advertisement
advertisement
  • 5:37 pm

AT&T raises another streaming service’s prices

AT&T raises another streaming service’s prices
[Photo: Flickr user Bill Bradford]

One week after AT&T raised prices and cut channels from DirecTV Now, AT&T-owned Crunchyroll has announced its own price hike. The anime streaming service’s ad-free plan now costs $8 per month (or $80 per year) for new subscribers, up from $7 per month (or $70 per year) previously. Current monthly subscribers will pay the higher price after three more months, and yearly subscribers will be grandfathered for another year, TechCrunch reports. Crunchyroll will continue to offer an ad-supported plan with a more limited content selection.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Crunchyroll said the price hike is due to “rising costs of content and infrastructure,” and will allow the service, which claims to offer 90% of the world’s anime, to provide even more. The service has 2 million paid subscribers and 12 million monthly active users.

Still, this isn’t a great look for AT&T, which just announced $10 per month price hikes for current DirecTV Now subscribers, alongside new plans that offer fewer channels at higher prices than the plans they’re replacing. When AT&T was trying to get its Time Warner acquisition approved in court last year, the company had promised that it would lower prices instead.

advertisement
advertisement

Pinterest files for IPO

Pinterest files for IPO
[Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

Pinterest, the visual discovery platform that launched in 2010, has finally filed to go public. On Friday, the company said in its filing that it intends to list itself on the New York Stock Exchange using the ticker symbol PINS.

The news didn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone, and is just the latest in a revival of IPO activity in the tech sector–both Lyft and Zoom have filed the necessary documents to go public, and Slack and Uber are expected to file later this year.

Pinterest revealed that it has 250 million users and growing revenues. In 2018, the company had revenues of $755.9 million, up from $472.9 million in 2017. It also halved its losses in the same time frame, going from a net loss of $130 million to a net loss of $63 million in 2018. A majority of revenues come from the U.S., though a small but growing percentage are coming from overseas. Pinterest’s international revenues in the the fourth quarter of 2018 were $17 million, nearly double that of Q3 international revenues.

Pinterest lets users “pin” images and other content from around the web onto a digital corkboard that they share with others. It competes with other internet giants like Facebook and Google for advertising dollars. While eMarketer estimates the company will hit $1 billion in revenues come 2020, its ad revenue per user (ARPU) is still fairly low. For 2018, it was $3.19 and is roughly in line with that of Snapchat.

Fast Company just named Pinterest as a 2019 Most Innovative Company in the Beauty category. Every month, the platform processes hundreds of millions of image searches in a bid to help users find things they’re most interested in. To better serve diversity, the visual discovery engine leveraged AI and user recommendations to develop an algorithm for people to search beauty images by skin-tone ranges and hair colors. It’s one of many ways Pinterest enables AI to better serve its users.

“The lasting impact of visual search won’t be any specific product or feature,” Pinterest cofounder Evan Sharp previously told Fast Company, “rather what it enables people to do: Turn anything they see into something they can use to discover more on the internet.”

advertisement
advertisement
  • 3:23 pm

California lawmakers introduce bill to ban all smartphones at schools

California lawmakers introduce bill to ban all smartphones at schools
[Photo: Pixabay/Pexels]

Do we need government intervention to rein in kids’ tech addiction?

advertisement

California lawmakers introduced a bill that would restrict and, in some cases, ban the possession and use of smartphones during school hours. Assembly Bill 272 , proposed by 66th District Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D) on Tuesday, would require the state’s schools to adopt policies that monitor and limit phone use, even during school-sponsored activities.

“There is growing evidence that unrestricted use of smartphones by pupils at elementary and secondary schools during the school day interferes with the educational mission of the schools, lowers pupil performance, particularly among low-achieving pupils, promotes cyberbullying, and contributes to an increase in teenage anxiety, depression, and suicide,” reads the bill.

The LA Times notes that similar procedures are already in place at a district level. The Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School Board, for example, instituted a policy in which all children in grades K-5 must keep their phones off during school hours, while older students must obtain teacher approval to keep theirs on.

France, meanwhile, adopted a nationwide smartphone ban in all elementary and middle schools last year. It also included all internet-connected devices, such as tablets. Ontario, Canada is also considering a ban on use in schools.

The newly introduced California bill highlights a 2015 study that analyzed the effects of smartphones on children’s education. The London School of Economics found that test scores improved significantly at schools that banned mobile phone use, and that “the most significant gains in pupil performance were made by the most disadvantaged and underachieving pupils.” Banning phones reportedly adds up to the academic equivalent of an extra week of school.

