Monday, August 3, 2015

All Done With Uber

You will be after reading this:

"Ex-Uber driver facing additional sex assault charges" by Peter Schworm and Astead W. Herndon Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent  July 14, 2015

In a dramatic break in a series of unsolved attacks, a former Uber driver accused of raping a passenger in December has been linked by DNA evidence and witness accounts to five other sexual assaults on the Charles River Esplanade and in South Boston between 2006 and 2010, authorities said Tuesday.

Alejandro Done, 46, has been charged with rape in attacks that Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley described as “violent, predatory assaults,” a series of high-profile crimes that caused widespread public unease.

The earlier attacks received intense news coverage at the time and cast a shadow over the Esplanade, one of the city’s most popular venues. The attacker targeted lone women who were walking late at night during the summer months.

“Despite a dragnet of investigators pursuing every possible lead in and out of Massachusetts, the assailant evaded detection for almost a decade,” Conley said at an afternoon news conference. “Until now.”

So much for all the $urveillance.

On the Esplanade on Tuesday, many said they remembered the attacks and were relieved an arrest had been made. “Today is good news for the people of Boston, and specifically for the women,” said Corinne Lidsky, a garden designer in Boston.

Authorities said they will continue to review other unsolved attacks that match “the pattern and profile” of the five sexual assaults now linked to Done.

Done has been in custody since his arrest in December, when he allegedly picked up an Uber passenger near Boston Common, drove her to a secluded area, then raped and assaulted her. He then dropped her off at her home in Cambridge, according to prosecutors. Afterward, he returned to driving other passengers, discarding the woman’s wallet along the way, prosecutors said.

Done has pleaded not guilty to the Cambridge charges. His lawyer could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The new developments, connecting him to the past attacks, were announced a day after State Police investigators confirmed that Done’s DNA from the Cambridge case matched forensic evidence from four sexual assaults in Boston.

“There’s no question they are linked,” Conley said.


Before his arrest in December, Done had no criminal record. He started driving for Uber after passing a background check that included court records, driving history, and sex offender registries, the ride-hailing service said.

On Tuesday, Uber thanked law enforcement for their “continued vigilance.”

“We are grateful that we were able to work closely with law enforcement to assist in their December 2014 investigation that has led to these additional charges,” the company said in a statement.

In the December attack, prosecutors said, Done attacked a passenger after she mistakenly got into the wrong Uber car. GPS records show that Done’s movements match the events described by the victim, prosecutors said.

The suspect’s lawyer has described him as a family man who worked three jobs to support his 11-year-old daughter. Done, a US citizen, was trying to bring his wife to Boston from the Dominican Republic. After his arrest, he lost his job in regulatory compliance at a bank, a relative said.

Whose side is he on, and why would he need extra money driving for Uber?

At the South End apartments where Done had lived, one neighbor said he had seemed nice and was often seen taking his daughter to the bus.

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard,” she said. She gasped when told he was charged in connection to the Esplanade assaults.

“I remember that it was such a big story,” she said. “I guess you just never know.”

Maybe authority is wrong. You never know.


What kind of insurance do they carry?


Former Uber driver ordered held without bail in Esplanade sex assault
Former Uber driver remains in jail on assault charges
Former Uber driver tied to sex assaults denied bail

Just be glad he is not running the morning shuddle to school.

State bill would toughen rules for ride-hailing firms

That could really di$able their business model. 

Wait a minute, there is a call coming in:

"Navdy device raises safety concern in distracted driving debate" by Matt Richtel New York Times  May 31, 2015

In a widely watched YouTube video, a man is driving around Los Angeles when his phone rings. On a small screen mounted on the dashboard, an image of the caller, the man’s mother, appears.

But there’s an optical twist: The image actually looks to the driver as if it’s floating just at the front edge of the car, right above the roadway. The man answers the call with a gesture of his hand.

“Hi,” his mother says over the car speakers. “I just wanted to say I love you.”

“I love you,” the man responds, and then, before signing off, “I’m making a video right now.”

That video — the one posted on YouTube — was a promotion commissioned by Navdy, one of a handful of startup companies bringing a futuristic spin to the debate on distracted driving and how to curb it.

The devices project driving information and data streamed from a smartphone into a driver’s field of view. There are several versions of this nascent technology, but they generally work by using a projection device that wirelessly picks up information from the phone and uses sophisticated optics to allow the information — maps, speed, incoming texts, caller identification, and even social media notifications — to hover above the dashboard. Hand gestures or voice commands allow drivers to answer a call or hang up.

