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California Lodges Lawsuit Against Uber and Lyft for “Misclassifying” Drivers as Gig Workers, Not Employees

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  • California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft.
  • The lawsuit alleges that the companies are violating state law by classifying drivers as contractors, not employees.
  • Notably, employee status could give drivers access to minimum wage and health benefits.
  • Uber and Lyft have argued that their business model is in technology, not rides. They have also argued that their drivers enjoy the independence given to them by being classified as contractors. 

California Sues Uber and Lyft

After passing a law aiming to reclassify over a million independent contractors as employees, California is taking that mission one step further by suing Uber and Lyft for their defiance to do so. 

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed the lawsuit on Tuesday. He was joined by a coalition of city attorneys, including those for San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

In the lawsuit, Becerra alleges Uber and Lyft violated state law by classifying their drivers as independent contractors (AKA, “gig” workers) when they should actually be classified as employees.

“…Uber’s and Lyft’s misclassification of drivers deprives workers of critical workplace protections such as the right to minimum wage and overtime, and access to paid sick leave, disability insurance, and unemployment insurance,” the coalition said in a statement

The statement goes on to say that they are seeking “restitution for workers, a permanent halt to the unlawful misclassification of drivers, and civil penalties that could reach hundreds of millions of dollars.” 

If found guilty of violating the law, the riding-share companies could be forced to pay driver backwages, as well as fines for not paying state payroll taxes. Becerra has accused the companies of harming California taxpayers by avoiding “hundreds of millions of dollars in social safety net obligations.”

According to the lawsuit itself, Uber and Lyft utilized “…the illegitimate savings they gain from depriving their Drivers of the full compensation and benefits they earn as employees to offer their ride-hailing services at an artificially low cost, decimating competitors and generating billions of dollars in private investor wealth off the backs of vulnerable Drivers.”

Part of the reason Becerra and those other attorneys are saying these companies’ actions are illegal is because last year, California passed a law known as Assembly Bill 5. Notably, that law requires companies to treat their workers as employees instead of contractors if those companies control how workers perform tasks, or if their work is a routine part of the company’s business.

When A.B. 5 was drafted, it specifically targeted companies like Uber and Lyft. Since it went into effect on Jan. 1, both companies have resisted adhering to it. In fact, both Uber and Lyft, as well as DoorDash, have pumped $90 million into a campaign for a ballot initiative to exempt them from that law. 

Uber and Lyft Respond to Lawsuit

For its part, Uber has argued that its business lays in its technology, not its rides. Because of that, it has argued that drivers are not a routine part of its business. 

Both it and Lyft have also argued that their drivers prefer being independent and deciding when they work. 

According to a spokesperson, Uber plans to contest the lawsuit, saying that at the same time, it will push “to raise the standard of independent work for drivers in California, including with guaranteed minimum earnings and new benefits.”

“At a time when California’s economy is in crisis with four million people out of work, we need to make it easier, not harder, for people to quickly start earning,” the spokesperson added.

In its own statement, Lyft seemed to be less critical of lawsuit, saying the company is “…looking forward to working with the Attorney General and mayors across the state to bring all the benefits of California’s innovation economy to as many workers as possible, especially during this time when the creation of good jobs with access to affordable healthcare and other benefits is more important than ever.”

Could Ride-Sharing Drivers Be Classified in the Future?

Even though these companies are resisting this lawsuit, labor experts say other states with similar laws may also start to take action against them.

“Uber and Lyft have lived a kind of charmed life in terms of escaping law enforcement generally, and particularly with regard to employment law, Stanford law professor William B. Gould IV told The New York Times. “The attorney general’s action can’t help but have a positive influence on law enforcement generally against them.”

Despite Uber and Lyft saying their drivers like the independent model, California’s lawsuit still claims that those companies have enough control over drivers to classify them as employees.

“They hire and fire them,” it reads. “They control which drivers have access to which possible assignments.” 

“Uber and Lyft are transportation companies in the business of selling rides to customers, and their drivers are the employees who provide the rides they sell,” the lawsuit goes on to say. “The fact that Uber and Lyft communicate with their drivers by using an app does not suddenly strip drivers of their fundamental rights as employees.”