The potential harm of children’s tech use has been an ongoing concern for experts, as experts wonder what limits should–and realistically can–be set. In her book, The Art of Screen Time, Fast Company alum Anya Kamenetz cited a 2011 survey of 9,000 preschoolers (3- to 5-year-olds) that found that young kids spend about four hours a day in the company of (all types of) screens.

In a Fast Company survey of 400 parents, only a mere 1% expressed “no concerns” about their kids’ use of tech. The rest harbored fears that their children were becoming addicted to screens and developing a shortened attention span.

They have reason to be concerned: A 2016 survey from Common Sense Media found that 78% of teenagers check their devices at least hourly, and half said that they thought they were indeed addicted to their phones. Three out of four American teens own an iPhone.

Meanwhile, researchers believe such rampant use is linked to psychological issues. Dr. Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of iGen, argues there’s evidence that screen time and social media use leads to increased depression among American teens. As cited in the bill, 8th-grade students who spend 10 or more hours per week on social media are 56% more likely to describe themselves as unhappy compared to those who devote less time online.

advertisement
advertisement
advertisement
advertisement
  • 12:26 pm

United Airlines pioneers non-binary gender bookings

United Airlines pioneers non-binary gender bookings
[Photo: Tim Gouw/Unsplash]

For once, United Airlines is in the news for something positive. Today, the company tweeted that it would create a new option on bookings for people who would prefer not to be identified through binary gender descriptors: In addition to Mr. and Ms., customers can now click Mx.

It’s an important step, particularly for trans and gender non-conforming people. In a statement, the company said it worked with the LGBTQ+ organizations The Human Rights Campaign and The Trevor Project to train employees to be more welcoming to all customers by being respectful about using the personal pronoun they prefer.

USA Today reports that United’s new policy comes after the airline trade organizations Arlines for America and the International Air Transport Association released a new set of best practice standards that accommodate customers who prefer to use non-binary forms of identification. These organizations did not mandate this new policy, but left it up to each individual airline to implement it. Other airlines reportedly plan on adopting a similar pronoun-inclusive policy soon.

United, however, is first to the gate. This policy is designed to make flying less stressful for customers. But it’s unclear whether this positive step will help undo its reputation for treating customers terribly. Over the last few years, the company has developed a reputation for its poor treatment of customers. Remember that time when United brutally dragged a customer off a flight due to the company’s own overbooking mistake? Or the time they killed a customer’s dog? Or the time when they asked a breastfeeding mother to cover up? And directed another passenger to pump breast milk in the pet relief area?

advertisement
advertisement
  • 10:19 am

AT&T’s fake 5G is slower than rivals’ real 4G

AT&T’s fake 5G is slower than rivals’ real 4G
[Photo: PhotoMIX Ltd./Unsplash]

Although 5G phones haven’t arrived yet, AT&T would like to convince you otherwise by advertising an upgraded version of its 4G network as “5G Evolution,” or “5G E.” A new study, however, confirms that AT&T’s upgrades are no faster than comparable (and more honestly-marketed) 4G improvements from T-Mobile and Verizon. In fact, AT&T’s network is a little bit slower.

Ars Technica reports that AT&T’s 5G E network clocked average speeds of 28.8 Mbps in speed tests recorded by OpenSignal. T-Mobile and Verizon, which use the same 4G LTE-Advanced tech that AT&T is marketing as 5G, averaged speeds of 29.4 Mbps and 29.9 Mbps, respectively. (Sprint fared worse than everyone, with average speeds of 20.4 Mbps.)

AT&T argues that OpenSignal’s methodology is flawed because the tests were conducted nationwide on capable phones, instead of just in markets where LTE-Advanced is available. But as Ars points out, there’s nothing technologically superior about 5G E, because it’s just LTE-Advanced with a different name. The only advantage over other carriers would be the breadth of AT&T’s coverage, which would be reflected in OpenSignal’s crowdsourced testing if AT&T had a larger LTE-Advanced footprint than other carriers. Instead, the tests confirm that AT&T has merely slapped a new name onto a comparable experience.

advertisement
advertisement
  • 9:52 am

Court documents reveal that Facebook allegedly knew about data misuse earlier than we thought

Court documents reveal that Facebook allegedly knew about data misuse earlier than we thought
[Photo: Anthony Quintano]/Wikimedia Commons

It might not surprise anyone to find out that Facebook apparently knew Cambridge Analytica was potentially misusing data for longer than it claimed—potentially calling into question the truthfulness of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress last year—according to a court document that Facebook is trying to strike from the record and hide from the public, the Guardian reports.

