Displaying items by tag: US

US ridesharing platform Uber has been hit with a whopping fine of $20m dollars - after it was discovered that the tech firm was guilty of making exaggerated claims about how much drivers could potentially earn working with the company.

Uber agreed the settlement figure with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) who also took umbrage with Uber’s misleading message on how affordable its vehicle financing plans were.

The FTC said that the global ridesharing platform’s declaration that uberX drivers earned an income of more than $90,000 per-year in New York and $74,000 in San Francisco were ‘grossly exaggerated’ – and the commission that established less than 10% of all drivers in those cities earned that kind of money.

In addition to these findings the FTC’s also shed light on Uber’s false claims about its Vehicle Solutions Program. The company claimed to offer payment plans for as little as $140 per week to own a car and $119 per week to lease one; between late 2013 and April 2015, those weekly payments exceeded $160 and $200, respectively.

This isn’t the first incident regarding the issue of Uber’s attitude towards its drivers that has been highlighted. In May, 2016 the company was forced to pay $84m in order to settle class-action lawsuits in California and Massachusetts in relation to two cases which raised the question over whether or not drivers should be classified as employees by Uber.

By refusing to accept the responsibility of recognizing its drivers as employees, the company dodged paying out over $730m to the 385,000 plaintiffs in those cases, which would have been towards fuel and vehicle maintenance costs.

Uber has now established a reputation for having a negligent attitude towards ensuring the financial well-being of its drivers – and the issues raised in the US represent the same problems for the company in other countries as they continue to expand globally.

Uber needs to actively work towards changing its attitude towards the people that drive its business – both at home and abroad. It won’t be easy, but no one said that launching a global cab service was going to be a walk in the park.

Published in Finance

US aircraft companies have revealed that the demand for drone pilots has risen – and that is why they have launched an initiative aimed at persuading young people to consider carving out a profession as a drone pilot.

The plea comes due to a shortage of skilled aviators in the industry – with many of the young generation deeming ‘drone technology’ to be cool, the specific aim of the leaders in the unmanned aircraft sector is to get that generation to select drone aviation as a career path.

In the US, commercial pilots must obtain a federal aviation administration (FAA) drone license and some companies that employ such pilots have started selling classes that help students prepare for the FAA test or just figure out whether they would be interested in such a career – as a result of the significant shortage of skilled aviators in that sector.

Drone-makers are chasing a market that is forecast to grow an average 32% annually over the next decade to reach $30billion. It is an extremely hyped market at present, and some of the world’s biggest companies such as Google, Apple and Amazon are all involved in developing drone technology.

Businesses use drones to take photos and video, for security and to conduct inspections or surveys, among other things. With the number of commercial drone operations outpacing the pool of certified drone pilots, experts say more training is needed to help young flyers operate the planes legally and safely.

Some companies have already embarked on autonomous drone deliveries with one American company revealing last month that it had successfully completed 77 autonomous delivery missions.

James Barnes founded the New Jersey Drone Academy in an old miniature golf and driving range complex over three years ago. He has revealed that his primary motivation behind the project was to give kids from urban and underprivileged areas – who cannot afford to go to college the chance to learn a trade and make decent money.

He said, “We are growing at an outrageous pace, but I hardly see anybody in the country moving in that direction. I’m trying to hire two experienced drone technicians at $20 an hour and I can’t find anybody.”

The drone industry will continue to expand, and the demand for drones now represents a real opportunity for young people interested in the sector to carve out a living as a drone pilot.

Published in Gadget

An American start-up technology company have unveiled its highly anticipated first production vehicle at CES 2017 – and made the bold proclamation that the vehicle would represent a ‘new species’ for personal transportation.

Faraday Future, which has its headquarters in Los Angeles, has held no secret regarding its ambitions in becoming a market leader in developing intelligent electric vehicles. Management for the tech firm previously outlined their desire to overtake Tesla.

