • Recode
Kara Swisher and Johana Bhuiyan:
<p>Ed Baker, Uber’s VP of product and growth, has informed his team that he’s leaving the car-hailing company after more than three years.

In an email, the former Facebook exec wrote: “I have always wanted to apply my experience in technology and growth to the public sector. And now seems like the right moment to get involved.”

Before Uber — which he joined in 2013 along with former CFO Brent Callinicos and Uber SVP Emil Michael — Baker headed international growth at the social media giant for two years after the company acquired his dating app called Friend.ly in 2011.

With Baker’s leaving, marketplace head Daniel Graf will take over as acting head of product and growth. In addition, Uber has hired well-regarded Facebook product exec Peter Deng as head of its rider product. Also key in Graf’s organization is Aaron Schildkrout, who will be head of driver products.

But, because it is Uber, the Baker departure is complex: His resignation also comes at a time when Uber employees have complained about questionable behavior on his part.</p>
uber 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
How Uber deceives the authorities worldwide • The New York Times
Mike Isaac on Uber's "Greyball" system:
<p>When Uber moved into a new city, it appointed a general manager to lead the charge. This person, using various technologies and techniques, would try to spot enforcement officers [who might try to block UberX drivers, on the basis they were essentially unregulated cab drivers].

One technique involved drawing a digital perimeter, or “geofence,” around the government offices on a digital map of a city that Uber was monitoring. The company watched which people were frequently opening and closing the app — a process known internally as eyeballing — near such locations as evidence that the users might be associated with city agencies.

Other techniques included looking at a user’s credit card information and determining whether the card was tied directly to an institution like a police credit union.

Enforcement officials involved in large-scale sting operations meant to catch Uber drivers would sometimes buy dozens of cellphones to create different accounts. To circumvent that tactic, Uber employees would go to local electronics stores to look up device numbers of the cheapest mobile phones for sale, which were often the ones bought by city officials working with budgets that were not large.

In all, there were at least a dozen or so signifiers in the VTOS program that Uber employees could use to assess whether users were regular new riders or probably city officials.

If such clues did not confirm a user’s identity, Uber employees would search social media profiles and other information available online. If users were identified as being linked to law enforcement, Uber Greyballed them by tagging them with a small piece of code that read “Greyball” followed by a string of numbers.

When someone tagged this way called a car, Uber could scramble a set of ghost cars in a fake version of the app for that person to see, or show that no cars were available. Occasionally, if a driver accidentally picked up someone tagged as an officer, Uber called the driver with instructions to end the ride.</p>


Isaac, it should be noted, has been doing especially amazing work in the past few months.
uber  culture 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
#UberLove • LinkedIn
Kelly Snodgrass worked at Uber for two and a half years, though she now works at Snap:
<p>I found myself advocating for my male counterparts as objectively, the contributions put forth by the female individuals were not as valuable as the contributions of their male counterparts... but this wasn't because they were female. The interesting context behind this is that as you may have heard, Uber is a company where the best ideas win…where you have to both come up with the best idea, AND execute on that idea in the best way. It’s a damn hard place to be successful! But the key here is that gender does not play a role, rather talent does. Uber tries really hard to fairly reward individuals…regardless of gender, and I was lucky enough to experience this first hand. I am a woman and had a great experience and wild success at Uber.</p>


The best ideas win, eh? By definition, that means that identifying officials who might sic the regulations on Uber was a "best idea", which tells you a great deal about Uber's view of the outside world.
uber  culture 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
In video, Uber CEO argues with driver over falling fares • Bloomberg
Eric Newcomer:
<p>the gig has gotten harder for longtime drivers. In 2012, Uber Black cost riders $4.90 per mile or $1.25 per minute in San Francisco, according to an old version of Uber's website. Today, Uber charges $3.75 per mile and $0.65 per minute. Black car drivers get paid less and their business faces far more competition from other Uber services.

Kalanick has a reputation for being ferociously competitive and hard-charging. He’s the guy who has bragged about having earned the second-highest rank on Nintendo’s Wii tennis game. He’s still dogged by the fact that he once referred to Uber as “Boob-er” because it improved his dating prospects. Current and former employees say he can be empathetic when the mood strikes—or tyrannical when it doesn’t. Kalanick loves fighting over a good idea, which sometimes means admitting that his isn’t the best one. “Toe-stepping” is one of Uber’s cultural values.

Kalanick is trying to be a better listener.</p>


But as the cab video shows, he's not that great at it. Uber's toxic culture is starting to seep out and create problems in its interactions with the world.

Also notable: one gets videoed everywhere these days. (A car on a public road is a public space in American law, apparently.)
video  uber  culture  kalanick 
march 2017 by charlesarthur
Uber’s SVP of engineering is out after he did not disclose he left Google in a dispute over a sexual harassment allegation • Recode
Kara Swisher:
<p>Amit Singhal has left his job at Uber as its SVP of engineering because he did not disclose to the car-hailing company that he left Google a year earlier after top executives there informed him of an allegation of sexual harassment from an employee that an internal investigation had found “credible.”

