Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for February, 2017

Video Emerges of Travis Kalanick Arguing With His Uber Driver About Falling Fares

Eric Newcomer, Bloomberg:

There’s no question that it’s been a hard year for Kalanick and Uber — or really, a bad year compressed down into an awful three months. And it keeps getting worse. That pleasant conversation between Kalanick and his friends in the back of an Uber Black? It devolved into a heated argument over Uber’s fares between the CEO and his driver, Fawzi Kamel, who then turned over a dashboard recording of the conversation to Bloomberg. Kamel, 37, has been driving for Uber since 2011 and wants to draw attention to the plight of Uber drivers. The video shows off Kalanick’s pugnacious personality and short temper, which may cause some investors to question whether he has the disposition to lead a $69 billion company with a footprint that spans the globe.

Kalanick apologized in a company-wide email:

It’s clear this video is a reflection of me—and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.

I want to profoundly apologize to Fawzi, as well as the driver and rider community, and to the Uber team.

I know this is said a lot about incidents like these, but does anyone think that Kalanick would have remembered being a dick to his driver had video not been made public? I certainly don’t.

Building a company on a brilliant idea isn’t enough, and there’s no way that this is an isolated incident from Kalanick. Uber’s corporate culture has been rotten from the start, and it originates from the top. I don’t think this is news to anyone who has been following the company for a long time, but the amount of reports that have been published over the past few weeks makes for a profoundly upsetting track record.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at MWC

Nathan Ingraham, Engadget:

New FCC chairman Ajit Pai has made his views on net neutrality clear in the past: He’s against it. But today at Mobile World Congress, Pai gave a wide-ranging speech in which he made his most pointed comments against net neutrality since taking over as chairman. When discussing the rules put into place in early 2015, Pai said they were “a mistake” and praised “light touch” internet regulation — something that’s sure to be on the FCC’s agenda going forward.

[…]

But Pai continues to paint a picture of net neutrality rules that classify the internet as a utility as a backwards approach. “Rules developed to tame a 1930s monopoly were imported into the 21st century to regulate the internet,” Pai said while also calling the net neutrality ruling a “last-century” bit of regulation. It’s still early days for Pai’s leadership over the FCC, but it sounds like it won’t be long before we find out how he plans to roll back the protections put in place in 2015.

Notice the subtle rhetorical trick Pai played here. He frames the rules as “regulating the internet”, not “regulating internet service providers”. Regulating the internet itself is perceived as a blanket Very Bad Thing; regulating internet service providers — which is what the 2015 rules actually do — is not.

The other thing he argues — and this is common amongst those who disagree with regulating ISPs as common carriers — is that it’s somehow wrong to regulate the web based on rules written decades ago. This is a poor argument, as it relies exclusively on the age and not the substance of those regulations.

This is important for people to keep an eye on, and not just in the United States. Because most large web companies are American and because so much of the web’s infrastructure runs through the United States, the decisions that this FCC chairman makes will affect the rest of the world as well.

Amazon S3 Is Down

I don’t really do hot topical news here, but there are a couple of things I think we can all learn from today’s ongoing Amazon S3 downtime.

The first is that the cheap, scalable computing power offered by S3 has made it a de facto backbone of the web. We’re seeing that today with downtime affecting major services, like Slack and iCloud, as well as all kinds of websites and infrastructural components. This kind of consolidation needs to be broken up with competitive offerings from other providers, something that will be far more difficult to achieve should net neutrality principles be eliminated.

The second thing that we should learn from this is that it’s not a great idea to make a service’s status page dependent on the status of that service.

Third-Party iPhone Screen Repairs No Longer Fully Void Your Warranty

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors:

iPhones that have undergone any third-party screen repair now qualify for warranty coverage, as long as the issue being fixed does not relate to the display itself, according to an internal memo distributed by Apple today. MacRumors confirmed the memo’s authenticity with multiple sources.

