[Plura-list] Uber loses (another) $6.8b; Ring helped LAPD spy on BLM protests

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Tue Feb 16 10:15:48 EST 2021


Tomorrow, I'm giving a talk called "Technology, Self-Determination, and
the Future of the Future" for the Purdue University CERIAS Program:



Today's links

* Uber loses (another) $6.8b: The market can stay predatory longer than
you can stay angry.

* Ring helped LAPD spy on BLM protests: The public-private surveillance
partnership from hell.

* This day in history: 2001, 2006, 2011, 2016

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current
writing projects, current reading


👎🏼 Uber loses (another) $6.8b

In late 2020, a coalition of predatory, money-losing, private-equity
backed companies ran a $200m disinformation campaign that resulted in
the passage of California's Prop 22, legalizing worker misclassification
and mass-scale labor law violations.


Almost immediately, the passage of Prop 22 led to the loss of unionized
jobs paying a living wage and offering basic worker protections,
especially for people of color - only to have them replaced by "gig
work" that lacked any of the above.


One of the primary funders - and beneficiaries - of Prop 22 was Uber,
which pioneered worker misclassification. Uber is now pushing the EU to
"harmonize" its regulations in a game of transatlantic pingpong where
each volley makes things worse.


The irony? Uber is a "bezzle" - JK Galbraith's name for "the magic
interval when a confidence trickster knows he has the money he has
appropriated but the victim does not yet understand that he has lost
it." Uber is a scam and it will never be profitable.

Uber is a product of Softbank, the Saudi-backed Japanese investment fund
that has $100b to spend on helping the Saudi royals find a revenue
stream to replace oil. Softbank is a pioneer of accounting frauds that
make stupid businesses look profitable.


From Wework to Uber to Doordash and beyond, Softbank makes two kinds of
bets: first, that they can achieve a monopoly by doing illegal or
quasi-illegal things so quickly that they become faits accompli before
they get shut down.

And second, that the companies that fail to achieve a monopoly can be
unloaded on suckers ("investors") who assume that a money-losing company
that has been around for a decade or more must have a path to
profitability ("a pile of shit this big *must* have a pony under it!").

Uber will never, ever be profitable. The company admitted as much on its
S1 IPO filing, where it said that profitability depended on every public
transit system in the world being replaced with Uber. The company lost
*$4b* in the first half of 2020,


If you think the first half of 2020 was bad, you should see the second
half of 2020: *Uber lost $6.8b more!* As usual, transportation analyst
Hubert Horan has the absolute best context on the company's haemorrhagic


He points out that things are even worse than they seem for Uber. For
many years, the pony-under-all-this-shit show required that Uber spend
billions on the doomed pretense that they would someday replace drivers
with autonomous vehicles.

$2.5B later, Uber's "self-driving" cars could go a whopping *0.25 miles*
before crashing. They had to *pay* someone $400m to take the division
off their hands. Even so, ditching the business-unit produced a gain for
Uber's H2-2020 balance-sheet.


Now, Uber *did* experience massive growth in H2-2020, in their food
delivery division. However, that growth led to massive losses for them,
because every delivery loses the company money, by design (more
expensive pony-under-the-pile theatrics):


But Uber's food delivery long con doesn't just victimize its investors:
the primary harms accrue to the restaurants the company nonconsensually
opts into its delivery services (with help from Google), draining them
until they collapse.


Uber claims that it is just consuming every beloved restaurant in the
world in order to attain liftoff for "ghost kitchens" - literally
shipping containers stuffed with precarious chefs *paying* to cook in
unsafe working conditions.

This is what we mean when we talk about "financialization." Uber is a
finance shell-game, one that can only be sustained by the destruction of
all public transit, all restaurants, basic worker protections and the
minimum wage.

And once it has taken that brutal toll on workers and the real economy,
once it has fleeced the last investor lured into paying to excavate a
little more of the pile of shit, it will collapse.

You can't lost $10b/year forever. $10b here, $10b there, pretty soon
you're talking real money.


👎🏼 Ring helped LAPD spy on BLM protests

Ring - Amazon's surveillance doorbell division - has 4,000
"partnerships" with US police ("public safety") orgs. The company has
lied about how these work for years, but the basic deal is that they
give cops free stuff to buzz-market their products.


Ring tells its customers that they get to choose whether to share the
footage from their street-facing cameras with cops, but that's a lie,
too. If you say no, the cops still get to look through your camera.


