Uber Relied on Bare-Knuckle Tactics for Frenetic Global Expansion, Joint Media Investigation Alleges
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 11 July 2022
A leaked cache of confidential files from ride-sharing company Uber illustrates ethically dubious and potentially illegal tactics it used to fuel its frenetic global expansion beginning nearly a decade ago, a joint media investigation showed Sunday.
Dubbed the “Uber Files,” the investigation involving dozens of news organizations found that company officials leveraged the sometimes-violent backlash from the taxi industry against drivers to garner support and evaded regulatory authorities as it looked to conquer new markets early in its history.
Culled from 124,000 documents from 2013-2017 initially obtained by British daily the Guardian and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the revelations are the latest hit for a company dogged by controversy as it exploded into a disruptive force in local transportation.
The cache includes unvarnished text and email exchanges between executives, with standouts from co-founder and former chief executive Travis Kalanick, who was forced to resign in 2017 following accusations of brutal management practices and multiple episodes of sexual and psychological harassment at the company.
“Violence guarantee(s) success,” Kalanick messaged other company leaders as he pushed for a counter protest amid sometimes heated demonstrations in Paris in 2016 against Uber’s arrival in the market.
Uber’s rapid expansion leaned on subsidized drivers and discounted fares that undercut the taxi industry, and “often without seeking licenses to operate as a taxi and livery service,” reported The Washington Post, one of the media outlets involved in the probe.
Drivers across Europe had faced violent retaliation as taxi drivers felt their livelihoods threatened. The investigation found that “in some instances, when drivers were attacked, Uber executives pivoted quickly to capitalize” to seek public and regulatory support, the Post said.
According to the Guardian, Uber has adopted similar tactics in European countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy, mobilizing drivers and encouraging them to complain to the police when they were victims of violence, in order to use media coverage to obtain concessions from the authorities.
A spokesperson for Kalanick strongly denied the findings as a “false agenda,” saying he “never suggested that Uber should take advantage of violence at the expense of driver safety.”
Uber, however, placed the blame Sunday on previously publicized “mistakes” made by leadership under Kalanick.
“We’ve moved from an era of confrontation to one of collaboration, demonstrating a willingness to come to the table and find common ground with former opponents, including labor unions and taxi companies,” it said, noting that his replacement, Dara Khosrowshahi, “was tasked with transforming every aspect of how Uber operates.”
The investigation also found that Uber worked to evade regulatory probes by leveraging a technological edge, the Post wrote.
It described an instance when Kalanick implemented a “kill switch” to remotely cut off access of devices in an Amsterdam office to Uber’s internal systems during a raid by authorities.
“Please hit the kill switch ASAP,” he wrote in an email to an employee. “Access must be shut down in AMS (Amsterdam).”
Kalanick spokesperson Devon Spurgeon said the former chief executive “never authorized any actions or programs that would obstruct justice in any country.”
Kalanick “did not create, direct or oversee these systems set up by legal and compliance departments and has never been charged in any jurisdiction for obstruction of justice or any related offense,” she said.
But the investigation charged that Uber’s actions flouted laws and that executives were aware, citing one joking that they had become “pirates.”
The reports say the files reveal Uber also lobbied governments to aid its expansion, finding in particular an ally in France’s Emmanuel Macron, who was economy minister from 2014 to 2016 and is now the country’s president.
The company believed Macron would encourage regulators “to be ‘less conservative’ in their interpretation of rules limiting the company’s operations,” the Post said.
Macron was an open supporter of Uber and the idea of turning France into a “start-up nation” in general, but the leaked documents suggest that the minister’s support even sometimes clashed with the leftist government’s policies.
The revelations sparked indignation among leftist politicians, who denounced the Uber-Macron links as against “all our rules, all our social rights and against workers’ rights,” and condemned the “pillage of the country.”
E-Commerce Platform Meesho Crosses 500 Million App Downloads on Google Play, App Store
By Press Trust of India | Updated: 2 June 2023
E-commerce platform Meesho has become the world’s “fastest shopping app” to cross 500 million cumulative downloads across Google Play and iOS App Store, mobile data analytics provider has said.
The company has achieved the 500 million download milestone in six years, data.ai, formerly known as App Annie, said in a statement.
According to data.ai, over half of Meesho app downloads (274 million) came in 2022.
“Indian e-commerce platform Meesho has emerged as the world’s fastest shopping app to cross 500 million cumulative downloads across Google Play and iOS App Store combined, reaching this milestone in six years,” data.ai said.
According to data.ai, with just 13.6 MB size, Meesho’s android app is the lightest e-commerce app in India on Play Store, which makes it compatible with low-end smartphones.
