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Tesla Sues California County Over Factory Closure, Starts Production Without Approval

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  • Tesla is suing Alameda County in an effort to resume operation at its Fremont factory, claiming that it is considered “national critical infrastructure” and should be able to restart under the governor’s guidance for reopening some businesses with safety modifications.  
  • Musk even threatened to move Tesla’s headquarters out of California, noting that it is the last major carmaker in the state as well as one of it’s largest manufacturing employers.
  • Though a move would be costly and difficult, some believe the tensions could further push Musk to look elsewhere for the manufacturing of other projects.  
  • Fremont’s Mayor urged the county to work with businesses trying to reopen after expressing concern about the potential implications for the regional economy. The county says it is communicating with Tesla and hopes to reach an agreement soon, but Tesla has already started ordering employees back to work.  

Musk Threatens To Move Tesla HQ 

Tesla has filed a lawsuit against Alameda County in Califonia, arguing that its Fremont factory should be allowed to operate during the coronavirus pandemic under the governor’s new guidance for reopening some businesses. 

The factory has been shut since March 23, after the county called for its closure as part of social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders, but the company has been pushing to resume production.

Then on Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he is allowing for sectors like retail, manufacturing, and logistics to reopen with “modifications that reduce risk,” however, he stressed that local officials still have the authority to speed up or slow down reopening at the county level. 

On Saturday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk expressed frustration about local resistance Tesla has faced.

“Tesla is filing a lawsuit against Alameda County immediately,” Musk announced in a tweet. “The unelected & ignorant “Interim Health Officer” of Alameda is acting contrary to the Governor, the President, our Constitutional freedoms & just plain common sense!”

Musk even threatened to move Tesla’s headquarters to Texas or Nevada as a result of the shutdown.

Musk’s frustration seems to have been building because late last month, he ranted about stay-home orders in the company’s April 29 first-quarter earnings call. In it, he called the restrictions fascist and a violation of people’s constitutional rights. 

Tesla Releases Blogpost Explaining Lawsuit and Restart Plans

The same day Musk tweeted his threat, Tesla released a blog post about how it will get it’s employees back to work safely. In the post, the company noted that it is the last major carmaker in the state as well as one of it’s largest manufacturing employers with more than 10,000 workers at its Fremont factory and 20,000 statewide. 

Tesla again argued that its Fremont plant should be allowed to reopen under Newsom’s recent guidelines, but it also said it should have always had permission to continue production because the state and federal government classifies vehicle manufacturing as “national critical infrastructure.”

It company even noted that, “Alameda county, where our factory resides, and Santa Clara County next door, have stated in their return to work order FAQs that the manufacturing of distributed energy resources (which is defined in state law to include electric vehicles, solar and battery storage) is permitted to resume.”

Along with these points, the company explained that it has worked hard on a “robust” restart plan, saying, “It was modeled after the comprehensive return to work plan we established at our Shanghai Gigafactory, which has seen smooth and healthy operations for the last three months.”

“Contrary to the Governor’s recent guidance and support from the City of Fremont, Alameda County is insisting we should not resume operations,” Tesla’s leadership added in the post. 

“This is not for lack of trying or transparency since we have met with and collaborated on our restart plans with the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency.” 

The company claims that the County Public Health Officer making decisions about reopening has not returned its calls and emails listing out detailed restart plans, factory layouts, and more. 

“We will continue to put people back to work in a safe and responsible manner. However, the County’s position left us no choice but to take legal action to ensure that Tesla and its employees can get back to work,” it said before noting that it is asking the court to render the shutdown order invalid.

Alameda County Responds  

Fremont Mayor Lili Mei responded to Tesla Saturday afternoon saying, “As the local shelter-in-place order continues without provisions for major manufacturing activity, such as Tesla, to resume, I am growing concerned about the potential implications for our regional economy.”

“We know many essential businesses have proven they can successfully operate using strict safety and social distancing practices. I strongly believe these same practices could be possible for other manufacturing businesses, especially those that are so critical to our employment base.”

She then encouraged the county to work with local businesses to reopen with acceptable guidelines.

