- 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)
Tech Ethicist Tristan Harris Talks Council For Responsible Social Media, TikTok, Twitter, and More
Harris is part of a bipartisan group that is aiming to reform social media for good.
The Council For Responsible Social Media
Tristan Harris, the co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, understands why many people view TikTok as a harmless app with jokes and dances. Harris, however, sees the Chinese-owned platform as a national security risk.
“During the Cold War, would you have allowed the Soviet Union to control television programming for the entire western world, including Saturday morning cartoons, the ‘Teletubbies’ and ‘Sesame Street?’” he said during an interview with Rogue Rocket.
That’s what he argues is happening with TikTok. The app, which is the most downloaded in the world, is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese tech company with ties to the Chinese Communist Party. Harris says we are “effectively outsourcing our media environment to, in the case of the United States, the number one geopolitical competitor.”
National security issues with TikTok, the extreme polarization caused by Facebook and Twitter, and a slew of other issues are among the reasons Harris and several other bipartisan leaders formed The Council For Responsible Social Media last month.
Co-Chaired by former congressman Dick Gephardt and former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts Kerry Healey, the group was made in partnership with the nonprofit IssueOne. Other members include Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, former Sen. Claire McCaskill, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Harris.
It aims to pressure tech companies and politicians to make social media less harmful in every facet.
“What are the wins we can get on the scoreboard?” Harris explained. “Things like, frankly, banning TikTok or otherwise forcing a total sale of TikTok?…Can we do things like pass the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act?”
The TikTok Problem
When it comes to TikTok, the idea of banning it is not new. Former president Donald Trump attempted to do so in 2020, and earlier this month, a Federal Communications Commission official urged the U.S. to do away with it.
In Harris’ eyes, the threat posed by TikTok looms much larger than just mindless entertainment.
“When we outsource our media environment to a CCP-controlled company, we are effectively outsourcing our voting machine to the CCP,” Harris said. “How do you know who to vote for? Why is it that you know more about Marjorie Taylor Greene and [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] than the other hundreds of members of Congress? Because the attention economy rewards certain people to rise to the top.”
Social media apps, TikTok included, favor people that are more likely to be divisive, on either end of the political spectrum. Harris referred to this as “amplifiganda,” something the CCP can use to interfere with another nation’s political and cultural happenings.
“It’s strategically amplifying who are the voices I want to hear from and who are the voices I don’t want to hear from,” he added. “Without firing a single shot, without creating a single piece of new propaganda, I can simply amplify the politicians and videos that I want you to be seeing.”
In China, domestic users receive what Harris calls the “spinach” version of the app, that largely includes educational content, science experiments, and patriotism videos. He says it is very different from the scroll-for-hours version the U.S. and other international markets receive.
Harris, however, does not think this was part of “a deliberate plan” or that there’s a “large mustache that’s being twirled somewhere in China.” Rather, this is just an after-the-fact consequence of TikTok succeeding at being highly addictive, and China simply regulating it for itself.
Banning the app is not the only solution, Harris noted. Officials could also attempt to force a purchase of TikTok. A similar case happened in the past with Grindr. After a U.S. foreign investment commission said the app’s Chinese ownership was a security risk, the dating app was sold to a U.S.-based group.
“And now it’s not that the company is partially in China or partially in the U.S., or the data is on an American server while the design decisions are made in Bejing, it’s not like that,” Harris explained. “They forced the entire sale.”
“Anything less than that with TikTok would be insufficient.”
Despite the numerous issues posed by nearly every social media platform, enacting meaningful change will be no small feat. The Council For Responsible Social Media has outlined several steps it plans on taking, including awareness campaigns and hearings that could inspire action.
On the legislative front, this could involve the passage of the aforementioned Platform Accountability and Transparency Act, which was introduced by bipartisan senators last year and would “require social media companies to provide vetted, independent researchers and the public with access to certain platform data.”
Harris does not think this bill is a cure-all, he does think it should be a no-brainer for politicians to pass.
“It won’t change the DNA of the cancer cell that is social media, it’ll be more like the cancer cell is printing quarterly reports about what it is doing to society, but that’s still a better world than having a cancer cell where you don’t know what it’s doing,” he said.
Many advocates believe transparency is key when it comes to reforming social media, as it educates the general public about what these apps are really doing.
The Future of Twitter
Harris thinks education about social media has inadvertently grown over the last several weeks as billionaire Elon Musk took over Twitter. The process has proven to be quite chaotic, but it has also forced people to learn about Twitter’s problems.
“Twitter has already been a chaos-making, inflammation-for-profit machine. Elon buying Twitter doesn’t change that, he’s just running the inflammation-for-profit machine,” Harris said.
Musk’s acquisition has created a substantial financial bind and forced the mogul into a position where he has to turn engagement and revenue up. This has involved cutbacks on content moderation and laying off staff that worked on trust and safety.
“He has to figure out a way to lower costs and increase revenue, which unfortunately basically moves the whole system into a more and more dangerous direction,” Harris claimed, though he did say he does not view this as a character flaw on Musk’s part, rather just the reality of how these apps operate.
When it comes to fixing the root problems at Twitter, Harris thinks Musk has his eyes on the wrong target by focusing on censorship and free speech.
“It has to do with Twitter being a bad video game in which citizens earn or score the most points by adding inflammation to cultural fault lines,” he explained.
