mfioretti: uber*

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  1. a typical white neighborhood would have twice more listings on the platform (four listings, at $120 per night, and 96 percent rating) compared with a non-white neighborhood (two listings, at $107 per night, and 94 percent rating). That is, not everybody has equal opportunities to participate as a host on Airbnb.

    A similar experimental study (i.e. fictitious Airbnb profiles) conducted in 2016-2017, showed that requests from guests with African-American names (vs. white names) were 19 percent less likely to be accepted. So despite Airbnb's efforts — community commitment, removing host pictures in the initial search — these studies document that racial discrimination has always been and is still a critical issue today. There's even a study specifically focused on Airbnb's change of layout last year, comparing daily bookings and price data before and after the implementation of the "anonymity" policy, but it only shows a negligible increase in bookings for black hosts, and only in New York City — not in Los Angeles, New Orleans, or Philadelphia.

    The issue applies to other sectors in the sharing economy. For instance, a study of Uber and Lyft ride-hailing companies indicated a similar pattern of discrimination: Drivers canceled the hailed rides twice more for passengers with African-American sounding names.
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  2. It’s for this reason that Uber is so aggressively pursuing driverless vehicles, but they’re further off than the media has led people to believe.
    Driverless Cars Won’t Save Uber

    A March 2017 report by Recode detailed the troubled state of Uber’s driverless vehicle project, revealing a mass exodus of engineers and that the technology seemed to be stalled, if not going backward. While testing in autonomous mode, “drivers were still having to take back control an average of 10 times for every eight miles driven,” making Uber’s efforts by far the worst of the six major companies testing self-driving technologies. Uber even admitted in April that Alphabet’s Waymo had far superior driverless tech than its own.

    But regardless of the sorry state of Uber’s driverless system, the mass rollout of such vehicles on city streets is still years away. A recent report in WIRED showed that major companies working on autonomous driving technologies have pushed back their expected launch dates by several years and are no longer promising full autonomous driving at the outset, but vehicles with only semi-autonomous features.

    Companies told us driverless cars were on the horizon, but now they’re pushing their timelines years into the future

    The new CEO of Ford, James Hackett, told SFChronicle that “the nature of the romanticism by everybody in the media about how this robot works is overextended right now” and that “ a vehicle that can drive anywhere, anytime, in any circumstance, cold, rain — that’s longer than 2021.”

    This view is supported by Argo AI CEO Bryan Salesky, who wrote a post in October honestly describing the state of the core driverless technologies. His assessment shows that while great progress has been made over the past decade, there are a number of challenges which still need to be tackled, including the quantity and cost of vehicle sensors; and the ability of algorithms to both understand what is really happening on the road and predict what may happen while driving. Salesky closes with a wake-up call to those who believe ubiquitous driverless tech is just around the corner.

    Those who think fully self-driving vehicles will be ubiquitous on city streets months from now or even in a few years are not well connected to the state of the art or committed to the safe deployment of the technology.
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2018-01-06)
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  3. Most people accept the popular view that the arrival of self driving cars will be a blessing for Uber, delivering increased profits, lower prices, and larger scale. In reality, self driving cars will put the entire company at risk.

    Uber is winning today because of the powerful network effects associated with a two sided marketplace for transportation. They spend the majority of their resources on attracting, screening, hiring, training, engaging, and retaining drivers. It is their core competency as a company. Having the most drivers online makes Uber the best place to get a ride with the fastest arrival time at the best price. Having the fastest arrival time and best price attracts the most users to Uber. Having the most users makes the drivers stay with Uber, because they can make the most money there. This is a powerful virtuous cycle once you are at scale. Legendary investor / operator David Sacks drew this cycle on a napkin:

    On the other hand, there is very little loyalty to transportation companies like Uber. Arrival time and price are really the only 2 meaningful factors consumers make decisions based on. Customers are happy to use other competitive services when Uber isn’t the cheapest or doesn’t have the best arrival time. When Uber initiates surge pricing, users flock to competitors. Uber maintains a strong defensible lead mostly because they have locked down the supply of drivers in many different regions. This is why they’ve aggressively raised the most capital to go after every market as quickly as possible. This is their only key advantage over other companies, and it’s about to disappear.