Previously, an iPhone with a third-party display was not eligible for any authorized repairs under warranty.

Apple is currently fighting right-to-repair legislation in Nebraska, but they have just one retail store in the state and one Premium Service Provider. It may be limited to one state at the moment, but their decision would have repercussions across every tech company’s hardware line. This move should serve to minimize arguments that could be made by the state with regards to service availability.

FCC Chair Ajit Pai Has No Plans to Review AT&T–Time Warner Merger

Chris Morran of Consumerist:

In recent years, the FCC played a key part in blocking the mergers of AT&T and T-Mobile, and Comcast and Time Warner Cable, while also using its regulatory leverage to place pro-consumer conditions on the mergers it did approve — like getting Charter to agree to not use data caps for seven years. However, the FCC will apparently give AT&T its wish and not even chime in on the pending merger of AT&T and Time Warner.

This is according to recently elevated FCC Chair Ajit Pai, who told the Wall Street Journal today that he has no reason to review the merger if it’s not brought to the Commission’s attention.

Are you becoming increasingly sick of me regularly posting links to articles that explain how this FCC chairman is slowly, but quite deliberately, dismantling basic protections that help prevent an inevitable consolidation of power that threatens the principles and products of an open and free internet? Don’t send your complaints to me; I’m not who you should be writing to.

Google OnHub and WiFi Devices Temporarily Knocked Offline, Reset

From a February 23 help document:

Today we experienced an issue with our Google Accounts engine that may have affected your Google Wifi or OnHub device. This caused some devices to automatically reset to the initial state you bought them in. Unfortunately, these devices need to be set up again. We’d like to share our sincerest apologies for the inconvenience.

On the same day, a bunch of users also reported that they were being signed out of their Google accounts. Very strange and, in the wake of yet another “internet of things” vulnerability, concerning.

Amit Singhal, SVP at Uber, Leaving After Failing to Disclose Sexual Harassment Allegation at Google

Kara Swisher, Recode:

According to multiple sources and internal notes read to me, after discussing the claims of an alleged encounter between Singhal and a female employee first with former Google HR head Laszlo Bock and also Google CEO Sundar Pichai in late 2015, he denied those claims at the time. He also apparently stated a number of times that there were two sides to every story.

But, after the Christmas holidays, he then decided to resign himself after a 15-year career there.

Sources said that Google was prepared to fire Singhal over the allegations after looking into the incident, but that it did not have to do so after he resigned.

Sources said the female employee who filed the formal complaint against Singhal did not work for him directly, but worked closely with the search team. She also did not want to go public with the charges, which is apparently why Google decided to allow Singhal to leave quietly.

I find it repulsive that Singhal was allowed to simply quit. He was an SVP at Google, not a low-level employee, and ought to have been fired. Abusing that kind of responsibility and power ought to have consequences.

FCC to Halt Data Privacy Protection Rule for ISPs

From the euphemistically-titledStatement on Need for Comprehensive and Uniform Framework to Protect Americans’ Online Privacy” released by the FCC yesterday:

Chairman Pai believes that the best way to protect the online privacy of American consumers is through a comprehensive and uniform regulatory framework. All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, and the federal government shouldn’t favor one set of companies over another.

Funny how Ajit Pai believes in neutrality for companies, but not for the networks over which they preside.

Therefore, he has advocated returning to a technology-neutral privacy framework for the online world and harmonizing the FCC’s privacy rules for broadband providers with the FTC’s standards for others in the digital economy. Unfortunately, one of the previous administration’s privacy rules that is scheduled to take effect on March 2 is not consistent with the FTC’s privacy standards. Therefore, Chairman Pai is seeking to act on a request to stay this rule before it takes effect on March 2.

Jon Brodkin of Ars Technica clarifies:

The data security rule requires ISPs and phone companies to take ‘reasonable’ steps to protect customers’ information — such as Social Security numbers, financial and health information, and Web browsing data — from theft and data breaches.