Essentially, what Facebook has claimed–both under oath and via blog posts–is that the company only learned that Cambridge Analytica got its hands on 87 million users’ data when reporters contacted the company. During his testimony to the U.S. Senate last April, Mark Zuckerberg said “In 2015, we learned from journalists at The Guardian that [researcher Aleksandr] Kogan had shared data from his app with Cambridge Analytica.”

A new court filing from the attorney general of Washington D.C., however, muddles the timeline. The filing, which was submitted to oppose Facebook’s attempt to seal document, claims that this piece of contested evidence “indicates Facebook knew of Cambridge Analytica’s improper data-gathering practices months before news outlets reported on the issue.” It also reportedly includes emails from employees claiming that “multiple third-party applications accessed and sold consumer data in violation of Facebook’s policies during the 2016 United States Presidential Election.” Thus, the prosecutor is making the claim that Facebook knew about Cambridge Analytica’s data misuse before the revelations came to light in 2015.

A looming question remains: Did Mark Zuckerberg perjure himself when saying he didn’t know about the data collection mess until the publication of the Guardian‘s article? In response, Facebook hit back at these claims, insisting that the company “did not mislead anyone about this timeline.” The point of contention, the Facebook spokesperson told the Guardian, is that two events are being conflated into one. Zuckerberg told Congress that he learned Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica when the initial article came out. The company, however, “heard speculation that Cambridge Analytica was scraping data, something that is unfortunately common for any internet service.” The spokesperson described its as a “separate incident” from what Zuckerberg told lawmakers under oath. I reached out to Facebook for additional comment and will update this post if I hear back.

You can read the full Guardian report here.

Update: A Facebook spokesperson provided me with the following statement, echoing what the company told the Guardian:

We were not aware of the transfer of data from Kogan/GSR to Cambridge Analytica until December 2015, as we have testified under oath.

These were two different incidents: in September 2015 employees heard speculation whether Cambridge Analytica was scraping data, something that is unfortunately common for any internet service. In December 2015, we first learned through media reports that Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica, and we took action. Those were two different things.

advertisement
advertisement
  • 6:27 am

Watch out: Your private health app data may impact your credit report

Watch out: Your private health app data may impact your credit report
[Photo: Marcelo Leal/Unsplash]

It’s a sad fact of our late capitalist world that data is one of the hottest currencies. Every move you make online–and sometimes off, too!–is likely being tracked in some way and then sold to the highest bidder. New research shows that even health apps, which often store users’ most personal information, are also sharing the data they collect. To make matters worse, for many of these programs, it’s simply impossible to opt out.

advertisement

The study was performed by a team of researchers in Australia, Canada, and the U.S., reports Gizmodo. They decided to download 24 of the most popular health-related apps on Android. For each app, the team made four fake profiles and each used the programs 14 times. On the 15th time, they slightly changed the information they provided to the apps and tracked if the network traffic changed. This way, the researchers were able to see if the apps shared the data change, as well as where they shared it.

The findings were depressing. Writes Gizmodo:

Overall, they found 79 percent of apps, including [popular apps Medscape, Ada, and Drugs.com], shared at least some user data outside of the app itself. While some of the unique entities that had access to the data used it to improve the app’s functions, like maintaining the cloud where data could be uploaded by users or handling error reports, others were likely using it to create tailored advertisements for other companies. When looking at these third parties, the researchers also found that many marketed their ability to bundle together user data and share it with fourth-party companies even further removed from the health industry, such as credit reporting agencies. And while this data is said to be made completely anonymous and de-identified, the authors found that certain companies were given enough data to easily piece together the identity of users if they wanted to.

Essentially, most of the apps were sharing the data users’ input in some capacity, and often that information was shared once again with another entity. Sometimes the data would be used for advertising, other times for something related to credit reporting. (According to the study, only one credit reporting agency had an agreement with a third party: Equifax. Of course, it’s not terribly comforting that the company had one of the largest hacks in recent memory.)


Related: What you don’t know about your health data will make you sick


The sad part is that these findings aren’t terribly surprising, nor are they illegal. Most apps broker user data in some capacity. Usually they use it for marketing and advertising, yet, as the credit report agency example shows, the data could be shared with truly anyone for myriad purposes. While third parties claim to anonymize the data, it’s been repeatedly proven that it can easily be re-identified.

