Will the sharing economy eventually turn us all into contractors?

Will the sharing economy eventually turn us all into contractors?
By NOAM SCHEIBER for The New Republic
Nov 26 2014

The last few years have brought an explosion of startups, like Uber and TaskRabbit, that effectively act as middlemen. These companies don’t actually employ the workers who ferry passengers around town or assemble strangers’ Ikea furniture. Their online platforms merely connect people who want to provide these services with people who want to pay for them. As a result, the Ubers and TaskRabbits of the world don’t have to provide most of the benefitswe normally associate with full-time employment, like health insurance and a living wage, or even stable work.

Pretty much the only consolation is that the Uber model only really affects small-time operators who can be easily paired with individual customers — the cab driver or the handyman. There’s no Uber for people who toil away in larger companies, which is after all where most of us work.

Um, well, until now. Over the last year or so, a handful of startups have begun helping companies find workers to complete their odd jobs, too. One, called Zaarly, had a more traditional sharing economy focus before it shifted to address the staffing needs of small businesses. TaskRabbit has started cateringto businesses as well. Though the efforts vary in their particulars, the basic model is to make it frighteningly easy for companies to outsource work. If the model catches on, most companies may one day employ only a small cadre of full-timers, which they beef up with freelancers as the need arises.

Perhaps the most ambitious worker-on-demand startup to date is a company called Wonolo (short for “Work. Now. Locally”), the year-old brainchild of two San Francisco entrepreneurs. The idea is for companies to post job listings to an online platform the same way people in need of a house cleaner post a job to TaskRabbit. After it’s posted, one of the app’s users (known as “Wonoloers,” which the app vets extensively) can claim the job and report to work as soon as a few minutes or hours. Suppose, for example, that an online retailer suddenly realizes it’s short a few order-fulfillment jockeys — the people who roam warehouses and locate the goods that need to be boxed and shipped. The retailer can post the jobs on Wonolo and bulk up its workforce that same day.

Wonolo’s co-founders, Yong Kim and AJ Brustein, came to their creation through a non-traditional path, at least for a startup. Last year, the Coca-Cola Company selected them to be part of its in-house “Founders” program, which brought one pair of entrepreneurs to a dozen of the company’s locations worldwide. Coca-Cola gave Kim and Brustein some capital, as well as the full run of its facilities and all the executives therein. All it asked in return was that they start a company that helped solve a problem Coca-Cola encountered.

For weeks, Kim and Brustein struggled to figure out what that would be. “We were sitting in an office in San Francisco, staring at the wall,” Kim told me. But as they spent time with the company’s operations team, they noticed a recurring theme: a stream of jobs Coke needed done right away, but for which it couldn’t always anticipate the demand — like, say, stocking shelves in stores.


Google launching 20 Internet balloons per day

Google launching 20 Internet balloons per day
By Paul McNamara
Nov 21 2014

Yesterday we wrote about a South African farmer finding one of Google’s Project Loon Internet balloons crashed on his property. Coincidentally – or at least I assume it was a coincidence – the Project Loon team yesterday issued a progress report in a blog post.

Seems Google is now launching 20 of these balloons every day and, according to the company, they’re remaining aloft 10 times longer than they were last year, with 100 days now normal and 130 days being the record.

From that blog post:

It’s one thing for our balloons to last longer, but to build a ring of connectivity around the world we’ll also need to get more in the air. Imagine how long it would take you and your friends to inflate 7,000 party balloons. That’s what it takes to fill just one of our Loon balloons for flight, so we’ve developed autofill equipment that will be capable of doing it in under 5 minutes. We now have the ability to launch up to 20 balloons per day as we continue to improve our ability to launch consistently at scale.

As we’ve launched more long-lasting balloons in the stratosphere we’ve needed to ensure that we can accurately maneuver them to where they need to go. By constantly computing thousands of trajectory simulations it turns out we can get pretty close to our targets.  For example, one flight came within 1.5km of our target destination over a flight of 9,000 kilometers, purely through predicting and sailing with the stratospheric winds. This is great for getting our balloons to where users need them, and great for getting balloons to our recovery zones at the end of their lifetime to make our recovery team’s job that much easier.