Faraday Future have been backed by Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting (YT Jia) – and many analysts feel they are now well placed to seriously mount a challenge to overtake Tesla. The company announced at CES 2017 in Las Vegas that it would begin taking reservations for deliveries in 2018 with a $5,000 deposit for its FF91 model.

However, the electrical car start-up declined to disclose how much the vehicle would cost when it does become commercially available – but it did reveal it was building a factory outside Las Vegas. Industry analysts say it’s clear it’s taking Tesla head on – and revealed that its new vehicle outperformed Tesla on a number of key benchmarks including, battery range, power and acceleration.

One of the key benchmarks show that Faraday offers an estimated 378 miles (604km) of range before needing to be recharged. In contrast Tesla, based on US testing standards, can only offer consumers 315 miles before needing to be recharged.

Vice president of engineering Nick Sampson said it was the beginning of a new era of mobility and the emergence of a new species of vehicle. He said: “This is day one of a new era of mobility. This is the first of a new species. Because Faraday started from scratch, we don't have to follow outdated practices or retrofit existing equipment. We have to flip the auto industry on its head."

The vehicle is packed with technology: It has a semi-autonomous mode which allows for self-parking and multiple modems to connect to the internet. It personalizes settings for each driver and occupant. “Everyone in the car will have their own seat configured for them,” added Sampson.

Peter Savagian, vice president of propulsion for Faraday Future said it’s the fastest electric EV in the entire world – and revealed that the vehicle out-clocked its key rivals in relation to speed. He said: "This is the fastest production electric EV in the world. Our tests show our vehicle accelerates from zero to 60 mph (100 kph) in an eye-popping 2.39 seconds, which out-clocks all of our key rivals.”

Faraday refused to comment on speculation the company was enduring some financial difficulties – with some reports suggesting that they missed a number of payments to suppliers – and were ultimately forced to cut costs.

Those reports come amid news of a cash crunch at Jia's Chinese-based technology group LeEco, which has been rapidly expanding its products and moving into the US market.

Jia appeared at the Las Vegas event, telling the audience in halting English that ‘this car is very, very cool’. The Chinese entrepreneur said he hopes the project will help usher in a new era of mobility which is more environmentally friendly. "Once you have this you can get rid of the other cars in the garage," he said."

Published in Internet of Things

China’s internet regulator has issued a report in which it has outlined plans to formalize a new cybersecurity review which would represent a new challenge for foreign tech firms in what has become an increasingly volatile market for the tech sector. It has been an exceptionally difficult year for US technology companies in China - Uber sold off its operations, Apple services were discontinued in some parts - while Microsoft faced a new inquiry.

However, the latest proposal by the Cyberspace Administration of China looks set to create a new standoff - and further increase tensions between the US and China over internet policy. In the report submitted by the Cyberspace Administration it didn’t elaborate on what the government checks would entail, but it has been speculated that it is likely to consist of security checks targeting encryption and data storage.

Over the last number of years, a number of US and other foreign tech firms were subject to a series of secretive Chinese security reviews. The reviews involved employees of tech companies being asked to disclose specific information about certain products in person. This naturally set alarms bells ringing off among many US tech companies – and now the latest news regarding the proposed cybersecurity reviews being formalized by China has increased fears.

US companies fear that once subject to secretive reviews, Chinese authorities may use the checks to extract trade secrets, or find weaknesses in the products for state hackers. The reviews are run by a committee of engineers and experts with ties to China’s military and security agencies. It’s a further indication of China’s efforts to enhance the already unprecedented internet controls it has in place in the country.

China broadened their efforts to streamline cybersecurity management in the country – and seem intent on continuing this trend with the latest review. Only last month, it passed a new cybersecurity law which drew criticism from human rights groups and foreign companies. However, authorities seem undeterred by the scrutiny its policies in relation to cybersecurity have come under.

Beijing has struggled to balance its goal of fostering innovation with its desire to keep control over a communication medium it believes could be destabilizing. While it includes boilerplate references to opening up, the report makes clear that the government will continue to err on the side of control for now.

