Here is a quick round-up of this week’s technology headlines and related stories you may have missed:
1. Uber now has employees in the UK. The Central London Employment Tribunal has ruled that Uber drivers must have the same employment rights as all other full-time workers in Britain, meaning they will now be subject to minimum wage, vacation, and health care laws. Uber’s argument, which it employed in a similar case in California, was that it is a technology company and not a transport provider, and that its drivers are at-will contractors instead of direct employees. The tribunal took a contemptuous view of that narrative, calling it a “fiction” of “twisted language.” The tribunal also noted that the “notion that Uber in London is a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ‘platform’ is to our minds faintly ridiculous. Drivers do not and cannot negotiate with passengers… They are offered and accept trips strictly on Uber’s terms.” The decision, which Uber has vowed to appeal, is likely to be expensive for the company. The case will doubtlessly be seen as a landmark in a wider contest over the rights of workers in the gig economy.
2. You can now legally hack your car (for science). Prior to last Friday, consumers risked lawsuits from manufacturers if they attempted to hack into their devices, which was considered a violation of U.S. copyright protections under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. A 2015 exemption that just came into effect allows users to do just that if they’re performing security research. Of course, you’re still not free to hack into someone’s pacemaker: any such hacks must be undertaken in good faith in a controlled environment. Despite this small win, the exemption only limits liability from copyright law, not the Consumer Fraud and Abuse Act, which can still be used to prosecute security researchers who sometimes have to hack into systems to identify a vulnerability or test an exploit. Still, it’s a victory for consumers, and potentially law enforcement, who now have even more avenues to purchase security exploits that may prove useful.
3. Fifteen minutes on Facebook will not save you 15 percent or more on car insurance. Facebook shut down a British insurance company’s novel way of setting clients’ premiums. An app launched by UK-based insurance company Admiral allows users to consent to the company having access to their Facebook posts to help decide car insurance rates for first-time drivers--a group whose risk level is otherwise difficult to assess. Admiral promoted the app as a trial and offered annual discounts worth up to £350 ($430) for qualifying customers. Facebook shut down the plan over privacy concerns, stating through a spokesman that "Protecting the privacy of the people on Facebook is of utmost importance to us." Others have taken a more cynical approach, arguing that Facebook, a company whose business model is built on selling personal information to advertisers, shut down the experiment because a third party was making money off Facebook data without giving it a cut. Admiral has referred to the decision as “a hitch,” indicating they still intend to pursue the idea.
4. Google vs. European regulators. Google formally responded to the European Commission’s anti-trust charges, which alleged Google was using its market dominance to boost two of its auxiliary services, AdSense and Google Shopping. Unsurprisingly, Google rebuked the commission’s charges, saying that it had fairly provided a valuable service to consumers, advertisers, and competitors seeking digital information. It also pointed to the success of other U.S. technology companies in Europe as an example of successful competition, an argument that will likely be unpopular with the EU’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, who has warned of action against other American companies. The company has yet to respond to a separate antitrust allegation, that it has used the Android OS as a “trojan horse” to promote its services at the expense of competitors.