While the idea of independent hours and extra money is likely true for some of the companies’ drivers, for others, the work is a vital source of income. 

Facts like that have been made all the more evident since the coronavirus lockdown as many gig workers have struggled to claim unemployment or sick pay. In March, Congress included special provisions in the CARES Act to help gig workers receive unemployment benefits.

Still, even if a company like Uber doesn’t want to go all the way by classifying its drivers as employees, it does seem to agree that some level of change needs to be made on behalf of its drivers. 

In March, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi penned a letter to President Donald Trump asking for a new, third classification. Notably, that would mean drivers would be neither employees nor contractors. Under that potential classification, drivers would not see full employment benefits, though they would be provided with some health benefits.

The news of California’s lawsuit comes as Uber announced it was laying off 3,700 people on Wednesday, roughly 14% of its jobs. Additionally, Khosrowshahi has pledged to waive his base salary for the rest of the year.

That’s also on top of Lyft last week saying that it was cutting 17% jobs, putting hundreds of workers on unpaid furloughs, and trimming salaries.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (NPR)

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TikTok Bans Ads for Weight Loss Supplements and Fasting Apps

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  • TikTok said Wednesday that it will ban advertisements for fasting apps and weight loss supplements. It will also add new restrictions on ads that “promote a harmful and negative body image.”
  • Part of its new policies include only allowing viewers ages 18 and up to see ads for “weight management products” and barring ads with irresponsible claims. 
  • The app is also partnering with the National Eating Disorder Association to connect users with resources directly on the app and will support Weight Stigma Awareness Week (Sept. 28-Oct.2) with information about the topic on its discover page. 
  • The move comes after months of users noticing increased ads for Intermittent fasting apps and other weight-related products, which many found concerning considering TikTok’s massive young user base. 

New Restrictions Announced 

TikTok announced some new restrictions for weight loss advertisements on its platform Wednesday in an effort to support body positivity.

“We’re introducing new ad policies that ban ads for fasting apps and weight loss supplements, and increase restrictions on ads that promote a harmful or negative body image,” the company’s Safety Policy Manager, Tara Wadhwa, wrote in a blog post.

These types of ads do not support the positive, inclusive, and safe experience we strive for on TikTok.”

Wadhwa said the app recognizes the role the internet plays in exacerbating weight stigma and body shaming and wants to do more to make TikTok a safe and comfortable environment for its users.

As far as what those new policies will be, TikTok said:

  • Advertisements for weight-management products can now only reach users ages 18 and up. 
  • Stronger restrictions will be placed on weight loss and implied weight-loss claims.
  • Further restrictions will be introduced to limit irresponsible claims made by products that promote weight loss management or control.
  • Ads promoting weight loss and weight management products or services cannot promote a negative body image or negative relationship with food.

Concerns for Young Users 

Those are some pretty important changes that address ads that have recently become common on the app. Over the last few months, TikTok users have complained about being served ads for products like intermitted fasting apps. That sparked a ton of concerns, especially since TikTok has such a young user base. 

According to internal company documents viewed by The New York Times, in July, TikTok classified more than a third of its 49 million daily users in the United States as being 14 years old or younger.

Other Efforts 

But that’s not all the app is doing to support inclusion and body positivity.

TikTok has also partnered with the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) to connect its users with resources directly on the app.

We’ll soon begin redirecting searches and hashtags – for terms provided to us by NEDA, or associated with unsafe content we’ve removed from our platform – to the NEDA Helpline, where NEDA can then provide our community with confidential support, tools, and resources,” TikTok explained.

On top of that, the app is also supporting Weight Stigma Awareness Week, which runs from September 28-October 2.

During that time, it will have a dedicated page on it’s discover tab to support NEDA’s #EndWeightHateCampaign in an effort to educate the community about the topic, why it matters, and how users can find support for themselves or others.

In its announcement, TikTok also reminded users that they can always use its existing features to block content, users, and comments that they find disturbing, and report ads that violate its policies. 