Shortly after, Alameda County’s Health Department released a statement saying it has been working with Tesla to develop a safety plan allowing the Fremont plant to reopen while protecting workers. 

“This has been a collaborative, good faith effort to develop and implement a safety plan that allows for reopening while protecting the health and well-being of the thousands of employees who travel to and from work at Tesla’s factory,” the county said.

“We look forward to coming to an agreement on an appropriate safety plan very soon.″

However, it stressed that “It is our collective responsibility to move through the phases of reopening and loosening the restrictions of the shelter-in-place order in the safest way possible, guided by data and science.”

Scott Haggerty, supervisor for the Fremont district of Alameda County, told the New York Times on Saturday, “We were working on a lot of policies and procedures to help operate that plant and quite frankly, I think Tesla did a pretty good job, and that’s why I had it to the point where on May 18, Tesla would have opened.”

“I know Elon knew that. But he wanted it this week,” he added.

Criticism and Support 

It seems like Tesla could be getting the green light it was hoping for, though it’s unclear when. However, Tesla apparently isn’t waiting for approval. According to a report from The Verge, some employees were called back to work at the facility over the weekend and others are scheduled to report to work later this week.

Then on Monday, Musk acknowledged that he was restarting against orders.

Still, some lawmakers don’t seem to happy about Tesla’s attempts to reopen. California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) added fuel to the flames after Musk’s threat when she tweeted, “F—- Elon Musk.”

“California has highly subsidized a company that has always disregarded worker safety & well-being, has engaged in union busting & bullies public servants,” wrote Gonzalez in a follow-up tweet on Sunday. “I probably could’ve expressed my frustration in a less aggressive way. Of course, no one would’ve cared if I tweeted that.”

On the other hand, Tesla has seen some support from those like U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Mnuchin backed Musk on Monday, telling CNBC that California should help Tesla reopen its plant.

“I agree with Elon Musk. He’s one of the biggest employers and manufacturers in California, and California should prioritize doing whatever they need to do to solve those health issues so that he can open quickly and safely,” Mnuchin said on “Squawk on the Street.”

“They’re going to find that if he’s threatened he’s going to move his production to a different state,” Mnuchin added.

As some have pointed out, moving Tesla’s headquarters, especially during the pandemic, would be a difficult and costly move for the company.

“Moving away from Fremont would take at least 12 to 18 months and could add risk to the manufacturing and logistics process in the meantime,” Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives wrote in a note to investors.

However, Musk has previously hinted that he’s eyeing other places to build his Cybertrucks and expand production of his Model Y crossover, so some believe Musk’s frustrations with the state and county could further push him to launch more operations elsewhere.

The lawsuits come as competing automakers are gradually starting to reopen factories in the U.S. Toyota will restart production on Monday, while General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler all plan to restart their plants gradually on May 18. 

See what others are saying: (Huffington Post) (Axios) (CNBC) 

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Uber Forks Over $19 Million in Fine for Misleading Australian Riders

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The penalty is just the latest in a string of lawsuits going back years.


Uber Gets Fined

Uber has agreed to pay a $19 million fine after being sued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for making false or misleading statements in its app.

The first offense stems from a company policy that allows users to cancel their ride at no cost up to five minutes after the driver has accepted the trip. Despite the terms, between at least December 2017 and September 2021, over two million Australians who wanted to cancel their ride were nevertheless warned that they may be charged a small fee for doing so.

Uber said in a statement that almost all of those users decided to cancel their trips despite the warnings.

The cancellation message has since been changed to: “You won’t be charged a cancellation fee.”

The second offense, occurring between June 2018 and August 2020, involved the company showing customers in Sydney inflated estimates of taxi fares on the app.

The commission said that Uber did not ensure the algorithm used to calculate the prices was accurate, leading to actual fares almost always being higher than estimated ones.

The taxi fare feature was removed in August 2020.

A Troubled Legal History

Uber has been sued for misleading its users or unfairly charging customers in the past.

In 2016, the company paid California-based prosecutors up to $25 million for misleading riders about the safety of its service.

An investigation at the time found that at least 25 of Uber’s approved drivers had serious criminal convictions including identity theft, burglary, child sex offenses and even one murder charge, despite background checks.

