Pluralistic: 16 Feb 2021

Today's links

Uber loses (another) $6.8b (permalink)

In late 2020, a coalition of predatory, money-losing, private-equity backed companies ran a $200m disinformation campaign that resulted in the passage of California's Prop 22, legalizing worker misclassification and mass-scale labor law violations.

Almost immediately, the passage of Prop 22 led to the loss of unionized jobs paying a living wage and offering basic worker protections, especially for people of color – only to have them replaced by "gig work" that lacked any of the above.

One of the primary funders – and beneficiaries – of Prop 22 was Uber, which pioneered worker misclassification. Uber is now pushing the EU to "harmonize" its regulations in a game of transatlantic pingpong where each volley makes things worse.

The irony? Uber is a "bezzle" – JK Galbraith's name for "the magic interval when a confidence trickster knows he has the money he has appropriated but the victim does not yet understand that he has lost it." Uber is a scam and it will never be profitable.

Uber is a product of Softbank, the Saudi-backed Japanese investment fund that has $100b to spend on helping the Saudi royals find a revenue stream to replace oil. Softbank is a pioneer of accounting frauds that make stupid businesses look profitable.

From Wework to Uber to Doordash and beyond, Softbank makes two kinds of bets: first, that they can achieve a monopoly by doing illegal or quasi-illegal things so quickly that they become faits accompli before they get shut down.

And second, that the companies that fail to achieve a monopoly can be unloaded on suckers ("investors") who assume that a money-losing company that has been around for a decade or more must have a path to profitability ("a pile of shit this big must have a pony under it!").

Uber will never, ever be profitable. The company admitted as much on its S1 IPO filing, where it said that profitability depended on every public transit system in the world being replaced with Uber. The company lost $4b in the first half of 2020,

If you think the first half of 2020 was bad, you should see the second half of 2020: Uber lost $6.8b more! As usual, transportation analyst Hubert Horan has the absolute best context on the company's haemorrhagic losses.

He points out that things are even worse than they seem for Uber. For many years, the pony-under-all-this-shit show required that Uber spend billions on the doomed pretense that they would someday replace drivers with autonomous vehicles.

$2.5B later, Uber's "self-driving" cars could go a whopping 0.25 miles before crashing. They had to pay someone $400m to take the division off their hands. Even so, ditching the business-unit produced a gain for Uber's H2-2020 balance-sheet.

Now, Uber did experience massive growth in H2-2020, in their food delivery division. However, that growth led to massive losses for them, because every delivery loses the company money, by design (more expensive pony-under-the-pile theatrics):

But Uber's food delivery long con doesn't just victimize its investors: the primary harms accrue to the restaurants the company nonconsensually opts into its delivery services (with help from Google), draining them until they collapse.

Uber claims that it is just consuming every beloved restaurant in the world in order to attain liftoff for "ghost kitchens" – literally shipping containers stuffed with precarious chefs paying to cook in unsafe working conditions.

This is what we mean when we talk about "financialization." Uber is a finance shell-game, one that can only be sustained by the destruction of all public transit, all restaurants, basic worker protections and the minimum wage.

And once it has taken that brutal toll on workers and the real economy, once it has fleeced the last investor lured into paying to excavate a little more of the pile of shit, it will collapse.

You can't lost $10b/year forever. $10b here, $10b there, pretty soon you're talking real money.

(Image: Tarcil, CC BY-SA, modified)

Ring helped LAPD spy on BLM protests (permalink)

Ring – Amazon's surveillance doorbell division – has 4,000 "partnerships" with US police ("public safety") orgs. The company has lied about how these work for years, but the basic deal is that they give cops free stuff to buzz-market their products.

Ring tells its customers that they get to choose whether to share the footage from their street-facing cameras with cops, but that's a lie, too. If you say no, the cops still get to look through your camera.

That's why cops debase themselves to serve as buzz-marketers for Ring – in exchange, they get an off-the-books, free-to-use, warrantless, city-scale, video surveillance grid.

It's an investment that pays off. Back in July, EFF documented how the San Francisco Police Department was able to commandeer 200 Avigilon cameras to produce surveillance data on BLM protesters:

And in a new blockbuster report, EFF's Dave Maass and Matthew Guariglia document how the LAPD did the same thing, fraudulently using "unusual occurance" protocols to gain access to last summer's BLM protests.

Ring has a terrible track record, kicking off its marketing by sending out deceptive news-bulletins to convince people that they lived in high-crime areas and needed its products:

They lied about their facial recognition program:

A program that included a plan to make "watch lists" of people who'd be tracked from camera to camera:

Far from keeping its customers safe, Ring exposed them to real harm, leaking their home addresses:

Allowing third parties to hack their cameras, spy on them, and scream abuse at them:

Not just hackers, either! Multiple Ring employees got caught spying on Ring owners and their families, including their children:

As Maass and Guariglia point out, Ring made some improvements to user privacy over the past year, adding end-to-end encryption. But at the same time, Ring has cemented its relationship with American police forces, leading to far more police requests for Ring owners' footage.

These "requests" start to feel a lot more like coercion, and, as with other coercive law-enforcement requests, "like police 'asking' to search your phone during a traffic stop," they should be bound by strict limits.

EFF proposes four rules for coercive electronic searches:

I. Requests must be specific, targeting a particular time and place where there is reasonable suspicion that crime has happened (rather than general requests)

II. Police must collect and publish statistics about their consent searches of electronic devices, to deter and detect racial profiling

III. Police and reviewing courts must narrowly construe the scope of a person’s consent to search their device.

IV. Before an officer attempts to acquire footage from a person’s Ring camera, the officer must notify the person of their legal right to refuse.

The public-private surveillance partnership between Ring and the cops epitomizes the paradox of the American privacy debate.

When I talk to military, intelligence and government audiences about surveillance, they say, "Look, Uncle Sam already knows everything about me, but those scumbags in Silicon Valley would sell their mothers for a nickel."

And when I talk to tech audiences, they say, "Google just wants to show me better ads, big deal. But cops and spooks? They're the thickwitted sociopaths who were too stupid to get a job at a tech company. No way I want them spying on me."

But the reason companies like Ring are allowed to conduct such indiscriminate surveillance (a one mile walk in DC puts you under the gaze of 13 Ring cameras!) is that governments are wholly dependent on requisitioning their footage.

Rather than warning people about the dangers of Ring cameras – or agitating for ordinances banning them – cops served as street-teams marketing Ring's products. Private surveillance depends on government complicity, and spying governments depend on private surveillance.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago P2P Goes in Search of 'Doogle',1282,41850,00.html

#15yrsago Tech companies defend profiteering to Holocaust survivor Congressman

#10yrsago Dapper Day at Disneyland: the well-dressed go to the fun-park

#10yrsago Watch: Claude Shannon, Jerome Wiesner and Oliver Selfridge in a 1960s AI documentary

#10yrsago NYC: Chinatown’s last grungy arcade hangs on

#5yrsago Matt Ruff’s “Lovecraft Country,” where the horror is racism (not racist)

#5yrsago Hackers steal a hospital in Hollywood

#5yrsago NSA and GCHQ’s crappy Big Data techniques may be killing thousands of innocents

Colophon (permalink)

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Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 507 words (110896 total).

  • A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions. Yesterday's progress: 305 words (5382 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and Interoperability (Part 1)

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