[…]

Pai has said that ISPs shouldn’t face stricter rules than online providers like Google and Facebook, which are regulated separately by the Federal Trade Commission. Pai wants a “technology-neutral privacy framework for the online world” based on the FTC’s standards. According to today’s FCC statement, the data security rule “is not consistent with the FTC’s privacy standards.”

What that means is that instead of the FCC establishing a strong privacy standard for all companies, they’re likely to keep standards at whatever level lobbyists want.

There’s another rule set to go into effect December 4, which would require users to opt into schemes that allow ISPs to share data with other companies, like advertisers. I’d be willing to bet a pretty good chunk of money that this law will also be halted, at a later date. Like I wrote earlier this week, net neutrality and the principles of a better web will die a death of a thousand cuts at the hands of this FCC chairman.

Jim Lynch Wants to Be the Asshole of the Week Too

Jim Lynch:

As you can see from this list, the Mac has become a second rate product inside of Apple. The company simply cannot be bothered regularly updating the Mac, despite the fact that it is still a very important product for many of Apple’s customers.

It’s not as if Apple is some startup company, living on a shoestring budget. As I write this post the company has around $250 billion dollars and can easily afford to give the Mac more resources, time and energy. Heck, Apple has more money than a lot of countries on the planet!

But instead of updating the Mac, Tim Cook and the rest of his executives are spending their time worrying about transgender bathrooms. Is that really the proper thing to focus on for a business like Apple?

I have been as critical as anyone about the lacklustre year the Mac had in 2016. But the Mac is not competing against social advocacy for Apple’s attention. Lynch even said it himself: Apple is a big-ass company with an insane amount of resources. They can do lots of things. And ensuring equal rights for all is one way that Apple is able to put some of those resources to use.

What an asshole.

Aside: This post was published on the CIO “contributor network”. LinkedIn has one of those, as does Forbes. TechCrunch used to have one, but they shut it down recently because contributors were posting a lot of self-promotional garbage. I have yet to hear a great reason in favour of schemes like these.

Update: Jim Lynch previously argued that iOS 7 was “an estrogen-addled mess designed for 13 year old girls”, and was one of those people who giggled about the “iPad” name when it was announced. Give him credit: he’s a dedicated, long-time asshole. Via John Moltz.

Gene Munster Is the Asshole of the Week

Harriet Taylor, CNBC:

Allegations of widespread sexual harassment and bad behavior at Uber are “unfortunate and inexcusable,” but Uber is not going to change its company culture, nor should it, said Gene Munster, Loup Ventures managing partner.

Speaking from a hypothetical Uber investor’s perspective, “I would like to see the people that actually did this be held accountable, but I wouldn’t like to see the culture change, as crazy as that sounds,” he said. (Munster is not an investor in the company.)

[…]

“It can be changed, but it is dangerous. What got Uber to where they are today is their intense culture, and their vision is to have transportation as accessible as running water, and to continue that vision and to impact the culture is something that’s dangerous.”

Munster’s message is clear: a destructive corporate environment is fine, so long as it builds a ubiquitous business. What an asshole.

Women at Uber to Kalanick: ‘There Is a Systemic Problem’

Priya Anand, Buzzfeed:

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick joined a group of more than 100 female engineers on Thursday to discuss the explosive allegations of sexual harassment and sexism recently leveled against the ride-hailing company. During an hourlong meeting, the engineers grilled Kalanick on what they say is a systemic problem at the company and urged him to begin “listening to your own people,” according to an audio recording obtained by BuzzFeed News.

[…]

“I think that we should kind of address the elephant in the room … which is that everyone who’s in these rooms now … believes that there is a systemic problem here. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t,” one engineer told Kalanick. “I do not think that we need [Eric Holder’s] help in admitting to ourselves as a company that we have a systemic problem.”

“Fair enough. Fair enough. Fair enough,” Kalanick replied. “I understand.”

