Technology Now
The business and culture of our digital lives
Uber and Lyft may have to treat their drivers as employees, judge says

Drivers of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft may have to be treated as employees rather than independent contractors, a federal judge in San Francisco said Friday. 

In a class-action lawsuit brought against Uber, drivers for the service challenged Uber’s policy of classifying its drivers as independent contractors unprotected by the California Labor Code. The drivers contend that they’re employees entitled to a minimum wage, reimbursement for expenses, overtime and other benefits.

“The idea that Uber is simply a software platform, I don’t find that a very persuasive argument,” U.S. District Judge Edward Chen said. 

Chen commented in court Friday, but has yet to issue a ruling on the case.

Lyft drivers have filed a similar lawsuit, arguing in the complaint that they “are in fact Lyft employees” entitled to similar benefits.

In both lawsuits, the drivers cite many reasons why they should be considered employees: They’re integral to Uber and Lyft’s business, both companies...

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Snapchat to debut its own weekly series, partners with Funny or Die

Snapchat isn’t just a Los Angeles technology start-up these days. It’s also a media production company, and one that counts a Spielberg and a Goldwyn on its crew.

On Saturday, Snapchat plans to debut a weekly, five-minute show called “Literally Can’t Even.” Millennials utter that phrase when stunned into disbelief by something funny, scary or frustrating.

Technology giants such as Google and Yahoo have been split over the years over whether to get into the business of producing media for the hubs they’ve built for consumers to watch, listen and read other people’s content. But the move into content-making this week by a young start-up that began with a single-function photo-messaging app has drawn plenty of “can’t evens.”

Snapchat’s online series will follow the lives of Sasha Spielberg and Emily Goldwyn -- daughters of film producers Steven Spielberg and John Goldwyn, respectively. The Hollywood Reporter first reported the development.

On Friday, Snapchat released a new weekly series...

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Uber's privacy program has room for improvement, review finds

Ride-hailing company Uber should expand its privacy program by helping customers understand how it handles user data, strengthening the privacy around its products, and giving its employees refresher training on data privacy, according to an internal review conducted by law firm Hogan Lovells.

The review, led by privacy lawyer Harriet Pearson, was conducted over a six-week period in late 2014, shortly after Uber’s high-profile privacy snafu in which a top exec suggested hiring researchers to dig into the “personal lives” and “families” of the company’s media critics. Pearson’s team of lawyers interviewed members of Uber’s executive team and leaders across the company, and also reviewed its privacy policies. 

The review found that “Uber has in place appropriate policies and procedures,” and has “dedicated significantly more resources to privacy than we have observed of other companies of its age, sector, and size.” But there's room for improvement.

The review made “10 core...

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Jay Z offers $56 million for company behind music streaming apps

Entertainment mogul Jay Z has bid $56 million in cash to take over the developer of two music streaming apps that have sought to distinguish themselves by providing high-quality audio.

Project Panther Bidco Ltd., which Jay Z’s company created to handle the purchase, announced the pending deal for Oslo-based Aspiro AB on Friday.

YouTube, Spotify, Deezer, Rdio and other streaming services have surged in popularity in recent years. Subscribers to these apps don’t own the millions of songs that they have access to, but they typically can play any of them on demand and without advertisements.

Jay Z is seeking to control two apps — WiMP, available throughout Europe, and Tidal, which launched in the U.S. and United Kingdom in October.

Tidal costs about $20 a month, more than double some competitors. But it produces superior audio quality, offers music videos and includes access to music industry news.

Figures on Tidal's early adoption are expected Feb. 5. As of September, WiMP had 512,000...

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Google revenue falls short as competition on mobile intensifies

Google Inc.'s fourth-quarter sales and profit missed Wall Street estimates as the Internet company's advertising business faced more competition on mobile devices.

Revenue rose 6.9% to $14.5 billion, the company said Thursday, missing analysts' average projection for $14.7 billion, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Chief Executive Larry Page is battling Facebook Inc. and other Web companies that are seeking to lure away users and advertisers on tablets and smartphones. Marketers are also paying less for mobile ads, driving fees lower within Google's online-ad business. As a result, the average price of ads fell 3% in the quarter, following a decline of 2% in the previous period.

"People wanted to see that improve," said Colin Gillis, an analyst at BGC Partners in New York.

The shares of Mountain View, Calif.-based Google were little changed in extended trading after the release of earnings. The stock advanced less than 1% to $513.23 at the close.

Fourth-quarter net income rose...

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Alibaba invests $10 million in Santa Monica game console maker Ouya

Chinese internet giant Alibaba has invested $10 million in Santa Monica video game console maker Ouya, sources close to Ouya said.

The injection of cash could help boost Ouya’s presence in Asia as it expands its platform business into markets such as China and India.

Ouya founder and Chief Executive Julie Uhrman said the company does not comment on its investments, and Alibaba did not respond to requests for comment, but sources close to the matter said the two companies are in talks to incorporate Ouya’s software and library of more than 1,000 games into Alibaba’s set-top box.

The partnership could be a boon for Ouya, which has struggled to gain footing in the U.S. since its 2013 launch. Its console, originally funded on Kickstarter, was poised to disrupt the domestic console market with its low price point ($99 compared with $300-plus for the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One), its lightweight and sleek design and its Android-powered operating system, which made it easy for developers to...

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