In 2017, the company also settled a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for $20 million after it misled drivers about how much money they could earn.

In November 2021, the Justice Department sued the company for allegedly charging disabled customers a wait-time fee even though they needed more time to get in the car, then refused to refund them.

Later the same month, a class-action lawsuit in New York alleged that Uber charged riders a final price higher than the upfront price listed when they ordered the ride.

See what others are saying: (ABC) (NASDAQ) (Los Angeles Times)

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Report Finds That Instagram Promotes Pro-Eating Disorder Content to 20 Million Users, Including Children

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According to the study, even users hoping to recover were given eating disorder content because they were “still in Instagram’s algorithmically curated bubble.”


Instagram Promotes Eating Disorder Content

Instagram promotes pro-eating disorder content to millions of its users, including children as young as nine-years-old, according to a Thursday report from the child advocacy non-profit group Fairplay.

The report, titled “Designing for Disorder: Instagram’s Pro-eating Disorder Bubble,” studied what it called an eating disorder “bubble,” which consisted of nearly 90,000 accounts that reached 20 million unique users. The average age of the bubble was 19, but researchers found users aged nine- and 10-years-old that followed three or more of these accounts. Roughly one-third of those in the bubble were underage. 

According to Fairplay, Instagram’s parent company Meta derives $2 million in revenue a year from the bubble and another $228 million from those who follow it. 

“In addition to being profitable, this bubble is also undeniably harmful,” the report said. “Algorithms are profiling children and teens to serve them images, memes and videos encouraging restrictive diets and extreme weight loss.”

“Meta’s pro-eating disorder bubble is not an isolated incident nor an awful accident,” it continued. “Rather it is an example of how, without appropriate checks and balances, Meta systematically puts profit ahead of young people’s safety and wellbeing.”

Researchers identified the bubble by first looking at 153 seed accounts with over 1,000 followers that posted content celebrating eating disorders. Some used phrases like “thinspiration” or other slang terms like “ana” and “mia” to refer to specific eating disorders. Others included an underweight body mass index in their bios. 

Those seed accounts alone had roughly 2.3 million collective followers, 1.6 million of which were unique. Of those unique users, researchers looked at how many seed accounts each followed to determine that nearly 90,000 accounts were part of the eating disorder bubble. Those accounts totaled over 28 million followers, 20 million of which were unique.

These pages posted content ranging from memes and photos of extreme thinness to screenshots of progress on calorie counting apps. One user said they were on their third day of eating just 300 calories. 

Others, including children under the age of 13, put their current weights and goal weights in their account bios. Some wrote that they “hate food” or were “starving for perfection.”

Content’s Impact on Children

Fairplay claimed that many of those in the bubble wanted to recover but were essentially trapped in Instagram’s algorithm. 

“Many of the biographies of users in the bubble talk about wanting to or being in recovery, wanting to get ‘better’, to ‘heal’ or being aware of how unwell they were,” the report said. “However, these users are still in Instagram’s algorithmically curated bubble. They will still be feeding content from other accounts in the bubble, including the seed accounts, that normalizes, glamorizes or promotes eating disorders.”

The report also showcased the firsthand account of a 17-year-old eating disorder survivor and activist identified as Kelsey. Kelsey wrote that it was impossible to “imagine a time when the app didn’t have the sort of content that promotes disordered eating behavior.” 

“I felt like my feed was always pushed towards this sort of content from the moment I opened my account,” Kelsey continued.

“That type of content at one point even got so normalized that prominent figures such as the Kardashians and other female and male influencers were openly promoting weight loss supplements and diet suppressors in order to help lose weight.”

Kelsey said Instagram delivered that content without any relevant searches, but posts about body positivity needed to be actively sought out. 

The report concluded by arguing that there needs to be legislation that regulates platforms like Instagram by requiring them to prioritize user safety, particularly for children.

Meta and Instagram have long been accused of disregarding child safety. Last year, a whistleblower unveiled documents that revealed the company knew of the harm it posed to young people, specifically regarding body image. A Meta spokesperson told The Hill that they were unable to address the most recent allegations in Fairplay’s report.

