The UpStream

California passes new law that could effectively end the gig economy

posted Saturday Sep 14, 2019 by Scott Ertz

California passes new law that could effectively end the gig economy

The gig economy is the basis for companies like Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Postmates, TaskRabbit, etc. The idea is that you can sign up to be a contractor for the company, setting your hours and working within your confines. You're never required to do a job, and your payment is entirely dependent on how much work you take on. Think of an Uber driver, who is allowed to work when is convenient for them and take or skip any ride that is offered to them. The gig economy has grown into a major player in the market over the past few years and shows no signs of slowing down. Unfortunately, one US state is making it more difficult for those companies to exist.

California has long been known for making it difficult for businesses to thrive. Over the past few years, even their main industry of entertainment has begun to head to better locations, including Georgia and Toronto. Silicon Valley has started to look for alternatives, as well, with some companies moving to other states, and other companies looking for homes abroad.

Continuing this tradition, California is working to pass a new law that risks the future of the gig economy in the state. The law would require companies that use contractors as a core part of their business to treat those contractors as employees. This would mean that companies would be required to abide by minimum wage standards, completely negating the concept of the gig economy.

While the law is still awaiting a signature from Governor Gavin Newsom, it is expected that he will sign it. If the bill becomes law, it could significantly change the way companies such as Uber and Lyft operate in the state. Rather than drivers getting to set their hours, their hours will be set by someone at the company. They won't be able to skip rides, and will likely be assigned rides. Drivers will also be assessed based on performance. All of this will be necessary to be able to pay for the increased costs of treating these contractors like employees.

Both Uber and Lyft have vowed to fight the legislation, both petitioning the Governor and preparing for a possible ballot initiative fight. If all is lost, it would not be a surprise to see these companies, and other gig-economy players, leave the state entirely.

Walmart introduces "Family Play" to censor movies and TV on Vudu

posted Saturday Sep 14, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Walmart introduces

Family-friendly content has always been a mucky topic. In the 90s, movie rental stores tried removing questionable content from movies, only to be sued by the movie studios. More recently, VidAngel tried to do the same thing, only with the added bonus of having stolen the movies in the first place. They also didn't fare well in a legal battle with the studios, being denied the "right" to sell pirated and altered movies.

None of this has stopped Vudu, the video streaming service owned by Walmart, from giving it another shot. This week, the company announced a new feature, Family Play, that removes scenes from movies to make them family-friendly. The service is launching with over 500 movies from major studios, including high profile titles like Aladdin and MIB International.

In contrast from VidAngel, Vudu already owns the films and the rights to stream the films, which starts them off in a better legal position. However, the fundamental underlying issue is whether or not altering the movies violates their streaming contracts, or in violation of copyright law. VidAngel's original argument involved the Family Home Movie Act of 2005, part of the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, which, according to Wikipedia, "permits the development of technology to "sanitize" potentially offensive DVD and VOD content."

Ultimately VidAngel lost because they didn't own the rights to the movies or to stream those films. Vudu, on the other hand, does already have contracts to stream the films and could argue that they have created technology to sanitize the content to make it family-friendly. It is also possible that they have already worked with the studios to provide this content in a filtered manner. This is a feature that families want, or we wouldn't see companies keep trying to provide it.

In addition to the filtered films, Vudu is also partnering with Common Sense Media to give "detailed information" about how appropriate any particular film is for kids.

Scraping web content just got a little closer to legal in the US

posted Saturday Sep 14, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Scraping web content just got a little closer to legal in the US

Data scraping has long been the scourge of website owners. You do a lot of work to produce a website that provides useful information to people, and someone else comes along and scrapes that data from your website and uses it for their gain. In some cases, it can simply be an annoyance that makes it feel like your work was violated. In other cases, it can be the basis of an entire business model, such as Hyp3r's scraping location data from Instagram. In that case, Instagram cut off access to the data, but that's not always possible.

Such is the case for LinkedIn, who has been dealing with a company called hiQ scraping data from public profiles for years. LinkedIn is not going to make you sign in to view a public profile, but they also don't want companies taking data from their platform. Because of this, LinkedIn sent hiQ a cease-and-desist letter in 2017, demanding that the company stop harvesting data from public profiles. Rather than comply, hiQ sued LinkedIn, arguing that their activity did not violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and asked for an order banning Microsoft from interfering in their activities.

At the time, the trial concluded that hiQ was within their rights to take data from public profiles. This week, the 9th Circuit Appeals Court agreed with that determination, saying that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act does not apply to publicly available information. The three-judge panel wrote,

The CFAA was enacted to prevent intentional intrusion onto someone else's computer-specifically computer hacking.

This is far from a settled matter, however. Across the country, there are competing rulings on the topic of data scraping. In 2013, a California court held that two companies had violated CFAA when scraping data from Craigslist. Rather than taking it to the 9th Circuit Appeals Court, the same court that ruled in hiQ's favor, they agreed to stop their activities.