    As self driving cars become a reality, this type of service is no longer a two- sided marketplace, but instead a commodity rental business. There will no longer be a constrained supply of drivers, so the network effects evaporate.
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2017-12-16)
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  4. To further protect consumer privacy and ensure that neither Uber nor anyone else can ever know too much about you, Uber should ensure that raw sensor data is never be combined with PII. Uber, and really all companies asking for always-on location, should separate the raw data they are collecting and sanitize it before combining it with PII.

    Uber’s latest controversy is just the beginning. Over the next few years, a lot of functionality will move into the background and more sensor data will be exposed. Now is the time to establish the practices for how best to protect consumer privacy around background sensor data; namely, all apps requesting this data should be upfront about why they are collecting it, provide an easy mechanism for consumers to opt-in or out and ensure that the data is never combined with PII data.

    If apps comply with this basic framework, I believe everyone will win. Consumers will be better off because they will have access to better services, apps will be properly serving the needs of consumers and advocacy groups will know they have helped protect consumer privacy.
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  5. Increasingly workers, and government agencies are pushing back. Seattle passed an ordinance in 2015 allowing drivers for Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing apps to unionize. A federal judge temporarily blocked that law on Tuesday after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some conservative groups filed lawsuits against the city. Workers have also sued various gig economy companies to seek overtime pay, reimbursement for expenses and other damages. Lyft recently agreed to pay $27 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by drivers in California.

    Legislation and lawsuits might ensure that traditional labor laws are applied to the gig economy. But a few smaller companies, like Hello Alfred, which dispatches people to do household chores, and Managed by Q, which provides office maintenance and cleaning services, are taking steps on their own, by treating workers as employees. They say that this lowers turnover and improves the quality of their services. Over time even bigger companies like Uber, many of which lose money and rely on investors to keep pouring in billions of dollars of capital, might find that it pays to treat workers better and even make some of them employees.

    But so far, experience with these companies shows that without the legal protections and ethical norms that once were widely accepted, workers will find the economy of the future an even more inhospitable place.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2017-04-11)
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  6. Maybe you deleted the Uber app when they scabbed the deportation protest in New York, then re-installed it the next day because convenience outweighed your momentary dalliance with having principles. So here's a brief round-up of reasons why you should have stopped giving them your money years ago.

    I had hoped that I could just find someone else's round-up of all the reasons, but now I understand why I couldn't: there are so many and it's such a moving target
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2017-03-02)
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  7. In questi giorni tiene banco non solo la protesta dei tassisti italiani contro Uber, ma un'altra startup del web è nel mirino. Stiamo parlando di Flixbus, piattaforma online che offre viaggi in autobus, nata in Germania e che in Italia ha ormai fatto viaggiare più di tre milioni di passeggeri. Ora però i bus lowcost nel nostro Paese sono a rischio a causa di un emendamento che il Senato ha proposto all'interno del decreto Milleproroghe. Secondo la modifica proposta, i viaggi su gomma interregionali possono essere effettuati solo da aziende per cui il trasporto è l'attività principale, mettendo di fatto in difficoltà attività come Flixbus che in realtà è solo un'app e piattaforma web che si appoggia a partner sul territorio.

    L'emendamento è stato accolto con favore (nonchè fortemente "sponsorizzato") da Giuseppe Vianella, presidente dell'Anav, l'Associazione di Autotrasporto Viaggiatori, secondo cui è giusto dare riferimenti sicuri ai clienti per offrire un servizio migliore, e non solo vendendo biglietti online come fa Flixbus.

    Opinione legittima, ma va anche detto che Vianella è alla guida di SitaSud, azienda che si occupa di molti collegamenti nel sud Italia, e quindi una delle realtà messe in difficoltà dalla Ryanair dei bus. Al contrario Andrea Incondi, AD di Flixbus, ritiene che il provvedimento sia stato fatto ad arte per danneggiare la sua azienda e sia al limite del legale.

    Dal canto nostro non possiamo che esprimere rammarico, poiché pare che l'Italia voglia sprecare per l'ennesima volta un'occasione per restare al passo con i tempi e con gli altri Paesi, soprattutto nel settore dei trasporti che è in rapida evoluzione. Come già avvenuto per il trasporto aereo, il settore può cambiare e offrire opportunità anche a modelli di business diversi. Sembra comunque che per oggi sia già pronto un contro-emendamento da un altro gruppo politico, con diversi firmatari, per cercare di annullare il provvedimento alla Camera.
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2017-02-21)
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  8. Perhaps we should finally call the sharing economy the exploiting economy.

