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Uber tries to reassure customers that it takes safety seriously, following NYTimes book excerpt – TechCrunch

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It’s hard at times not to feel sorry for Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, given all that he inherited when he became the ride-share giant’s top boss back in April 2017.

Among his many to-do items: take public a money-losing company whose private-market valuation had already soared past what many thought it was worth, clean-up the organization’s win-at-all-costs image, and win over employees who clearly remained loyal to Uber cofounder Travis Kalanick, an inimitable figure who Khosrowshahi was hired to replace.

Things are undoubtedly about to get worse, given the fast-upcoming publication of a tell-all book about Uber authored by New York Times reporter Mike Isaac. In just one excerpt published yesterday by the newspaper, Isaac outlines how Uber misled customers into paying $1 more per ride by telling them Uber would use the proceeds to fund an “industry-leading background check process, regular motor vehicle checks, driver safety education, development of safety features in the app, and insurance.”

The campaign was hugely successful, according to Isaac, who reports that it brought in nearly half a billion dollars for Uber. Alas, according to employees who worked on the project, the fee was devised primarily to add $1 of pure margin to each trip.

Om Malik, a former tech journalist turned venture capitalist, published a tongue-in-cheek tweet yesterday after reading the excerpt, writing, “Apology from @dkhos coming any minute — we are different now.”

Malik was close. Instead of an apology, Uber today sent some of its riders an email titled, somewhat ominously, “Your phone number stays hidden in the app.” The friendly reminder continues on to tell customers that their “phone number stays hidden when you call or text your driver through the app,” that “pickup and dropoff locations are not visible in a driver’s trip history,” and that “for additional privacy, if you don’t want to share your exact address, request a ride to or from the nearest cross streets instead.”

The email was clearly meant to reassure riders, some of whom might be absorbing negative press about Uber and wondering if it cares about them at all. But not everyone follows Uber as closely as industry watchers in Silicon Valley, and either way, what the email mostly accomplishes is to remind customers that riding in an Uber involves life-and-death risk.

Stressing that the company is “committed to safety” is the debating equivalent of a so-called negative pregnant, wherein a denial implies its affirmative opposite. It’s Uber shooting itself in the foot.

It would have been more effective for Uber to email riders that when it talks about safety, it really does mean business — and not the kind where it swindles its own customers for pure monetary gain.

Either way, the affair underscores the tricky terrain Uber is left to navigate right now. Though campaigns like Uber’s so-called “safe rides fee” was orchestrated under the leadership of Kalanick — who did whatever it took to scale the company — it’s Khosrowshahi’s problem now.

So is the fact that the company’s shares have been sinking since its IPO in early May; that Uber’s cost-cutting measures will be scrutinized at every turn (outsiders particularly relished the company’s decision to save on employees’ work anniversaries by cutting out helium balloons in favor of stickers); and that Uber appears to be losing the battle, city by city, against labor activists who want to push up the minimum wage paid to drivers.

And those are just three of many daunting challenges that Khosrowshahi has been tasked with figuring out  (think food delivery, self-driving technologies, foreign and domestic opponents). No doubt Isaac’s book will highlight plenty of others.

How Uber handles the inevitable wave of bad publicity that comes with it remains to be seen. We don’t expect Khosrowshahi to come out swinging; that’s not his style. But we also hope the company doesn’t take to emailing riders directly, without any context. It’s great if Uber is taking customer safety more seriously than it might have under Kalanick’s leadership, but reaching out to tell riders how to remain safe from their Uber drivers isn’t the way to do it, especially without acknowledging in any way why it’s suddenly so eager to have the conversation.



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Ring Car Cam leaks: This could be Amazon’s Alexa dash-cam

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Details and what appears to be an image of Ring’s upcoming Car Cam have leaked, with the connected dash cam expected to add security both when the vehicle is parked and while it’s on the move. The newest addition to Ring’s line-up was actually announced in September 2020 as part of Amazon’s big device launch, though at the time no pictures of the Car Cam hardware itself were shared.

Still, Ring’s description painted a fairly comprehensive picture of what it was intended to do. As well as tracking bumps and attempted break-ins, and notifying owners via the Ring smartphone app, it can also be used to record journeys and summon emergency services in the case of an accident being detected.

If you’re being pulled over by the police, meanwhile, saying “Alexa, I’m being pulled over” will automatically begin video and audio recording. At the same time as that’s being uploaded to the cloud, the system will send a notification to pre-selected family members to let them know the stop has taken place. Ring said there would be a physical privacy shutter, too, and a choice of WiFi or LTE connectivity. The whole thing would be $199.99, though cellular plans would be on top of that.

Since then, we’ve not heard anything more about the new dash camera. A leak on The Tape Drive, though, has revealed what it could look like, and it’s certainly an unusual design.

The camera assembly looks to be mounted on some sort of bracket, either to be positioned above the dashboard or potentially hung from above the rearview mirror. There’s presumably a fish-eye camera on both sides – only visible from one side in the render – to capture footage both inside and outside of the car.