EA begins technical test of its upcoming game streaming service

posted Saturday Sep 14, 2019 by Scott Ertz

EA begins technical test of its upcoming game streaming service

Cloud gaming is quickly becoming a hot market. Sony bought into the idea several years ago with Gaikai, which later became the basis for PlayStation Now. However, other companies have held off on the idea, as limitations in infrastructure and cost have ended brands like OnLive. The winds seem to be changing, as all of the big players, and a few new ones, are trying their hand at game streaming. Microsoft has Project xCloud, Google has Stadia, and now Electronic Arts is throwing their hat in the ring with Project Atlas.

The company announced an early technical trial of the technology this week, in an attempt to see exactly what it would take to make the platform a success. They emphasized that this is not a platform beta and that users should expect bugs at every turn. They are also expected to complete a survey once they have played their game to help improve the future of the service.

This approach is similar to Google's when they ran their test of Project Stadia. However, while Google tested with only a single title, EA is testing with 4 different titles. This is likely to entice a larger group of testers to join the test, by providing FIFA 19, Need for Speed Rivals, Titanfall 2, and Unravel. With a variety of titles, more people can enjoy themselves, and the company can see how different types of games, with a variety of input types, will work.

Unfortunately, EA has not given any information about exactly how long this test will run, but interested gamers need only sign up to be part of the test. If you decide to participate in the test and already have the game on PC, you can even sync your game to the cloud version to continue where you left off.

Uber lays off another 435 employees in an attempt to save money

posted Saturday Sep 14, 2019 by Scott Ertz

Uber lays off another 435 employees in an attempt to save money

This has been a rough year for ride-sharing platform Uber. The company has seen increasing losses every quarter, and there seems to be no slowing it down. In just the second quarter of 2019, the company reported a loss of $5 billion, or roughly the entire GDP of Barbados. A large portion of that loss is related to the company's IPO, but the company is still losing about $1 billion per quarter without those one-time losses.

Trying to stem the ebbing tide, the company laid off around 400 marketing employees in July. This week, however, the company announced a second round of layoffs, resulting in the loss of 435 engineering and product-related employees. This second round represents about 8% of the company's engineering and product team, and the two rounds together represent about 3% of the company's total workforce. In the company's email to employees, they stated,

Previously, to meet the demands of a hyper-growth startup, we hired rapidly and in a decentralized way. While this worked for Uber in the past, now that we have over 27,000 full-time employees in cities around the world, we need to shift how we design our organizations.

It is not unusual for "unicorns" to fall victim to this mentality. When you go from having no money to having more than you can comprehend, laziness and chaos reign supreme. Hiring becomes a casual affair, and you end up with more employees than you need in offices that are too spread out to effectively accomplish goals.

Unfortunately for Uber, their profit margins could be about to take a big hit, as California has passed a new law that could drive the company out of business, or at least out of the state. The state has passed a new law extending employment benefits to independent contractors.

FTC fines YouTube for illegally collecting data about children

posted Saturday Sep 7, 2019 by Scott Ertz

FTC fines YouTube for illegally collecting data about children

In April of 2018, a group of more than 20 privacy groups filed a complaint with the FTC, claiming that YouTube had repeatedly and knowingly violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (Coppa). The allegations involved knowing that users under the age of 13 have regularly used YouTube to access video content, and YouTube had collected viewing history in order to make recommendations, as well as serve targeted advertisements, all without parental consent.

Since the complaint was initially filed, the FTC has begun a more universal investigation into online companies and child privacy. This included a fine against TikTok for requiring users to enter information that legally they could not collect from children. This week, the original complaint was addressed, with YouTube being fined $170 million for the violations. The fine comes as a partnership between the FTC and the state of New York. $34 million will go to the state, while the rest will go to the FTC.

In addition to the fine, YouTube has agreed to make changes to their operating procedures. Videos being uploaded to the service will need to be marked as safe for children. This will be an opt-in self-identification by the content creators, meaning that by default content will not be marked as child safe. The company will also begin getting parental consent before collecting data, which they were always legally required to do, and will not use any data collected previously, with or without consent.

This move is another indication that the FTC is worried about child safety online, as well as showing that they don't hold Silicon Valley in any special regard. If you violate laws or regulations, you will be held accountable, no matter how big you may be. FTC Chairman Joe Simons and Commissioner Christine Wilson said in a statement,

This settlement achieves a significant victory for the millions of parents whose children watch child-directed content on YouTube. It also sends a strong message to children's content providers and to platforms.

It's an important time for a penalty like this, as more companies have begun targeting online content at children. Services like Snapchat have adult users, but they're definitely popular with younger users. No longer will the claim that you have to be 13 to sign up be a valid argument in child protection cases.

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