Navdy’s device isn’t shipping until later this year, and it’s not clear whether it will work as seamlessly as presented in the video when used in real-life conditions. But, broadly speaking, the Navdy device falls into a booming category of in-car gadgetry that might be fairly categorized as “you can have your cake and eat it, too.”

Drive, get texts, talk on the phone, even interact on social media, and do it all without compromising safety, according to various makers of the so-called head-up displays, repeating a position taken by a growing number of automakers who sell monitors set into the dashboard or mounted on it. Some car makers also display basic driving information, like speed and turn-by-turn directions, within a specialized windshield so a driver can remain looking ahead and not down.

Google, with Android Auto, and Apple, with CarPlay, have also leapt into the evolving business. Each allows phones to be plugged into a car’s USB port so that information streams to a monitor set into the dashboard. IHS Automotive, a company that analyzes car industry trends, expects many automakers to integrate these systems. IHS consumer surveys indicate drivers want systems that provide maps, music, news and social connection.

These emerging display devices have become part of a debate over whether technology can provide safer ways for people to multitask while driving. Safety advocates argue that technologies that try to minimize the dangers are based on the false premise that drivers can safely attend to the road while juggling social communication — and are, in turn, encouraging a risky behavior.

The argument on the other side boils down to a simple notion: Drivers are going to do it anyway, so why not minimize the riskiest kinds of multitasking, like looking down at the phone or handling it?

The federal government has issued nonbinding guidelines that govern car “infotainment systems,” and one of its main messages is that performing certain nondriving tasks interferes inherently with a driver’s safety. Experts in the science of attention say that some of the new head-up displays may be raising risks that are so plain that you don’t need to be a driver’s mother to appreciate them.

“It’s a horrible idea,” said Paul Atchley, a psychologist at the University of Kansas who studies driver distraction.

“The technology is driven by a false assumption that seeing requires nothing more than having the eyes fixed on the right spot.”

Navdy, which is based in San Francisco, has raised $26.8 million, said Doug Simpson, the company’s founder and chief executive. Simpson is a computer scientist who spent 10 years at Hewlett-Packard. Even though the company’s $299 device isn’t shipping until later this year, it has already received $6 million in preorders, Simpson said.

Simpson said he got the idea during a trip to Bangkok. Like many visitors, he was trying to figure out a map on his phone while driving on unfamiliar streets. He narrowly escaped rear-ending another car.

It’s not surprising that Simpson’s “aha” moment started with navigation. Maps, driving directions and other driving-focused information are important features of many of these products, the idea being that any task that relates to driving should be done as safely as possible. Part of what has created an opening for products like Navdy is a sentiment among many consumers that the navigation and touch-screen systems built into many cars are wonky, and research shows that voice command systems can be so inaccurate that they create distraction.

At the same time, though, the developers of head-up displays also are making a major selling point of aiding motorists with tasks that have nothing to do with driving.

The Navdy device is roughly the shape and size of a hand-held CD player and mounts on the dashboard. From its top unfolds a small transparent screen through which information streamed from the phone is projected: speed, map information, and notifications of incoming calls and texts that include the identity of the sender but not the text itself. To answer a call, the driver swipes a hand in the air or slides it across the steering wheel, a gesture picked up by the dashboard device in somewhat the same way a Nintendo Wii console works.

The image will look to the driver a bit like a hologram floating about 5½ feet in front of the windshield, Simpson said, roughly where the front of the car meets the road.

“It’s safer than looking down at the dashboard or at an image on your phone,” he added.

In the YouTube video commissioned by Navdy, the driver (who owns the company that made the video), says the technology is “just like what commercial airline pilots use when they’re landing.” He adds: “You hear that? Pilots use it. It’s safe.”

“Not true,” countered Christopher Wickens, a professor at Colorado State University and one of the leading experts in the country in safe use of head-up displays for transportation.

Wickens said that the head-up displays used by airplanes show only information critical to flying, like an outline of the runway or the horizon, and, crucially, that information is often displayed as a visual overlay with the runway or horizon.

By contrast, a head-up display in the car that gives nondriving information that is out of alignment with the road “is the worst of two worlds,” Wickens said. “It is clutter contributing to potential failure and distraction contributing to potential failure.”

He said it appears from his research that when the information projected is related to driving and made simple — like speed or a navigation arrow — there is a modest safety advantage. But the social information “counteracts, takes away” any small benefit the driver might get from driving information that is properly aligned.

