Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired California Lawmakers Move to Protect Gig-Economy Workers

Hexbyte Tech News Wired California Lawmakers Move to Protect Gig-Economy Workers

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

Uber drivers protesting outside a company office ahead of its initial public offering last month.

Scott Varley/Getty Images

The California Assembly passed legislation on Wednesday that could have a profound effect on hundreds of thousands of workers by requiring companies like Uber, Postmates, Amazon Flex, and others to recognize much of their workforce as employees entitled to labor protections and benefits. The proposed law cuts to the heart of one of Silicon Valley’s fiercest debates at the moment: Should tech giants be allowed to classify the legions of gig-economy workers their companies rely on as independent contractors, or should they be forced to regard them as employees, and compensate them as such?

Lawmakers in California appear to be overwhelmingly in favor of the latter. Less than a month after ride-hail drivers around the globe briefly went on strike on the eve of Uber’s IPO to protest low wages and their status as contractors, the bill was approved 53 to 11. It now moves to the state Senate.

Other states and cities have previously attempted to regulate gig-economy work, with proposals often targeted at a single industry. Last year, for example, New York City imposed a mandatory minimum wage and temporary cap on ride-hail drivers. California’s legislation is notable in its scope, which goes far beyond the tech economy.

“Big businesses shouldn’t be able to pass their costs onto taxpayers, while depriving workers of the labor law protections they are rightfully entitled to,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who introduced the bill, said in a statement. “This legislation is an important work in progress to provide certainty to California’s businesses, provide protections for California’s workers, and guard the taxpayers from subsidizing unscrupulous corporations.”

If signed into law, the legislation will codify a landmark April 2018 California Supreme Court ruling, which introduced a three-part test to determine which workers businesses can reasonably classify as independent contractors and which must be treated as genuine employees. Workers considered employees are entitled to key labor protections and benefits—such as a minimum wage, overtime pay, and protections under antidiscrimination laws—which many gig-economy companies have long resisted.

To designate workers as independent contractors under the bill, companies will have to prove the following: that they don’t control or direct the person’s work; that the worker’s services aren’t related to the company’s main business; and that the person is engaged in an “independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature” as the work performed.

Uber and Lyft drivers would “pretty clearly fit as employees under this statute,” says Alex Rosenblat, a technology ethnographer at Data & Society, and author of Uberland. The bill could also affect the workers powering popular delivery apps like Postmates and Grubhub; child and pet care services like Care.com and Wag; and on-demand fulfillment operations like Amazon Flex.

Rosenblat thinks the bill is likely to pass in California’s Democratic-majority Senate, especially given the popular backlash to large tech companies. She says the legislation’s reclassification of workers could have a major impact on gig-economy firms’ already meager bottom lines, along with the way lawmakers around the country think about addressing tech workers’ rights.

“They are setting a powerful political example for how to regulate tech and try and create better conditions under which people work in the gig economy,” she says. “And that’s pretty important.”

In a statement, an Uber spokesperson said: “We support efforts to modernize labor laws in ways that preserve the flexibility drivers tell us they value, while improving the quality and security of independent work.” Lyft did not respond to requests for comment.

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Hexbyte  Hacker News  Computers With 86% Drop, California’s Monarch Butterfly Population Hits Record Low

Hexbyte Hacker News Computers With 86% Drop, California’s Monarch Butterfly Population Hits Record Low

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Science|With 86% Drop, California’s Monarch Butterfly Population Hits Record Low
The population of western monarch butterflies in California dropped to a record low last year, according to a nonprofit conservation group.CreditCreditJason Henry for The New York Times

They arrive in California each winter, an undulating ribbon of orange and black. There, migrating western monarch butterflies nestle among the state’s coastal forests, traveling from as far away as Idaho and Utah only to return home in the spring.

This year, though, the monarchs’ flight seems more perilous than ever. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a nonprofit group that conducts a yearly census of the western monarch, said the population reached historic lows in 2018, an estimated 86 percent decline from the previous year.

