Volkswagen gets a special mention for gaming fuel-emission tests via the software in its cars. And BlackBerry, long proud of going its own way, finds itself pinning its comeback hopes on a phone that leans heavily on software from another company, Alphabet’s Google.
Lastly, all of Silicon Valley gets a turkey this year because the tech industry still can’t figure out how to hire, retain and promote more women and minorities.
Since innovation apparently can mean figuring out new ways to screw up, we’ve rounded up a supersized 17 examples of the most cringe-inducing tech turkeys for your holiday entertainment.
As part of the ride-hailing service Uber’s push to expand to upstate New York, it has a specific message for college students: We want to help you get home safely after a night of drinking.
The company’s app is popular among millennials, but it is not available in upstate college towns. Uber officials hope the State Legislature will pass new rules allowing the service to move beyond New York City next year.
Despite its many fans, Uber has faced legal problems in the United States and abroad, and criticism over its aggressive tactics. As part of the company’sefforts to adopt a softer tone, officials have said the service can help reduce drunken driving.
Some students are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Uber and other ride-hailing apps like Lyft. At Syracuse University, Aysha Seedat, the student association president, has recently called attention to the need for the apps in the city. When students leave bars late at night, she said, many are left waiting because there are not enough available taxis.
Over the summer while she was home in northern New Jersey, where Uber operates, Ms. Seedat and her friends used the app instead of trying to figure out who would drive home.
“We’re going to take an Uber, and we’re not going to take any chances,” Ms. Seedat, a 21-year-old senior who is studying public policy, said.
In the next few weeks, the university’s student assembly plans to vote on a resolution to support new ride-hailing legislation. Ms. Seedat has talked to students at other universities, including Rochester Institute of Technology and the State University of New York at Buffalo, about sending a joint letter to state legislators arguing that the services would improve safety.
This month, Uber began offering free rides home from bars in Evesham Township in southern New Jersey, a community where local officials said drunken driving had increased. From 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., residents can request a ride from Uber or another ride service, and the township will pay for them through Jan. 2.
“If you feel that you’re not capable of driving home, we’re going to make it really, really simple for you,” the township’s mayor, Randy Brown, said at a news conference this month.
In New York, Long Island is known for having among the highest number of alcohol-related crashes in the state. A crash this summer in Suffolk County, in which a man was charged with driving while intoxicated after hitting and killing four young women riding in a limousine, brought renewed attention to the problem.
About four out of five alcohol-related crashes in the state happened outside New York City in 2013, despite the city’s huge share of the population, according to state data. The counties that include Buffalo and Rochester, where a number of colleges are, also have among the highest number of crashes.
The state chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving plans to lobby for a ride-hailing bill during the next legislative session, which begins in January. Richard Mallow, the group’s state executive director, said the apps reach young people where they spend much of their time — on their smartphones.
Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, signaled that he wanted to create a statewide licensing system for ride-hailing companies. As Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, quarreled with Uber this summer over his proposal to cap the number of for-hire vehicles in New York City, Mr. Cuomo praised the company for creating jobs.
But taxi groups and others have questioned whether the company creates good-paying jobs. Uber says its drivers are independent contractors, but several recent local rulings have said that they should be considered employees. Opponents have also argued that new state rules could remove current consumer and driver protections in the industry.
Not all students support the effort. Stony Brook University on Long Island already has plenty of safe travel options for students who are drinking, including a reliable local taxi service called Lindy’s, said Cole Lee, the president of the university’s undergraduate student government. Mr. Lee, 20, who lives on campus and owns a car, has never used Uber.
“Although it sounds nice, I can’t say that I could see it being extremely successful here,” he said.
In Buffalo, a blog and apparel company called Rise Collaborative recently started an online petition calling for ride-hailing apps in upstate New York, and many college students have signed on. The founders of the blog and Ms. Seedat said they were not prompted by Uber officials to take up the cause — they simply see a need for it.
The mayor of Syracuse, Stephanie A. Miner, a Democrat, said she wanted Uber in her city and believed the competition could prompt local car services to improve.
