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Uber And Lyft Face Uncertain Outcome In Lawsuits Brought By Drivers – Updated!

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Mobile-app-driven driver services, Uber and Lyft, each face separate lawsuits seeking class action status in San Francisco federal court.  The cases have been brought against the companies by their drivers, alleging they have been misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees and are entitled to reimbursements for expenses such as gas and vehicle maintenance.

Currently, the drivers pay for such expenses themselves, an article in Reuters reported. According to Reuters, Uber is the most valuable U.S. startup, valued at $40 billion.  Lyft has raised some $331 million from various investors.

At a hearing on Thursday, January 29th, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria, the judge presiding over the Lyft lawsuit, said that it was “very difficult” to decide whether the drivers were employees or independent contractors. However, according to the judge, California law appeared to favor employee status.  Lyft icon

At a hearing the following day, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen, the judge presiding over the Uber lawsuit, added that Uber had a “tough argument” to make that its drivers were independent contractors.  He further commented that a jury might have to decide the issue.

Both judges have yet to issue final rulings on the cases.

It is unclear how much money is at stake in the lawsuits because the drivers have not stated an amount they are seeking as compensation.  However, because the lawsuits seek class action status, the amount could be substantial. In fact, if successful, the lawsuits could potentially undermine both companies’ entire business models, which insist they are nothing more than software platforms pairing up those seeking a ride with those who have cars.

If you’re interested in reading a copy of the Lyft complaint, you can find one here.  Links to copies of the Uber complaint as well as other pre-trial filings in that case can be found here.

Update:

On March 11, 2015, U.S. District Court Judges Edward Chen (the judge presiding over the Uber case) and Vince Chhabria (the judge presiding over the Lyft case) both ruled that a jury must decide whether Uber/Lyft drivers are employees or independent contractors.  Recognizing that the drivers had the characteristics of independent contractors in some respects, but characteristics of employees in others, Judge Chhabria wrote, “A reasonable jury could go either way.”

The rulings rejected Uber and Lyft’s arguments that the drivers must, as a matter of law, be considered independent contractors.

You can read more about the decisions here.

 

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Pope Francis Says Families Need To Put Down iPhones

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On Friday, Pope Francis urged families to learn to talk to one another again.  The way to do that?  Put down the iPhones and Twitter feeds.

Is the Pope on to something?  What do you think?  Are we losing the ability to communicate with each other person-to-person because we spend too much time communicating electronically?

You can read more about the Pope’s remarks in this excellent article from The Telegraph.

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Taiwan Passes Law Restricting Children’s Use Of Electronic Gadgets

Child shown working on laptopDo you think kids spend too much time fiddling with electronic gadgets? If so, you are not alone.  Taiwan has just passed a law which requires parents to restrict the amount of time their children under eighteen years old spend using such gadgets. According to the new law, children on the island nation cannot “constantly use electronic products for a period of time that is not reasonable.”

The law subjects parents of children who become “physically or mentally” ill from their overuse of “electronic products” to a fine of up to $1,600.

Putting aside issues of enforcing such a law – which could be complicated considering the law fails to define what is or is not “reasonable” – Taiwan’s law is not necessarily unique in its attempts to regulate the use of “electronic products.”  China has attempted to restrict excessive online gaming since 2005, and South Korea already regulates online games as a form of addictive substance.  However, the vast majority of nations – particularly Western nations – leave the use of electronics, even by children, up to “self-regulation.”

Is Taiwan taking the right approach?  That is hard to say.  Laws can be built on good intentions, and still be flawed. Moreover, not all social ills can be cured by passing punitive laws.  Still, Taiwan’s concerns appear well-founded.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that kids spend no more than two hours per day on “screen time.” However, according to a recent study by the AAP, some teens spend as much as eleven hours per day “on screen.”  In other words, some teens spend over 5 times the recommended number of hours each day looking at one form of electronic display or another.  That same study found that eight-year-olds spend an average of eight hours per day with electronic media.

According to the AAP, overuse of electronics by kids causes “attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors” by children.

