Connect with us

Business News

Will these bills bring ridesharing giants Uber and Lyft back to Austin?

(AUSTIN BUSINESS NEWS) Two new State Senate bills could pave the way for ridesharing to return to Austin, but more action, as well as public input, is needed to really make it happen.

Published

on

uber austin ridesharing

Are we getting back together?

Uber and Lyft might return to our city, and our hearts, soon.

Two new State Senate bills could pave the way for Uber and Lyft to return to Austin, but more action, as well as public input, is needed to really make it happen.

When Lyft and Uber broke up with us, it was sudden and upsetting. It was not a gradual we-all-knew-this-was-coming break up, it was the all-your-stuff-is-on-the-porch-and-I’ve-changed-my-phone-number kind of break up.

We’d had fights, sure. There were very public arguments. But Austin just didn’t feel the same without the friendly faces of ride sharing. Now, new policy proposals might suggest a path to reconciliation.

bar

Where did it all go wrong?

As most Austin residents will recall, in May of this year the City Council passed an ordinance requiring ride share companies, like Uber and Lyft, to obtain fingerprint-based background checks for every potential driver. This was the first line in the sand, and led to activist groups petitioning, successfully, for public vote on an addendum to the Proposition 1.

The addendum stated that, while background checks would need to be implemented, the companies could use their own, already-in-place third-party methods to do it. The companies said these checks were enough to ensure the safety of both drivers and passengers.

But the city voted against the addendum, 56 to 42, and a lot of people have different ideas as to why. Some voters were upset that Uber and Lyft launched expensive ad campaigns asking people to support them in the polls instead of using those budgets to comply with the city. In any case, what happened next left a lot of heads spinning.

bar

Don’t go breaking my heart

Uber and Lyft tore out of the city overnight, a move they had pulled before. Along with all of our broken hearts, this move left about 10,000 drivers out of work. The DUI rate, which had dropped by 12 percent when the companies moved in, jumped back up 7.5 percent in the first few weeks after the Uberpocalypse.

Other rideshare companies (like non-profit Ride Austin), and loosely organized groups, have tried to fill the void with varying success. Uber indicated they had been doing some thinking and maybe they still wanted to be friends. But not much changed as we all adjusted to life without easy accessible ride sharing at our fingertips

“Hey, can we talk?”

Yesterday, two new State Senate bills were filled that could change everything. Don Huggines (R-Dallas) filed Bill 113 that will “introduce sweeping changes to the municipalities and the entire ride-for-hire industry,” according to a press release.

In a related move, Charles Schwetner (R-Georgetown) proposed Bill 176, which would put ride sharing regulation at the state level instead of leaving it up to individual municipalities. According to the Senator, this would allow Uber and Lyft a more friendly regulatory environment.

The bills allow for national-level background checks and state licenses of operation, but does not require the fingerprinting outlined in Austin’s ordinances.

In other words, the regulations look a lot more like what the proposed Proposition 1 addendum said. But, for better or worse, Austin voted against that addendum. So were do we go from here?

Can’t we all just get along?

Don’t re-download your apps and dust off those pink mustaches just yet. If the state and city level regulations disagree, there might be further conflict in store. “To the extent that this language is contrary to the City’s legislative agenda, the City of Austin must oppose it,” said Marissa Monroy, public information manager for the Austin transportation department.

Online sentiment to the two proposed bills is varied. While many people are vocal about wanting the Austin ride share situation back to the golden days, almost as many urge caution and remind us that the regulations were proposed for a reason, and we should proceed with that in mind.

The best time to voice your opinion is now, while the city and state are making decisions that will effect the entire industry. The best way to voice your opinion is to get in touch with your senator (here’s how to find them) and let them know what you want to see happen.

Don’t be left holding a tub of ice cream wishing you had said what was in your heart. Communication is essential for all relationships.

