Friday roundup: A week in tech | News

The Innovation and Technology Network Strip

The Innovation and Technology Network

News

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Poor old Uber has finally given up its attempts to pretend we’re living in the 18th century and has, begrudgingly, granted its workers a few basic rights.

Henceforth, the ride-hailing behemoth will guarantee its 70,000 drivers things like holiday pay and pensions, which must be breaking its digital heart.

How nice of the firm! But why this sudden largesse? Well, last month Uber lost the third stage of a five-year legal tussle in which it maintained its drivers were self-employed, and thus undeserving of things like the minimum wage.

The company, valued at $110bn, has always insisted it’s a mere ‘third-party booking agent’ – and is thus operationally completely different other employers, apart from the component that makes money from the labour of others.

Sort of admitting the company was in the wrong, sort of claiming it was in the right, but either way producing a volley of first-class PR double-think, Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber's chief executive, said: "This is a significant improvement in the standard of work for UK drivers. But I know many observers won't pat us on the back for taking this step, which comes after a five-year legal battle.

"They have a point, though I hope the path that we chose shows our willingness to change."

TUC head Frances O'Grady is chuffed with the development and reckons it’s "really important because it shows that no multi-national company however big is above the law". Hmm, not sure about that.

But it’s not all bad news for Uber – its born-again good employer status doesn’t stretch to Uber Eats workers, who remain self-employed takeaway food couriers. Not sure how that works but perhaps a protracted legal battle will clarify things.

***

The American government is hoping to remove the operating licensing of three Chinese telecom firms, as it continues its purge of Sino companies.

The US has long suspected that China’s tech outfits are too closely linked with the country’s untrusted communist government and are thus a risk to its national security.

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), ComNet, Pacific Networks, and China Unicom Americas have all failed to satisfactorily explain their connections or otherwise with the country’s leadership. So complete is that failure, in fact, that the FCC this week voted unanimously to strip the firms of their licences.

No-nonsense FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr is pleased both with the FCC’s decision and the FCC itself: "The threat to our networks from entities aligned with Communist China is one that we must address head on, and I am pleased that the FCC continues to show the strength and resolve necessary to meet this menace.”

As if the US government would ever employ the expertise of American tech outfits to undermine the national security of other countries!

Meanwhile, the US’s Commerce Department has served subpoenas on a load of Chinese companies so they can “make a determination for possible action that best protects the security of American companies, American workers, and US national security” [my italics].

How about all those Apple products being built at that horrible Chinese factory? Could the communist government be interfering there somehow? That probably doesn’t matter as the situation doesn’t fail the security of American companies test.

***

Police in Australia have had a great idea that everyone thinks is terrible.

Following a national outpouring of rage at the ongoing sexual abuse and harassment of women, New South Wales’ police commissioner has suggested the creation of an app of some kind that could be used to register sexual consent.

According to Commissioner Fuller, his idea “protects everybody” and will lead to better results for victims in sexual assault trials.

But many believe the plan is open to abuse – for instance, some women might engage in the activity of ‘changing one’s mind’ after signing up, thus the app offers the digital sexual consent equivalent of signing your own death warrant.

Additionally, the head of Women’s Safety NSW tweeted that an abuser “can simply coerce the victim to use the app”, which is a valid point Commissioner Fuller doesn’t seem to have considered.

MP Jenny Leong, who seems to be in touch with common sense, said: “We need consent law reform, we need holistic education, we need to stop men feeling they are entitled to whatever they want... WE DO NOT NEED AN APP!!" 

So, maybe some better, less ludicrous solutions are required.