“There is a big need for it here,” she said, “and I think you’re seeing particularly among young people an expectation to have Uber.”
Minicabit, which compares rival minicab companies, receives £1.4m investment
A minicab-booking service that aims to enable the UK’s private car hire companies to fight back against the rise of Uber has raised funds from a group of high-profile investors.
Minicabit, whose smartphone app and website can compare prices from hundreds of operators to find passengers the cheapest price, has secured £1.4m from financiers including Oakley Capital and Hambro Perks.
Its expansion comes as both the private hire and black taxi industries in London attempt to deal with the meteoric rise of Uber, the American minicab-hailing app which has grown phenomenally since launching in London in 2012.
Minicabit says it saves passengers the hassle of ringing around minicab apps by allowing them to enter a route and compare prices from 700 operators. Users can then select a ride, which can be booked and paid for via the app.
As well as Oakley Capital – a major investor in Time Out, and Hambro Perks – which recently led an investment in door-to-door laundry service Laundrapp, minicabit was previously backed by O2’s start-up fund Wayra, and received offers on Dragons’ Den before negotiations fell through.
Founder Amer Hasan, the former head of apps at Vodafone Global, said he planned to use the money to expand minicabit beyond the 40 cities it operates in, and is targeting £100m in annual revenues by 2020.
It has already signed deals with venues including Heathrow Airport, whose website integrates the technology to help visitors find drivers.
Mr Hasan has been pitching minicabit to minicab firms as a way to adapt to the rise of smartphone apps, which have replaced phone calls as the way for many passengers to book journeys.
Apps such as Uber, which link freelance drivers with passengers, have shaken up the industry, letting riders hail a minicab within minutes.
Though Uber has surged in popularity in recent years, Transport for Londonhas proposed new regulations that would threaten the company’s ability to operate in the capital.
“Cab bookings are now shifting online at a tremendous pace, driven by customer demand and technology advances,” Mr Hasan said. “This latest investment can enable us to empower Cab Operators UK-wide to take full advantage of the digital revolution.”
The redesigned app gives drivers more incentive to pick up passengers and tips to make more money
Uber has launched a newly redesigned app – for its drivers, rather than its riders. The revamped app allows drivers to grow and manage their business more easily.
New features include a personalised newsfeed with notes from the Uber team in your local city – whether that’s Strasbourg, France or Seoul, South Korea – information on all recent rides, tips for how to maximise the money you earn and your ratings.
The app also has 4 icons: the always-on home icon provides heat maps of areas where you are likely to pick up your next passenger, even in times of low demand; the earnings icon breaks down driver income by highlighting your final take-home pay; the ratings icon allows drivers to track ratings and comments from riders over a period of time. Finally, an account icon allows drivers to manage their accounts from inside the app – this previously required logging onto a computer.
The six-year-old on-demand minicab company has more than 4,500 employees in 61 countries and is currently worth more than £32.6 billion ($50 billion). This meant testing the app in several international markets where English wasn’t always the drivers’ first language. According to Wired magazine, the Uber team began piloting the new app in Phoenix, Arizona and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia at the start of the summer.
The changes are designed to help drivers make extra income by leveraging the data available through Uber, and as the changes are rolled out to drivers worldwide over the next few weeks, this should mean more timely trips home for riders.
The service lets passengers find cheap rides from one city to another in 19 countries. But Brazil, not the US, is next on the company’s expansion list, CEO Frédéric Mazzella says.
If you’re not one of the 20 million people who’ve hitched a ride on BlaBlaCar, you could be soon.
The Paris-based ride-sharing service, which takes a different tack than more-famous rival Uber, just nabbed $200 million in venture funding to expand beyond the 19 countries where it now operates.
Unlike Uber, which focuses on short, taxi-like rides within cities, BlaBlaCar goes the distance. The idea for the company came during the Christmas holiday in 2003, when co-founder and Chief Executive Frédéric Mazzella found he was too late to book a 300-mile train ride home. His sister ended up driving most of the way to pick him up, and a long-range ride-sharing service was born.