In a section subtitled “Peace,” the report said that Beijing would work to get ahead of a global cybersecurity arms race threatening international peace. In another part, the regulator said that China would use military means if necessary to protect its internet sovereignty. China has said in the past that the internet represents a new realm, akin to space, in which it must assert its rulership rights.

The new report is the clearest signal yet of the government’s intent to crystallize those checks into a formal policy.

Still, if China were to be more public about the checks, it could lead to copycat policies from other countries, analysts have said.

Drafts of proposed Chinese laws are typically released to domestic and foreign companies for comment. In this case, the reviews were carried out without formal legislative process, meaning that companies had little room to push back.

Published in Government

US drone row with China sparks new security fears

Written on Monday, 19 December 2016 13:43

Political tensions between the US and China may have now calmed, but the incident has only served to increase further fears over security. Political tensions were heightened between the two nations when China decided to inexplicably seize an underwater research drone owned by the US.

Senator John McCain described the act as a ‘gross violation of international law.’ President-elect Donald Trump also became embroiled in the political row and denounced China’s actions - before later appearing to reverse his statement via Twitter, by telling China they should keep the drone.

The incident according to political analysts has served only to heighten domestic fears over security following the high-profile hacking scandal - with both the CIA and FBI confirming they suspect Russia was behind the hacks which derailed Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

China have engaged directly with Pentagon officials in Washington and confirmed it will return the research drone, although they’ve been critical of the US for the way they dealt with the incident claiming they hyped up the incident into a diplomatic row which was played out in the public eye.

Senator McCain suggested China could have gained a lot of valuable information by seizing the drone, claiming China can perform an act called reverse-engineering on the drone in order to retrieve information. McCain said: “The Chinese are able to do a thing called reverse-engineering, where they are able to, while they hold this drone, find out all of the technical information. And some of it is pretty valuable. China’s act is a gross violation of international law.”

President Trump initially tweeted: “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters - rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act.” He later suggested China should keep the drone. When Trump’s Public Relations team was queried as to what this last tweet meant, Jason Miller, his communications director claimed that China were likely to return a chunk of metal and a bag of wires after seizing the drone for several days.

China’s ministry of defence pledged an “appropriate” return of the drone on its Weibo social media account, while also criticizing the U.S. for hyping the incident into a diplomatic row. It followed assurances from Beijing that the governments were working to resolve the spat.

The drone incident was disclosed by the Pentagon on Friday. China’s ministry said the U.S. “hyped the case in public,” which it said wasn’t helpful in resolving the problem. The U.S. has “frequently” sent its vessels and aircrafts into the region, and China urges such activities to stop, the ministry said in its Weibo message.

China is very sensitive about unmanned underwater vehicles because they can track our nuclear ballistic missile submarines fleet,” said retired Major General Xu Guangyu, a senior researcher at Beijing-based research group the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association. “If one from the Bowditch can be detected and even snatched by a Chinese naval ship, it shows it’s getting too close to the sensitive water areas.”

The tensions unleashed by the episode underscored the delicate state of relations between the two countries, weeks before Trump’s inauguration. Trump has threatened higher tariffs on Chinese products and questioned the U.S. approach to Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory. Meanwhile, China is growing more assertive over its claims to disputed sections of the South China Sea.

 

Published in Government

US president elect holds talks with Silicon Valley tech leaders

Written on Thursday, 15 December 2016 13:01

US president elect Donald Trump has met with a number of the world’s leading technology figures ahead of his inauguration ceremony next month. During a toxic battle for The White House, which has divided a nation, tech leaders in Silicon Valley were extremely critical of Trump – and said if he were to be elected, it would be a disaster for innovation and the technology industry.

However, the 70-year-old billionaire has attempted to alleviate fears in the tech sector by organising a meeting with industry leaders in the US. Many of those that attended the meeting were pro-Hilary Clinton during the campaign, with many being vocal in their support for the Democratic nominee. The one exception was PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and it was conveyed that he was the central figure in organizing the meeting.