I want to give Uber’s management team the benefit of the doubt. I would love to be able to think that they can turn — so to speak — the car around. But this sort of toxic culture is the product of a great deal of time, and is almost certainly a top-down problem. It’s going to take years to undo such a damaged environment, if it’s even possible to do so.

Instagram Posts Can Now Contain Up to Ten Photos and Videos

Instagram:

When uploading to your feed, you’ll see a new icon to select multiple photos and videos. It’s easy to control exactly how your post will look. You can tap and hold to change the order, apply a filter to everything at once or edit one by one. These posts have a single caption and are square-only for now. On your profile grid, you’ll notice the first photo or video of your post has a little icon, which means there’s more to see.

In feed, you’ll see blue dots at the bottom of these posts to let you know you can swipe to see more. You can like and comment on them just like a regular post.

I like the idea of this, but its practical usability leaves a lot to be desired. If you swipe across a photo set from near the edge of the screen, it will switch to Instagram’s Story camera or its direct message view, depending on which way you swipe. And, if you swipe at the end of a photo set, you get moved into the direct message view as well, instead of bouncing back or looping around to the first photo.

FCC Votes to Reduce Transparency Requirements of Mid-Sized ISPs

Sam Gustin, Vice:

Broadband providers with fewer than 100,000 subscribers were already exempt from the net neutrality transparency requirements. But Thursday’s action boosts the exemption limit to companies with as many as 250,000 subscribers, a substantial increase that could affect as many as 9.7 million consumers, mostly in rural and underserved communities, according to Sen. Markey’s office.

By increasing the exemption limit, Pai has eliminated the transparency requirements for many firms that are actually local or regional subsidiaries of the nation’s largest broadband companies, which remain subject to the disclosure rules, according to FCC Commissioner Clyburn.

“Many of the nation’s largest broadband providers are actually holding companies, comprised of many smaller operating companies,” said Clyburn. “So what today’s Order does is exempt these companies’ affiliates that have under 250,000 connections by declining to aggregate the connection count at the holding company level.”

ISPs with up to 250,000 subscribers are no longer required to provide detailed information about speeds, reliability, or pricing.

Net neutrality won’t be eliminated in a single swoop. It will be dismantled piece-by-piece over the next four years, beginning earlier this month when Chairman Ajit Pai stopped investigating self-benefitting zero rating schemes. Today’s action is the next step towards bleeding out net neutrality regulations and requirements. It’s outrageous.

Silicon Valley Firms Condemn Rescinding of Federal Transgender Protections

I appreciate that some of the biggest companies in the United States are speaking out against the more vile actions of this administration. Yet, while I understand that it’s risky for a major publicly-traded company to be blunt, I wish these statements were a little less safe. Major corporations should start objecting to decisions like these by describing what they are: cruel and discriminatory.

Inside the Uber Cesspool

The New York Times’ Mike Isaac, with some crack reporting on the ongoing clusterfuck that is Uber’s workplace:

Workers like Ms. Fowler who went to human resources with their problems said they were often left stranded. She and a half-dozen others said human resources often made excuses for top performers because of their ability to improve the health of the business. Occasionally, problematic managers who were the subject of numerous complaints were shuffled around different regions; firings were less common.

One group appeared immune to internal scrutiny, the current and former employees said. Members of the group, called the A-Team and composed of executives who were personally close to Mr. Kalanick, were shielded from much accountability over their actions.

Nobody’s asking for the company to be perfect. They don’t even have to be a role model in the industry, or particularly unique in the way they treat victimized employees. But I think everyone expects a company to have a reasonable ethical baseline. Uber can’t manage even that at a bare minimum.

Apple’s New Campus Will Officially Be Called ‘Apple Park’

Apple PR:

Apple today announced that Apple Park, the company’s new 175-acre campus, will be ready for employees to begin occupying in April. The process of moving more than 12,000 people will take over six months, and construction of the buildings and parklands is scheduled to continue through the summer.