While some would like to see TikTok do more to combat diet culture on its platform, the move has generally been met with praise, and it puts the app closer in line with policies platforms like Instagram have enacted.

Last year, Instagram started restricting users under the age of 18 from viewing ads promoting weight loss and cosmetic procedures. It also barred posts that make “miraculous” claims about weight loss while also including coupon codes or other commercial elements. Those changes were meant to target products people like the Kardashians and others promoted: flat tummy teas, appetite suppressant lollipops, and other items of that nature. 

Ultimately, it seems like TikTok is listening to its users by creating these new policies.

“Though there’s always more work we can do in this critical area, we think these are steps in the right direction,” it said in its blog post. “We continue to look for new ways to support our community and foster a positive environment for everyone on TikTok.”

See what others are saying: (Forbes) (CNBC) (Mashable

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Charli D’Amelio’s Dunkin’ Partnership Proves Successful

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  • TikTok’s most-followed creator, Charli D’Amelio, partnered with the coffee chain Dunkin’ to add her go-to order to its menu for a limited time.  
  • A Dunkin’ official told TMZ that the chain sold hundreds of thousands of her signature drink, “The Charli,” within the first five days of launching. It also set a record for daily users on the Dunkin’ app the first day of the launch after seeing a 57% increase in app downloads. 
  • Dunkin’ even saw a 20% sales boost for all cold brews that day as well as a 45% surge the following day. 
  • This collaboration, along with musician Travis Scott’s partnership with McDonald’s, has many interested to see if and how more chains will use big names as marketing tools in the future. 

The Charli 

Officials at Dunkin’ have finally given some insight into just how powerful its partnership with 16-year-old Charli D’Amelio has been for the coffee chain. 

D’Amelio, of course, is TikTok’s most famous personality, and she recently teamed up with Dunkin’ to get her go-to coffee order on its menu for a limited time. The drink is called “The Charli,” a cold brew with whole milk and three pumps of caramel swirl.

It officially debuted in stores on Sept. 2. As part of the partnership, she also launched a contest with the chain. For that, the company invited her fans to post a picture on Instagram, recreating a memorable moment of Charli and her Dunkin’ drink using the hashtag #CharliXDunkinContest. Then, on Sept. 19, National Dance Day, five lucky winners were selected to join a virtual hang out with Charli. 

It was probably fair to assume that the drink would be a success given Charli’s massive following and influence these days. She’s currently sitting at 88.4 million followers on TikTok alone. and the drink has been spotted all over the app, with fans, friends, and influencers trying it out themselves.

However, Drayton Martin, vice president of brand stewardship at Dunkin’, just confirmed to TMZ that the chain sold hundreds of thousands of the signature drink within the first five days of launch. Dunkin’ also set a record for daily users on its app the day her drink debuted after seeing a 57% increase in app downloads. 

Apparently it wasn’t just “The Charli” that saw success. Dunkin’ also saw a 20% sales boost for all cold brews the first day as well as a 45% surge the next day. 

Travis Scott’s McDonald’s Deal 

These numbers are especially interesting to look at when acknowledging how lucrative Travis Scott’s limited edition collab with McDonald’s has proved to be. His partnership was for a $6 combo that included a Quarter Pounder with bacon and lettuce, fries, BBQ sauce, and a Sprite. 

That launched on Sept. 9, and he also sold some exclusive Mcdonald’s themed merch on his website at the time. 

Within days of the launch, several McDonald’s locations reported running out of ingredients to make the meals. In a memo sent to employees, McDonald’s said: “We’ve created a program that’s so compelling to our customers that it’s stretching our world-class supply chain; and if demand continues at these levels, more restaurants will break supply.”

Tons of people have been trying to get their hands on this meal. In fact, it even became a trend on TikTok to order it using a range of phrases. According to USA Today, McDonald’s even noted some of the various ways customers have been ordering the meal in their memo to employees. Some were part of marketing and social media materials for it, like the phrase “Say Cactus Jack sent me.”

Other variations include “It’s lit, sick mode,” “The Fornite guy burger,” or “You know why I’m here” which is often followed by customers playing Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode.” 

