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Lyft’s Zimmer talks future of workplace, electric vehicles

Inside Telecom Staff

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Lyft's Zimmer talks future of workplace, electric vehicles

Lyft scored a major victory when California voters passed Proposition 22, allowing app-based companies to treat drivers as contractors instead of employees and saving the company from what many anticipated would be crippling expenses.

The outcome was viewed as a defeat by labor leaders who hoped to cement a California law which would have given drivers benefits such as overtime and sick days. Ride-hailing and delivery companies won an exception, arguing drivers enjoy flexibility as contractors and threatening to leave California if they had to pay a full slate of employee benefits. Instead they’ll offer limited benefits such health care subsidies to drivers who clock 25 hours per week.

With California’s status as a trend-setting state, hopes for passing laws to treat gig workers as employees elsewhere dimmed.

We talked with John Zimmer, president and co-founder of Lyft Inc., about the decision’s impact on drivers and future legislative goals of the company.

Q: Lyft formed an alliance with a major competitor to get this done. Do you foresee teaming up with Uber again?

A: There are some opportunities to do so and there are some opportunities where it won’t work. This was not the company or industry pushing back on the law and saying no. This was saying, let’s find the right approach that had both independence and includes benefits.

Q: How do you justify the level of spending on this proposition when ride-hailing is struggling to reach profitability?

A: This was a decision from a state with strong support across the aisle. It was important to do this because it’s right for drivers, riders and the economy, but also to create a model that is the turning point for the future of work in America.

In the tough times that we’re in, independent, flexible work is critical and a growing part of the U.S. economy. Many people find the gig economy as a safety net, especially during COVID-19. It was really important to show what we stand for, and this was about us standing for independence and benefits, not standing against something.

Q: Some labor leaders call this a setback for working conditions for app-based workers.

A: I’ve had many conversations over the last two years with great leaders in labor. I respect them, I want to work with them, and we’re trying to stand for something, to stand for benefits and independence, and I believe there’s across the country more work we can do, and I hope we can find ways to work together.

Q: Federal legislation has been introduced to treat drivers as employees. Will you fight that?

A: Having a model that we can point to that was broadly supported across Democrats, Republicans and independents, a 6-to-1 margin by drivers, having that conversation federally so that we can answer this question and grow the economy…we would love to be part of that conversation.

Bringing people from all different viewpoints, working with both parties, working with labor, working with the industry, I really believe that this model is the key step forward and that there’s a lot of good we can do by working together.

Q: Your company announced it will use all-electric vehicles by 2030. Do you anticipate losing drivers?

A: It’s critical. It’s the right thing to do. We need to move toward clean energy, electric vehicles, and we want to be part of the situation.

In times like this, when its difficult, it’s even more important to make those decisions. I don’t believe it’s a trade-off for drivers or the business. I think it’s a positive, because EVs cost less money to operate for drivers. Especially when you utilize it the way you do on a ride-share platform, the economic benefit is there and we’re going to be as helpful as we can for drivers.

A big part of the next few years, to make that a no-brainer for everyone, is to work with policy makers on policy around EVs. When you look at the subsidies that go into EVs, they often go to people that can afford a buy a Tesla, that use it for their own needs, and use it 4% of the time, versus someone who is working using their vehicle, has a much higher utilization, has a much higher need for that subsidy. And by working with policy makers, we can make sure that those who need that economic support to make that EV decision will have it.

Q: What are some changes you’ve observed with consumer behavior since the pandemic hit?

A: We’re definitely seeing shifts. Frontline workers are using the service a lot. They do not necessarily want to be in a more public environment with transit. They want a safe environment where there are masks required.

We have a great bike share platform. For example, in New York we’re seeing more ridership year-over-year. In the last few months we’ve surpassed what we saw a year ago. And I believe that it’s a great service that allows someone to travel by themselves in a way that is both enjoyable and healthy.