“We are delighted to partner with them and provide them with the insights they need to continue to grow their business,” data.ai, Head of Insights, Lexi Sydow said.
Meesho, CXO for user growth, Megha Agarwal said India has 750-800 million people with smartphones and internet access, and it presents a huge opportunity for the company to spark the next wave of e-commerce adoption in India.
“This milestone is a great validation of our User-First mantra, which helps us continuously spot and address customer pain points to deliver an immaculate online shopping experience,” Agarwal said.
Earlier, Meesho announced that it recorded 140 million annual transacting users on its platform in 2022.
WhatsApp Launches New Global Security Centre Page With 10 Indian Languages
By ANI | Updated: 1 June 2023
Instant messaging application WhatsApp has launched a new global ‘Security Center’ page which will act as a one-stop window for users to learn more about how to protect themselves against spammers and any unwanted contacts.
WhatsApp on Thursday said it has created this page to build awareness about the various safety measures and in-built product features that empower users to take control of their safety.
The ‘Security Center’ will be available in English and 10 Indian languages — Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali, Marathi, Urdu, and Gujarati.
“Protecting personal messages with end-to-end encryption is one of the best lines of defence against scammers and fraudsters and in addition to that WhatsApp is consistently working on new and innovative ways to enhance people’s safety and privacy,” it said.
The new feature will inform users about the layers of privacy that WhatsApp provides and lists some top tips to give users more control over their accounts, including two-step verification, scams, and identifying fake accounts, among others.
Last month, WhatsApp launched an integrated safety campaign ‘Stay Safe with WhatsApp’ in India highlighting product features that empower users to take control of their online safety and ensure a safer messaging experience.
The campaign focused on educating users about WhatsApp’s safety features and tools like two-step Verification, block and report and privacy controls that equip people with the necessary safeguards to help protect them from online scams, frauds and account-compromising threats.
Google Removes ‘Slavery Simulator’ Game From Play Store After Racism Outcry in Brazil
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 27 May 2023
Google has withdrawn a gaming app that allowed players to buy, sell and torture Black virtual “slaves” after a racism outcry in Brazil.
Dubbed “Slavery Simulator,” the Portuguese-language game saw players trade in slaves and strategise to prevent the abolition of slavery in order to amass virtual riches.
The prosecutor’s office said it had opened an investigation for “hate speech” related to the game downloaded by hundreds of people.
The app itself had come with a disclaimer condemning “all types of slavery” and insisting the game was “solely for entertainment purposes.”
After withdrawing the app from its Play Store, Google said in a statement that “applications that promote violence or hated against groups of people or individuals because of their skin colour or ethnic origin” would not be allowed on its platform.
The company invited users to report offensive content.
Brazil’s ministry of racial equality said it had asked Google to put in place measures “to filter out content containing hate speech, intolerance and racism” and “to prevent it from spreading so easily, without moderation.”
Racism is still a problem in Brazil, the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888. More than 56 percent of the population is Afro-Brazilian.
“Brazil is one of the countries with the most consumers on Google’s platforms, and there one finds this app that recalls the era of slavery, with bonuses for those who torture the most,” said Renata Souza, a leftist regional lawmaker in Rio de Janeiro.
“This is not only racism, but also fascism,” she told AFP. “Here in Brazil, we have a neo-fascist movement that is not afraid to show itself… because of the lack of regulation on social networks.”
Google has spoken out against a bill seeking to stem online disinformation in Brazil, saying it “seriously threatens free speech.”
Supporters call the bill a badly-needed defense against disinformation and online extremism, but detractors say it amounts to censorship.
A Supreme Court judge ordered an investigation of Google and Telegram over what he called their “abusive campaign” against the bill.
Racism has been on the minds of Brazilians since “monkey” insults were hurled Sunday against their own Vinicius Junior, playing for Real Madrid in Spain.
The lights on the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro were turned off for an hour in solidarity with the player.
Netflix Expands Crackdown on Password Sharing; Alerts Users in Over 100 Countries
By Reuters | Updated: 24 May 2023
Netflix on Tuesday expanded its crackdown on password sharing to the United States and more than 100 other countries, alerting users that their accounts cannot be shared for free outside of their households.
The streaming video pioneer has been looking for new ways to make money as it faces signs of market saturation, with efforts including limits on password borrowing and a new ad-supported option.
Netflix on Tuesday said it was sending emails about account sharing to customers in 103 countries and territories, including the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Australia, Singapore, Mexico and Brazil.
The emails state that a Netflix account should only be used in one household. Paying customers can add a member outside of their homes for an additional fee. In the United States, the fee is $8 (roughly Rs. 700) per month.
Members can also transfer a person’s profile so the user can keep their viewing history and recommendations.
Netflix last year said it was going to limit account sharing and was testing various approaches in some markets.
