The Hazards of Ubering While Black


Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft have earned praise for serving minority neighborhoods that old-school taxis often shunned. Now a study for the National Bureau of Economic Research has found evidence that Uber and Lyft can also discriminate against African American riders and women (Bloomberg).

Professors at MIT, Stanford, and the University of Washington collected data in Seattle and Boston and found that black Uber users had to wait longer for rides and got cancelled more frequently. (Lyft drivers see riders’ names and pictures before they accept a fare, whereas Uber’s drivers don’t.) Women riders in Boston were given longer rides and higher fares than male riders headed to the same destination.

The researchers emphasize that they don’t believe these companies intend to discriminate. As straightforward network tools connecting riders and drivers, these services are simply transmitting biases already present among its users. But that doesn’t free them of responsibility. If these platforms want to become forces for changing society rather than simply reflecting it, they’ll have to put some effort into baking anti-discrimination counter-measures right into their systems.

The Alt-Right’s New War On Yogurt

Who wouldn’t smile at the success story of Chobani, the Greek yogurt maker founded by Hamdi Ulukaya, a Turkish-Kurdish immigrant who has become an advocate for helping refugees? Apparently, Trump campaign supporters and alt-right partisans enraged by articles on Breitbart and other conservative news sites with headlines like “American Yogurt Tycoon Vows to Choke U.S. With Muslims” (The New York Times). They’ve filled social media with calls for a boycott of Chobani’s products. The mayor of Twin Falls, Idaho, where Chobani operates a factory, has received death threats.

The anger seems rooted in raw xenophobia. Targeting a business leader who is actually solving problems rather than multiplying them is deeply irrational. As a human rights advocate points out in the Times, Ulukaya arouses such rage because he is a living refutation of anti-immigrant paranoia — an immigrant entrepreneur who, far from stealing U.S. jobs, has been creating them at a fast clip. He’s spreading the American dream while his assailants are torching it.

Robots Won’t Steal Your Job Till the Next Recession

We know that robots are poised to take over a whole lot of human jobs, but the economic data doesn’t suggest that this is happening much anywhere yet: Right now, wages are up and productivity is down. “This is not what the end of work looks like,” writes Derek Thompson (The Atlantic).

Wait until the next recession. That, Thompson argues, is when we will see the impact of the technological shifts we’ve all been watching — self-driving cars, machine-learning artificial intelligence, online commerce ascendant. Historically, technological displacement of workers has come during downturns, like the early ’90s, when the personal computer moved onto every office desk. Of course, recessions are precisely the worst time for such changes to happen — government and businesses are constrained by tight budgets from helping cushion or retrain the workers who are in trouble. Maybe we should use the calm before the automation storm to prepare such efforts in advance.

How Cheap Hardware Makes the Net Insecure

Remember the big Internet outage on Oct. 21? It seems to have been caused by a zombie army of compromised internet-connected security cameras, which attacked and temporarily shut down a key routing-information provider named Dyn. Many of those cameras were manufactured by Hangzhou Xiongmai Technologies, and a look at the Chinese firm and why its products were so easy to commandeer offers a grim prognosis of an insecure future (Quartz). The trouble with Xiongmai’s cameras was simple: Their software was out of date and easily hacked, and too often users didn’t bother to change default passwords or changed them to something obvious.

But there’s no incentive for companies like Xiongmai to divert a slice of their thin profit margins to improving security, since their products are almost always rebranded under someone else’s name. Our distributed manufacturing system makes it tough for the market to keep the internet safe. It might be time to think about some sort of industry consortium, like the electrical industry’s Underwriters Lab, to protect us from the network-era equivalent o electrical fires.

An Open Letter to Healthcare.Gov: I Can’t Afford To Be Sick

Being chronically ill means never getting off the treadmill of bills and debts, writes Abby Norman (NewCo Shift). “They say, right at the bottom of the statement: ‘patient is responsible’ — as though I asked for this, as though it’s my fault.” It’s better to have insurance through the Obamacare exchanges than not — and it allows people like Norman to go out on their own rather than stick to a job for the sake of the coverage. But even under the Affordable Care Act, the cost pile-up is unbearable.

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