That in itself would be troubling news. But, combined with a 97 percent decline in the total population since the 1980s, this year’s count is “potentially catastrophic,” according to the biologist Emma Pelton.

“We think this is a huge wake-up call,” said Ms. Pelton, who oversees the survey and lives in Portland, Ore.

The society has preliminary counts from 97 sites, most of them along California’s coast, representing an area that traditionally accounts for nearly 77 percent of the state’s winter monarch population. In 2017, the sites hosted about 148,000 monarchs. But in 2018, that dropped to an estimated 20,456 monarchs, with large numbers of them counted in Pismo Beach, Big Sur and Pacific Grove.

In November volunteers fan out across California’s coastal cities to find and count the monarch population. Ms. Pelton said the total count could be higher once final numbers from the census arrive next week.

Monarchs in the western part of the United States migrate for the winter to California, where they gather mostly among fragrant eucalyptus trees, which provide hospitable living conditions.

Monarchs from the eastern part of the United States, by contrast, winter in Mexico. Ms. Pelton said the count of eastern monarchs had not been released.

Ms. Pelton warns that if nothing is done to preserve the western monarchs and their habitat, the butterflies could face extinction. In a 2017 study, scientists estimated that the monarch butterfly population in western North America had a 72 percent chance of becoming near extinct in 20 years if the monarch population trend was not reversed.

One of the study’s researchers, Cheryl Schultz, an associate professor at Washington State University Vancouver, said at the time that an estimated 10 million monarchs spent the winter in coastal California in the 1980s.

Butterflies are important because they quickly respond to ecological changes and serve as a warning about an ecosystem’s health, Ms. Pelton said. They pollinate flowers, too.

Monarchs require milkweed, a herbaceous plant that grows throughout the United States and Mexico, for breeding and migration. Acreage of milkweed, though, has been declining in recent years because of pesticide use and urban development, Ms. Pelton said.

“A lawn does not provide a home for a butterfly,” she said. “It doesn’t help to raise them in your house, either.”

Harsher than usual weather, too, has threatened the monarch’s existence. From 2011 to 2017, California had one of its worst droughts on record, which led to ecological devastation among fishing communities and forested towns.

In 2016, for example, the United States Forest Service estimated that 62 million trees died in the state. Last year the state experienced the deadliest wildfire season in its history, with residents affected from Redding to Los Angeles.

Ms. Pelton said the trend could reverse if citizens and governments act now. Gardeners, for one, can plant milkweed to support the surviving monarchs. And towns could help local habitats thrive by planting new trees now so that in 20 years, generations of monarchs have new places to winter.

“We don’t think it is too late to act,” she said. “But everyone needs to step up their effort.”

A version of this article appears in print on

, on Page



of the New York edition

with the headline:

Perilous Journey: In California, Alarm as Population of Monarch Butterflies Plummets

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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired How California Needs to Adapt to Survive Future Fires

Hexbyte Tech News Wired How California Needs to Adapt to Survive Future Fires

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

A Los Angeles County firefighter helps put out a hotspot in a neighborhood razed by the Woolsey fire.

Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

A Los Angeles County firefighter helps put out a hotspot in a neighborhood razed by the Woolsey fire.

Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Editor’s note: This is a developing story about California’s Camp Fire. It will be updated as more information becomes available.

On November 8, an unimaginably fierce firestorm broke out in Northern California. Fed by dry vegetation, and fanned by northeasterly winds pouring off the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it rapidly descended on the community of Paradise, home to nearly 30,000 people.

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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired California Will Pause Net Neutrality Law for Federal Suit

Hexbyte Tech News Wired California Will Pause Net Neutrality Law for Federal Suit

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

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Last month California passed the country’s strongest net neutrality law. But it will be a while before it takes effect.

The same evening Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law, the US Department of Justice filed suit to block it. On Friday, California attorney general Xavier Becerra reached a deal with the DOJ to delay implementing the law until a federal lawsuit over net neutrality is resolved. That could take years.