We’re doing an expansion of Divvy in Chicago, Bay Wheels in the Bay Area. We just added a full e-bike system to Portland (Oregon) and in the Los Angeles area, so we think it’s a great mode of transportation generally, and specifically for this moment. Lyft has a broad platform of transportation options that is unique from others in the industry that moved on from that type of transportation, so we’re going to keep investing there.


NEW YORK (AP) — By CATHY BUSSEWITZ AP Business Writer

Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

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UK to launch new watchdog next year to police tech giants

Inside Telecom Staff

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UK to launch new watchdog next year to police tech giants

By KELVIN CHAN AP Business Writer

LONDON (AP) — Britain plans to create a new watchdog to police big tech companies including Google and Facebook to counter their market dominance and prevent them from exploiting consumers and small businesses.

The U.K. government said Friday that it’s setting up a “Digital Markets Unit” next year to enforce a new code of conduct governing the behavior of tech giants that dominate the online advertising market.

The Digital Markets Unit, scheduled to launch in April, will oversee a new regulatory regime for tech companies that’s aimed at spurring more competition.

The measures were foreshadowed in findings by former Obama economic adviser Jason Furman, who was commissioned by the U.K. Treasury to carry out a review of the digital economy.

It’s part of a wider push by governments in the U.S. and Europe to constrain the power of big tech companies amid concern about their outsize influence. The European Union this week unveiled proposals to wrest control of data from tech companies and is set to release details next month of a sweeping overhaul of digital regulations aimed at preventing online gatekeepers from stifling competition. In the U.S., authorities are pursuing an antitrust case against Google and lawmakers have proposed breaking up big tech companies.

U.K. Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said online platforms bring benefits to society, “but there is growing consensus in the U.K. and abroad that the concentration of power among a small number of tech companies is curtailing growth of the sector, reducing innovation and having negative impacts on the people and businesses that rely on them.”

The government still needs to consult on how the digital markets unit will operate and approve legislation for it.

Under the new code, tech companies would have to be more transparent about how they use consumers’ data. They would have to let users choose whether to receive personalised advertising, and wouldn’t be allowed to make it harder for customers to use rival platforms.

The Digital Markets Unit could be given the power to suspend, block or reverse any decisions made by big tech companies, and order them to take certain actions to comply with the code. If companies don’t comply, the watchdog could fine them, though the maximum penalty hasn’t yet been spelled out.

Google said online tools competition in the ad tech industry has been increasing and noted it gives users tools to manage and control their data.

“We support an approach that benefits people, businesses and society and we look forward to working constructively with the Digital Markets Unit so that everyone can make the most of the internet,” said Ronan Harris, the company’s vice president for U.K. and Ireland.

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AstraZeneca manufacturing error clouds vaccine study results

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vaccine

AstraZeneca and Oxford University on Wednesday acknowledged a manufacturing error that is raising questions about preliminary results of their experimental COVID-19 vaccine.

A statement describing the error came days after the company and the university described the shots as “highly effective” and made no mention of why some study participants didn’t receive as much vaccine in the first of two shots as expected.

In a surprise, the group of volunteers that got a lower dose seemed to be much better protected than the volunteers who got two full doses. In the low-dose group, AstraZeneca said, the vaccine appeared to be 90% effective. In the group that got two full doses, the vaccine appeared to be 62% effective. Combined, the drugmakers said the vaccine appeared to be 70% effective. But the way in which the results were arrived at and reported by the companies has led to pointed questions from experts.

The partial results announced Monday are from large ongoing studies in the U.K. and Brazil designed to determine the optimal dose of vaccine, as well as examine safety and effectiveness. Multiple combinations and doses were tried in the volunteers. They were compared to others who were given a meningitis vaccine or a saline shot.

Did Researchers Mean to Give a Half Dose?

Before they begin their research, scientists spell out all the steps they are taking, and how they will analyze the results. Any deviation from that protocol can put the results in question.