As for disclosure, the companies behind these apps likely tell users in legalese that they share data with third parties. Every app has a privacy policy, but they are usually designed so that people glaze over the words and reflexively click “accept.” Meanwhile, this study found that all of the apps that shared data made it impossible to opt out.

The two real lessons from studies like these are that users of digital health programs need to be vigilant with the programs they use. It’s possible to protect your data, but it takes a lot of homework. But most of all, there needs to be a heightened call to protect consumers from these predatory practices.

Today, we dig deeper into your health privacy as part of our series The Privacy Divide, and find that what you don’t know about your health data could make you sick.

advertisement
advertisement

Landmark bill would ban cosmetics with toxic ingredients

Landmark bill would ban cosmetics with toxic ingredients
[Source Images: ArtJazz/iStock, Luke Southern/Unsplash]

Lawmakers are taking beauty ingredients more seriously.

advertisement

A new bill attempts to ban asbestos, lead, formaldehyde, and 17 other toxic chemicals in cosmetics. California lawmakers introduced the landmark bill on Tuesday, noting that sales of such products would be deemed illegal in the state. AB 495, the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, would be the first of its kind in the country.

“Californians deserve to know whether the cosmetic products they purchase in the state are not harmful to their health,” assembly member Al Muratsuchi (D), a co-sponsor of the state bill, said in a statement, reports The Hill. “AB 495 will protect consumers by banning the sale in California of cosmetics containing known carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and endocrine disruptors that are harmful to human health.”

The bill comes on the heels of the Claire’s Boutique makeup scandal. Earlier this month, the FDA urged consumers to stop using three of the chain’s products which reportedly contained tremolite asbestos.

Consumer watchdog groups and health advocates have long criticized regulation of the U.S. beauty industry, which sees little oversight. While the European Union bans 1,300 chemicals in personal care products, the United States has partially banned just 11 chemicals. A recent report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that U.S. regulation of chemicals and contaminants in cosmetics dramatically falls behind 40 other nations.

The activist group notes that while many brands are phasing out harmful chemicals, they are still legal. Several big chains, including CVS Health, Target, Rite Aid and Walgreens, have publicly committed to restricting these ingredients from their own cosmetic brands.

Many startups and smaller retailers are capitalizing on increased consumer interest in the booming “clean beauty” sector. A recent survey found that 75% of millennials say buying natural beauty products–viewed as healthier–is important to them. Such trends encouraged beauty retailers like Sephora to launch clean beauty categories and labels.

Meanwhile, companies such as Beautycounter educate the public on how to scan for harmful ingredients. The brand, which also sells its own line of cosmetics, has been instrumental in lobbying at the state and federal level for tighter regulation of the $86 billion beauty and personal-care industry.

Last year, Beautycounter led 100 representatives to Capitol Hill to speak with 12 different offices in the U.S. Senate. They rallied to support the Personal Care Products Safety Act (PCPSA), which sought to strengthen the FDA’s authority to regulate ingredients in beauty and hygiene products. The new legislation, cowritten by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), was originally introduced in 2015.

advertisement
advertisement
advertisement
advertisement

On the day of its IPO, Levi’s CEO hints at upcoming tech innovations

On the day of its IPO, Levi’s CEO hints at upcoming tech innovations
[Photo: courtesy of Levi’s]

Back in the nineteenth century, Levi Strauss & Co. started by innovating pants for gold miners, basically inventing the blue jean—166 years later, the company’s CEO says he wants to continue to stay on the cutting edge, but this time with software and patents.

Levi’s, which had its IPO today, has been led by CEO Charles “Chip” Bergh since 2011, after a 28-year-long career at Proctor & Gamble (P&G). It was a big day for the San Francisco-based company—shares opened at $22.22 per share, or more than 30% above the company’s IPO price of $17.

[Photo: courtesy of Levi’s]
“I believe category leaders have a responsibility to grow the category,” Bergh told Fast Company. From his experience with the market-leading Gillette brand at P&G, he learned that innovation and great marketing is the best way to accomplish that feat. “We’re becoming a software company. We’ve patented 30 different patents, nine of which have been approved. And it will fundamentally and radically change the way denim is produced and ultimately even sold. And I’m super excited about that. Today we’re just getting started. It’s about 10% of our total business, but it has the potential to be about 50% of our business It will be lower cost, lower working capital, higher revenue, and less markdowns.”

Bergh pointed to the recent “smart” jacket that Levi’s collaborated on with Google—which you can use to control your iPhone just by touching the sleeve—and noted the San Fransisco-based Eureka Lab, where the company toys around with new ideas.