“We’re not able to fully address this report because the authors declined to share it with us, but reports like this often misunderstand that completely removing content related to peoples’ journeys with or recovery from eating disorders can exacerbate difficult moments and cut people off from community,” the spokesperson said.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (CNet)

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Etsy Sellers Strike Amid Increased Transaction Fees and Mandatory Offsite Advertising

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“What began as an experiment in marketplace democracy has come to resemble a dictatorial relationship between a faceless tech empire and millions of exploited, majority-women craftspeople,” an Etsy seller wrote in a petition. 


Thousands of Etsy Sellers Shut Down Shops

Roughly 15,000 Etsy sellers are closing up their online shops starting Monday in protest of several grievances they have with the platform, including a new fee increase.

Starting on Monday, transaction fees are getting boosted from 5% to 6.5% on the platform. CEO Josh Silverman sent a memo claiming that this hike will allow the company to “make significant investments in marketing, seller tools, and creating a world-class customer experience,” but sellers have been frustrated by the change. 

“Etsy’s last fee increase was in July 2018. If this new one goes through, our basic fees to use the platform will have more than doubled in less than four years,” seller Kristi Cassidy wrote in a petition calling for a strike. As of Monday morning, over 50,000 Etsy sellers, customers, and employees had signed the petition.

“These basic fees do not include additional fees for Offsite ads – which started during the first wave of the pandemic,” Cassidy continued. 

Offsite ads allow Etsy to advertise sellers’ products on other websites like Google. Sellers who make over $10,000 a year reportedly have no way of opting out of the program and Etsy takes at least 12% of sales generated through the promotions. 

“Etsy fees are an unpredictable expense that can take more than 20% of each transaction,” Cassidy wrote. “We have no control over how these ads are administered, or how much of our money is spent.”

Etsy became a pandemic success story as online shopping rose amid lockdowns. Many turned to the platform to purchase masks and other goods, prompting its stock, sales, and number of sellers to rise. 

“It’s really obnoxious to tell us sellers, ‘Hey, we made record profits last year and we’re gonna celebrate by raising your fees a whole bunch,’” Bella Stander, a maps and guidebooks publisher who sells on Etsy, told the Wall Street Journal.  

What Etsy Sellers Are Demanding

Currently, there are over five million sellers on Etsy. Cassidy hopes that if enough of them unite, the company will have to respond. 

“As individual crafters, makers and small businesspeople, we may be easy for a giant corporation like Etsy to take advantage of,” she wrote. “But as an organized front of people, determined to use our diverse skills and boundless creativity to win ourselves a fairer deal, Etsy won’t have such an easy time shoving us around.”

In the petition’s list of demands, it asks that Etsy cancel the transaction fee increase, allow sellers to opt out of offsite ads, and provide a transparent plan to crack down on resellers who take up space on the platform.

It also demanded that Etsy end its “Star Seller Program,” which impacts how sellers can interact with their buyers.

“Etsy was founded with a vision of ‘keeping commerce human’ by ‘democratizing access to entrepreneurship.’ As a result, people who have been marginalized in traditional retail economies — women, people of color, LGBTQ people, neurodivergent people, etc. — make up a significant proportion of Etsy’s sellers,” Cassidy wrote.

“But as Etsy has strayed further and further from its founding vision over the years, what began as an experiment in marketplace democracy has come to resemble a dictatorial relationship between a faceless tech empire and millions of exploited, majority-women craftspeople.”

In a statement to Yahoo Finance, an Etsy spokesperson claimed that sellers were the company’s “top priority.”

“We are always receptive to seller feedback and, in fact, the new fee structure will enable us to increase our investments in areas outlined in the petition, including marketing, customer support, and removing listings that don’t meet our policies,” the spokesperson said. “We are committed to providing great value for our 5.3 million sellers so they are able to grow their businesses while keeping Etsy a beloved, trusted, and thriving marketplace.”

The strike was a trending topic on Twitter Monday morning. Many sellers took to the social media site to pledge their support to the movement. 

Many sellers are urging buyers to refrain from using the site for the remainder of the week, which is how long the protest is currently scheduled to last.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (Yahoo Finance) (TechCrunch)

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