The first thing I thought of upon reading this was the name’s resemblance to Xerox PARC, the legendary research and development firm. I don’t think this was intentional, but I think it’s appropriately homonymous considering Apple’s R&D ambitions.

Steve would have turned 62 this Friday, February 24. To honor his memory and his enduring influence on Apple and the world, the theater at Apple Park will be named the Steve Jobs Theater.

That’s appropriate. Everyone, it seems — from big companies to college students — models their presentations on the “Stevenote” slideshow style.

The way to think of Apple Park is not as a real estate project or a corporate campus, but as an Apple product. You can see that by the way they’re treating it in press releases. It is the most expensive and most exclusive Apple product ever created. Yet, I’m certain that they’re not going to change their official address. Apple Park may be the new hotness, but “1 Infinite Loop” is as much Apple’s signature as “Designed by Apple in California”. Unless they rename the street that Park sits on, Infinite Loop will remain Apple’s metonym.

How to Lock Down a Compromised Skype Account

I rarely use Skype, so I was surprised when I was notified upon signing in yesterday that I needed to change my password. I didn’t really think much of it — I was about to jump into a meeting — but I was told today that one of my contacts, who I haven’t contacted over Skype in about a month, received a pretty sketchy link from me recently.

So I did a little digging and found this rather worrying November 2016 post from Tom Warren of the Verge:

This year’s attack appears to be growing in size, and Skype users might think they’re protected by Microsoft’s two-factor security, when in reality they’re probably not. Microsoft offers the ability to link a Skype and Microsoft Account together to make sign-in and security easier. If you already enabled this months ago, it turns out that Microsoft has kept your original Skype account password separate so that it can still be used to access the service with a Skype username. If that password isn’t secure or you used it elsewhere then hackers can use it to gain access to Skype, bypassing any two-factor authentication provided by Microsoft.

I spoke to a Microsoft employee, on condition of anonymity, who had a Skype account breached recently. The Microsoft employee had used two-factor authentication, but hackers were able to log in using an old Skype username and password combination. I even tested this on my own personal accounts, and I was able to log into my Skype account with an old password despite linking it to my Microsoft Account months ago. I thought I was protected by Microsoft’s two-factor authentication, but I wasn’t.

Many of us probably created our Skype accounts many years ago, well before they were acquired by Microsoft, at a time when we might have paid less attention to creating secure passwords. And because Skype is almost always accessed as an app instead of a website, most of us probably saved whatever crappy password we set at the time and forgot all about it.

It turns out that’s we haven’t been following the greatest security protocol in the world. But instead of advising users proactively, Microsoft has opted to notify users after signing in and has allowed users two ways of logging in. I think that’s a terrible policy.

You may wish to check your long-dormant Skype account to see if it was compromised, and either disable it or follow Warren’s instructions to secure it.

Chicago’s Ethics Board Fines Uber’s Former Strategist $90,000

Subrat Patnaik, Reuters:

Chicago’s ethics board voted unanimously to fine Uber Technologies Inc’s former strategist, David Plouffe, $90,000 for illegally lobbying in the city.

The ethics board said that Plouffe, who helped Uber combat onerous regulations and opposition from the taxi industry, violated the Governmental Ethics Ordinance by lobbying city officials and failing to register as a lobbyist.

I may have put together a litany of press clippings that paint a picture of Uber as a company that has repeatedly transgressed on users’ privacy and failed women as both employees and customers, but I forgot a few things: racial discrimination, their pathological objection to regulation, failure to obtain insurance, exaggerating drivers’ earnings, burdensome handout requests, hidden fees, legal problems, and their questionable business model that allows them to lose three billion dollars in one year to undercut taxi drivers in cities worldwide.

I mean, it kind of sounds bad when you put it all together like that, doesn’t it? Makes you question why anyone would continue to support a company with this kind of track record when they’re not even ten years old yet.