After years of experimentation BlaBlaCar settled on a business that’s proved profitable in France, where it began, and other countries, including Turkey, India and Mexico, where it’s had time to grow. BlaBlaCar connects passengers and drivers headed the same direction, with passengers paying about 11 cents a mile and the company taking a 10 percent to 15 percent cut of the payment.
BlaBlaCar is a prime example of a company in the so-called sharing economy, which lets you pay to take advantage of assets other people aren’t using. With the Internet and smartphones connecting buyers and sellers around the clock, people can find apartments through Airbnb, get a ride across town with Uber or Lyft and rent out their bike through Spinlister.
A different route than Uber’s
BlaBlaCar’s approach is not the same as that of cab alternative and hot startup Uber, even though they both offer rides and let people make money with their cars. Ninety percent of BlaBlaCar trips are between 50 and 360 miles. BlaBlaCar drivers can also only defray their costs, not make a profit, a choice that helps the company steer clear of regulatory complications and ensure its drivers are covered by ordinary insurance policies. Only with seven passengers would a driver do better than break even.
“Our drivers are not making any profit at all,” Mazzella said.
Adding a BlaBlaCar passenger or two can significantly reduce the high costs of driving — about 73 cents per mile in France. With costs a third as much in the US, drivers aren’t so motivated to have a paying passenger. That’s why the US won’t see BlaBlaCar right away.
“It is not the low-hanging fruit for us,” Mazzella said. Next on its list is Brazil, which BlaBlaCar will reach later this year.
Taxi drivers have protested Lyft and Uber, and hotels have fought against Airbnb. So far, BlaBlaCar has escaped that sort of wrath mostly unscathed. The sole exception is a legal complaint by bus drivers in Spain, but their case was undermined by their claim that BlaBlaCar drivers make a profit, Mazzella said. In fact, the company is explicitly set up so it doesn’t move drivers out of the regulatory and legal zone of any ordinary driver.
Why the silly name?
BlaBlaCar’s name came from a central feature invented to smooth over a business difficulty: members could be uncomfortable riding with people who were too talkative or taciturn. Now they rate themselves bla, blabla or blablabla accordingly.
“We found a way to make people feel at ease,” he said. BlaBlaCar may be a peculiar name, but in a test of 30 names, people remembered BlaBlaCar well.
The company has profitable operations in countries like France where it’s had time to build its business, Mazzella said. Its expansion means the company is still unprofitable overall, though.
It’s easier to expand internationally when BlaBlaCar can acquire a small ride-sharing company with a foothold but not enough members, he said. Good Internet access and widespread Facebook use also helps drivers and passengers trust each other.
The company now links more than 10 million travelers each quarter. So far in 2015, they’ve driven more than 3 billion miles. Since 2014, BlaBlaCar has doubled its membership from 10 million to 20 million.
“It’s always been an exponential curve, but when you go from 10,000 to 20,000, nobody cares,” Mazzella said. “When you go from 10 million to 20 million, people begin to look at it like, ‘Wow!'”
In September, BlaBlaCar raised $200 million from Insight Venture Partners, Lead Edge Capital and Vostok New Ventures. The investment round placed BlaBlaCar’s value at more than $1.5 billion, he said, citing financial analysts.
“Being profitable for us now would be nonsense given the opportunity we have,” he said. “In the digital world, if you don’t grow fast, someone else will do it for you.”
The ride-hailing company is being sued after two women allege they were sexually assaulted by Uber drivers. The plaintiffs say Uber needs to do more to keep passengers safe.
Uber has been struck with a new lawsuit alleging the ride-hailing company knowingly neglects the safety of its female customers.
The suit, filed Thursday in US District Court in San Francisco, claims Uber aims its marketing at young women who have been drinking but doesn’t conduct adequate background checks on its drivers. That lapse has led to a number of sexual assaults, according to the 52-page complaint filed on behalf of two “Jane Does” who allege their Uber drivers sexually assaulted them.