What do you think of Taiwan’s approach?  Please feel free to respond with any comments about this topic.

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Pew Research: Growing Social Media Role In U.S. Politics

The ‘Place For Politics’ May Be Social Media

For those readers who have followed CyberEsq since its inception, you know the tremendous emphasis I have placed on reporting research results from the Pew Research Center, particularly its “Internet & American Life Project.”  Print

In my opinion as an educator and information consumer, anyone interested in well-designed, objectively-executed research studies need look no further than the Pew Research Center.

Recently, I wrote an article for CyberStories at Storify.com discussing Pew’s recent findings on Americans’ use of social media for political activities.  Their important research can also be viewed here.  Pew’s findings suggest that social media’s role (and, presumably, influence) in American politics is rapidly growing.

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Mirroring our use of the Internet in general, American adults increasingly use social media for some type of political expression or activism.  Mobile devices as civics “hotspots,” if you will, also seem to be on the rise.

All Politics Are ‘Social’

What does this research say about Americans as political participants?  Like other aspects of our lives, Americans have grown accustomed to having electronic information in “real time.”  Whatever the information is that we seek, we want it, and we want it now.

And, we want to socialize with others about it, sharing out thoughts and opinions, our likes, pluses, statuses…all that good social media ‘stuff.’  Political participation seems almost like the perfect match for social media.

There is an old saying, oft-repeated at election time by journalists like Chris Matthews and others that “all politics are local.”  If Pew’s research holds true, will this tried-and-true statement be replaced by, “All politics are social?”  They are, aren’t they?

More fascinating, but perhaps daunting, problems may arise with how candidates or other stakeholders should conduct themselves in the new and more loosely organized social media universe.  And, of course, how do we explain all this to our kids, and hopefully teach them a thing or two?

Chances are, they will explain it to us.

CyberEsqOpEdAvatar-001Op-Ed originally published:  April 29 2013

Revised July 15, 2013

 

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Jurors Who Tweet! Beware!

Under legislation passed last year, and signed by Gov. Brown, California jurors, who tweet during trial or jury deliberations could face jail time.  The law went into effect the first of this year.

A similar bill was vetoed last year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, because he believed the current warnings to jurors were adequate.

The new legislation states that trial judges must inform jurors that the prohibition of communication or research about a case includes all forms of electronic or wireless communication or research. It was by prompted by numerous reports about jurors using cell phones and other devices to research cases or contacts, the San Francisco Chronicle reported last year. Violators could face up to six months in jail.

It will be interesting to see how this new law plays out, if it works, and if the judges are really going to throw jurors in the slammer over tweets!  What do you think?

For more information on the new California law that went into effect:

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/tweeting_jurors_to_face_jail_time_with_new_california_law?utm_source=maestro&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=tech_monthly

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Seventh Circuit Awards e360 a Whopping 3 in Damages Against Spamhaus – e360 v. Spamhaus

Seventh Circuit Awards e360 a Whopping 3 in Damages Against Spamhaus – e360 v. Spamhaus.

This has been an interesting case, with an equally interesting result in the damages award!

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Antispam Law Draws Backlash

Antispam Law Draws Backlash.

This article discusses the stiff anti-spam law passed recently in Canada.  It also contrasts an important feature of Canada’s law, which is that it is an “opt-in” system, meaning that marketers in Canada are forbidden from just sending “cold” materials to consumers via email.  The penalties for violation of the law in Canada are quite steep.

By contrast, most home-grown attempts to address the anti-spam problem legislatively preserve the marketers right to communicate in an unsolicited way with the consumer, placing it almost on a pedestal of free speech and fundamental democratic ideals.  Note the quote in the subject article about the trade offs for living in a “free society.”

But, what happens when a society’s technologies are such that individuals can cause serious harm to an individual’s – or even large company’s – data and hardware housing that data, not to mention the financial loss caused from loss of productivity just for having to address the spamming efforts.  We recognize it as a crime, yet are we not leaving a giant loophole in U.S. laws for spammers to continue their dirty work?  Or, would adopting Canada’s approach stifle free enterprise?

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