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UBER DEFIES CALIFORNIA BILL: Uber said Wednesday that it doesn’t plan to classify its drivers as employees instead of contractors even as California is moving forward with a bill that would make it harder for the gig economy to withhold employee protections from its workers.
“Because we continue to believe drivers are properly classified as independent, and because we’ll continue to be responsive to what the vast majority of drivers tell us they want most—flexibility—drivers will not be automatically reclassified as employees, even after January of next year,” when the bill would go into effect, said Uber chief legal officer Tony West in a statement.
California’s legislature sent the bill, known as AB 5, to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) desk on Wednesday, and he has vowed to sign it. The bill would make it harder for companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash to classify their workers as contractors.
But West argued Wednesday that the new law is not impossible for Uber to work around. He also anticipates that the company’s stance will prompt lawsuits from its drivers.
“We expect we will continue to respond to claims of misclassification in arbitration and in court as necessary, just as we do now,” he said. “But we will also continue to advocate for the independence and choice that drivers tell us again and again in surveys, polls, focus groups, and personal conversations that they value most.”
West said that Uber, Lyft and DoorDash would be moving forward with plans to push a state ballot initiative that would ensure that their drivers are “retaining the flexible access to on-demand work they enjoy today.”
THIS SHOULD GO SMOOTHLY: Executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter will testify before Congress next week at a hearing about mass violence and extremism.
The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday announced the witness list for the hearing, titled “Mass Violence, Extremism, and Digital Responsibility.”
“In light of recent incidents of mass violence, this hearing will examine the proliferation of extremism online and explore the effectiveness of industry efforts to remove violent content from online platforms,” the panel said in the announcement. “Witnesses will discuss how technology companies are working with law enforcement when violent or threatening content is identified and the processes for removal of such content.”
The committee will hear from Facebook’s head of global policy, Monika Bickert; Nick Pickles, the public policy director at Twitter; and Google’s global director of information, Derek Slater.
The companies have been under increasing pressure to address extremist content and violent imagery on their platforms amid a recent surge in mass shootings.
SWITZERLAND, THE HOME OF NOT-SKETCHY FINANCIAL DEALINGS: The group overseeing Facebook’s digital currency project on Wednesday announced it is planning to pursue a payments license in Switzerland.
The Libra Association said it has asked the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) to offer more insight into how the coin – called the “Libra” – will be regulated by the country’s government.
The announcement comes as global regulators have ramped up their scrutiny and criticism of Libra, particularly taking issue with Facebook’s decision to position the Libra Association in Switzerland, a country known for its relatively lax financial regulatory environment.
The Libra Association in the statement on Wednesday said Switzerland “offers a pathway for responsible financial services innovation harmonized with global financial norms and strong oversight.”
“Since our vision for the Libra project was announced 3 months ago, we have maintained our commitment that technology-powered financial services innovation and strong regulatory compliance and oversight are not in competition,” Dante Disparte, Libra Association’s head of policy and communications, said in a statement. “We are engaging in constructive dialogue with FINMA and we see a feasible pathway for an open-source blockchain network to become a regulated, low-friction, high-security payment system.”
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have zeroed in on the Swiss nonprofit that will run the Libra coin, ripping the decision as a method to bypass U.S. regulatory scrutiny.
“We cannot allow Facebook to run a risky new cryptocurrency out of a Swiss bank account without oversight,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, said after Libra was announced earlier this year.
TRUMP KEEPS NATIONAL EMERGENCY DECLARATION ALIVE: President Trump on Tuesday issued a notice extending a national emergency declaration over foreign interference in U.S. elections.
In a memo to Congress released by the White House, Trump wrote that foreign efforts to interfere with or undermine public confidence in U.S. elections continue “to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
Trump is extending an emergency declaration that he first issued last September. That declaration, issued through an executive order, also called for an executive branch assessment of foreign threats to U.S. elections and imposed sanctions on individuals involved in such efforts.
The message issued to Congress on Tuesday states that there has been “no evidence” of a foreign government changing the outcome of any U.S. elections or vote tabulations but notes that foreign powers “have historically sought to exploit America’s free and open political system.”
It also states that the proliferation of new technology has increased the threat of foreign interference.
“The ability of persons located, in whole or in substantial part, outside the United States to interfere in or undermine public confidence in United States elections, including through the unauthorized accessing of election and campaign infrastructure or the covert distribution of propaganda and disinformation, continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” Trump wrote.
KOCH GROUP TARGETS AGS OVER TECH PROBES: Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group backed by the Koch family, announced a new ad campaign defending Google and Facebook from antitrust probes launched by state attorneys general in the past week.
The group on Tuesday urged the state officials to exercise restraint in going after the companies, saying in an announcement that “consumers will be worse off if antitrust laws are used to advance a political agenda by threatening or breaking up successful companies.”
“It’s completely appropriate for state attorneys general to launch this investigation, as long as it isn’t used to create a political spectacle,” Americans for Prosperity’s tech policy analyst, Billy Easley, said in a statement. “There are serious consequences to abusing this kind of enforcement that create troubling ripple effects for American workers and families. The AGs involved should not use this investigation as a means to score political points.”
The ads simply say, “Don’t let government abuse antitrust authority” and direct users to a page that prods them to contact their state attorney general.
Fifty attorneys general announced a major investigation into Google’s market dominance on Monday and a smaller group of nine offices launched a similar investigation into Facebook last week.
The probes are a significant escalation in U.S. regulators’ scrutiny of Silicon Valley giants. The Kochs have been using their influence arms to push back on what they see as an effort to “politicize antitrust laws” to go after the companies.
AMAZON GETS MORE SCRUTINY: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reportedly launched an investigation to determine whether Amazon controls an inappropriately large share of the retail market.
Bloomberg News reported Wednesday that at least three merchants that sell products on Amazon’s platform have been contacted by FTC investigators who are reportedly seeking to determine how much of their business relies on Amazon’s services.
Representatives for Amazon and the FTC declined a request for comment from The Hill. The probe follows a similar investigation launched by regulators in the European Union in July.
Members of both parties in Washington have raised alarms about the growing dominance of tech companies in retail and other markets in recent months.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called specifically for an antitrust probe of Amazon and other companies earlier this year.
“If you look at Amazon, although there’s certain benefits to it, they’ve destroyed the retail industry across the United States, so there’s no question they’ve limited competition,” Mnuchin said in July.
“There’s areas where they’ve hurt small businesses, so I don’t think this is a one-size-fits-all and I don’t have an opinion going other than I think it’s absolutely right that the attorney general is looking into these issues,” he added at the time.
Lighter click: Don’t try this at home or anywhere else.
An op-ed to chew on: Electric vehicles won’t save us from climate change.
NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:
Uber lays off hundreds more workers as it struggles to make money. (New York Times)
YouTube creators have begun shifting channels after FTC fine leaves futures in jeopardy. (The Verge)
Why WeWork is struggling to sell its story to investors. (Wall Street Journal)