Google’s New Spoon Makes Eating Easier For Those With Tremors

Google’s New Spoon Makes Eating Easier For Those With Tremors
Nov 25 2014

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) — Google is throwing its money, brain power and technology at the humble spoon.

But these spoons (don’t call them spoogles) are a bit more than your basic utensil: Using hundreds of algorithms, they allow people with essential tremors and Parkinson’s disease to eat without spilling.

The technology senses how a hand is shaking and makes instant adjustments to stay balanced. In clinical trials, the Liftware spoons reduced shaking of the spoon bowl by an average of 76 percent.

“We want to help people in their daily lives today and hopefully increase understanding of disease in the long run,” Google spokesperson Katelin Jabbari said.

Other adaptive devices have been developed to help people with tremors — rocker knives, weighted utensils, pen grips. But until now, experts say, technology has not been used in this way.

“It’s totally novel,” said UC San Francisco Medical Center neurologist Dr. Jill Ostrem, who specializes in movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease and essential tremors.

She helped advise the inventors and says the device has been a remarkable asset for some of her patients.

“I have some patients who couldn’t eat independently, they had to be fed, and now they can eat on their own,” she said. “It doesn’t cure the disease — they still have tremor — but it’s a very positive change.”

Google got into the no-shake utensil business in September, acquiring a small, National of Institutes of Health-funded startup called Lift Labs for an undisclosed sum.

More than 10 million people worldwide, including Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s mother, have essential tremors or Parkinson’s disease. Brin has said he also has a mutation associated with higher rates of Parkinson’s and has donated more than $50 million to research for a cure. But the Lift Labs acquisition was not related, Jabbari said.

Lift Lab founder Anupam Pathak said moving from a small, four-person startup in San Francisco to the vast Google campus in Mountain View has freed him up to be more creative as he explores how to apply the technology even more broadly.

His team works at the search giant’s division called Google(x) Life Sciences, which is also developing a smart contact lens that measures glucose levels in tears for diabetics and is researching how nanoparticles in blood might help detect diseases.

Joining Google has been motivating, said Pathak, but his focus remains on people who are now able to eat independently with his device.

“If you build something with your hands and it has that sort of an impact, it’s the greatest feeling ever,” he said. “As an engineer who likes to build things, that’s the most validating thing that can happen.”

Pathak said they also hope to add sensors to the spoons to help medical researchers and providers better understand, measure and alleviate tremors.


New Snowden docs: GCHQ’s ties to telco gave spies global surveillance reach

New Snowden docs: GCHQ’s ties to telco gave spies global surveillance reach
Access through “partners” such as Cable & Wireless pulls in gigabits globally.
By Sean Gallagher
Nov 25 2014

Documents reportedly from the Edward Snowden cache show that in 2009, GCHQ (and by association, the NSA) had access to the traffic on 63 submarine cable links around the globe. The cables listed handle the vast majority of international Internet traffic as well as private network connections between telecommunications providers and corporate data centers.

According to a report in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the telecommunications company Cable & Wireless—now a subsidiary of Vodafone—“actively shaped and provided the most data to GCHQ surveillance programs and received millions of pounds in compensation.”

The relationship was so extensive that a GCHQ employee was assigned to work full-time at Cable & Wireless (referred to by the code-name “Gerontic” in NSA documents) to manage cable-tap projects in February of 2009. By July of 2009, Cable & Wireless provided access to 29 out of the 63 cables on the list, accounting for nearly 70 percent of the data capacity available to surveillance programs.

A Vodafone spokesperson did not deny the details when questioned by Süddeutsche Zeitung but said that any taps were performed legally under a warrant.

The cable access wasn’t just used for surveillance—it was also used to pipe back data pulled from other networks through “computer network exploitation” (CNE) operations to populate Incenser, a GCHQ “special source collection system” running in a data center at GCHQ’s signals collection center at Bude in Cornwall.
One of the networks that was targeted by a CNE hack and accessed over Cable & Wireless capacity, according to an NSA slide, was the Fiber-Optic Link Around the Globe (FLAG), a global network operated by the Indian telecommunications company Reliance Communications’ subsidiary, Global Cloud Xchange. Data pulled the FLAG network’s connections span the globe, with landing points in the US, Europe, North Africa, the Saudi Peninsula, India, Malaysia, China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan.


