Much like a Thanksgiving feast, today’s roundup is a medley of different stories. Top of the list is Uber paying hackers to delete stolen data on 57 million people, and what you should know as a driver and a passenger. Also in the round up – are driverless cars really around the corner? Do you agree with this journalist’s assertion? Wrapping up, an Uber co-founder does something admirable. All this and more in today’s round up with senior RSG contributor, John Ince.
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Uber Paid Hackers to Delete Stolen Data on 57 Million People [Bloomberg]
Sum and Substance: Uber Paid Hackers to Keep Massive Cyberattack Quiet – Hackers stole the personal data of 57 million customers and drivers from Uber Technologies Inc., a massive breach that the company concealed for more than a year. This week, the ride-hailing firm ousted its chief security officer and one of his deputies for their roles in keeping the hack under wraps, which included a $100,000 payment to the attackers.
Compromised data from the October 2016 attack included names, email addresses and phone numbers of 50 million Uber riders around the world, the company told Bloomberg on Tuesday. The personal information of about 7 million drivers was accessed as well, including some 600,000 U.S. driver’s license numbers. No Social Security numbers, credit card information, trip location details or other data were taken, Uber said.
My Take: The news about Uber just keeps getting worse. With this revelation, I’m beginning to understand why TK gave into the demands of Bill Gurley and the Benchmark cabal that he step aside last June. Can you imagine if TK was still CEO and he had to explain why they did this? How bad was this? This tweet from Sheera Frenkel says it all:
The details of how Uber got hacked (Uber engineers left their AWS keys on Github) don’t do much to inspire confidence in their cybersecurity practices. This is the equivalent to: left the keys to the safe in the front door.
Now with DK in charge, he can simply blame it on the other guys, fire a few people – and then move on. Hopefully that’s what they’ll do.
But the stench will remain. Here’s the thing that stinks most about this – TK is no longer CEO but he’s still a major shareholder – owning stock worth more than $5 billion, at least on paper. Basically TK has been massively rewarded for engaging in all kinds of unethical and illegal behavior.
Meanwhile, the drivers who are playing by the rules – rules set by Uber executives like TK – are busting their butts and still getting paid chickenfeed while living out of their cars. What’s wrong with this picture?
Volvo to supply Uber with up to 24,000 self-driving SUVs for taxi fleet [LA Times]
Sum and Substance: A fleet of self-driving Volvo vehicles operated by Uber Technologies Inc. could be ready for the road as early as 2019, marking the ride-hailing firm’s biggest push yet to roll out autonomous cars. Volvo said Monday that it would sell Uber tens of thousands of luxury sport utility vehicles between 2019 and 2021 outfitted with the Swedish automaker’s safety, redundancy and core autonomous driving technologies. Uber will then add its own self-driving technology to the autonomous taxi fleet.
Jeff Miller, head of auto alliances at Uber, said in a statement that the agreement put Uber on a path toward “mass produced self-driving vehicles at scale. The Wall Street Journal reported that the fleet described in the agreement would number 24,000 vehicles, though an Uber spokesperson said the figure is a “general framework” and not necessarily the actual number of cars that will be purchased. It’s unclear when exactly the vehicles will hit the road.
As part of the agreement, Volvo will supply the advanced XC90 SUVs over two years. In its current version, which includes some limited autonomous driving features, the car has a starting list price of about $47,000….
My Take: With Uber, it’s always useful to distinguish between real news and their desire to create an illusion through manipulation of the media – often to advance some corporate objective – like fundraising.
I’ve been trying to get the details on this “deal” and I can’t find them – perhaps because they haven’t been spelled out yet. That would be exactly the way Uber wants it. They want to create the impression that they’re front and center of the autonomous vehicle race and announcements like this accomplish just that.
If Uber has actually signed some kind of contract with a financial commitment to purchase 24,000 autonomous vehicle from Volvo at $49,000 each, they would be taking a huge risk – over $1 billion. That’s the kind of order any automobile manufacturer couldn’t refuse.
So more than likely, this “framework agreement,” is more smoke and mirrors, designed to seduce investors, selling them the dream of a driverless car future – with Uber in the driver’s seat. I fault major publications like LA Times, Wall Street Journal and my former employer, Fortune, for attaching more significance to this announcement than it deserves. Erik Sherman (see article below) does a better job than I can explaining why there’s less than meets the eye to this story.
Uber’s Desperate Hope at a Tough Time: Forget Drivers, Use Robots [Inc.com]
Sum and Substance: Drivers are too expensive for the business model. Self-driving robotic cars aren’t. Uber seems destined to stand tied to two pillars: one of apparently good news that’s bad and another representing bad news that is actually worse. The good/bad news today for Uber is the deal to purchase up to 24,000 self-driving cars from Volvo. The “good” part is that self-driving cars would cut costs substantially and maybe let the company move toward profits. The bad news comes in two parts: drivers could find themselves without employment and the necessary regulatory and infrastructure framework that would enable autonomous cars still seems a long way off.
They might not be if if Uber had its technical druthers. The agreement to purchase up to 24,000 cars from Volvo, which appears to have been first reported by Fortune, would, in theory, help the company out of a quandary. Uber’s business model requires low ride prices while presenting a perceived better degree of service to outdo competitors, including taxis and public transportation….
The plan to acquire self-driving cars rests on many assumptions:
• Government bodies and regulators will be comfortable with automated vehicles.
• Traffic infrastructure will have the modifications necessary to allow self-driving cars to operate commercially.
• There will be no problems with self-driving vehicles that might scare consumers from using the technology.
• The technology itself will ready in time, meaning that it could reliably operate in any weather conditions.
• Insurance companies will cover the new devices.
• No future regulations will delay or redirect efforts to deploy the vehicles.
• Should issues delay the use of autonomous vehicles, drivers would be willing to return.
• Issues like confusion in navigation, recognition of passengers, and aid to passengers who need help to get bags into and out of vehicles won’t anger consumers.
My Take: Erik Sherman is my new favorite source in ridehailing news. Last week I featured his article in Inc.com about the Softbank deal. Again this week he’s nailed it with this piece on Uber’s Hail Mary on autonomous cars.
I particularly like his long list of obstacles standing in the way of an autonomous vehicle future. Any one of those could derail the driverless car train for years – if not decades. Taken together they constitute a roadblock that just isn’t going get moved out of the way anytime soon.
But that won’t stop Uber from creating the illusion of a driverless car future and using that to raise tons of money – to keep the company afloat despite astounding losses. Nope, Uber is full throttle head in AV. Witness this: introducing Uber’s “Sensory Stimulation System,” designed to reduce the effect of car sickness, especially felt in self-driving cars, according to a new patent published earlier this year. Oh my, is this really what Uber is doing with its billions?
Uber and Infosys co-founders are latest billionaires to join The Giving Pledge [CNBC.com]
My Take: Uber co-founder Garrett Camp has joined The Giving Pledge, a commitment to give away half of their wealth to charity. So has Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, who signed on along with his wife Rohini. Camp’s net worth is estimated at $5.1 billion while Nilekani’s is estimated at $1.7 billion.
The Giving Pledge was created in 2010 by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to encourage the world’s richest people to “publicly dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy” while they’re still alive. In a personal blog post announcing his plans, Camp spoke of recent travels to Kenya, where he connected with people living without access to basic services like clean water, food and electricity.
My Take: It’s nice to be able to end the rideshare roundup this week on a positive note with this story about the Uber co-founder pledging half his fortune of over $5 billion to charity. Here’s hoping he uses some of that money to help the Uber driver’s who are living out of their cars.
Readers, what do you think of this week’s round up?
-John @ RSG