[Photo: courtesy of Levi’s]
“Probably the innovation I’m most excited about,” Bergh said, is “a project which we call F.L.X, where we’re able to postpone finishing the jeans to the very last minute and we can finish them with a laser. That actually started as a sustainability initiative to eliminate one of the bad chemicals in the industry supply chain… which we committed to eliminating by 2020. We’ve developed a lot of proprietary technology around us, including software technology.”

advertisement
advertisement

Comcast’s hedge against cord cutting is . . . another box you have to rent

Comcast’s hedge against cord cutting is . . . another box you have to rent
[Photo: courtesy of Comcast]

Comcast is taking on the likes of Roku and Amazon Fire TV with its own 4K HDR streaming box, though it has some strings attached.

The streaming box, which is part of a new service called Xfinity Flex, provides access to the same apps that Comcast offers on its X1 cable boxes, including Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Tubi, Pluto TV, and Cheddar. It also supports Comcast’s home automation and security features. The only thing missing is the actual cable service, though Comcast says it’ll soon offer easy upgrades through the streaming box without any additional hardware.

The biggest caveat, of course, is the rental fee, which in less than a year becomes more expensive than buying a Roku Streaming Stick or Amazon Fire TV Stick outright. Also, Xfinity Flex is only available to Comcast’s internet customers, and it doesn’t offer access to competing live TV streaming services such as Sling TV, YouTube TV, or PlayStation Vue. If there’s a redeeming factor here, it’s the inclusion of Xfinity’s unified TV guide and voice remote, which by most accounts are pretty nice. Even nicer, though, would be a device that didn’t require rental fees and didn’t box customers into Comcast’s live TV bundle.

advertisement
advertisement

Millions of Facebook passwords have been stored in plain text, report says

Millions of Facebook passwords have been stored in plain text, report says
[Photo: Matthew Brodeur/Unsplash]

Facebook is currently investigating the extent to which it accidentally logged and stored unencrypted password data, according to security expert Brian Krebs. This is just the latest in a long line of privacy-related scandals Facebook has endured, further calling into question its ability to keep users secure.

Citing anonymous sources, the report says Facebook employees built applications that stored password data for between 200 million and 600 million users in plain text on internal servers. More than 20,000 Facebook employees had searchable access to those accounts. The investigation is ongoing, but already the company has found vulnerable data that dates back to 2012, writes Krebs. His source says 2,000 developers and engineers turned up plain text passwords within 9 million data queries. The company allegedly does not know how many passwords were exposed, or for how long.

Facebook has come under scrutiny for the way it handles user data, and with whom it shares that data. In September 2018, the company revealed an attack on its network that affected the personal data of some 50 million accounts. More recently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg vowed to take user privacy more seriously and promised more encryption and other privacy tools. Critics called into question Facebook’s ability to develop a privacy-centered platform–and the consequences of such a move, since encryption could make it more difficult to track toxic content on the platform.

In a conversation with Krebs, Facebook engineer Scott Renfro said users would not likely have to change their passwords, because there was no evidence that employees searched for passwords explicitly. In a blog post on password security, Facebook noted that it expects to notify, “hundreds of millions of Facebook Light users, tens of millions of other Facebook users, and tens of thousands of Instagram users.”

advertisement
advertisement
advertisement
advertisement

Amazon is blocking ads for products that lose money

Amazon is blocking ads for products that lose money
[Photo: freestocks.org/Unsplash]

Amazon is tidying up its bottom line, and wholesale vendors are feeling the squeeze. The Everything Store is telling its vendors that it won’t promote products that it takes a loss on as a result of storing and shipping fees, according to CNBC. In order to promote those products with paid advertising, vendors must cut the cost of the product for Amazon.

CNBC obtained an email from Amazon to one of its vendors:

“One or more of your products no longer qualifies for advertising because the sale of this product on Amazon.com currently results in a loss to Amazon.” The email goes on to say that the brand must “lower the product’s cost” to Amazon in order to become eligible for advertising again.

The change comes as some analysts are expecting a slowdown for Amazon’s e-commerce business. “This year, we expect Amazon will generate roughly $440.83 billion in worldwide retail ecommerce sales, a 19.8% increase over 2018. This represents a slowdown in growth from a 22.4% increase in 2018,” eMarketer wrote in February.

It also appears to be part of a broader shift  toward focusing on its marketplace for third-party sellers. Selling direct produces lower margins for Amazon than selling through third parties on its marketplace. In December the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon was eliminating products that couldn’t turn a profit from its lineup. This refusal to advertise products that it takes a loss on is likely part of the same new strategy.

