Austin Voters Demand More From Uber and Lyft


Photo: Hutton Supancic, Getty Images

Austin Voters to Ride-Hailing Services: Hold Your Horses
On Saturday, voters in Austin decided that ride-hailing services need to have the same fingerprint-based background-check services as taxis. As a result, Uber and Lyft are threatening to leave town. As of this morning, both services have suspended operations in the Texas state capital, with second-tier players trying to rush in. It was an expensive defeat: the two companies spent nearly $9 million in Austin’s most expensive local campaign ever, by a factor of seven. Austin’s mayor is tweeting olive branches, with no word yet from the two companies, who claim the requirement make their businesses untenable. Next stop for the companies’ our-way-or-the-highway tour: Houston, which has a similar rule.

The Secrets Behind Our Most Secretive Company
BuzzFeed’s William Alden has been through a cache of internal documents from Palantir and discovered that “Silicon Valley’s most secretive company” is both larger than you might think and more wobbly. Its data-analysis deals with companies top $1 million per month each; BP, just one client, in 2014 signed a 10-year deal worth more than $1.2 billion. Alden’s research reveals frustrated clients (three marquee names gone over the past year), key staff departures (turnover this year is expected to hit 20%), and trouble collecting its premium fees (slides and an audio recording from a February presentation suggest 75% of what it’s billed remain uncollected). The most vivid response to the report comes from company cofounder Joe Lonsdale, who wrote on Quora, addressing a few of the specific points in the article and said the article’s “self-congratulatory and negative” tone “is to be expected in the low-paid clickbait environment where some in the media are jealous of the growing and healthy parts of the technology economy.”

Twitter Adjusts a Back Door
For two years, U.S. intelligence agencies had access to a service that analyzes every tweet posted. (The tweets are public; the analysis isn’t.) Twitter just cut off that access, The Wall Street Journal reports in a scoop. That service is run by a private company, Dataminr, of which Twitter owns a minority share. Twitter maintains “it has a long-standing policy barring third parties, including Dataminr, from selling its data to a government agency for surveillance purposes.” However, it doesn’t have trouble with Dataminr’s core business, which its website characterizes as “discovering must-know information in real-time for clients in Finance, the Public Sector, News, Corporate Security and Crisis Management.”

China’s Social Branding
The Chinese government is eager to tell its version of its story to the world and Facebook has turned out to be an ideal vehicle for it. (Irony alert: the government knows its audience for this is external, because Facebook is banned within its borders.) But this is more about what Facebook provides as a platform than China’s expertise in exploiting the platform. Of course China’s propaganda news outlets are “absolutely crushing it on Facebook,” as Quartz puts it: it is a large, well-funded brand that has the budget to keep number of quite possibly fake followers high. But, as with other megabrands, that doesn’t mean genuine engagement can keep pace with the raw numbers. Plus Facebook has a policy of rooting out spam “likes” and followers — as well as abiding ambitions to enter the Chinese market. China’s bosses won’t take kindly to social pushback. This may take more than a jog through smoggy Beijing to untangle.

Ring of Fire
We’ve all been watching the videos of the massive fires around Fort McMurray in Alberta. One prime suspect for why the fires got so bad so quickly? Climate change (New Yorker).

Adding Time to the Shot Clock
Bhutan has become the world’s first carbon-negative country. The small Asian nation, best-known for measuring Gross National Happiness, achieved the goal (GVI) by banning export logging, emphasizing hydroelectric power over fossil fuels, and amending the constitution so that forested areas would not drop below 60%. Can a country be a NewCo? We certainly think so.

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