“If we’re playing a video game, and you earn the most points by finding a new cultural war faultline and inflaming it better than some other guy, you’re an inflammation entrepreneur,” he continued. “Turning citizens into inflammation entrepreneurs for profit is how we destroy democracies.”
Harris said that if Musk wants to change Twitter for the better, he has to “change the video game of what Twitter is” so that people are not rewarded for inflammation, but for consensus.
Meta Fined $24.7 Million for Campaign Finance Violations As Profits Fall 50%
A judge found the company violated Washington State’s campaign finance law more than 800 times since 2020 despite having previously settled a lawsuit for identical violations in 2018.
Judge Fines Facebook
A judge in Washington state slapped Meta with a $24.7 million fine on Wednesday after finding it had intentionally violated the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws.
In a statement, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson described the judgment as “the largest campaign finance penalty anywhere in the country — ever.”
According to the judge, Meta violated Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act 822 times. Each count carries a maximum fine of $30,000.
The law, which was passed in 1972, requires entities that sell political ads to make certain information public, including the names and addresses of ad buyers, the targets of the ads, how the ads were financed, and the total number of views. While TV stations and newspapers have followed this law for decades in Washington, Meta has continually refused to comply with the law, even arguing unsuccessfully in court that the act is unconstitutional because it “unduly burdens political speech” and is “virtually impossible to fully comply with.”
The matter has been a long, ongoing battle for Meta. In 2018, when Meta was still Facebook, Ferguson sued the platform for violating the same law. As part of a settlement, the social media network agreed to pay $238,000 and commit to transparency in political advertising.
At the time, Facebook said it would rather stop selling ads in Washington state than adhere to the law, but it continued to sell ads while also still refusing to comply. Ferguson responded by filing another suit in 2020, which resulted in the Wednesday ruling.
Meta’s Financial Woes
Although $24.7 million may seem like pocket change to a multi-billion dollar corporation, the fines come as Meta is facing unprecedented financial troubles.
Also on Wednesday, the company reported a 50% drop in profits for the third quarter of 2022. The decline follows a recent trend as Meta’s earnings continue to suffer from slowing ad sales, fierce competition from platforms like TikTok, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to spend massive amounts of money on developing the metaverse.
In July, the tech giant posted its first-ever sales decline since becoming a public company. Meta’s stock has also nose-dived over 60% this year. The market reacted poorly to the reported drop in profits Wednesday, sending the stock down nearly 20%.
Despite the fact that the past year has been one of the worse ever for the business following Zuckerberg’s decision to rebrand as Meta and go all-in with the metaverse, his commitment remains fervent.
According to reports, during a call with analysts Wednesday, the CEO argued that people would “look back decades from now” and “talk about the importance of the work that was done here” in regards to the metaverse and virtual reality.
See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (Axios) (The New York Times)
ByteDance Looks To Expand Music Streaming Service in Potential Threat to Spotify
The move could strengthen the power TikTok currently wields over the music industry.
Talks With Music Labels
TikTok parent company ByteDance is looking to expand its music streaming service, Resso, in a move that could shift both music consumption and marketing, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In a report on Wednesday, the Journal said that ByteDance is currently in talks with music labels about bringing Resso to over a dozen new markets. Currently, the platform is only available in Brazil, India, and Indonesia. While the United States would not be part of this next growth phase, the China-based company has its eyes on an eventual global expansion.
According to the Journal’s sources, in the long run, ByteDance hopes to integrate Resso and TikTok so that users who discover music on the video app can then subscribe and listen on the audio platform. Such a move could pose a threat to audio streaming giants like Spotify.
Over the past several years, TikTok has become increasingly powerful in the music industry. Its short videos paired with snappy soundbites make it prime for songs to go viral, and as a result, it has launched the careers of some of today’s biggest stars.
Lil Nas X was propelled to fame after releasing “Old Town Road” to TikTok. Millions of users began using the track on the app for their viral videos, leading the song to dominate both radio play and streaming. It eventually broke the record as the longest-running song atop the Billboard 100.
Likewise, Olivia Rodrigo went from a Disney+ actress to one of the biggest names in music overnight after her debut single “drivers license” blew up on TikTok. That song, as well as her follow-up singles, topped the charts and landed her multiple Grammy Awards.
Because TikTok is where so many young people discover music, expanding Resso would allow ByteDance to keep its user base under its own umbrella. It could also consolidate work for artists who already market their music on TikTok.
This expansion, however, will likely not come without complications. Sources told the Journal that even though this could potentially serve as another revenue source for TikTok, the biggest hurdle will be figuring out how much to pay out to labels. Some record companies have even expressed direct doubt about Resso to ByteDance.
While TikTok has seen exponential revenue growth over the years, making money from music streaming is a challenge. As a result, Spotify has had to lean heavily on podcasting.
When it comes to Resso, reports say most users do not actually pay for it. Like Spotify, it has an ad-supported free tier. According to the Journal, very few free users become paid subscribers.
The app’s popularity is increasing in the three countries it is available in, though. According to Insider, in Jan. 2021, the app had just a 4.8% market share of monthly active users in music streaming in India. That was just a fraction of the 18% held by Spotify at the time.
By Jan. 2022, that gap got significantly smaller. Resso’s 17% share is only slightly less than Spotify’s 22.8% share.
Wednesday’s news about ByteDance’s intentions to grow the app sent Spotify’s stock sliding, though it had picked up again by mid-day Thursday.