Copps on neutrality

[Note:  This item comes from friend Janos Gereben.  DLH]

From: janosG <janosg@gmail.com>
Subject: Copps on neutrality
Date: November 25, 2014 at 21:01:25 EST
To: Dewayne <dewayne@warpspeed.com>

Don’t be neutral on Internet’s future
Nov 21 2014

Michael Copps, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, stopped in San Francisco last week as part of his campaign for a critical cause with a decidedly deadening name: net neutrality.

“It’s such an anemic term,” he acknowledged. “How do you get people excited about neutrality?”

He’s trying – and he came to the right place. Within a few miles of our conversation last week at The Chronicle are hundreds of established and aspiring innovators who are competing furiously to develop the Next Big App.

Of course, each of those inventions is dependent on reaching you through communications networks none of them controls. In many U.S. cities, consumers have just one option for broadband Internet connection at home.

So what happens if that broadband company decides to use its monopoly position for commercial or political gain: such as blocking access to disfavored websites or making special deals with content providers who want access to higher speeds?

You may quickly find that the information and products you seek have been blocked, slowed or otherwise stymied by your broadband provider.

Enter “net neutrality.” Copps’ successors at the FCC are considering a rule that would ensure that all Internet traffic is treated equally, without blocking, slowing or favoring content. President Obama recently weighed in, urging the FCC to adopt strong rules to prevent cable or phone companies from acting “as a gatekeeper” to restrict what you do or see online.

The opposition from major cable and telecom firms is formidable – and predictable. As Copps noted in our meeting, “it’s in the drinking water of capitalism … to control markets.” Also in the drinking water of modern commercial disputes: lawsuits.

“The big dogs are gonna sue regardless of what comes out,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was quoted in Politico Friday. He suggested the commission thus wanted to make sure it was on solid ground to defend its net neutrality rules in court.

Our editorial board also met last week with the Internet Association, a Washington lobbying group formed by the major online companies. Its members, while intensely competitive with each other in many ways, have “a unified voice” in favor of net neutrality, said communications director Noah Theran.

One of the key points that the association, Obama and Copps make is that the regulation should apply to both wired and wireless service.

Copps, who now works on media and democracy reform issues for the good-government group Common Cause, suggested the issue of open Internet goes beyond even the White House example of whether a high-school student’s blog could be slowed to make way for advertisers with more money.

It’s about opportunity, and not just for the tech entrepreneurs. Copps noted that most job applications are handled online. It’s about democracy. A company with a monopoly and agenda could suppress or advance a point of view.

“With this robust technology we have, and the potential of broadband and the Internet, we ought to be entering a golden age of communications,” Copps said. “And here we are, on the verge of short circuiting this technology that is probably the hugest communications innovation in history, going back to the printing press.

“It’s a tragedy of history if we let that happen … it really is.”

If you trust your future cable and mobile providers to resist the temptation to control your Internet access for profit or political gain, you can sit out this debate. If you don’t, weigh in now to embolden the FCC against the lawyers and resources of the big dogs:www.fcc.gov/comments  

What Everyone Gets Wrong in the Debate Over Net Neutrality

[Note:  An interesting article from back in June that I didn’t post at the time.  Seemed for appropriate to put out now given the state of the NN debate.  DLH]

What Everyone Gets Wrong in the Debate Over Net Neutrality
Jun 23 2014

Even Sunday night HBO watchers are worried the Federal Communications Commission will soon put an end to net neutrality.
Earlier this month, on the HBO comedy news show “Last Week Tonight,” host John Oliver went on a 13-minute rant against the new set of internet rules proposed by the FCC. He warned that the rules would lead to a world where internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon can sell special treatment to web companies like Google and Netflix, charging extra fees to deliver their online videos and other content at fast speeds, and he urged viewers to bombard the FCC website with protests, saying the rules would end up hurting smaller web outfits that can’t afford to pay the fees. The next day, the FCC site buckled under the traffic and went offline.