Amazon responded to CNBC with the following statement: “Like all retailers, Amazon decides which products to market and promote in our stores based on a variety of factors, such as relevancy, availability, profitability and other factors.”

But Amazon may need to be careful when it comes to restricting advertising. Because Amazon ads juice sales on its own site, artificially privileging some products over others could be seen as a conflict of interest. The European Union has been increasingly cracking down on big tech companies that wield too much power. This week, the European Union fined Google $1.7 billion for impeding competition in the market. Senator and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren is also keen to break up big tech companies, and Amazon is already on her list.

advertisement
advertisement

The Wing and Time’s Up are joining forces

The Wing and Time’s Up are joining forces
[Photo: courtesy of The Wing]

When The Wing announced a series C round of funding back in December, backers included women from the leadership of Time’s Up, such as Kerry Washington and former White House advisor Valerie Jarrett. Now, The Wing and Time’s Up are forging an official partnership, through which the women’s coworking space and social club will serve as something of a home base for Time’s Up in the Wing’s many locations.

If Time’s Up is working to make workspaces safer and more equitable for women, The Wing has sought to create safer spaces for women. “Both Time’s Up and The Wing believe that all women, across all industries and backgrounds, deserve safety, fairness, and dignity as they work and as we all shift the paradigm of workplace culture,” says The Wing cofounder and CEO Audrey Gelman.

The organizations will work together on programming and host events around Time’s Up efforts across The Wing’s current and upcoming locations, from New York to Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles. Since Time’s Up has largely been volunteer-run and more of an umbrella group that links industries, it has not had a dedicated space for its meetings and organizing. The Wing will now provide that, and the people who work on Time’s Up initiatives—such as the folks driving the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which provides legal aid to low-income workers who are the victims of sexual misconduct—will be granted entry to Wing spaces. As part of the partnership, The Wing is also granting Time’s Up a charitable gift of stock.

“Time’s Up is proud to partner with The Wing to create safe spaces for women to convene, collaborate, and engage in important conversation around safety and equity,” Rebecca Goldman, interim CEO of Time’s Up, said in a statement. “By partnering with Time’s Up, The Wing is directly investing in work that will help women across industries succeed in the workplace.”

Time’s Up recently launched a healthcare affiliate and had previously expanded its reach to fight sexual misconduct and gender inequity in sectors like advertising and tech, as well. With this partnership, Time’s Up will also be more accessible to the many members of The Wing—women who span industries and locations—while also providing Time’s Up an organizing space in cities that are home to the industries the organization is trying to support.

advertisement
advertisement

British Uber drivers are demanding the company disclose their data

British Uber drivers are demanding the company disclose their data
[Photo: Victor Xok/Unsplash]

Uber drivers in the U.K. are demanding their data. Thanks to European laws, if a company or platform collects a person’s data, they have the right to request access to that information. Four Uber drivers now want to know exactly what the company collects about them to better understand the app’s dispatch and compensation system, reports the Economist (paywalled).

advertisement

This could be a landmark legal maneuver. Though Europe’s GDPR protections have been in place for a little bit now, companies are still slow to comply with all of its requirements. While it’s true that any person in Europe can ask to see their digital data, whether or not the companies follow through remains to be seen. It’s also unclear how the continent plans on enforcing these data regulations if a data collector refuses to comply.

For the last two years, these drivers individually requested the company provide them with a comprehensive dossier of all the data it collected about them. Instead, writes the Economist, Uber gave them “a limited dataset containing the origin and destination points of the drivers’ trips and some location data.” The drivers reportedly asked for an explanation for the abridged data disclosure. According to the report, Uber says it did provide them with an explanation but wouldn’t divulge further details.

Now, the drivers are acting together with the help of British lawyer Ravi Naik. Naik has also been one of the legal minds trying to get Cambridge Analytica to disclose the vast personal data it collected. Naik reportedly sent a letter to Uber asking for more robust data disclosure; if the company once again refuses, he says he’ll appeal to a higher European court.

If this data comes to light, the drivers will likely learn a lot about how the company operates. Uber is very secretive about how its algorithms work. These computer programs, meanwhile, control drivers’ livelihoods. For instance, the app decides which driver picks up a passenger, as well as calculates what their payout will be. Understanding all of the data Uber takes into account could potentially make things a little less opaque.

The drivers are asking for the data collected about the times they log on and off the app, the location information the app gathered, the ratings they receive from passengers, as well as the other inputs the company uses that power its software-controlled dispatch system. Until now, Uber has never disclosed such specific information.