Eventually, McDonald’s said the promotion will continue through Oct. 4 as scheduled. However, starting Sept. 22, customers who want the meal have to order it through the McDonald’s app. So maybe that will intentionally slow sales, or perhaps downloads for that app soar as it did for Dunkin’ with D’Amelio’s help.

Ultimately, both collaborations have shown just how influential big names can be in the fast food and drink world. It’ll be interesting to see if and how chains will continue to use people with massive followings as advertising tools in the future. 

See what others are saying: (TMZ) (USA Today) (Chicago Sun Times

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Twitter to Investigate Auto-Crop Algorithm After Accusations of Racial Bias

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  • Twitter users believe they discovered a racial bias in an algorithm the platform uses to automatically select which part of an image it shows in a photo preview.
  • Many argued that the auto-cropping tool showed a white bias after testing the theory with photos of Black and white people, cartoon characters, and even dogs. 
  • However, others who tested the theory generated results that did not support this idea. Regardless, most users admit that these experiments have their limitations and agree that the current results at least show that this is something worth looking into.
  • The company released a statement saying it tested its system for bias in the past but admitted it needs to conduct further analysis of it. Online, Twitter employees seemed to welcome the public discourse and the company promised to share its results as well as further actions it may take.

Potential White Bias 

Twitter responded to concerns over its automatic cropping algorithm Sunday after users believed they discovered a racial bias in the tool.

In 2018, Twitter began auto-cropping photos in its timeline previews to prevent them from taking up too much space in the main feed and to allow multiple photos to appear in the same tweet. To do this, the company uses several algorithmic tools that focus on the most important part of the picture, like faces or text. 

However, users recently began to spot issues with the algorithm. The first person credited for highlighting a potential problem was PhD student Colin Madland. He made his discovery while highlighting a different racial bias he thinks he found on the video-conference company Zoom. 

Madland tweeted that when his Black colleague uses a virtual background on Zoom, his head is erased. When he uploaded examples to show this happening to his Black colleague and not himself, he noticed that Twitter was only showing his own face in its preview. 

Soon after, others followed up with more targetted experiments. Cryptographic and infrastructure engineer Tony Arcieri, for example, tweeted out two long images with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and Former President Barack Obama. 

The two photos have the politicians stacked on top of each other in different orders but with white space in between them. The experiment showed that Twitter would focus on McConnell, no matter what order the photos were stacked in.

Another user found that the algorithm even focused on McConnell when two photos of Obama were present in a single stack.

A similar white preference appeared in examples of Black and white men in suits, Simpsons characters Lenny and Carl, and even black and white dogs. 

Examples That Don’t Support White Bias Theory

Others looking into this theory of a white bias found results that did not support the idea. 

For example, one user found that photos of Obama were cropped for the preview over photos of Donald Trump. 

Still, some researching the trends noted that these experiments do have their limitations and are likely influenced by tons of other factors. Some believe the algorithm recognized high profile figures or considers brightness and contrast, among other photo elements.

Twitter’s Chief Design Officer (CDO), Dantley Davis, even suggested that the choice of cropping sometimes takes brightness of the background into consideration.

However, ohers found examples that rejected that idea. Regardless, all these tests did a lot to convince people that there was something worth looking at here, including Davis, who has been experimenting himself.

He’s not alone in his research. In fact, plenty of other Twitter users have been going to great lengths to track their results as they try to study what is going on.

Twitter Promises to Investigate 

On Sunday, a Twitter spokesperson eventually released a statement admitting that the company had work to do.

“Our team did test for bias before shipping the model and did not find evidence of racial or gender bias in our testing,” the company explained.

But it’s clear from these examples that we’ve got more analysis to do. We’ll continue to share what we learn, what actions we take, and will open source our analysis so others can review and replicate.” 

Davis also isn’t the only employee that has appeared to welcome all of this public discourse. The company’s Chief Technology Officer, Parag Argawal tweeted, “This is a very important question. To address it, we did analysis on our model when we shipped it, but needs continuous improvement. Love this public, open, and rigorous test — and eager to learn from this.”

See what others are saying; (The Next Web) (The Guardian) (Mashable

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