    Uber has taken the gig economy to a new level with an announcement that its investment from Wall Street financiers, including Goldman Sachs, will result in the rapid expansion of Xchange Leasing, the ridesharing company’s car leasing division. Uber makes it sound easy. All you have to do is fork over $250, choose the model of car you wish to drive, sign a 36-month lease, and you have the means to make extra money driving around town.

    Uber even says each automobile lease includes free oil changes, tire rotations and an occasional air filter replacement. These terms, however, only come into effect if the driver agrees to weekly payments that Uber will automatically deduct from their “Uber earnings.” If the driver cannot make enough money from schlepping people across town, too bad — the car is repossessed. And as Bloomberg reports, not only does Uber pocket that $250 deposit, but if the driver decides he or she wants to buy the car, they will have to pay thousands of dollars to compensate Uber for the residual value of the car — a car that will be beaten up from endless months of stop-and-go city driving.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2016-06-13)
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  9. f you’ve been to a conference in the past 12 months – you’ll almost certainly have seen the slide above, or a version of it.

    Mentioning “disruptive innovation” adds a sprinkle of sophistication to otherwise ordinary presentations. It’s a sit up and take notice slide that says: ‘Better listen, or you could be history.”

    However – it doesn’t always hit its intended target. A significant portion of the audience at a couple of events I’ve been to recently have looked at each other as if to say ‘that couldn’t happen to us’.

    The reason for this seems to be the comfort blanket that can come with extended working in the public and social sectors.

    The thinking can go like this.

    We are different.
    We deal with people who are highly complex with multiple needs and vulnerabilities.
    No tech outfit could hope to understand the extent of the personalisation involved in our services.

    It’s optimistic thinking – probably the same that was held by some taxi firms pre-Uber and hotels before Airbnb.

    It’s going to take radical change a lot closer to home before many managers recognise how profoundly the rules of business have changed in the digital age.

    Arguably though , it’s already happening. I’ve made a slide of my own that might be more relevant to the public sector.

    Far from fantasy – we are at the beginning of the end of one size fits all health, housing and social care monopolies.

    Some examples:
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  10. A pattern has emerged about the “white dwarf” fate of many of these once-luminous sharing startups: after launching with much fanfare and tens of millions of VC capital behind them, vowing to enact a revolution in how people work and how society organizes peer-to-peer economic transactions, in the end many of these companies morphed into the equivalent of old-fashioned temp agencies (and others have simply imploded into black hole nothingness). Market forces have resulted in a convergence of companies on a few services which had been the most used on their platforms. In a real sense, even the startup king itself, Uber, is merely a temp agency, where workers do only one task: drive cars. Rebecca Smith, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project, compares the businesses of the gig economy to old-fashioned labor brokers. Companies like Instacart, Postmates and Uber, she says, talk as if they are different from old-style employers simply because they operate online. “But in fact,” she says, “they are operating just like farm labor contractors, garment jobbers and day labor centers of old.”

    Tech enthusiasts like the Times’ Manjoo seem to be waking up to the smell of the coffee. “The uneven service and increased prices,” writes Manjoo, “raise larger questions about on-demand apps” which he says “now often feel like just another luxury for people who have more money than time.”

    I suspect that, properly pivoted in the right direction, these app-based services will continue to play a role in the economy. Eventually many traditional economy companies may adapt an app-based labor market in ways that we can’t yet anticipate.

    But that means we need to figure out a way to launch a universal, portable safety net for all U.S. workers (hint: we can do it at the local and state levels, we don’t need to wait for a dysfunctional Congress). At the end of the day, the sharing economy startups have been hamstrung by the quality of the workers they hire. If they want good workers, they need to offer decent jobs. Otherwise, this sharing economy is not about sharing at all, and not very revolutionary.

    The current startup model destroys the social connection between businesses and those they employ, and these companies have failed to thrive because they provide crummy jobs that most people only want to do as a very last resort. These platforms show their workforce no allegiance or loyalty, and they engender none in return.
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