Trump headed into hostile territory knowing how he was perceived by some of America’s most powerful tech executives, but he was undeterred as he attempted to form new relationships in an effort to promote job creation and facilitate trade.

Some high-profile senators have expressed concern over Trump’s decision to make ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson his Secretary of State, with the oil tycoon having close ties to Moscow. Relations with Russia are at their worst in years – following the CIA’s assessment that Russia where in fact involved in the hacking scandal that disrupted the presidential election campaign. Some tech leaders have also expressed concern at Trump’s response to the CIA’s report. He rubbished Russia’s involvement and slammed the report labelling the claims as ‘ridiculous’.

However, Trump reassured tech leaders of his commitment to the sector, and promised to help them continue their incredible innovation plans, adding that he was here to help.

Trump said: “I'm here to help you folks do well," Trump told the industry leaders in opening remarks that reporters were briefly allowed to observe after the tech titans went around the table introducing themselves. We want you to keep going with the incredible innovation. “There's nobody like you in the world," he said.

Trump was joined at the meeting by Vice President elect Mike Pence and a number of high-profile CEOs that included Tim Cook (Apple), Satya Nadella (Microsoft) and Larry Page of Alphabet (Google). Also in attendance were Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg and Oracle chief executive, Safra Catz, although it was noted that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was not present. Reports suggested Twitter were excluded from the meeting due to their refusal to allow an emoji version of the hashtag which read ‘crooked Hilary’.

Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence sat in the middle of the table with CEOs that included Tim Cook of Apple, Satya Nadella of Microsoft and Larry Page of Alphabet (Google). What effects a Trump presidency will have on the tech sector is hard to predict.

While the tech industry is likely to oppose any trade barriers or efforts to limit immigration, many companies are expected to welcome a lowering of corporate tax rates promised by Trump, especially on profits repatriated from overseas. "We're going to make fair trade deals. We're going to make it a lot easier for you to trade across borders. There have been a lot of restrictions, a lot of problems that I think you see. And if you have any ideas on that issue then that would be great.”

Tech firms led by Apple are responsible for the lion's share of an estimated $2.5 trillion being held overseas by US companies, and are reluctant to bring those funds back and face a hefty tax bill. A potential clash between Trump and the sector is possible over encryption, and the ability of enforcement and intelligence services to decrypt devices for national security investigations.

None of the industry leaders stopped to talk to reporters on their way out of the building at the end, except Catz who gave a little wave. Trump said he would add Musk and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to his advisory council of business leaders tasked with helping to create new jobs "across the United States from Silicon Valley to the heartland."

Trump is putting the finishing touches to his cabinet, nominating former Texas governor Rick Perry as energy secretary and reportedly choosing Montana Representative Ryan Zinke as interior secretary. Perry, who participated in the Republican primary but was crushed by Trump early on, once assailed him as a "cancer on conservatism." On Wednesday, Forbes magazine ranked Trump as the second most powerful person of the year -- right behind Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Published in Government

Outgoing US President Barack Obama has called for a broad review to be conducted into the Russian hacking scandal which disrupted the US presidential election campaign last month. US Democrats believe the hacking scandal significantly benefited Donald Trump’s successful bid candidacy.

White House counterterrorism and Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco confirmed that President Obama has ordered intelligence officials to file a report into the hacking of Democratic officials’ e-mail accounts and Russia’s involvement in it – which has also further raised concerns over ‘foreign meddling.’

President Obama has requested the report to be submitted before he leaves office next month. However, it has not been confirmed whether or not the findings of the report will be made public. During a hostile campaign between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump – Trump regularly referenced the e-mail hacking scandal involving Clinton, labelling her ‘crooked Hilary’ and said he believed she should be in jail.

US intelligence officials accused the Russian government of ordering the breaches as part of an effort to interfere with the presidential campaign.