Singhal was asked to resign by Uber CEO Travis Kalanick this morning.

Uber execs found out about the situation after Recode informed them of the chain of events between Singhal and the search giant this week.

Sources at Uber said that the company did extensive background checks of Singhal and that it did not uncover any hint of the circumstances of his departure from Google. Singhal disputed the allegation to Google execs at the time.</p>


Of course this story would be by Swisher: she is basically Silicon Valley's router, via whom every bit of information eventually travels. This is an astonishing tale. Singhal's departure from Google in February 2016 was a surprise. There sure isn't anything about assault claims, unfounded or otherwise, in his <a href="http://searchengineland.com/amit-singhal-the-head-of-google-search-to-leave-the-company-for-philanthropic-purposes-241707">goodbye letter</a>.
google  uber  singhal 
february 2017 by charlesarthur
A lawsuit against Uber highlights the rush to conquer driverless cars • The New York Times
Mike Isaac and Daisuke Wakabayashi:
<p>In one case, an autonomous Volvo zoomed through a red light on a busy street in front of the city’s Museum of Modern Art.

Uber, a ride-hailing service, said the incident was because of human error. “This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers,” Chelsea Kohler, a company spokeswoman, said in December.

But even though Uber said it had suspended an employee riding in the Volvo, the self-driving car was, in fact, driving itself when it barreled through the red light, according to two Uber employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they signed nondisclosure agreements with the company, and internal Uber documents viewed by The New York Times. All told, the mapping programs used by Uber’s cars failed to recognize six traffic lights in the San Francisco area. “In this case, the car went through a red light,” the documents said.</p>


OK, so Uber is getting a reputation as being a bit of a liar. The "human error" was not stopping the car which was running autonomously from doing something wrong.

But quite separately, further down the story:
<p>[Anthony] Levandowski [who has since left Google to join Uber to run its self-driving cars project] gained some notoriety within Google for selling start-ups, which he had done as side projects, to his employer. In his biography for a real estate firm, for which he is a board member, Mr. Levandowski said he sold three automation and robotics start-ups to Google, including 510 Systems and Anthony’s Robots, for nearly $500m. After this story was published, the real estate firm updated its website erasing Mr. Levandowski’s biography and said that it had “erroneously reported certain facts incorrectly without Mr. Levandowski’s knowledge.”</p>


Feels a bit like Paul Nuttall of UKIP, the polar explorer and Martian astronaut, whose website was just wrong about him. Will Levandowski - who is part of Google's lawsuit against Uber - fit in well at his new employer, do you think?
google  uber  selfdrivingcar 
february 2017 by charlesarthur
Waymo: a note on our lawsuit against Otto and Uber • Medium
Waymo is Alphabet's self-driving vehicle subsidiary:
<p>Recently, we received an unexpected email. One of our suppliers specializing in LiDAR components sent us an attachment (apparently inadvertently) of machine drawings of what was purported to be Uber’s LiDAR circuit board — except its design bore a striking resemblance to Waymo’s unique LiDAR design.

We found that six weeks before his resignation this former employee, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo’s various hardware systems, including designs of Waymo’s LiDAR and circuit board. To gain access to Waymo’s design server, Mr. Levandowski searched for and installed specialized software onto his company-issued laptop. Once inside, he downloaded 9.7 GB of Waymo’s highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation. Then he connected an external drive to the laptop. Mr. Levandowski then wiped and reformatted the laptop in an attempt to erase forensic fingerprints.

Beyond Mr. Levandowki’s actions, we discovered that other former Waymo employees, now at Otto and Uber, downloaded additional highly confidential information pertaining to our custom-built LiDAR including supplier lists, manufacturing details and statements of work with highly technical information.

We believe these actions were part of a concerted plan to steal Waymo’s trade secrets and intellectual property. Months before the mass download of files, Mr. Levandowski told colleagues that he had plans to “replicate” Waymo’s technology at a competitor.</p>


In retrospect, that might not have been the smartest conversation anyone ever had.
waymo  lidar  uber  lawsuit 
february 2017 by charlesarthur
Inside Uber’s aggressive, unrestrained workplace culture • The New York Times
Mike Isaac:
<p>Interviews with more than 30 current and former Uber employees, as well as reviews of internal emails, chat logs and tape-recorded meetings, paint a picture of an often unrestrained workplace culture. Among the most egregious accusations from employees, who either witnessed or were subject to incidents and who asked to remain anonymous because of confidentiality agreements and fear of retaliation: One Uber manager groped female co-workers’ breasts at a company retreat in Las Vegas. A director shouted a homophobic slur at a subordinate during a heated confrontation in a meeting. Another manager threatened to beat an underperforming employee’s head in with a baseball bat.