Another take on the fledgling technology comes from a Vancouver, British Columbia, startup called DD Technologies that was started by two entrepreneurs who said they were inspired to build a head-up display after watching an “Iron Man” movie. The company’s display, Iris, which should soon be available in limited quantities, allows drivers to read the contents of a text message.

“We’re not saying you should be texting and driving,” the company’s cofounder Dino Mariutti said. “We’re saying you should make it safer.”


I'm sorry; I was keeping my eyes on the road.

"Startups aim to put video ads in ride-sharing cars" by Curt Woodward, Boston Globe, June 1 2015

Uber, of course, is a paragon of determination, having built a multibillion-dollar business by plowing past intense opposition from the entrenched taxi industry, but those direct deals with drivers can make relations with Uber tricky.

Except in France.

Uber regards drivers as independent contractors, not employees. That limits the amount of say it has over a driver’s activities.

“We don’t believe that in-ride advertising enhances the ride experience, and we discourage driver partners from working with third-party in-ride advertisers,” Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett said. He said Uber has no affiliation with any in-ride advertising companies.

The popularity of ride-hailing services has prompted investors to pour money into the two largest companies, Uber and second-place rival Lyft. Uber has raised more than $5 billion from its investors, while Lyft got about $860 million. The services are available in dozens of cities across the country.

At that size, it’s little surprise that entrepreneurs have identified Uber and Lyft as fertile ground for building their own businesses.

Gave 'em a real Lyft, did they?


RiderAds says that drivers are open to the idea for a simple reason: more money. As Uber and Lyft both enlarge their rosters of drivers and battle for market share with lower prices, the drivers themselves face more competition.

“Obviously, anything that allows them to increase their income with minimal effort is attractive,” said RiderAds’ co-founder, Tyler Sipprelle. “We want to make this extremely simple for drivers. You attach this to the back of your passenger seat, and then you don’t have to do anything. And you get paid for it.”

Viewswagen, which says it has signed up about 1,000 drivers and has an advertiser already on board, appears to be the most advanced startup in this burgeoning market.

Bellefeuille got the idea while he working as an Uber driver. The proprietor of a cafe suggested he carry some menus in his car.

“Shortly after I did that, I had a couple visiting from New York and they asked, ‘Hey, where should we go to eat?’ ” he said. “That got my wheels turning.”

Viewswagen thinks it can improve on the existing model for in-car advertising by using data from the rider’s trip to decide which advertisements to show.

Viewswagen’s software, Bellefeuille said, can use the rider’s destination, the time of day, and other “environmental” factors to help provide a relevant ad without relying on more invasive data-collection.


Of course, making money on in-car advertising sounds like something car-dispatching companies might like to do themselves one day. But Uber says it isn’t kicking drivers off its system purely for using in-car video ads, even though it discourages their use.

Lyft declined to comment.

Both Viewswagen and RiderAds note that Uber and Lyft are currently fighting federal lawsuits that question the fairness of their independent-contractor arrangements with drivers.

To eager entrepreneurs, that ambiguity looks like a golden opportunity.

“The reason why they won’t deactivate drivers — at least not yet — is because they have this labor lawsuit hanging over their head,” Bellefeuille said.

“We’re basically using that as a temporary shield or defense so that we can build our company.”



"Uber Technologies Inc.’s new privacy policy, released Thursday, is 3,000 words shorter than before but it expands the amount of data Uber can collect. The car-booking company more clearly tells its customers it can pretty much track everything they do on the Uber app. Uber has faced criticism over privacy, especially its use of a tool called God View that lets the company know where riders are at any moment

Maybe it will prevent some rapes.

In November, Uber hired the law firm Hogan Lovells to review its privacy policies. The firm advised Uber to improve disclosure, training, and employee accountability but concluded Uber did not need to improve how it handles sensitive rider information. Harriet Pearson, a partner at the law firm, said data about riders “actually wasn’t an issue. They had already addressed that.” But the firm said Uber needed to be more transparent. The new policy: Uber can track you when you’re using its app. It can read text messages you send to drivers, track your ride, and store your address book on its servers. With an update that takes effect July 15, Uber can ask permission to track a rider’s location even when the app isn’t open. Uber retains permission to hand over data to third parties. If a rider is using Uber for business, the company can turn over data to the rider’s employer, for instance. Uber also is making it easier for riders to see the ratings drivers give them." 

Or government

Okay, let's get going:

"Safety agency admits flaws, starts reforms after GM case" by Tom Krisher Associated Press  June 06, 2015

DETROIT — The US government’s auto safety agency acknowledged Friday that a deadly defect in General Motors ignition switches went unresolved for a decade because agency staffers didn’t understand air bag technology and failed to challenge the information it received from the automaker.