#AustinRidesharing

Felix is a writer, online-dating consultant, professor, and BBQ enthusiast. She lives in Austin with two warrior-princess-ninja-superheros and some other wild animals. You can read more of her musings, emo poetry, and weird fiction on her website.

Business News

Too connected: FTC eyes Facebook antitrust lawsuit

(BUSINESS NEWS) Following other antitrust hearings, we’re expecting to hear more about the FTC’s antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, soon.

Published

on

Facebook being crossed out by a stylus on a mobile device.

Facebook might be wishing it had kept the “dislike” button.

On September 15, the Wall Street Journal announced that the Federal Trade Commission was preparing a possible antitrust lawsuit against the social media titan. Although the FTC has not made an official decision on whether to pursue the case, sources familiar with the situation expect a determination will be made on the matter sometime before the end of 2020. Facebook and the FTC both declined to comment when asked about the story.

The news comes following a year-long investigation by the FTC that has looked into anti-competitive practices by the Menlo Park-based company. This past July, the United States House of Representatives held hearings in which they grilled the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook regarding their business practices. In August, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also testified in front of the FTC as part of the department’s antitrust probe into the organization.

The FTC seems to be especially interested in Facebook’s past acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, which they believe may have been done to stifle competition. In internal emails sent between Zuckerberg and Facebook’s former CFO David Ebersman back in 2012, the 36-year-old seemed worried that the apps could eventually pose a threat to the social media conglomerate.

“These businesses are nascent but the networks established, the brands are already meaningful, and if they grow to a large scale the could be very disruptive to us,” Zuckerberg wrote to Ebersman, “Given that we think our own valuation is fairly aggressive and that we’re vulnerable in mobile, I’m curious if we should consider going after one or two of them.”

When Ebersman asked him to clarify the benefits of the acquisitions, Zuckerberg stated the purchases would neutralize a competitor while improving Facebook.

“One way of looking at this is that what we’re really buying is time. Even if some new competitors springs up, buying Instagram, Path, Foursquare, etc. now will give us a year or more to integrate their dynamics before anyone can get close to their scale again.” Zuckerberg said.

This isn’t the first time the FTC has investigated Facebook either. Last year the agency fined the company $5 billion for the mishandling of user’s personal information, the biggest penalty imposed by the federal government against a technology company. As a part of the settlement with the FTC in that case, Facebook also promised more comprehensive oversight of user data.

If the FTC does pursue an antitrust suit against Facebook, it could end up forcing the social media giant to spin off some of the companies it has acquired or place restrictions on how it does business. Considering how long it will take to file the litigation and prove the case in a courtroom, however, it seems that Zuckerberg will once again be “buying time.”

Continue Reading

Business News

What you need to know about the historic TikTok deal (for now)

(BUSINESS NEWS) No one really knows what’s happening, but the TikTok deal’s impact on business, US-China relations, and the open internet could be huge.

Published

on

Male black hands holding app opening TikTok app.

So, maybe you’ve heard that Oracle and Walmart are buying TikTok for national security!

Um, not exactly.

Also, Trump banned TikTok!

Sort of? Maybe?

But then he said he approved the Oracle-Walmart-TikTok deal!

We guess?

The terms of the proposal seem to shift daily, if not hourly. The sheer number of contradictory statements from every player suggests no one really knows what’s going on.

Just one example: Trump said the deal included a $5 billion donation to a fund for education for American youth. TikTok parent ByteDance, said, “Say what now?”

Here’s what we think we know (as of this writing):

Oracle and Walmart would get a combined 20 percent stake in a new U.S.-based company called TikTok Global. Combine that with current US investors in China’s ByteDance, TikTok’s parent, that would give American interests 53 percent. European and other investors would have 11 percent. China would retain 36 percent. (On Saturday Trump said China would have no interests at all. But that does not jibe with the reporting on the deal.)

