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The Technology 202: Trump campaign sides with Uber and Lyft in battle over the future of gig workers

with Tonya Riley

The future of the gig economy is now officially a 2020 national election issue. 

The Trump campaign waded into a debate over an effort in California to force Uber and Lyft to classify their drivers as employees with full benefits, rather than independent contractors. The campaign sided with the companies, warning that pushing them to reclassify drivers in the California market would lead to a shutdown of the business and job losses for drivers. 

Trump’s stance stands in stark contrast to Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who during the primary both voiced their support for a California state law, called AB5, that aims to reign in gig economy companies by requiring them to workers as employees, who receive benefits such as health care and paid vacation. 

“If you needed any more proof that Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’s far-left agenda hurts people, look no further than California, which is waging an all-out assault on workers who are just trying to earn money for themselves and their families," said Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh. “Lyft and Uber drivers’ livelihoods are being threatened thanks to Biden and Harris’s support for a law demanded by liberal special interests who want to take away workers’ opportunity to make their own schedules and participate in a free and open gig economy.”

The candidates are poised to use the California fight to craft their economic message ahead of November. 

The gig economy's explosion is a clear political litmus test that will allow candidates to lay out how aggressive they believe the government should be in regulating private companies, and how much should be left up to the free markets. 

The Trump campaign is already getting started. 

“This cruel and harmful policy pushed by Biden, Harris and the radical left is a preview of how their agenda will crush the working class across the country if they are elected,” Murtaugh said in the statement. 

The debate is also a signal that Harris will still crack down on tech companies despite her personal ties to the companies. She supported AB5 as her brother-in-law, Uber chief legal officer Tony West, who has fought against classifying drivers as employees. West is married to Harris's sister Maya Harris, who served as chair of her campaign. 

The companies are trying to leverage the national spotlight to drum up support for their policies. 

Lyft last night ran an ad during the Democratic National Convention to highlight its push to keep classifying drivers as contractors. The company included footage of a driver who said he preferred the flexible options. 

“As an independent contractor with flexibility and freedom, I drive when and where I want. It keeps me on the road, helping people through the pandemic,” Marcell Hawkins, a part-time Lyft driver, says in the ad. “Now some politicians want to shut us down. Protect independent work so we can keep providing your family safe access to food and medicine.”

The issue is on the ballot in California in November. Lyft and Uber are attempting to drum up support for Proposition 22, a ballot initiative that would establish a third class of workers with limited benefits, such as health care and sick pay. Uber, Lyft and food delivery companies have funneled $110 million into a campaign to support the initiative. 

But critics of the companies say the ballot measure doesn't go far enough. The pandemic highlighted the stark costs of Uber drivers lacking the benefits granted to full-time employees, as drivers struggled to collect unemployment benefits as the ride-hailing business buckled under widespread stay-at-home orders. It also put greater pressure on the companies to grant drivers sick pay if they or their families contracted coronavirus. 

The companies have resorted to hard-charging tactics to avoid changes in California. 

Uber and Lyft are continuing to operate in California without reclassifying their employees but only after threats to shut down amid a court battle, my colleague Faiz Siddiqui reported. 

The companies planned to shutter their business operations today unless a California Superior Court decision requiring them to give drivers full employment was delayed while they appeal. They backed down from those threats after an appeals court issued a stay on that order. 

“We are glad that the Court of Appeals recognized the important questions raised in this case, and that access to these critical services won’t be cut off while we continue to advocate for drivers’ ability to work with the freedom they want,” Uber spokesman Noah Edwardsen said in a statement.

Lyft said it would keep fighting against efforts to force drivers to be reclassified as employees. 

“While we won’t have to suspend operations tonight, we do need to continue fighting for independence plus benefits for drivers,” Lyft spokesperson Julie Wood said in a statement. “That’s the solution on the ballot in November, and it’s the solution drivers want because it preserves their ability to earn and to use the platform as they do now — whenever they want — while also getting historic new benefits.” 