As for functionality, ZatzNotFunny spotted a seemingly prematurely-published Ring Car Cam information document on the company’s support site. It reconfirms some of the details which Ring told us late last year, but also adds a few extra tidbits.

For example, the camera will connect via the vehicle’s data port, not just hook up to a USB or 12V outlet for power. “Ring Car Cam easily installs directly to the OBD-II port in your vehicle, located behind your steering wheel in most cars,” Ring explains. “It securely attaches to the windshield and dashboard of the car, and the cable can be neatly tucked away and out of sight.”

It’s unclear what extra data Ring might be gathering by using that approach. The OBD-II port typically grants access to various driving metrics, and though originally intended as a way for vehicle technicians to diagnose faults and issues in increasingly computerized models, has also gained traction as a way for third-party devices to tap that same stream of information. Amazon had also announced Ring Car Alarm, a cellularly-connected dongle that plugs into the ODB-II port.

The Ring Car Cam itself won’t require a subscription, though you won’t get all of the features in that case. “You can access video stored locally on the device via the Ring app when the car is within range of wifi,” the company explains. “With an optional Ring connectivity plan, you can access video from anywhere via LTE as well as advanced features like Emergency Crash Assist.”

The connectivity plan for Ring Car Cam will also unlock features like real-time tracking, to help locate a stolen vehicle.

What remains to be seen is how Ring Car Cam will fit into Ring’s existing sharing policies with police departments. The Amazon-owned company has found itself mired in controversy in recent years, after inking deals with law enforcement that saw many requests for footage from connected security cameras and video doorbells. Ring had been accused of fueling privacy infringement and supporting racial profiling.

Earlier this month, the company announced a new policy around sharing with public safety and law enforcement agencies. Moving forward, such agencies will ahem to request information or video from communities through a publicly-viewable category on Ring’s Neighbors app. This new section, “Request for Assistance,” will allow communities to see just what sort of data is being shared, Ring says.

“All Request for Assistance posts will be publicly viewable in the Neighbors feed, and logged on the agency’s public profile,” Ring explains. “This way, anyone interested in knowing more about how their police agency is using Request for Assistance posts can simply visit the agency’s profile and see the post history.”

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YouTube on iOS PiP makes it much easier to watch videos while multitasking

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YouTube is now rolling out the ability for all users to watch videos with picture-in-picture mode, which reduces the video players to a small floating screen on one’s phone or tablet. This feature won’t be limited to only premium customers as some had previously speculated, though those premium customers will get access to the PiP support first.

Android users have had access to YouTube’s picture-in-picture mode for a while; it has become increasingly useful as devices get larger, higher-resolution displays, leaving ample room for using more than one app at a time. With PiP, someone can watch a video in a small corner of their device’s display while doing something else, such as browsing social media, messaging, or playing games.

There have been concerns over recent months that YouTube wouldn’t only make its picture-in-picture mode available to paying Premium subscribers on iOS, but that’s not the case, according to confirmation given to MacRumors.

The feature is now rolling out to all iOS users in the United States, with Premium customers getting it first followed by free users ‘soon.’ Some iOS users have already had access to the YouTube picture-in-picture feature, though its availability has been touch and go with it working only sometimes.

The official support will eliminate the need to deal with difficult workarounds and buggy Safari streaming, though you may need to remain patient if you’re not a Premium user. The feature will be most useful on larger iPhone models where there’s enough screen space to watch a video in the mini player and engage in a second activity.

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Researchers say they’ve found the ideal strategy to pay off student loans

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When many people near college graduation, they begin to contemplate how they’ll deal with the student loans they’ve racked up over the past few years. The burden — which grows more substantial with every generation — can result in stress and, if not managed properly, may throw one’s life plans off track for several years. Mathematicians with the University of Colorado at Boulder may have a solution, explaining that they developed a mathematical model to explore the ideal repayment strategy.

Generally speaking, college graduates get a brief grace period after graduation during which time they aren’t required to make payments on their loans. Two different options are available once payments start: an income-based repayment strategy that involves paying a certain amount monthly based on one’s salary or simply throwing as much money at the loan as possible to pay it off in a shorter period of time.

In many cases, graduates are often advised to pay the loans off as quickly as possible if the funding amount is on the smaller side. On the flip side, graduates are typically told to take the income-based repayment option if they’ve taken out a substantial amount of funds in the form of student loans. The new study suggests a hybrid approach may be more ideal.

The mathematical model takes into account things like compounding interest rates, the income tax that may need to be paid, and more. The findings indicate that some graduates may benefit from a hybrid-style repayment approach that involves paying off as much as possible for the first several years, then switching over to an income-based repayment plan for the remainder of the balance.

The team of researchers hasn’t made their work available as a calculator for the public, but they do plan to improve it and potentially make it available to existing repayment calculators that may integrate the model. The ideal repayment method will ultimately depend on personal factors that must be accounted for, including things like anticipated salary and more.

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