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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired New California Bill Restores Strong Net Neutrality Protections

Hexbyte Tech News Wired New California Bill Restores Strong Net Neutrality Protections

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Last month, a California Assembly committee voted to remove key protections from a state-level net neutrality bill. Critics said the changes opened loopholes that would allow broadband providers to throttle some applications, or charge websites or services for “fast lane” access on their networks. Now those key protections are coming back.

At a press conference Thursday, California state Senator Scott Wiener, who introduced the original bill, and Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, who proposed the changes last month, said they had agreed on a new version of the bill that restores provisions that would make the California bill the most robust net neutrality protections in the nation.

The latest version of the bill restores provisions that prevent broadband providers from exempting some services from customers’ data caps, and ban providers from charging websites “access fees” to reach customers on a network or blocking or throttling content as it enters their networks from other networks, according to a fact sheet released by Wiener, Santiago, and state Senator Kevin de León.

During the press conference, Wiener explained that he and Santiago have been working on a new version of the bill since shortly after Santiago’s changes were approved last month.

Wiener’s original bill, which passed the California Senate in May, was in some ways more robust than the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality protections repealed last month; Wiener’s bill, for example, explicitly banned broadband providers from exempting services they own from customers’ data limits. So if the bill were to become law, AT&T would no longer be allowed to exempt its DirecTV Now video streaming service from its mobile users’ data allotments.

Last month, the Communications and Conveyance committee, which Santiago chairs, amended Wiener’s bill to remove the provisions that covered data caps, as well as other sections that explicitly banned broadband providers from charging websites “access fees” to reach customers on a network or blocking or throttling content as it entered their networks from other broadband networks.

Santiago originally framed his changes as bringing the bill in line with the Obama-era net neutrality protections. The FCC’s net neutrality order wasn’t as explicit as Wiener’s bill, but it did give the agency authority to regulate data caps and the interconnections between broadband networks; removing those provisions from the California bill made it weaker than the Obama-era protections.

Asked why he reversed course, Santiago says the changes he made in committee last month were part of an ongoing process to get the net neutrality protections right. “We ran out of time, we kept the issue moving, and we agreed to get it right,” he says.

But he also faced pushback from advocacy groups. One group, Fight for the Future, announced a crowdfunding campaign to pay for a billboard targeting the assemblymember in his Los Angeles district.

“We appreciate Assemblymember Miguel Santiago’s change of heart,” Fight for the Future deputy director Evan Greer said in a statement. “This should be a lesson to other lawmakers: don’t mess with net neutrality unless you’re prepared to feel your constituents’ wrath. Today’s news shows the power of the internet to overcome business as usual and win real victories for the public.”

The new version of the bill still needs to be approved by both houses of the California Legislature, and signed by Governor Jerry Brown. From there, it could face legal challenges from the FCC, which prohibited states from adopting their own net neutrality protections when it repealed the national net neutrality rules. During the press conference, Santiago said the California bill would stand up to legal scrutiny. Legal experts have told WIRED they are unsure whether the FCC has authority to preempt state law on the issue.

The telecommunications industry group USTelecom has promised to challenge state level net neutrality rules, arguing that they would lead to a fragmented legal environment.

“Ideally we would have one national standard, but that hasn’t happened,” Wiener said Thursday.

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Hexbyte  Hacker News  Computers Thanks to California, a news site (or other business) now has to let you cancel your subscription online

Hexbyte Hacker News Computers Thanks to California, a news site (or other business) now has to let you cancel your subscription online

Hexbyte Hacker News Computers

Here’s a script you’re surely familiar with if you’ve ever tried to cancel a subscription to, well, anything:



On a couch sits CUSTOMER, alcoholic beverage in one hand, smartphone in the other pressed to her ear. CUSTOMER looks steely, resolute, and frustrated, all at once.


Hi. I’d like to cancel my subscription.

The screen splits and on the right, wearing a Bluetooth headset, is CUSTOMER SERVICE REP.


Sorry to hear you’ve been charged again and want to cancel. Are you sure you want to cancel? How about we give you another free week? No? How about we give you another free two weeks? Still no?