The company had estimated that more than 100 million households had supplied their log-in credentials to friends and family outside their homes. As of the end of March, Netflix’s paying customers totalled 232.5 million globally.
Under the new policies, people within the same household can continue sharing a Netflix account and can use it on various devices when travelling, the company said.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
Google Pay Rolls Out UPI Payments Support for RuPay Card Holders of These Banks: Details
By ANI | Updated: 23 May 2023
Tapping into the growing popularity of Unified Payments Interface (UPI), Google Pay in conjunction with the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) on Tuesday announced the capability for users to make UPI payments with RuPay credit cards.
With this development, users can link their RuPay credit cards with Google Pay to seamlessly pay at all online and offline merchants where RuPay credit cards are accepted.
This feature is now available to RuPay credit card holders of Axis Bank, Bank of Baroda, Canara Bank, HDFC bank, Indian Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Punjab National Bank and Union Bank of India. More banks will follow suit shortly.
To activate, users need to add the RuPay credit card to Google Pay. Users can tap on the “RuPay credit card on UPI” option in their profile and select the bank which issued their RuPay credit card.
Thereafter, users will need to set a unique UPI PIN by entering the last six digits of the card number and expiry, and then entering the OTP from their bank. The statement from Google said users are ready to pay merchants on UPI with their RuPay credit card. “They will enter the set UPI PIN, the same way they do for other UPI transactions,” it added.
Sharath Bulusu, Director of Product Management from Google, said, “Google Pay is a partner to India’s financial ecosystem — enabling millions of users to safely and conveniently make digital payments every day… This feature will give Google Pay users more flexibility and choice in making payments, and will drive greater adoption of digital payments in the country.”
Nalin Bansal, Chief Relationship Management and Key Initiatives, Corporate Business from NPCI, said, “The integration of RuPay Credit Card on UPI delivers a remarkable user experience seamlessly combining the convenience of UPI with the benefits of RuPay Credit Card.”
Bansal said, “We believe this service will mature to provide access to digital credit on demand and consumers will be able to make payments by taking benefit of the inherent security and availability of UPI network across both offline and online platforms.”
In recent years, India has witnessed a huge rise in the number of transactions made through UPI. NPCI reported a massive jump in monthly transaction count as the UPI transactions touched 8.7 billion in March 2023. To further bolster growth of digital payments in the country, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) allowed linking of RuPay credit cards to the UPI platform in June 2022.
Meta Faces Record EUR 1.2 Billion Fine in EU Over User Data Transfer to US
By Agence France-Presse | Updated: 22 May 2023
Facebook owner Meta has been fined a record EUR 1.2 billion (nearly Rs. 10,750 crore) for transferring EU user data to the United States in breach of a previous court ruling, Ireland’s regulator announced Monday.
The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), which acts on behalf of the European Union, said the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) had ordered it to collect “an administrative fine in the amount of EUR 1.2 billion”.
The DPC has been investigating Meta Ireland’s transfer of personal data from the EU to the United States since 2020.
It found that Meta, which has its European headquarters in Dublin, failed to “address the risks to the fundamental rights and freedoms of data subjects” that were identified in a previous ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
The CJEU interprets EU law to make sure it is applied in the same way in all member states.
In response, Meta said it was “disappointed to have been singled out” and the ruling was “flawed, unjustified and sets a dangerous precedent for the countless other companies”.
“We intend to appeal both the decision’s substance and its orders including the fine, and will seek a stay through the courts to pause the implementation deadlines,” Meta president of global affairs Nick Clegg and chief legal officer Jennifer Newstead said in a blog post.
“There is no immediate disruption to Facebook in Europe,” they added.
Initially, the DPC had wanted to force Meta to suspend the offending data transfers, saying that a fine “would exceed the extent of powers that could be described as being ‘appropriate, proportionate and necessary'”.
But its peer regulators in the EU, known as Concerned Supervisory Authorities (CSAs), disagreed.
“All four CSAs took the view that Meta Ireland should be subject to an administrative fine,” said the DPC.
With no hope of consensus, the DPC referred the objections to the EDPB, which ruled that Meta Ireland suspend future transfer of personal data to the United States and pay a fine.
In a blog, Clegg and Newstead said the EDPB decision to overrule the DPC “raises serious questions”.
“No country has done more than the US to align with European rules via their latest reforms, while transfers continue largely unchallenged to countries such as China,” they added.
EU regulators have already hit Meta with fines of hundreds of millions of euros over data breaches by its Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook services.
It is the third fine imposed on Meta so far this year in the EU, and the fourth in six months.
In 2021, Amazon was fined EUR 746 million (nearly Rs. 6,685 crore) in Luxembourg for infringing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.
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