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This Uber news is shadier than a white paneled van

(TECH NEWS) Uber is up to some shady stuff again that could have some real legal repercussions – more than just upsetting a Twitter mob this time.

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The accusations are uber-serious!

Ridesharing app, Uber has been using a hidden tool called “Greyball” to collect data that would identify law enforcement officials. The purpose?

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To allegedly evade authorities for illegally operating in cities or countries where Uber had no legal approval to provide certain or all services.

A leak of wiki proportions

The New York Times has acquired internal company documents from four anonymous whistleblowers, all Uber employees.

Greyball, these documents show, is part of Uber’s VTOS program that has been in operation since 2014.

The “Violation of Terms of Service” program was originally created to identify and blacklist users improperly targeting its services.

The program is currently operational in countries like South Korea, China, and Italy. But Uber has also used the program to evade authorities in many U.S. cities including Las Vegas and Boston.

How does Greyball actually work?

A brilliant demonstration came as early as 2014 from Portland, Oregon when Uber had no approval to operate in the city. As part of a sting operation, Erich England, a code enforcement inspector, hailed a cab on his Uber app from downtown Oregon. The app displayed miniature vehicles on Mr. England’s screen.

However, the app was displaying “ghost cars” on purpose, and no physical cars were coming to pick him up.

The display, in other words, was a smokescreen, a fake version of the app.

The app had already identified Mr. England as a city official, thereby “greyballing” him, in order to circumvent being captured for covertly and illegally operating in the city.

Uber: A brief history

One of Silicon Valley’s biggest success stories, Uber is valued at $70 billion and operates in more than 70 countries around the world.

It is the dominant ride hailing company in the United States, and is expanding rapidly into South America and Asia.

The company’s roster of investors is impressive. Last year, Uber raised $3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia alone, in order to expand in the Middle East. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and even mutual fund giants like BlackRock have stakes in the company.

When bad press is actually bad press

Uber has recently come under increased scrutiny for its aggressive work culture, rife with fear of retaliation, abuse, and insanely demanding work hours. Susan Flower, an ex-employee, published detailed accusations of discrimination and sexual harassment.

At a 2015 Las Vegas company party, Beyoncé was hired, Uber employees did cocaine in the hotel bathrooms, and a manager groped several female employees.

In a recently filed federal lawsuit, Google also sued Uber for using technology acquired through intellectual property theft.

This latest revelations of the existence of the Greyball tool really substantiates how dangerously far Uber will test legal boundaries in order to dominate the market.

Denial, not just a river in Egypt

Uber seemed to defend its practice as more of a necessary, preventative step.

“This program denies ride requests to users who are violating our terms of service — whether that’s people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret ‘stings’ meant to entrap drivers.”

Nevertheless, the law enforcements agencies might have a vastly different interpretation of this behavior. The VTOS program and the Greyball tool, it seems to analysts, was developed in response to the fallout of the UberX service.

Makin’ waves

The UberX feature (summoning a noncommercial driver in a private car with only cursory background check) ran into legal hurdles globally, including in U.S. cities like Austin, Philadelphia, and Tampa.

As a result, Uber started losing thousands of dollars in lost revenues to law enforcement officials for impounded or ticketed UberX drivers.

The Greyball tool was then introduced. Identify enforcement officers, preempt their sting operations by displaying a fake app, and never offer an actual ride.

If the plan was simple, the modus operandi was straight up sinister

The tool utilized around a dozen mechanisms to identify officers.

Including, but not limited to, stalking on social media; “geofencing” around authorities’ office buildings; checking credit card information tied with the Uber account; and even blacklisting cheap mobile phone numbers, which city officials with limited budgets were most likely to purchase and use during large-scale sting operations.

Can’t trust them as far as you can throw them

Such sophistication has proven to be a largely effective technique. Now the big question is, how aggressive and effective the law agencies would be in challenging Uber’s current practices.

Perhaps even more to the point, can the public trust such devious companies?Click To Tweet

Uber is not new to legal hurdles. But the latest revelations seem more like breach. A breach of faith, ethics, and probably the law.

#UberShady

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Barnil is a Staff Writer at The American Genius. With a Master's Degree in International Relations, Barnil is a Research Assistant at UT, Austin. When he hikes, he falls. When he swims, he sinks. When he drives, others honk. But when he writes, people read.

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The semantic argument of the phrase ‘Full Stack’

(TECH NEWS) As the tech industry knows, being able to classify your job qualifications is paramount.

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Semantics

A new debate is emerging in the web development world and it’s not about which framework is best, or which language is most marketable.

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In fact the debate isn’t a matter of code, it’s a matter of words.

It’s Not Just About Experience Level

“Full Stack Developer” is the title developers both new and old often use to describe themselves. According to a Stack Overflow developer survey touted as the “most comprehensive developer survey conducted” the title is among the top five respondents used to describe themselves.

However, not everyone thinks newer developers should adopt the title.

It would be easy to distill the debate to a matter of experience level, veterans earned the “full stack” title, while newer programmers haven’t. However, there’s way more layers to this debate.

What Exactly is Full Stack

First of all, a simple google search reveals several different definitions of “full stack.” There’s general consensus when it comes to the high-level definition. CodeUp sums up this definition, “The term full stack means developers who are comfortable working with both back-end and front-end technologies.”

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty of what exactly falls under back-end and front-end, there’s some disagreement.

Mastery level also matters, but again there’s disagreement over what’s acceptable. In one camp, are the proficiency pushers who require not only a breadth of understanding, but also a depth of understanding in multiple areas.