Our top tabs

U.S. companies are picking up the antitrust mantle as regulators fail to rein in the tech industry. 

Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, is the latest to take on the tech giants, suing both Apple and Google on the same day after they removed its app from their stores, my colleagues Reed Albergotti and Jay Greene report. It joins a long list of smaller players challenging the industry giants with civil suits alleging anticompetitive behavior. 

Email company Blix is suing Apple in part on antitrust grounds, as it accuses the iPhone maker of stealing its technology and limiting its app on the Apple App Store. Consumers who claim Amazon has jacked up prices brought a case against the e-commerce giant. And independent software developers have brought lawsuits against both Facebook and Google, claiming they abuse their power. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The actions underscore how some individuals and companies aren't waiting around from action in Washington. For more than a year, tech companies' size and power has been in the political spotlight, most recently at a key antitrust hearing with the chief executives of Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google on Capitol Hill. The Department of Justice and state attorneys general have also been investigating the companies' power. But the political rhetoric on the issue has yet to result in meaningful action. 

“Yeah, I wish the DOJ was next to me, but they’re not,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of the law firm Hagens Berman, which has led separate class-action lawsuits recently against Amazon, Apple and Google for alleged violations of antitrust law. Berman also successfully sued Apple alongside the Department of Justice in the e-books price-fixing case decided seven years ago.

A Trump-aligned group is using LeBron James's image to boost baseless Facebook ads discouraging mail-in voting.

A page associated with the website called “Protect My Vote” has purchased more than 150 ads reaching thousands of voters, deceptively warning that mail balloting results will result in lost votes and lost rights, Isaac Stanley-Becker reports. The posts tap into an effort by President Trump to discourage mail-in voting in swing states. 

FreedomWorks, a prominent conservative advocacy group that supports Trump, has boosted Protect My Vote. Peter Vicenzi, communications director for FreedomWorks, said a “partner group” was responsible for setting up the website and placing the ads, though he declined to provide details about the group. 

Some of the ads featured an image of basketball star LeBron James that falsely suggested he condemned vote by mail and linked it to poll closures. An adviser to James, Adam Mendelsohn, called the ads reprehensible and said that lawyers were reviewing the ads. 

Facebook is looking into the ads purchased on its platform, Facebook spokesperson Devon Kearns said. 

TikTok has removed more than 380,000 videos in the United States for hate speech since the start of the year.

The company released a new report about how it is cracking down on hate speech as it continues to face a potential ban in the United States over national security concerns.

The company has also increased efforts to train its safety team to better understand the cultural context of content and remove hateful terms from search, Eric Han, TikTok US's head of safety wrote in a blog post. The company has also banned more than 1,300 accounts for hateful content and removed 64,000 comments. 

A July transparency report showed that TikTok took down just 49 million videos total globally over a six-month period. Hate speech made up just 1 percent of those removals.

Reddit also provided updates on the results of the company's decision earlier this summer to strengthen its content policies to better address longstanding issues with hate speech

The company has banned 7,000 subreddits since, according to a post by a member of the company's safety team. The online communities were viewed by more than a quarter of a million users each day before the ban.

The FTC questioned Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg this week in its antitrust probe into the company. 

The deposition does not necessarily mean that the Federal Trade Commission will bring a case, agency staff told Leah Nylen and Betsy Woodruff Swan at Politico. Staff involved with state attorneys general investigating the company were also present, they report. 

It's unclear what the agency asked Zuckerberg, but a recent House hearing for its antitrust probe into Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon could have provided fodder. 

The hearing surfaced messages between Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom and a business partner in which Systrom expressed concerns Zuckerberg would ruin the company if he didn't sell. Zuckerberg denied the allegations in front of Congress.

“We are committed to cooperating with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s inquiry and answering the questions the agency may have,” Facebook representative Chris Sgro told Politico.