It will certainly be an uphill battle for Naik and the drivers. Uber will certainly hem and haw about releasing data it likely considers to be proprietary. The subcontractors, however, have European data law on their side, so this will certainly be a case to follow.

I reached out to Uber for comment and a spokesperson provided me with the following statement:

Our privacy team works hard to provide as much information as we can including explanations when we can’t provide certain data such as when the data doesn’t exist or disclosing it would infringe on the rights of another person under GDPR. Under the law, UK citizens also have the right to escalate their concerns by contacting Uber’s Data Protection Officer or the ICO for additional review.

advertisement
advertisement

These are the 10 happiest and unhappiest countries in the world in 2019

These are the 10 happiest and unhappiest countries in the world in 2019
[Photo: Skitterphoto/Pexels]

The 2019 World Happiness Report has been released, and it reveals the countries whose residents say they are the happiest and least happy. The 10 happiest countries are:

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Norway
  4. Iceland
  5. Netherlands
  6. Switzerland
  7. Sweden
  8. New Zealand
  9. Canada
  10. Austria

And the 10 least happy countries are (with 1 being the least happy):

  1. South Sudan
  2. Central African Republic
  3. Afghanistan
  4. Tanzania
  5. Rwanda
  6. Yemen
  7. Malawi
  8. Syria
  9. Botswana
  10. Haiti

The United States placed 19th on the list of happiest countries—down one spot from last year. The world happiness report ranks 156 ranks countries based on a three-year average of surveys taken by Gallup. Factors survey participants are asked to consider include their country’s GDP, social support from friends and family, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, perceived corruption, and recent emotions, reports Bloomberg. Another factor in the rankings is the effect technology is having on people’s happiness. It found that teens who spent more time with digital devices were less happy.

The major bummer about this year’s list? When you factor in population growth, world happiness has fallen in recent years, the report’s authors found. “The world is a rapidly changing place. How communities interact with each other whether in schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, or on social media has profound effects on world happiness,” said professor John Helliwell, co-editor of the 2019 report.

advertisement
advertisement

Traders are wearing jeans in honor of Levi Strauss’s IPO

Traders are wearing jeans in honor of Levi Strauss’s IPO
[Photo: courtesy of New York Stock Exchange]

At the sound of Thursday’s opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), denim retailer Levi Strauss & Co. will once again become a public company. Using the ticker symbol LEVI, the jeans giant reenters Wall Street in a deal led by Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. Levi’s priced its shares at $17, which could give the company a $6.6 billion valuation. Its Wall Street appearance is highly anticipated; by Wednesday, Levi’s initial public offering was reportedly already more than 10 times oversubscribed. In total, the company is likely to raise around $623 million today.

[Photo: courtesy of New York Stock Exchange]
In celebration, the 202-year-old NYSE is easing its strict formal dress code policy for the day, even allowing denim on the floor–whether it’s a pair of jeans, a denim jacket, or both. The temporary policy change coincides with CEO Charles “Chip” Bergh’s known preference for wearing jeans rather than a suit at public appearances. (The NYSE isn’t the only financial institution rethinking workplace attire; earlier this month, an internal memo at Goldman Sachs told staff it was loosening its dress code policies due to the “changing nature of workspaces.”)

Last year, Levi’s business grew about 8%. Meanwhile, Bergh led his company with values in mind. For example, he gave employees PTO in order to vote, as well as donated $1 million toward combating gun violence.

This is the second time the iconic American company, known for its classic blue denim jeans and Dockers khaki pants, has gone public–the first time being 1971, before descendants of founder Levi Strauss took the company private again in 1985. The company had its start in 1853 when Strauss opened a dry goods store in San Fransisco and sold sturdy denim pants to California gold miners. As the Wall Street Journal notes, descendants of Strauss are still the company’s biggest shareholders to this day.

advertisement
advertisement
advertisement
advertisement

Cashierless app company rep blames NYC’s “diversity” for spot checks

Cashierless app company rep blames NYC’s “diversity” for spot checks
[Photo: Meverbeaver/Wikimedia Commons]

Fairway, a New York area grocery store, is one of several chains around the country that lets customers check out items by scanning them with their phones. In some cases, they’re also subject to random human receipt spot checks before they can leave, Gothamist reports.