In a statement Wednesday, Oxford University said some of the vials used in the trial didn’t have the right concentration of vaccine so some volunteers got a half dose. The university said that it discussed the problem with regulators, and agreed to complete the late stage trial with two groups. The manufacturing problem has been corrected, according to the statement.

What About the Results Themselves?

Experts say the relatively small number of people in the low dose group makes it difficult to know if the effectiveness seen in the group is real or a statistical quirk. Some 2,741 people received a half dose of the vaccine followed by a full dose, AstraZeneca said. A total of 8,895 people received two full doses.

Another factor: none of the people in the low-dose group were over 55 years old. Younger people tend to mount a stronger immune response than older people, so it could be that the youth of the participants in the low-dose group is why it looked more effective, not the size of the dose.

Another point of confusion comes from a decision to pool results from two groups of participants who received different dosing levels to reach an average 70% effectiveness, said David Salisbury, and associate fellow of the global health program at the Chatham House think tank.

“You’ve taken two studies for which different doses were used and come up with a composite that doesn’t represent either of the doses,” he said of the figure. “I think many people are having trouble with that.”

Why Would a Smaller First Dose Be More Effective?

Oxford researchers say they aren’t certain and they are working to uncover the reason.

Sarah Gilbert, one of the Oxford scientists leading the research, said the answer is probably related to providing exactly the right amount of vaccine to trigger the best immune response.

“It’s the Goldilocks amount that you want, I think, not too little and not too much. Too much could give you a poor quality response as well,” she said. “So you want just the right amount and it’s a bit hit and miss when you’re trying to go quickly to get that perfect first time.”

What Are the Next Steps?

Details of the trial results will be published in medical journals and provided to U.K. regulators so they can decide whether to authorize distribution of the vaccine. Those reports will include a detailed breakdown that includes demographic and other information about who got sick in each group, and give a more complete picture of how effective the vaccine is.

Moncef Slaoui, who leads the U.S. coronavirus vaccine program Operation Warp Speed, said Tuesday in a call with reporters that U.S. officials are trying to determine what immune response the vaccine produced, and may decide to modify the AstraZeneca study in the U.S. to include a half dose.

“But we want it to be based on data and science,” he said.

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EU plans new rules giving Europeans more control of data

Inside Telecom Staff

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Data control EU

The European Union is laying out new standards for data giving Europeans more control over their personal information as it seeks to counter the power of U.S. and Chinese tech companies.

The EU’s executive Commission on Wednesday proposed new rules on the handling of data that would aim to give people, businesses and government bodies the confidence to share their information in a European data market.

The proposed legislation would would spell out how industrial and government data – normally off limits because of intellectual property rights, commercial confidentiality or privacy rights – could be shared to help society or boost the economy. The bloc’s strict privacy rules would still apply, with mechanisms in place to preserve confidentiality or anonymity.

The aim is to drive innovation in areas such as health care or climate change by allowing data to be more easily shared with companies or researchers.

Individuals could choose to donate their data for altruistic reasons – for example, a person with a rare disease providing their health information to medical researchers. Or people could allow access for a fee or use of a service. The new rules could pose a challenge to big tech companies like Google and Facebook that currently make billions in revenue by using data to sell ads and other services.

The proposal, known as the Digital Governance Act, calls for raising trust in data sharing by setting up a new system involving neutral and trustworthy middlemen who act as brokers of pools of data.

Europeans would be able to get more control of their data through “personal data spaces” that have tools and services that let them decide who can access their data and for what purpose.

“The framework offers an alternative model to the current data handling practices offered by big tech platforms,” the EU’s Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said at a press briefing in Brussels.

Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, said the regulations would help Europe become the world’s No. 1 “data continent.”

“With the ever-growing role of industrial data in our economy, Europe needs an open yet sovereign Single Market for data,” he said.

LONDON (AP) — By KELVIN CHAN Associated Press.

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