Rant and rave

Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang got the honor of doing an SNL style cold-open for the last night of the convention. He segued from a speech endorsing Biden into an introduction of host Julia Louis-Dreyfus that joked about mispronouncing Mike Pence's name. It was exactly what you would have expected.

Louis-Dreyfus kept the topical zingers going.

"If we all vote, there is nothing Facebook, Fox News and Vladimir Putin can do to stop us," Louis-Dreyfus said.

BuzzFeed's David Mack:

Crooked Media host Louis Virtel praised her as a spot-on pick for this political moment.

Trump tracker

The White House wants the Supreme Court to allow Trump to block Twitter critics. 

The White House is asking the nation's highest court to reverse a federal appeals court ruling last year that found that Trump violated the First Amendment when he blocked critics on Twitter, CNBC reports

The White House already attempted to get the ruling reversed by an appeals court in March, but the court declined to review the case. Acting solicitor general Jeffrey B. Wall is arguing that Trump's blocking is a personal action and not an extension of his office. He says the ruling would make it hard for public officials to insulate their social media from harassment.

Former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon faces federal charges in connection with a border wall scam.
Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was charged Aug. 20, 2020 with defrauding donors to an online fundraising campaign to build a border wall. (Video: Zach Purser Brown/The Washington Post)

Bannon and three others allegedly defrauded donors for a massive online crowdfunding campaign to build a border wall, Matt Zapotosky, Josh Dawsey, Rosalind S. Helderman and Shayna Jacobs report.

The We Build The Wall campaign, which was supported by high-profile allies of the president, collected more than $25 million from thousands of donors. Prosecutors alleged that Bannon organizer Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage routed more than $1 million of the funds to a shell nonprofit organization and lied to donors about it. 

Bannon's indictment makes him one of more than half a dozen Trump campaign or administration members who have faced criminal charges.

The White House said it had no involvement with the project despite claims from organizers. Asked about the arrest Thursday, Trump said he felt “very badly” but said of Bannon, “I haven’t been dealing with him for a very long period of time.” Trump said he felt the private fundraising effort was “something I very much thought was inappropriate to be doing.” “I don’t like that project,” the president said. “I thought it was being done for showboating reasons.” 

More administration news:

Open Technology Fund sues administration for $20M in missing funds (Axios)

Inside the industry

Uber's former security chief is facing charges for paying hackers to cover up a 2016 data breach.

The charges appear to be the first against an executive as a result of a security incident, Kate Conger at the New York Times reports. The 2016 leak exposed email addresses and phone numbers of 57 million drivers and passengers. 

Prosecutors allege that Joe Sullivan violated the law when he didn't disclose the attack to Federal Trade Commission investigators who were investigating an earlier Uber breach. Instead, Uber paid $100,000 to hackers and asked them to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

Sullivan could face up to eight years in prison for one count of obstructing justice and one count of concealing a felony. 

Sullivan, who is now chief information security officer at Internet and security company Cloudflare, has disputed that the company intentionally misled consumers. Sullivan acted with the approval of Uber's legal team, a representative told the Times. 

Uber is cooperating with the investigation, spokesman Matt Kallman said.

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The surprising mission of the Postal Service police who arrested Stephen Bannon (Alex Horton)

Bookmark this

The summer QAnon went mainstream (Mother Jones)

Daybook

  • The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will hold a hearing examining the finances and operations of the United States Postal Service during covid-19 and the upcoming elections today at 9 a.m.
  • The House Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold a hearing on "Protecting the Timely Delivery of Mail, Medicine, and Mail-in Ballots" Monday at 10 a.m.
  • The Republican National Convention will take place Monday through Thursday.

Before you log off

Comedian Sarah Cooper, a former Google employee who has found fame impersonating Trump on TikTok, took her act to the DNC with a serious message:

Hope you have as much fun this weekend as this DNC DJ. See you Monday.

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