When one customer complained about delays from the spot checks in an online survey, he reportedly got an unexpected reply from an employee of FutureProof Retail, which provides the technology, blaming the city’s “diversity” for the practice:

It occurs randomly so there isn’t any discrimination or implicit bias expressed toward shoppers, it is an unfortunate consequence of the amazing diversity here in NYC. With all the different backgrounds, and socioeconomic classes shopping at Fairway we can’t operate it on the honor system like kiosks in homogeneous population centers in Norway and Finland, since people can’t be expected to all have the same class structure, values and respect for laws. This aspect of building the app has been very educational. Lot’s of applied psychology and learning about other cultures.

Gothamist reports that FutureProof CEO William Hogben has said the employee who sent the message was fired, saying it does not “reflect any internal thinking of the company.”

And while the missive quite likely was the work of a wayward customer service rep, it does reinforce many people’s concerns about inequities in shopping, including food deserts in poor communities and communities of color, and racial bias in shoplifting enforcement.

advertisement
advertisement

Performance-based-pay linked to mental health issues, study finds

Performance-based-pay linked to mental health issues, study finds
[Photo: Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash]

Pay-for-performance is prevalent in the United States. In fact, the majority of companies depend on the incentive, either through bonuses, commissions, or profit sharing. But how does it affect employees?

Not very well, a new study finds. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and Aarhus University in Denmark discovered that switching to a pay-for-performance compensation system negatively impacts the workforce.

They studied Danish governmental records covering more than 300,700 full-time employees in 1,309 companies over a 10-year period. Findings show that the number of employees using anxiety and depression medication increased by 5.7%. For workers over the age of 50, it nearly doubled to 8.9% over the base rate.

In addition, those employees dependent on benzodiazepines or SSRIs had a 5-9% increased likelihood to exit their company in a given year. Women, meanwhile, were more likely than men to quit their job when it began hurting their mental health.

In translating these findings to American companies, the study predicted this would mean 100,000 more American prescriptions for pay-for-performance workers every year.

“These types of mental health problems are incredibly costly to both the individual and firm,” the study’s co-author Lamar Pierce, associate dean for the Olin-Brookings Partnership at Olin Business School, explained. “If this is reflective of a broader increase in stress and depression in employees, the costs are very high.”

advertisement
advertisement

Facebook adds quoted message replies to Messenger

Facebook adds quoted message replies to Messenger
Threaded messages in Facebook’s Messenger. [Image: courtesy of Facebook]

Facebook is rolling out quoted message replies in its Messenger app today.

You can now long press on a message you want to reply to, then tap the reply icon, and the original message will be quoted above your reply. It’s a form of message threading. The feature works when the user is replying to GIFs, videos, emoji, text, and photo messages.

The news was first reported by VentureBeat, then confirmed by Facebook.

The news comes shortly after Facebook added the ability to remove a message within 10 minutes of posting within one-to-one or group chats.

Twitter is said to be experimenting with some form of threaded messaging, too.

advertisement
advertisement

GoFundMe blocks controversial cancer clinic from fundraising

GoFundMe blocks controversial cancer clinic from fundraising
[Photo: Nevin Ruttanaboonta/Unsplash]

GoFundMe has become a go-to for hospital and treatment bills. In fact, one-third of the crowdfunding platform’s campaign are medical fundraisers.

But, there are limits—and the company is attempting to better enforce them. GoFundMe just banned (paywall) a campaign for cancer treatments at a controversial oncology clinic following concerns that both patients and donors were being exploited, reports the Financial Times (paywall).

The Hallwang clinic in Dornstetten, Germany reportedly offers “cutting-edge” alternative treatments, such as “high-dose vitamin infusions” and “ozone therapy” for cancer patients. GoFundMe notified the center that it must seek “further advice from medical experts” before it will be permitted on the site.

“We are temporarily blocking new campaigns for the Hallwang Clinic while we consult with users and experts,” GoFundMe said in a statement to the FT. “GoFundMe respects the decisions of patients and their loved ones about what they choose to fundraise for. We also recognise the tension between that openness and the need to make sure people are equipped to make well-informed decisions, and we’re doing more to help with that.”

GoFundMe’s terms of service bans content or campaigns that are “fraudulent, misleading, inaccurate, dishonest, or impossible,” as well as “products that make health claims that have not been approved or verified by the applicable local and/or national regulatory body.” The company has been criticized in the past for permitting campaigns that teetered on violating such terms.

The crowdfunding company joins several other tech giants combating fake health claims of late. Last month, Pinterest blocked anti-vaccination searches and actively removed related content. Meanwhile, Facebook deleted dozens of pages dedicated to fringe or holistic medicine in an apparent crackdown on pseudoscience.

advertisement
advertisement

13519 Stories