In this camp, it’s not just good enough to have exposure to SQL, one must have proficiency in SQL.

In the other camp, are the generalist. They also require a breadth of knowledge, but are happy with a basic familiarity of each stack element. When it comes to debating whether newer developers should adopt the full stack title, the lack of clarity on what full stack means in the first place is a major stumbling block.

Why Full Stack?

Besides clarifying the what behind “full stack” some folks are also clarifying the why. According to Indeed’s job trends, the number of postings and searches matching “full stack developer” on average has trended upwards since 2012 . The title’s popularity causes some to believe that new developers are adopting the title as a buzzword with no real care put into understanding what “full stack” means.

Android Programmer Dan Kim from Basecamp warns, “Just don’t fall back to labeling yourself with a bullshit buzzword that everyone else uses.”

For others, adopting the full stack title is a matter of mindset. As Web developer Christian Maioli over at TechBeacon writes: “To me, a full stack developer is someone who has the curiosity and drive to test the limits of a technology and understand how each piece works generally in various scenarios. Having this mindset will give developers more value and more power in dealing with new situations.”

In both cases, understanding why a new developer adopts the full stack title is connected to understanding whether they’re overselling their skills and how valuable their skills are to a potential employer.

Beyond Job Titles

Finally, this debate about whether new developers should use the “full stack” title brings up the need for alternative methods of measuring proficiency. This need isn’t limited to the web development world, as technology innovates job titles become convoluted.

A job title won’t be the most reliable way to communicate what you bring to a job or what you expect.Click To Tweet

Quantifying what you’ve accomplished in the past, along with what tools you used will be critical in a time where job titles aren’t trusted.

This story was first published here on April 7, 2017.

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We’ve all seen job listings for UX writers, but what exactly is UX writing?

(TECH NEWS) We seeing UX writer titles pop up and while UX writing is not technically new, there are new availabilities popping up.

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The work of a UX writer is something you come across everyday. Whether you’re hailing an Uber or browsing Spotify for that one Drake song, your overall user experience is affected by the words you read at each touchpoint.

A UX writer facilitates a smooth interaction between user and product at each of these touchpoints through carefully chosen words.

Some of the most common touchpoints UX writers work on are interface copy, emails and notifications. It doesn’t sound like the most thrilling stuff, but imagine using your favorite apps without all the thoughtful confirmation messages we take for granted. Take Eat24’s food delivery app, instead of a boring loading visual, users get a witty message like “smoking salmon” or “slurping noodles.”

Eat24’s app has UX writing that works because it’s engaging.

Xfinity’s mobile app provides a pleasant user experience by being intuitive. Shows that are available on your phone are clearly labeled under “Available Out of Home.” I’m bummed that Law & Order: SVU isn’t available, but thanks to thoughtful UX writing at least I knew that sad fact ahead of time.

Regardless of where you find a UX writer’s work, there are three traits an effective UX writer must have. Excellent communication skills is a must. The ability to empathize with the user is on almost every job post.

But from my own experience working with UX teams, I’d argue for the ability to advocate as the most important skill.

UX writers may have a very specialized mission, but they typically work within a greater UX design team. In larger companies some UX writers even work with a smaller team of fellow writers. Decisions aren’t made in isolation. You can be the wittiest writer, with a design decision based on obsessive user research, but if you can’t advocate for those decisions then what’s the point?

I mentioned several soft skills, but that doesn’t mean aspiring UX writers can’t benefit from developing a few specific tech skills. While the field doesn’t require a background in web development, UX writers often collaborate with engineering teams. Learning some basic web development principles such as responsive design can help writers create a better user experience across all devices. In a world of rapid prototyping, I’d also suggest learning a few prototyping apps. Several are free to try and super intuitive.

Now that the UX in front of writer no longer intimidates you, go check out ADJ, The American Genius’ Facebook Group for Austin digital job seekers and employers. User centered design isn’t going anywhere and with everyone getting into the automation game, you can expect even more opportunities in UX writing.

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Loopy is the new easy tool that helps explain hard ideas

(TECH NEWS) Loopy is a tool that can revolutionize how we explain anything from personal ideas to business complexities.

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In a world filled with complex systems, Loopy serves as a tool for people to take their time understanding them.

The tool allows users to create interactive simulations to help people explain their ways of thinking.

Loopy has found a way for people to interact with simulations without complicated code or overused drag and drop. You can create your own or collaborate with other simulations already made on the site.

It is a great way to challenge yourself while learning how each system works.

Loopy encourages you to ask hypothetical questions to better understand the systems. The model consists of circles and arrows to remain uncomplicated. When you remix or interact with simulations that were made by other users, it is as if you are having a conversation via the simulations. Loopy describes this as “talking in systems” which makes the entire experience more impactful.

Though Loopy can be used as a fun way to exercise your brain, it also has practical implications. For instance, simulations can be embedded into blog posts, live lectures and presentations. You can also develop videos to further explain complex ideas.

This is especially useful for businesses who want to simplify their models when communicating with investors and consumers.

Simulations can be a fun way to illustrate your thoughts and support your ideas. Businesses can use Loopy to create collaborative activities for their employees to mess around with as well.

The best part is that anyone can try it out for free. On their site, you can develop your own simulations or adjust ones that have already been made.

At its core, Loopy is simulation software.

However, their goal is to give everyone the tools that they need to understand complex systems. This goes for both the creators and the viewers, who are all a part of the process.

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