It was just part of a sweeping effort to squash the proposed rules. When the rules first leaked out in May, protesters camped out in front of the FCC’s Washington offices. Big tech companies such as Google, Amazon, and Netflix signed a letter asking the government communications agency to bar internet providers from discriminating “both technically and financially against internet companies.” And last week, two big name Democrats on Capitol Hill unveiled a bill that seeks to undermine the new rules. Nearly everyone, it seems, wants to prevent the FCC from allowing some companies to have internet “fast lanes” while others toil at slower speeds. 

‘Most of the points of the debate are artificial, distracting, and based on an incorrect mental model on how the internet works.’

The only trouble is that, here in the year 2014, complaints about a fast-lane don’t make much sense. Today, privileged companies—including Google, Facebook, and Netflix—already benefit from what are essentially internet fast lanes, and this has been the case for years. Such web giants—and others—now have direct connections to big ISPs like Comcast and Verizon, and they run dedicated computer servers deep inside these ISPs. In technical lingo, these are known as “peering connections” and “content delivery servers,” and they’re a vital part of the way the internet works. 

“Fast lane is how the internet is built today,” says Craig Labovitz, who, as the CEO of DeepField Networks, an outfit whose sole mission is to track how companies build internet infrastructure, probably knows more about the design of the modern internet than anyone else. And many other internet experts agree with him. “The net neutrality debate has got many facets to it, and most of the points of the debate are artificial, distracting, and based on an incorrect mental model on how the internet works,” says Dave Taht, a developer of open-source networking software.

The concepts driving today’s net neutrality debate caught on because the internet used to operate differently—and because they were easy for consumers to understand. In many respects, these concepts were vitally important to the evolution of the internet over the past decades. But in today’s world, they don’t address the real issue with the country’s ISPs, and if we spend too much time worried about fast lanes, we could hurt the net’s progress rather than help it.

Even Tim Wu, the man who coined the term net neutrality, will tell you that the fast lane idea isn’t what it seems. “The fast lane is not a literal truth,” he says. “But it’s a sense that you should have a fair shot.” On the modern internet, as Wu indicates, the real issue is that such a small number of internet service providers now control the pipes that reach out to U.S. consumers—and that number is getting even smaller, with Comcast looking to acquire Time Warner, one of its biggest rivals. The real issue is that the Comcasts and Verizons are becoming too big and too powerful. Because every web company has no choice but to go through these ISPs, the Comcasts and the Verizons may eventually have too much freedom to decide how much companies must pay for fast speeds.


Netflix and YouTube Now Consume 50% Of The Internet As The Argument For Net Neutrality Weakens

Netflix and YouTube Now Consume 50% Of The Internet As The Argument For Net Neutrality Weakens
By Gene Marks
Nov 24 2014

According to this definition from Oxford Dictionaries net neutrality is “…the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.”

Do you support this idea? We know the President does.

“Net neutrality,” President Obama said in a recent statement, “has been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation — but it is also a principle that we cannot take for granted. We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas.” The President wants to eliminate paid prioritization of content providers on the Internet, stating that “…no service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.”

Which is all great news for Netflix and YouTube. But, unfortunately, bad news for you and me.

Last week it was reported that Netflix consumed approximately 35% of all broadband traffic in the U.S. and Canada. In fact, both Netflix and YouTube combined take up half of the Internet’s bandwidth. Half! So wait…these companies shouldn’t pay more? In a world of net neutrality, this would all be OK. They would not be charged any more for faster lanes or special access. Our largest internet service providers, like Comcast and Verizon, would be required to let them consume as much as they want for the same price that you and I pay. And so the argument for net neutrality weakens. For two big reasons.

Net neutrality will curtail our Internet access, speed and performance. I love House of Cards, but what about my neighbor who’s not a Kevin Spacey fan or a Netflix subscriber? Should she be punished with slower Internet speeds caused by bottlenecks because she’s battling for half of what’s left? And just because those around her choose to subscribe to Netflix and stream movies and she did not? And who’s to say that in a few years other services like Netflix won’t appear (Facebook? Snapchat?) that will consume even more bandwidth. Or, let’s suppose you’re staying in a hotel (or you’re on a plane) where everyone pays the same for Internet access, except there’s one guy in room 805 who’s hogging up 50% of the bandwidth watching God knows what. With net neutrality, he would have the right to the same bandwidth as you do and would pay the same. Except he’s abusing his right. And you’re suffering with slower speeds and less productivity.