Because governments work for corporations.

The mea culpa came as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration outlined actions designed to make itself more aggressive in finding and solving safety problems among the 240 million cars on US roadways.

People died due to their incompetence and neglect.

It’s the first time the agency has admitted fault in failing to link the switches it to a series of fatal accidents, although regulators still lay most of the blame on GM for hiding the defect....

I suppose we should thank the starts for small admissions.

NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind said the case changed the agency’s culture. Previously, it was too trusting of data and safety theories offered by automakers, but now investigators are asking the tough questions, Rosekind said.

While a culture change is needed, the agency concedes it will be difficult to keep up with emerging technologies without more people and money.

That's no change at all, them hat-in-handing the situation.

Staying abreast of technology is important as more and more car functions become computerized. Experts say the average car now has about 100 computers on board, and that will double in a few years.


Researchers say they hacked into cars

After car hack, Internet of Things looks riskier

So now any car crash becomes suspicious as bloggers have been proven right after honking their horns for years.


I say come to a stop, hit the hit the brakes, and lower the gate before the car is recalled and you are hit with a fine.

At least they are equipped with air bags now:

"Air bag recall’s progress faulted; Lawmakers say lots more clarity is sorely needed" by Hiroko Tabuchi and Aaron M. Kessler New York Times   June 03, 2015

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers pressed the nation’s top auto-safety regulator on Tuesday for clarity over the safety of defective air bags made by the Japanese auto suppler Takata Corp. that have been linked to at least six deaths.

Keep digging.

Two weeks ago, Takata, under pressure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, admitted for the first time that its air bags were defective and agreed to double the number of cars to be recalled in the United States to almost 34 million, the largest automotive recall in US history. The bags can rupture when they inflate, spraying metal fragments into the cabin.

But automakers are still checking which cars need to be included in the expanded recall, leaving many owners and lawmakers confused over which vehicles need servicing.

“The messaging around these air bag recalls has been tortured at best,” Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, told Mark R. Rosekind, the safety agency’s administrator. Upton chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, whose subpanel held the hearing. “We need more information, and clearer information for consumers.”

Upton added: “I am concerned that NHTSA and Takata decided to release head-turning, headline-grabbing recall numbers at a time when the information is not yet actionable for consumers.”

Rosekind responded that Takata’s announcement was “a necessary first step” in expanding the recall. Automakers, he said, had worked quickly to sort out which cars fell under the expanded recall and would have updated lists within two weeks.

He added that the agency now had access to testing data from Takata, the automakers, and expert labs to help identify the root cause of the ruptures, which remains a mystery.

The safety agency’s consent order with Takata also gives the agency authority to approve future fixes, he said.

“Now, NHTSA is in the driver’s seat,” said Rosekind, who added, “This may be the largest and most complicated recall in the nation’s history.”


Despite mounting evidence of the effect of high humidity, the root cause for the air bags’ failure has remained a mystery for Takata and automakers. Two parallel investigations, one commissioned by Takata and another by a consortium of automakers, are studying a range of possible reasons....



Takata to replace chemical in faulty air bag inflators
Auto air bag maker halted safety audits, report says
Second company probed for defective air bag inflators

I'm totally deflated now.


"Uber, the ride-hailing service, seems capable of the impossible: fighting City Hall and winning. In a tussle with New York, it emerged victorious after a media blitz against Mayor Bill de Blasio, who dropped a plan to cap the number of cars on-demand ride companies could put on the road. Now, one of the advisers behind that campaign is bringing his touch to other technology startups. Bradley Tusk, a former campaign manager for New York’s last mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, is starting Tusk Ventures, a consulting business geared toward helping startups work with — and in some cases, beat back — government regulators. Startups need to contend not only with established businesses, but with local regulations, the firm says. In its ads and other efforts, Uber pushed a message that the company gave New Yorkers outside Manhattan, especially minorities, transportation and jobs they are otherwise denied. Yet “if you don’t have to fight, you’re much better off not doing so,” Tusk said."

I missed that yesterday, sorry.


Cambridge taxi drivers strike to protest Uber, Lyft

Taxi drivers have a legitimate beef — but it’s not with Uber

Uber carpooling coming to Boston

Can't stop it, and at least I left you something to read on the ride.


Death toll for faulty GM switches at 124

Braintree delays measure to regulate ride-hailing services

Why we want to regulate Uber

Mazda recalls 193,000 SUVs

Does anyone make a car that isn't a piece of crap anymore?