Mark’s Manifesto

Ben Thompson, in a well-considered response to Mark Zuckerberg’s recent 5,800-word essay:

My deep-rooted suspicion of Zuckerberg’s manifesto has nothing to do with Facebook or Zuckerberg; I suspect that we agree on more political goals than not. Rather, my discomfort arises from my strong belief that centralized power is both inefficient and dangerous: no one person, or company, can figure out optimal solutions for everyone on their own, and history is riddled with examples of central planners ostensibly acting with the best of intentions — at least in their own minds — resulting in the most horrific of consequences; those consequences sometimes take the form of overt costs, both economic and humanitarian, and sometimes those costs are foregone opportunities and innovations. Usually it’s both.

Thompson’s proposed remedy is to limit Facebook’s monopoly power by restricting their ability to acquire new subsidiaries and networks, allow for portability of friends between networks, and reconsider the amount of data they collect from users.

But all of this is, I think, extremely unlikely to reduce Facebook’s ability to exploit and expand their monopoly. Their biggest lock-in is that everyone else is already there. Even if everyone could conceivably migrate their entire Facebook history to a similar network, I doubt that they would without some significant impetus to do so. Every social network with an entrenched user base has that kind of stickiness. Think of all of the people who threaten to quit Twitter after every transgression — it’s relatively easy for users to move to an alternative platform, but it’s difficult for the community to move en masse without a reason. Put more simply: users don’t abandon social networks until the social networks abandon them.

A History of Uber Since January 2014, in Excerpts

Carmel DeAmicis, reporting for Pando in January 2014:

Last month, Pando reported that an Uber driver in San Francisco had been accused of verbally and physically assaulting a passenger, James Alva. According to Alva, the driver called him a “dirty Mexican faggot” and then struck him several times when Alva tried to take a photo of him and his license plate to send to Uber.

The company confirmed that the alleged attacker was an Uber driver. However, since the police did not arrest the driver when called to the scene, the company chose not to investigate the incident further. At the time, Uber said it would temporarily suspend the driver, but not permanently ban him from driving for the company. [Updated: Since this post was published, Uber emailed to say the company deactivated this driver’s account from the system in December. Uber has not yet commented as to what prompted this change of heart.]

Throughout, Uber insisted that the driver had passed their standard background checks.

However, Pando has since learned that the driver — 28-year-old San Francisco resident Daveea Whitmire — has a criminal record, including felony and misdemeanor charges, and at least one felony conviction involving prison time. How, or why, Uber missed — or ignored — this criminal history is unclear.

In February 2014, GQ writer Mickey Rapkin spent a week as an Uber driver and interviewed CEO Travis Kalanick:

Not to make assumptions, but Kalanick probably wasn’t the first kid in his class to lose his virginity. But the way he talks now—which is large—he’s surely making up for lost time. When I tease him about his skyrocketing desirability, he deflects with a wisecrack about women on demand: Yeah, we call that Boob-er.

Gross.

Alicia Lu, writing for Bustle in October 2014:

Everyone’s favorite car service just had a major lapse in judgment. It seems that someone was thinking with their stick shift: Uber Lyon’s promotion with the Avions de Chasse app let customers be chauffeured around by amateur models instead of its regular drivers. The premise of it alone sounds pretty gross, but upon a closer look at the app’s website and the whole operation looks like the brainchild of a horny teenage boy and his older web developer friend. Coming to their senses, Uber has taken down any trace of the app and the promotion from its websites.

Matthew Williams reporting for Boing Boing in November 2014:

A few years ago, Uber posted a blog entry titled “Rides of Glory.” Uber searched its data, looking for anyone who took an Uber between 10pm and 4am on a Friday or Saturday night. Uber then searched that data for how many of the same people took another ride about four to six hours later — either from, at, or near the previous nights’ drop-off point.

“The greater the male/female ratio, the more likely that neighborhood had a Ride of Glory.”

What does this mean? Uber can track one-night stands.

Uber pulled their March 2012 post shortly after various news outlets and blogs started reporting on it in 2014.