In the months leading up to the election, Hillary Clinton faced intense scrutiny after it emerged she used a private server when she was Secretary of State, rather than official State Department email accounts maintained on federal servers. Those official communications included thousands of emails that would retroactively be marked classified by the state department.

The FBI initiated an investigation but recommended that no charges be filed against her. Many political analysts believe it strengthened the campaign of President elect Donald Trump. However, Trump has downplayed the possibility that Russia was involved in the hacking scandal.

Since Trump's victory, Democratic senators on the intelligence committee have been pushing Obama to declassify more information about Russia's role. Congressman Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said he welcomed Obama's call for a review.

"Given President-elect Trump's disturbing refusal to listen to our intelligence community and accept that the hacking was orchestrated by the Kremlin, there is an added urgency to the need for a thorough review before President Obama leaves office next month. If the administration doesn't respond "forcefully" to such actions, "we can expect to see a lot more of this in the near future.”

The news of this investigation come hot on the heels of an announcement made by Kremlin officials last week, in which they disclosed information that Russian leader Vladimir Putin had signed a new cybersecurity doctrine in an effort to bolster Russia against cyberattacks from abroad.

Published in Government

AT&T CEO defends Time Warner deal worth $84.5 billion

Written on Thursday, 08 December 2016 10:19

American Multinational Telecommunications conglomerate AT&T has defended its acquisition of Time Warner in a deal which was worth $84.5 billion. The CEO of AT&T Randall Stephenson was forced to defend the deal and presented his case in a hearing in front of US Senators. Stephenson highlighted the pro-competition benefits of the merger and described the deal as the ‘classic vertical merger’.

When the deal was announced in October it was greeted frostily by lawmakers, but following the presentation of the merger the tone and fears over the partnership seems to have subsided somewhat. During the US presidential election campaign, when news circulated of the deal, Donald Trump said if he were elected he would block the merger. He had singled out CNN, the cable news network owned by Time Warner, with particular rancour for its election coverage at the time.

He has since made no further comment in relation to the hearing which got underway yesterday, and while people seemed to be more receptive to this massive merger, one US Senator expressed his grave concerns over the deal.

US Senator, Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said: “I have serious concerns about this transaction. The deal potentially has serious negative impacts on competition and on consumers.”

During the hearing, AT&T and Time Warner pitched a message that catered to the new administration: a populist promise of lower prices and the potential to build more wireless infrastructure through the merger. While AT&T and Time Warner are powerhouses, they presented themselves as weaker rivals to the cable industry and Silicon Valley tech companies

AT&T, a telecom giant, and Time Warner, which owns CNN and HBO, had said in October that AT&T would buy Time Warner to create a mobile video powerhouse. The hearing may have implications beyond this deal, with the comments potentially encouraging more acquisitions by companies that have been waiting out the Obama administration, which has rejected several mergers.

Consumer groups have rejected the characterization of AT&T and Time Warner as disadvantaged rivals, saying a combined company would create a powerhouse that all cable providers and networks would have to negotiate with.

“If a single company is able to control so many key inputs to online video, this new market could be snuffed out,” said Gene Kimmelman, president and chief executive of Public Knowledge, a nonprofit consumer group, at the hearing.

After today’s session the case will go through several other committees and official departments, including potentially the FCC, before a final ruling will be made.

 

Published in Telecom Operators

A Japanese Telecoms company has agreed to invest a staggering $50 billion in business and job creation in the United States - following a deal which was brokered by incoming US president, Donal Trump. The president elect triumphantly told the assembled media in the lobby of Trump Tower, New York, that SoftBank had agreed to invest $50 billion in the United States which would create 50,000 jobs over the next four years.

Since that deal was officially announced by SoftBank, shares have soared in the Tokyo-listed telecoms firm. SoftBank jumped more than 5% after the opening bell, which came just hours after the tycoon announced the deal while he wrapped his arm around flamboyant billionaire founder of SoftBank, Masayoshi Son.

