Cars and Congress

I Hear the Secrets That You Keep, When You’re Talking in Your Sleep

Last week we got a little scaremongery about the future of electronic surveillance. (Ironically we dictated part of that piece.) We talked about eavesdropping speakers and the limits of privacy, and this week, as then, there’s really no easy answer. We accept a certain amount of intrusion into our privacy because, dammit, the convenience of being able to order pancake batter from the shower is slightly more important than the importance of being able to have unheard conversations with our spouses. Or something. But take heart! All is not (yet) lost.  Massachusetts Democrat and brief presidential candidate Seth Moutlon has introduced the Automatic Listening Exploitation Act, which would fine companies up to $40,000 for each recording made without a user’s permission, and require the recording be deleted from the company’s archives.

In a press release Moulton said, “Smart speakers and doorbells are great, but consumers should have a way to fight back when tech companies collect more data than Americans have agreed to give up. More broadly, Congress should give Americans a bigger say in the data that companies collect. It’s time for a next generation of digital privacy laws, and it can start by holding corporations to their own privacy commitments.”

If you think Seth is a little paranoid, consider that Amazon almost let Alexa listen to you without waking her first. (Consider also that it’s a little creepy to reflexively refer to a machine as “her,” but well…that’s where we are as a species.) Also remember Amazon has thousands of people dedicated to listening in on your conversations.  

It’s a real issue, and even though Moulton’s bill hasn’t yet attracted any co-sponsors, we hope someone will help him take up this cause. Here’s the thing: Even if you don’t mind an office full of Amazon employees hearing you talk about what color of eyeliner you want to buy, what if an overzealous government decides it really needs to hear you rant to your dog about how much you hate Rudy Giuliani?

How much of ourselves will we sacrifice for convenience? 

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Last night the California senate overwhelmingly passed AB5, the bill that would reclassify gig workers as employees rather than contractors. While the bill faces stiff opposition from Republicans, Governor Gavin Newsom supports it, as do labor leaders around the country. California Labor Chief Art Pulaski wrote: “The misclassification of workers creates a corrosive effect that ripples through our entire economy, undermining our laws to protect and support working people. AB5 is a powerful counter to the corporate greed and rampant exploitation that’s driving inequality across our state in emerging and traditional industries, alike.”

The bill could reclassify a staggering 400,000 Californians who work for app-based companies, and force companies like Uber and Lyft to offer the same protections full-time employees receive, like health insurance, paid time off, and retirement benefits — protections labor activists have spent decades fighting for.

AB5 is a huge win for labor-rights groups, and half of us at BiTE HQ couldn’t be happier. But…it’s not all sunshine and roses. Turning contractors into employees means they can be forced to work only for their employer. Right now, many gig drivers work for both Uber and Lyft, and that flexibility allows them to choose the opportunity that works best for them at that moment. Employee status means more benefits, but less freedom. 

When Uber launched, its drivers being contractors instead of employees wasn’t a bug; it was a feature. People would drive in their spare time, vastly increasing the capacity of the fleet. If the drivers are all employees, how are these once-revolutionary companies not just, well, cab companies with fancy apps?