Ben Smith of Buzzfeed in November 2014:

A senior executive at Uber suggested that the company should consider hiring a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on its critics in the media — and specifically to spread details of the personal life of a female journalist who has criticized the company.

The executive, Emil Michael, made the comments in a conversation he later said he believed was off the record. In a statement through Uber Monday evening, he said he regretted them and that they didn’t reflect his or the company’s views.

Sarah Lacy of Pando was the female journalist in question:

And lest you think this was just a rogue actor and not part of the company’s game plan, let me remind you Kalanick telegraphed exactly this sort of thing when he sat on stage at the Code Conference last spring and said he was hiring political operatives whose job would be to “throw mud.” I naively thought he just meant Taxi companies. Let me also remind you: This is a company you trust with your personal safety every single time you use it. Let me also remind you: The executive in question has not been fired.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Emil Michael still works at Uber.

Johana Bhuiyan and Charlie Warzel of Buzzfeed in November 2014:

Early this November, one of the reporters of this story, Johana Bhuiyan, arrived to Uber’s New York headquarters in Long Island City for an interview with Josh Mohrer, the general manager of Uber New York. Stepping out of her vehicle — an Uber car — she found Mohrer waiting for her. “There you are,” he said, holding his iPhone and gesturing at it. “I was tracking you.”

Mohrer never asked for permission to track her.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Mohrer still works at Uber.

Johana Bhuiyan in a January 2016 followup article:

As part of the settlement, Uber has agreed to pay a penalty of $20,000 to the attorney general’s office for its failure to report unauthorized third-party access to drivers’ personal information in a timely fashion. The ride-hail company has also agreed to adopt more rigorous privacy and security practices. These practices include password-protecting and encrypting the geo-location data of Uber riders and drivers, limiting access to that information to designated employees with “legitimate business purposes”, and incorporating multi-factor authentication and other “protective technologies” to secure personal information.

Shortly before this settlement was announced, the New York Times reported that Uber was valued at $62.5 billion. At that point, $20,000 becomes just another business expense.

Charlie Warzel and Johana Bhuiyan, in a March 2016 Buzzfeed report:

According to data provided by Uber to BuzzFeed News, the company received five claims of rape and “fewer than” 170 claims of sexual assault directly related to an Uber ride as inbound tickets to its customer service database between December 2012 and August 2015.

Uber provided these numbers as a rebuttal to screenshots obtained by BuzzFeed News. The images that were provided by a former Uber customer service representative (CSR) to BuzzFeed News, and subsequently confirmed by multiple other parties, show search queries conducted on Uber’s Zendesk customer support platform from December 2012 through August 2015. Several individual tickets shown in the screenshots have also been confirmed.

[…]

In one screenshot, a search query for “sexual assault” returns 6,160 Uber customer support tickets. A search for “rape” returns 5,827 individual tickets. Other variations of the terms yield similarly high returns: A search for “assaulted” shows 3,524 tickets, while “sexually assaulted” returns 382 results.

Gabriel Samuels, in a May 2016 report for the Independent:

Uber drivers are accused of sexually assaulting or raping customers almost three times a month, according to new figures which have outraged rape campaigners.

Freedom of Information data obtained by The Sun newspaper revealed 32 assault claims were made against employees of the taxi-hailing app in London over the past twelve months, equal to one every eleven days.

The figure represents more than a fifth of all claims against taxi and car-hire drivers filed to 14 UK police forces last year, which totalled at 154 allegations including attacks in minicabs and chauffeur vehicles.

Ellie Kaufman, in a June 2016 article for Quartz:

What Uber giveth, Uber can taketh away. On May 9, Uber and Lyft stopped operating in Austin, Texas, after spending over $10 million to lobby Austin’s citizens against a city ordinance that would require ride-sharing drivers to get background checks. Voters upheld the ordinance, and the two companies pulled out of the city two days later.