During his election campaign Trump passionately declared that he would bring jobs back to the US and insisted he would also attract investment from overseas investors. He has already delivered a huge statement of intent before he even sets foot in The White House with the announcement of this deal.

A smiling Trump told reporters: “SoftBank from Japan have just agreed to invest $50 billion in the United States which in turn will create 50,000 jobs.” It was also disclosed that SoftBank brandished a document which featured the names of his firm and that of Foxconn, the Taiwanese technology colossus that read; ‘Committed to invest $50bn + $7bn in US which will create 50k + 50k new jobs in the US over the next four years.’

The soon-to-be US president offered no specific details, and a Tokyo-based spokesman for SoftBank declined to comment. Foxconn, which assembles Apple's iPhone and supplies parts, also refused to comment. Son told reporters the money will come from a $100 billion investment fund he is setting up with Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund and other partners, a move announced in mid-October, Japan's Jiji Press reported. "Investors are welcoming the announcement," Shuji Hosoi, a senior strategist at Daiwa Securities revealed. He added that it was something unexpected, and the size of the pledge is big. Son's remarks were generally in line with what Trump has been saying (about boosting the economy).

SoftBank already has investments in the United States: in 2013 it paid $22 billion for 80 percent of Sprint. Son initially set his sights on a merger with T-Mobile, but that plan was abandoned owing to likely opposition from US regulators.

Published in Government

US tech company Uber is fighting a legal battle following a decision by a Spanish judge in 2015 to ban the company from operating in the country. He referred the case to the European Court of Justice at the time to decide how to define Uber’s service. At the core of the European Court case is whether or not Uber can be defined as a transportation company or a digital platform. The American company, which has its HQ in San Francisco - was founded in 2009 and recognizes itself as a digital platform.

However, that assessment has been disputed by those who believe Uber are using labels so they don’t have to comply with national laws if it is defined as a transportation company - that would ultimately impact Uber’s growth in Europe. A lawyer for the Spanish Taxi association who initially filed the complaint against Uber argued that they can’t allow a business model to develop in Europe that could undermine the rights of consumers.

The American company has been accused of aggressively pushing itself into overseas markets, and has often in the past clashed heads with law makers and taxi associations who say Uber flouts transportation and competition rules. That is what occurred in Spain which subsequently led to this long-awaited trial in the European Court of Justice which will go a long way in determining the future of the US firm in Europe.

Uber has expanded its operations into more than 300 countries and is worth an estimated $68 billion.However, Europe’s legal challenge is a direct attack on how Uber operates in the region, one of its most important markets – but it also raises questions regarding the company’s future growth plans as it looks to expand beyond the transportation of people to food delivery and other online services.

At the hearing the company defended itself by framing an argument that it was a new player in Europe’s often lacklustre digital economy, which was offering users and drivers new ways to connect which would also support cities’ existing transportation networks.“Uber’s services can’t be reduced to merely a transport service,” Cani Fernández, Uber’s lawyer, told the Court of Justice during a lengthy session here that also included arguments from the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, and several European countries.

“The reduction of unnecessary barriers to information society services is critical in the development of the digital single market,” Ms. Fernández said, in reference to the commission’s goal to reduce national barriers that prevent Europeans from gaining access to e-commerce platforms, streamed television content and other online services.

One of the critical aspects of the legal dispute is actually not whether or not Uber can be defined as a transportation service or digital platform – instead it could well be its blurry stance on consumer rights. At the hearing yesterday afternoon, several of the European judges questioned Uber in relation to its relationship with drivers and about who should be held responsible if a passenger was hurt?

Such consumer protection issues were not part of the original case referred from the Spanish judge but it is now clear that it could form part of the final decision when it is made next year and could be a central topic for the prosecution in this case. “What liability does the platform have?” asked Daniel Svaby, one of the European judges. “The customer doesn’t know the driver who will pick her up. What can a user do to protect herself from harm?”

The trial continues at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg today.

 

Published in Government
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