That's why cops debase themselves to serve as buzz-marketers for Ring -
in exchange, they get an off-the-books, free-to-use, warrantless,
city-scale, video surveillance grid.

It's an investment that pays off. Back in July, EFF documented how the
San Francisco Police Departmnet was able to commandeer 200 Ring cameras
to produce surveillance data on BLM protesters:


And in a new blockbuster report, EFF's Dave Maass and Matthew Guariglia
document how the LAPD did the same thing, fraudulently using "unusual
occurance" protocols to gain access to last summer's BLM protests.


Ring has a terrible track record, kicking off its marketing by sending
out deceptive news-bulletins to convince people that they lived in
high-crime areas and needed its products:


They lied about their facial recognition program:


A program that included a plan to make "watch lists" of people who'd be
tracked from camera to camera:


Far from keeping its customers safe, Ring exposed them to real harm,
leaking their home addresses:


Allowing third parties to hack their cameras, spy on them, and scream
abuse at them:


Not just hackers, either! Multiple Ring employees got caught spying on
Ring owners and their families, including their children:


As Maass and Guariglia point out, Ring made some improvements to user
privacy over the past year, adding end-to-end encryption. But at the
same time, Ring has cemented its relationship with American police
forces, leading to far more police requests for Ring owners' footage.

These "requests" start to feel a lot more like coercion, and, as with
other coercive law-enforcement requests, "like police 'asking' to search
your phone during a traffic stop," they should be bound by strict limits.

EFF proposes four rules for coercive electronic searches:

I. Requests must be specific, targeting a particular time and place
where there is reasonable suspicion that crime has happened (rather than
general requests)

II. Police must collect and publish statistics about their consent
searches of electronic devices, to deter and detect racial profiling

III. Police and reviewing courts must narrowly construe the scope of a
person’s consent to search their device.

IV. Before an officer attempts to acquire footage from a person’s Ring
camera, the officer must notify the person of their legal right to refuse.

The public-private surveillance partnership between Ring and the cops
epitomizes the paradox of the American privacy debate.

When I talk to military, intelligence and government audiences about
surveillance, they say, "Look, Uncle Sam already knows everything about
me, but those scumbags in Silicon Valley would sell their mothers for a

And when I talk to tech audiences, they say, "Google just wants to show
me better ads, big deal. But cops and spooks? They're the thickwitted
sociopaths who were too stupid to get a job at a tech company. No *way*
I want them spying on me."

But the reason companies like Ring are allowed to conduct such
indiscriminate surveillance (a one mile walk in DC puts you under the
gaze of 13 Ring cameras!) is that governments are wholly dependent on
requisitioning their footage.

Rather than warning people about the dangers of Ring cameras - or
agitating for ordinances banning them - cops served as street-teams
marketing Ring's products. Private surveillance depends on government
complicity, and spying governments depend on private surveillance.


👎🏼 This day in history

#20yrsago  P2P Goes in Search of 'Doogle'

#15yrsago Tech companies defend profiteering to Holocaust survivor

#10yrsago Dapper Day at Disneyland: the well-dressed go to the fun-park

#10yrsago Watch: Claude Shannon, Jerome Wiesner and Oliver Selfridge in
a 1960s AI documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aygSMgK3BEM

#10yrsago NYC: Chinatown’s last grungy arcade hangs on

#5yrsago Matt Ruff’s “Lovecraft Country,” where the horror is racism
(not racist)

#5yrsago Hackers steal a hospital in Hollywood

#5yrsago NSA and GCHQ’s crappy Big Data techniques may be killing
thousands of innocents


👎🏼 Colophon

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 507 words (110896 total).

* A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions.
Yesterday's progress: 305 words (5382 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and
Interoperability (Part 1) Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and
Interoperability (Part 1)

Upcoming appearances:

* Keynote, NISO Plus, Feb 22,

* Technology, Self-Determination, and the Future of the Future (Purdue
CERIAS), Feb 17,

*  Mellon Sawyer Seminar on Contemporary Political Struggle: Social
Movements, Social Surveillance, Social Media (with Zeynep Tufekci), Feb
24, https://ucdavis.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_I99f4x8WRiKCfKUljVcYPg

* World Ethical Data Forum keynote, Mar 17-19,

* Interop: Self-Determination vs Dystopia (FITC), Apr 19-21,

Recent appearances:

* Chop Shop Economics

* Monocle Reads

* Hedging Bets on the Future (Motherboard Cyber):

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a
(print edition:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

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