Until this week, this culture was only whispered about in Silicon Valley. </p>


Great reporting as ever by Isaac.
uber  culture 
february 2017 by charlesarthur
An open letter to the Uber board and investors • Medium
Mitch and Freada Kapor:
<p>As early investors in Uber, starting in 2010, we have tried for years to work behind the scenes to exert a constructive influence on company culture. When Uber has come under public criticism, we have been available to make suggestions, and have been publicly supportive, in the hope that the leadership would take the necessary steps to make the changes needed to bring about real change.

Freada gave a talk on hidden bias to the company in early 2015, and we have both been contacted by senior leaders at Uber (though notably not by Travis, the CEO) for advice on a variety of issues, mostly pertaining to diversity and inclusion, up to and including this past weekend.

We are speaking up now because we are disappointed and frustrated; we feel we have hit a dead end in trying to influence the company quietly from the inside.

If we believed it was too late for Uber to change, we would not be writing this, but as investors, it is now up to us to call out the inherent conflicts of interest in their current path.

We are disappointed to see that Uber has selected a team of insiders to investigate its destructive culture and make recommendations for change. To us, this decision is yet another example of Uber’s continued unwillingness to be open, transparent, and direct.</p>


If you're trying to put your finger on where you've heard the Kapor name before, Mitch was behind Lotus 1-2-3 - the most gigantic smash hit office software ever before Microsoft Office. It's useful to read <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitch_Kapor">the Wikipedia entry</a>: "Lotus was a company with few rules and fewer internal bureaucratic barriers". (Quoting a book.)

Uber, meanwhile, is a company with big cultural problems. Changing its culture could kill the company. Not changing the culture could hurt its public face.
uber  kapor 
february 2017 by charlesarthur
Reflecting on one very, very strange year at Uber • Susan J. Fowler
She went to work at Uber:
<p>After the first couple of weeks of training, I chose to join the team that worked on my area of expertise, and this is where things started getting weird. On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn't. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn't help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.

Uber was a pretty good-sized company at that time, and I had pretty standard expectations of how they would handle situations like this. I expected that I would report him to HR, they would handle the situation appropriately, and then life would go on - unfortunately, things played out quite a bit differently. When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man's first offense, and that they wouldn't feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he "was a high performer" (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn't feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.

I was then told that I had to make a choice: (i) I could either go and find another team and then never have to interact with this man again, or (ii) I could stay on the team, but I would have to understand that he would most likely give me a poor performance review when review time came around, and there was nothing they could do about that. I remarked that this didn't seem like much of a choice, and that I wanted to stay on the team because I had significant expertise in the exact project that the team was struggling to complete (it was genuinely in the company's best interest to have me on that team), but they told me the same thing again and again.</p>


And guess what? She left the team, spoke to other women, and they had had the same kind of problem. In some cases, previously with the same man.

It also sounds like an absolute rats' nest in there as well. And guess what? Once this had gone viral, Travis Kalanick ordered an immediate investigation.

Charitable explanation: Kalanick didn't know how screwed up his company has become. However, changing the culture is going to be hard - if he really wants to.
uber  sexism  women  engineering 
february 2017 by charlesarthur
Defending Uber • Tom Forth
<p>For decades people like me we have asked for the right to regulate bus services in places like Leeds and Birmingham. We think that our cities, if given the freedom to, could deliver innovations like the Oyster card and the excellent services and low fares enjoyed in London. But it remains illegal under a UK law from which the capital is exempt.

We have also argued constantly for a level of investment in public transport comparable to London, and never received it. Now in Leeds, 30 years after the first plans to build a tram network, the city has the money to build a trolleybus system and is barred from doing so by the UK government. Leeds is the largest city in Europe with no public transport system. The situation is farcical.

And so while I can imagine the logic — if not the practicality — behind fears that Uber might undercut public transport in a city like London, I cannot share those fears in Leeds and Birmingham. Since there is almost no public transport to displace, it cannot be displacing it.

But there’s another argument that clinches my support for Uber.

The best data we have on the demography of taxi use comes from the 2011 census, in the methods of travel to work section. This shows that in London taxis are a luxury used by the rich. But in Leeds they are a connection to employment for the poor. For many, taxis are the only real competition that exists to restrain private bus companies’ price rises. Most people in Leeds that for many trips, especially with more than one person, a taxi is just as cheap and much more convenient than the bus.

<img src="http://tomforth.co.uk/defendinguber/TaxisToWorkInLeedsAndLondon.PNG" width="100%" />

And so, while good public transport remains an option that is unavailable to England’s large cities, I will continue to support Uber. I’m not sure why a multinational chooses to lose money helping poor people in Leeds get to work, but I’m glad that it does.</p>
transport  uber 
february 2017 by charlesarthur
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