The connection drops; CUSTOMER SERVICE REP ghosts. The split screen wipes right, and we dolly in to a tight shot of CUSTOMER, eyes glazed, slowly taking a big gulp of her drink.

A version of this exchange happened when I tried to cancel my ClassPass account. A similar version happened when I tried to cancel my Boston Globe a few years ago when it kept being delivered to the wrong address.

We all have our own subscription auto-renewal and cancellation grievances. (My colleague Laura collected a bunch of news organization-related ones on Twitter.)

But a California law that went into effect July 1 aims to stop companies from blockading customers looking to cancel their services — along with the practice of sneakily sliding them into another month’s subscription without much clarity on the real, full cost of the service. Among the changes: It bans companies from forcing you to, say, call a hard-to-find telephone number to cancel a subscription that you purchased online.

California’s Senate Bill No. 313, which adds further protections for consumers to an existing law, would (according to its official legislative summary):

…commencing on July 1, 2018, require a business that makes an automatic renewal offer or continuous service offer that includes a free gift or trial, to include in the offer a clear and conspicuous explanation of the price that will be charged after the trial ends or the manner in which the subscription or purchasing agreement pricing will change upon conclusion of the trial.

The bill would prohibit a business from charging a consumer’s credit or debit card, or the consumer’s account with a 3rd party, for an automatic renewal or continuous service that is made at a promotional or discounted price for a limited period of time without first obtaining the consumer’s consent to the agreement.

The bill would also specify that if the automatic service offer or continuous service offer includes a free gift or trial, the business is required to disclose how to cancel, and allow the consumer to cancel, the automatic renewal or continuous service before the consumer pays for the goods or services.

And while it’s just a California law, it also applies to any company (or publisher) with paying customers in the state — so, pretty much everybody, GDPR-style. (Credit/blame State Sen. Bob Hertzberg, the bill’s sponsor, for the new rules.)

Ryan Nakashima, an AP technology writer who’s been conducting some adblocking and subscriptions research at the Bay Area News Group in California, mentioned to me that in an exit survey of people who were canceling their subscriptions, some cancelers had also called out the cancellation process itself. These are real complaints that the new bill will try to address.

The text of the bill also notes that “a consumer who accepts an automatic renewal or continuous service offer online shall be allowed to terminate the automatic renewal or continuous service exclusively online, which may include a termination email formatted and provided by the business that a consumer can send to the business without additional information.”

I reached out to some of the major subscription news organizations in California before July 1 to see what progress they’d made on getting compliant, what sorts of reasons for cancellation they’ve seen from readers, and whether they would have made any of these pricing-transparency and subscription-mechanism improvements had there been no law. I got a lot of basic, affirmative statements. (Many other companies I reached out to declined to comment, citing upcoming vacations.)

“Assuring customer satisfaction is always top of mind to McClatchy and its newspapers. We are aware and in compliance to new requirements for automatic renewal offers (‘auto-renewals’) per the California law,” read an emailed statement attributed to Dan Schaub, corporate director of audience development at McClatchy, passed along via a PR person. McClatchy owns California papers such as the Sacramento, Fresno, and Modesto Bees. “McClatchy adheres to all laws and regulations, and we have taken steps to allow our customers to access their account information easily on all of our websites.”

“We are indeed updating our system and customer service pages to conform with the regulations by ensuring that online subscribers can cancel online, as I imagine all publishers are,” Neil Chase, executive editor of the Bay Area News Group, wrote me in an email. The San Jose Mercury News, East Bay Times, and Marin Independent Journal are part of BANG, which falls under the infamous Digital First Media.

“Our subscriptions are currently managed through the centralized team at Tribune Interactive/tronc,” a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Times wrote in an email. “We are indeed making changes to our systems to accommodate this new law. Of course it impacts the L.A. Times/San Diego most, but it also impacts California-based subscribers to any publication.” (I tried to follow up for details with a Tribune Interactive/Tronc spokesperson, who punted right away with a reply: “We are not going to comment on a paper we don’t own.”)

While the new rules should make it easier for a customer to cancel a subscription, lots of publishers still have work to do to make it easier for people to subscribe in the first place.

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