“What Uber has not shared with riders is that making the choice to hail a ride after drinking also puts those same riders in peril from the Uber drivers themselves,” the complaint reads. “By marketing heavily toward young women who have been drinking, while claiming that rider safety is its #1 priority, Uber is instead putting these women at risk.”
The lawsuit alleges that Uber’s “negligence,” “fraud” and “misleading statements” led to the sexual assaults of the two women listed in the complaint. In addition to seeking unspecified damages, the suit is requesting a jury trial and a permanent injunction against Uber to overhaul its safety measures.
If successful, this case could have sweeping repercussions for the company because Uber would be forced to exert more control over its drivers, who are classified as independent contractors rather than employees. Uber is the most valuable venture-backed company in the world, worth more than $50 billion.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to order Uber to boost its safety standards by adding several new measures. These include creating 24-hour customer support hotlines in all cities in which it operates; requiring all drivers to install GPS tracking systems on their cars that would set off an alarm if deactivated; disabling child-lock features on passenger doors; and conducting fingerprint-based background checks and in-person interviews with drivers.
Uber declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit.
The San Francisco-based company has come under fire for dozens of sexual assaults allegedly carried out by its drivers worldwide. A handful of states, including California and Texas, have launched investigations into Uber, claiming it routinely fails to adequately screen drivers and has hired drivers with criminal histories.
Uber’s website says the company has “strict safety standards” and that “the Uber experience has been designed from the ground up with your safety in mind.” Before driving for the company, drivers must first pass several background checks through a third-party firm called Hirease. In the US, would-be drivers’ names are run through seven years of county and federal courthouse records, a multistate criminal database, a national sex offender registry, and Social Security and motor vehicle records. Uber says it rejects anyone who has a history of violent crimes, sexual offenses, gun-related violations or resisting arrest.
“Liability boils down to whether Uber could have foreseen the drivers’ misconduct,” said Sarju Naran, an attorney who chairs Hoge Fenton’s employment law group. “Even with thorough background checks, it is often difficult to predict if or when someone might engage in violent or other criminal acts. But with or without liability, there’s no way to avoid the reputational damage caused by these types of incidents.”
Two attacks, one lawsuit
Jane Doe 1’s alleged assault took place in Boston at around 2:30 a.m. local time on February 8, 2015, after she and her friends had been at a party, the complaint says. The Uber driver dropped off Jane Doe 1’s friends first, drove her along an off-route detour and then groped her and forcibly kissed her, according to the complaint. She managed to unlock the car door and escape.
The complaint says Jane Doe 2 was at a bar with friends in Charleston, South Carolina, on August 9, 2015, when they were picked up by an Uber driver. After dropping off her friends, the driver drove Doe 2 to a remote parking lot and raped her, according to the complaint. Doe 2 then escaped and got help.
Uber barred those drivers from its service immediately after the incidents were reported, according to a company spokesman.
“Our thoughts remain with the victims of these two terrible incidents,” said the Uber spokesman in an emailed statement. “We proactively worked with law enforcement in Massachusetts and South Carolina at the time to share information and aid their investigations. Both drivers have been permanently removed from the platform.”
Dozens of alleged sexual assaults by Uber drivers against passengers have been reported over the past year, within the US and in India, France, China and Canada.
“No woman should have to be physically violated because a company has decided to put profits over safety,” said Douglas Wigdor, of Wigdor LLP, who filed the lawsuit. Wigdor also represented the hotel maid who brought sexual assault charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former chief of the International Monetary Fund. That suit settled in 2012 for an unspecified amount.
The body is proposing new rules for private hire operators in a major update to regulations formed in 1998, including a minimum five-minute wait-time between ordering a car and being picked up.
Uber, which matches smartphone owners with nearby drivers, has taken the capital by storm since its launch in 2012, and now has more than 15,000 drivers and over a million users. However, it has been widely criticised by both the black cab and private hire industries, who accuse it of skirting regulations.
Uber is a San Francisco-based technology company founded in 2009, which claims to be “evolving the way the world moves”, but at its heart, it is a smartphone app that acts as a middleman between freelance drivers and passengers.