[…]

In 2015 alone, 27 incidents of sexual assault or rape in Austin were reported where a driver of a ride-sharing service assaulted a passenger, according to data from the Austin Police Department. Meanwhile, only 9.2% of victims report sexual assault to the police in Texas, according to the 2015 Texas Statewide Sexual Assault Prevalence Study, and 68% of sexual assaults go unreported nationally. This means that while 27 incidents of sexual violence were reported, many more could have occurred undetected.

Mitchel Broussard, in a December 2016 MacRumors article:

A recent update to ride-hailing app Uber is generating a negative reaction online, with customers concerned over the company’s decision to track their location “from the time of trip request through five minutes after the trip ends,” no matter if the app is open or not. The only option now available for users to negate the background tracking of their location is to go into iOS Settings > Privacy > Location Services and opt-in to “Never” allow Uber location access through the iPhone.

Will Evans, in a December 2016 article for Reveal:

After news broke two years ago that executives were using the company’s “God View” feature to track customers in real time without their permission, Uber insisted it had strict policies that prohibited employees from accessing users’ trip information with limited exceptions.

But five former Uber security professionals told Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting that the company continued to allow broad access even after those assurances.

Susan J. Fowler, yesterday:

As most of you know, I left Uber in December and joined Stripe in January. I’ve gotten a lot of questions over the past couple of months about why I left and what my time at Uber was like. It’s a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story that deserves to be told while it is still fresh in my mind, so here we go.

[…]

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.

[…]

Over the next few months, I began to meet more women engineers in the company. As I got to know them, and heard their stories, I was surprised that some of them had stories similar to my own. Some of the women even had stories about reporting the exact same manager I had reported, and had reported inappropriate interactions with him long before I had even joined the company. It became obvious that both HR and management had been lying about this being “his first offense”, and it certainly wasn’t his last. Within a few months, he was reported once again for inappropriate behavior, and those who reported him were told it was still his “first offense”. The situation was escalated as far up the chain as it could be escalated, and still nothing was done.

There is a pattern here; expect more current and ex-employees to report similar incidents.

As I was assembling these excerpts, Mike Isaac of the New York Times got ahold of a company-wide email sent by Kalanick:

It’s been a tough 24 hours. I know the company is hurting, and understand everyone has been waiting for more information on where things stand and what actions we are going to take.

Memo to Travis: nobody cares about the company itself. It’s not hurting; people have been hurt. What matters is that this stuff keeps happening, with apparently little consequence for those responsible.

Kalanick promises in the email to investigate everything Fowler disclosed and Uber’s overall attitude towards diversity in the workplace. He also discloses, for the first time, that 15% of their tech staff is female. This compares to 15% at Twitter (not 10%, as Kalanick claims), 17% at Facebook, 19% at Google (not 18%, as Kalanick claims), and 23% at Apple.

There is a deep, festering, and toxic workplace environment at Uber. It is the manifestation of its bro-ey CEO that doesn’t think that regulations should apply to his company. Creating a workplace that encourages diversity in both gender and ethnicity doesn’t seem to be very high on Kalanick’s priorities.

This is not okay. This has never been okay. Yet the only incident callous enough, in the public’s eyes, to trigger a mass boycott of Uber was when they dropped surge pricing at JFK airport after taxi drivers there went on strike following Donald Trump’s immigrant-restricting executive order.

I absolutely agree with showing support for those put at risk by sweeping policies from big, institutional powers. In this case, Uber’s drivers ought to have joined New York’s taxi drivers in protest, so users’ boycotting of the service is a straightforward way to protest Uber. But the company’s record on women’s rights, in particular, has been appalling — I didn’t even touch on rampant racism. From rape allegations made against drivers to tracking and “throwing mud” against female journalists, and an internal culture that tolerates sexism to an egregious degree, it’s clear that we must respond in force in this case, too.

So grab your phone, and delete Uber.

Update: Added the November 2014 “one night stand” post and the June 2016 report from Austin, thanks to Ryan Jones.