Oracle would host all user data on its cloud, where it is promising “security will be 100 percent” to keep data safe from China’s prying eyes. But reporting has differed on whether Oracle will get full access to TikTok’s code and AI algorithms. Without full control, skeptics say, Oracle could be little more than a hosting service, and potential security issues would remain unaddressed.

Walmart says they’re excited about their “potential investment and commercial agreements,” suggesting they may be exploring e-commerce opportunities in the app.

The US Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is overseen by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, still has to approve any deal.

As for the TikTok “ban” – which isn’t really a ban because current users can keep it – the Commerce Department postponed the deadline for kicking TikTok off U.S. app stores to September 27, to give time for the deal to be hammered out. Never mind that it’s still not clear whether the U.S. government has authority to do that. Unsurprisingly, ByteDance says it doesn’t in a lawsuit filed September 18.

Whatever happens with the whiplash of the deal’s particulars, there are bigger issues in play.

According to business news site Quartz, moving data storage to Oracle mirrors what companies like Apple have done in China: Appease the Chinese government by allowing all data hosting to be inside China. A similar move could “mark the US, too, shifting from a more laissez-faire approach to user data, to a more sovereign one,” says China tech reporter Jane Li.

More obvious: Corporate sales and mergers are now part of the parrying between the U.S. and China, which adds a whole new playing field for negotiations among businesses.

In the meantime, TikTokkers keep TikTokking. White suburban moms continue to lip sync to rap songs in their kitchens. Gen Z continues to make fun of the president – and pretty much everything else.

And downloads of the app have skyrocketed.

Continue Reading

Business News

Hobby Lobby increases minimum wage, but how much is just to save face?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Are their efforts to raise their minimum wage to $17/hour sincere, or more about saving face after bungling pandemic concerns?

Published

on

Hobby Lobby storefront

The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby announced this week that they will be raising their minimum full-time wage to $17/hour starting October 1st. This decision makes them the latest big retailer to raise wages during the pandemic (Target raised their minimum wage to $15/hour about three months ago, and Walmart and Amazon have temporarily raised wages). The current minimum wage for Hobby Lobby employees is $15/hour, which was implemented in 2014.

While a $17 minimum wage is a big statement for the company (even a $15 minimum wage cannot be agreed upon on the federal level) – and it is no doubt a coveted wage for the majority of the working class – it’s difficult to not see this move as an attempt to regain public support of the company.

When the pandemic first began, Hobby Lobby – with more than 900 stores and 43,000 employees nationwide – refused to close their stores despite being deemed a nonessential business (subsequently, a Dallas judge accused the company of endangering public health).

In April, Hobby Lobby furloughed almost all store employees and the majority of corporate and distribution employees without notice. They also ended emergency leave pay and suspended the use of company-provided paid time off benefits for employees during the furloughs – a decision that was widely criticized by the public, although the company claims the reason for this was so that employees would be able to take full advantage of government handouts during their furlough.

However, the furloughs are not Hobby Lobby’s first moment under fire. The Oklahoma-based Christian company won a 2014 Supreme Court case – the same year they initially raised their minimum wage – that granted them the right to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Also, Hobby Lobby settled a federal complaint in 2017 that accused them of purchasing upwards of 5,000 looted ancient Iraqi artifacts, smuggled through the United Arab Emirates and Israel – which is simultaneously strange, exploitative, and highly controversial.

Why does this all matter? While raising their minimum wage to $17 should be regarded as a step in the right direction regarding the overall treatment of employees (and, hopefully, $17 becomes the new standard), Hobby Lobby is not without reason to seek favorable public opinion, especially during a pandemic. Yes, we should be quick to condone the action of increasing minimum wage, but perhaps be a little skeptical when deeming a company “good” or “bad”.

Continue Reading

Our Great Partners

The
American Genius
news neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to our mailing list for news sent straight to your email inbox.

Emerging Stories

Get The American Genius
neatly in your inbox

Subscribe to get business and tech updates, breaking stories, and more!