When a user opens the app, they are greeted with a map showing their current location, and the drivers in the vicinity. If they request a driver, alerts go out to those in the immediate area, one of whom accepts it. Because they tend to be nearby, passengers tend to be picked up within minutes.
Users are then charged a base fare of £2.50, plus 15p a minute and £1.25 a mile for a journey, with a minimum fee of £5. Uber takes a cut, with the driver paying the rest, as well as paying for fuel, maintenance and so on. Users must give their credit card details before using the app, and the fee is taken off the card at the end of a journey.
There are various levels of Uber, from the standard UberX to more luxury-style services. Prices can also rise if there is excess demand, which Uber calls “surge pricing”.
Why is it controversial?
Uber is regulated as a private hire vehicle operator, also known as minicabs. These are regulated differently from taxis – minicabs have more freedom over setting fares, can’t be hailed in the street or at a rank and don’t use taximeters. Drivers also don’t need to pass The Knowledge – cabbies’ tough exam of London’s geography that can take years to learn.
When the rules on minicabs were introduced in 1998, Uber and smartphones were still years away. To arrange a minicab back then, one would have to phone up a company and give them an address, with the company then sending out a car out to pick them up. This meant that if you just wanted a ride straight away, you would hail a taxi.
Since then, smartphones and their location sensors have sped up this process significantly. You can’t hail an Uber in person, but doing so with a smartphone is almost as quick – on average it’s three minutes in London, according to Uber.
Meanwhile, Uber’s smartphone software acts like a meter in many ways – recording the time and duration of a ride to set its price. In effect, Uber has narrowed the convenience gap between private hire operators and black cabs, but without the latter’s regulations.
Cabbies and traditional private hire operators say Uber is taking advantage of the rules, while Uber itself says it is simply giving customers what they want – and it’s not its fault that black cabs are overregulated.
So what’s happening now?
Transport for London consulted on new rules for private hire vehicles earlier this year and has now launched a new consultation on a list of proposals that it says will bring regulation up to date.
According to TfL’s consultation, it wants to “improve passenger safety” and “maintain a clear distinction between the taxi and private hire trades… further improving the quality, safety, accessibility and overall standard of private hire vehicle provision in London”.
Many of the proposals would hit Uber particularly hard. They include a minimum five-minute wait between ordering a minicab and it arriving, and banning showing available cars within an app.
Uber has said that if these proposals were adopted it “would mean an end to the Uber people know and love”. It has urged its users to sign a petition against them, and almost 100,000 have signed it. It claims regulation should be relaxed on cabbies, not tightened on Uber.
TfL, meanwhile, says that no final decisions have been made but that the proposals could raise standards.
Business leaders and consumers come out in support of ride-hailing app after TfL proposes restrictions
Plans to crack down on Uber in London have triggered a severe backlash from passengers and business leaders, with the capital’s transport authorities accused of “arbitrary” proposals that would “damage London”.
The Institute of Directors, which represents thousands of top bosses across Britain, slammed Transport for London’s plans to ban many of the popular minicab-hailing service’s key features, saying they would “embed economic inefficiency” in the capital’s transport regulations.
TfL unveiled a three-month consultation on rules for private hire vehicles, saying it hoped that new regulations would improve passenger safety, and “maintain a clear distinction between the taxi and private hire trades”.
However, many of the proposals were interpreted as an attack on Uber, a service that connects drivers to passengers via a smartphone app, and is used by more than 1m people in London. Among the suggestions are a minimum five-minute wait between ordering a car and it arriving, and a ban on showing cars available for hire, which is a key feature of Uber.
“These new rules would embed economic inefficiency and create artificially high prices for passengers,” said Simon Walker, director general of the IoD.
“Imposing a minimum five-minute wait time will just mean passengers stand on the side of the road looking at their car, unable to get in – wasting time, clogging streets and costing money. Outlawing companies from showing available cars on an app is a Luddite solution to a problem which doesn’t exist.
“Their proposals for further restrictions to an already heavily-regulated industry are backwards and would damage London’s reputation as a city which celebrates innovation and embraces change.”
Baroness Harding, the chief executive of TalkTalk, writing in the Telegraph, called it “extremely disappointing that TfL has chosen resoundingly in this case to make itself part of the problem” and saying that “customers should be treated like grown-ups and given a choice”.
David Leam, of London First, said: “By making it harder for new companies to provide what consumers want, TfL has put itself on the wrong side of public opinion.”
Since Uber’s introduction in 2012, the service has soared in popularity, but cabbies and traditional private hire companies have accused it of skirting the rules and demanded that TfL take action.
Uber has repeatedly clashed with authorities in several other countries, leading to the suspension of some services.
Yesterday, two Uber executives in France appeared in court in Paris. They face six charges including “deceptive commercial practices” and violating data protection laws.
During the taping for tonight’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert, a protestor reportedly interrupted Colbert’s interview with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. The person began shouting about Uber “ruining” the New York City taxi industry, according to BuzzFeed News reporter Rachel Zarrell. Rather than hush the disruption or ignore the man protesting, Colbert allowed him to speak freely — at least briefly. Another account from the set suggests the protestor is affiliated with the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, an agency that has routinely butted heads with Uber and its business model.
It remains to be seen whether the awkward moment will make it onto the aired version ofThe Late Show later tonight. If so, we’ll be sure to add the video to this story. Photography and other means of recording are strictly prohibited during tapings of Colbert’s show at the Ed Sullivan Theater, so if the encounter doesn’t survive through edits, we may never see it.
Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen, previously vice-president of mobile at taxi-hailing app Uber and head of mobile at DropBox, has become the sixth investor partner at Balderton Capital, the London-based venture capital firm.
The Danish-Portuguese entrepreneur, who also acted as an advisor to WhatsApp before its $19bn acquisition by Facebook, is the second investor to join the firm from Silicon Valley recently. Suranga Chandratillake, founder of Blinkx and a former executive at Autonomy, returned to London last year to work for Balderton.
“I’ve seen Silicon Valley from the inside – the success, the mentality of not being afraid of taking big bold risks – and we’re seeing that in Europe now,” said Mr Fjeldsoe-Nielsen, who moved to California in 2008.
“A lot of big companies will come out of Europe and I want to be a part of shaping that.”
Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen at Balderton’s office in Kings Cross
When he joined Uber, the cab-hailing company’s chief business officer, Emil Michael, called Mr Fjeldsoe-Nielsen “one of the best mobile dealmakers and innovators” in the industry.
Daniel Waterhouse, a partner at Balderton Capital, said: “Having led mobile strategy for sector-defining, high-growth technology companies in Uber and Dropbox, Lars brings a rare insight and experience from Silicon Valley to the companies in our portfolio.
“His unparalleled expertise and enthusiastic commitment to the European tech scene will help us uncover, back and support the very best founders in the region.”
Balderton, which typically invests in Series A funding rounds of $1m to $20m, has invested in more than 100 companies since opening in 2000 as the European branch of Benchmark Capital, splitting off as an independent firm in 2007.
Balderton invested in Betfair, which floated in 2010 Photo: PA
The Kings Cross-based firm manages $2.3bn and its current portfolio boasts the transport app CityMapper, crowdfunding website CrowdCube, digital music company Kobalt, investment management tool Nutmeg, payday lender Wonga and Yoox, the Italian online fashion retailer that recently merged with Net-A-Porter.
Notable exits include Bebo, the social app bought by AOL in 2008 for $850m, LoveFilm, which Amazon acquired for $250m, and Betfair, the London-listed gambling company that recently agreed a £6bn merger with Paddy Power.
Mr Fjeldsoe-Nielsen said: “I couldn’t be more excited to move back from Silicon Valley to Europe. I believe mobile technology has changed the entrepreneurial ecosystem and levels of aspiration in Europe, which will lead to an explosion of successful European startups playing on a global scale.
“I’m thrilled to join the Balderton team, and to bring the passion I have for technology to the innovative and burgeoning European tech industry.”