Uber is standing before the European Union Court of Justice in a fight for its business life, at least in Europe.
Spain, France, and Ireland are of the opinion that Uber is a transport service, an illegal taxi service the business model of which is predicated on avoiding existing regulations.
Uber's position is that it is merely a digital platform connecting willing drivers with customers. This is nonsense for four reasons.
First, if a business is able to ignore existing laws simply because introductions are facilitated via the Internet, then an Internet prostitution business -- it might be called Legen -- should also be legal.
Second, Uber could still run its business if its app were replaced by an army of Chinese or Indian, English-speaking operators, though admittedly response time would suffer. Its direct relationship to drivers is what makes Uber function.
Third, Uber drivers have shown a disturbing tendency to take sexual advantage of female customers -- we've seen this in Boston, Hawaii, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities -- because its drivers are not vetted and licensed by local authorities. There have even been rapes by faux Uber drivers. We never hear of licensed taxi drivers raping passengers.
And fourth, it is going back in time to when workers were treated much worse than they are today. The law is American, not European, but the principles are the same.
The court of Chief Justice Melville Weston Fuller decided Lochner v. New York (1905) in an Uber-manner. New York passed the Bakeshop Act in 1897 forbidding bakers to work more than 60 hours in one week. Joseph Lochner, the owner of Lochner's Home Bakery in Utica, wanted his employees to work longer than 60 hours. The court held that setting maximum working hours for bakers was unconstitutional because it was an absolute interference "with the right of contract between the employer and employees," with the right to buy and sell labor through contract being a protected "liberty of the individual."
The court of Chief Justice William Howard Taft similarly decided Adkins v. Children's Hospital (1923) in an Uber-manner. Citing Lochner, the court struck down a law creating a minimum wage law for women, stating that it was "an arbitrary interference with the liberty of contract which no government can legally justify in a free land." The court held that the law was especially "arbitrary" because it imposed uniform minimum wages on all women regardless of their individual needs or occupations.
Lochner and Adkins were not that far removed from Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), only the slavery was of an economic nature.
The court of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes was more enlightened with its ruling on West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937), overturning both Lochner and Adkins. Elsie Parrish, a chambermaid at the West Coast Hotel, sued the hotel on the grounds that it had not paid her Washington State's minimum wages. The court held that the "Constitution does not speak of freedom of contract" and that such a freedom is thus "a qualified, and not an absolute, right" under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court finally understood that being paid less is hardly a shining example of freedom, something the many Uber drivers suing to be recognized as regular employees understand only too well.
Perhaps the European Union Court of Justice will have its West Coast Hotel eureka moment.
Adobe unveiled Project Voco, the "Photoshop of speech." It will allow users to edit existing speech and convert it into any words they wish.
At a live demo in San Diego on Thursday, Adobe took a digitized recording of a man saying "and I kissed my dogs and my wife" and changed it to say "and I kissed Jordan three times."
"We have already revolutionized photo editing. Now it's time for us to do the audio stuff," said Adobe's Zeyu Jin to applause.
Many people are predictably worried that people will misuse it.
"Think about watermarking detection," said Jin, referring to the use of an embedded marker to indicate that the recording has been edited.
Think about sophisticated software which will remove the watermarking.
Not to mention the fact that Adobe is the company which just paid a $1 million fine for a data breach and is always playing catch-up with respect to vulnerabilities in Flash and Reader. Flash is so susceptible to malware that it is being replaced by HTML5. Adobe is hardly a company to trust with respect to robust software.
Think about the things people will be able to do with this invention.
Many people will use it for pranks. Take, for example, the case of a 16-year-old who received death threats after he was falsely accused of attacking a pensioner. People will take it even more seriously with an apparently authentic voice recording.
A more serious prank is swatting, calling 911 and falsely reporting a violent crime in progress using the name and address of someone who has no idea that the police, perhaps even a SWAT team, will soon be knocking at his door. Swattings will be much more believable using Project Voco.
Shady attorneys will use it to get their clients acquitted, possibly by shifting the blame to someone else.
Revenge porn, already almost impossible to get removed from the Internet, will become much more widespread, with the victims now appearing to say outrageous things while naked.
More non-Muslims will be accused of "insulting Islam" and murdered shortly thereafter. It's already common for those who dislike their neighbors to falsely accuse them of blasphemy simply to punish them for perceived slights or to acquire their property. Cartoonists won't be the only ones in need of police protection.
The biggest use may be in the area of politics. Since many people believe anything that reinforces their preexisting opinions, they will never accept that a politician never actually spoke certain words. The only question will be whether these new infomercials are seen on television or only on the Internet.
The fact that something can be done does not mean it should be done.
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker criticized a $150-billion plan by the Chinese government to expand the share of Chinese-made integrated circuits in the domestic market from 9% today to 70% by 2025.
"The world has seen the effects of this type of targeted, government-led interference before," she said. "The result has been overcapacity in the global marketplace that has artificially reduced prices, cost jobs in both the United States and around the world, and caused significant damage to those industries globally."
"In addition, we are seeing new attempts by China to acquire companies and technology based on their government’s interests -- not commercial objectives. And we have witnessed attempts to restrict access to China’s domestic market," she said. She went on to say that "no government should require technology transfer, joint-venture, or localization as a quid pro quo for market access."
She does not understand what is actually going on.
Take a look at what has happened between Germany and China, as described in Der Spiegel's Product Piracy Goes High-Tech: Nabbing Know-How in China, Harmony and Ambition: China's Cut-Throat Railway Revolution, and Beijing's High-Tech Ambitions: The Dangers of Germany's Dependence on China.
The Transrapid, a magnetic levitation train designed by a consortium of German industrial giants Siemens and ThyssenKruppp, was expected to do well in China. As it does with many companies, China demanded that the trains be manufactured in China. This is a common practice around the world to ensure that local jobs are created. A short line was built in the Shanghai area. But then in December 2004, Chinese engineers were videotaped breaking into the Transrapid maintenance room in the middle of the night and taking measurements of the train. There were no more orders for the Transrapid, with Chengdu Aircraft Industrial now being in the business of building Transrapid-style railways around the country.
"Dozens of Chinese manufacturers are shamelessly copying our machines," said Rainer Hundsdörfer, the CEO of Weinig AG, a German company that's been manufacturing machine tools for the Chinese market in its plant in China since 1997. Hundsdörfer constantly discovers copies of his company's products at trade shows. "And when I point this out to the Chinese in their booths, they're not even embarrassed. On the contrary. They're proud of the quality of their copies and want to know how they can improve them even further," he says, half outraged and half amused. The Chinese are "incredibly bold," even using photos taken directly from Weinig brochures in their own product catalogs.
Around twenty years ago, Siemens was sending entire fossil fuel power plants to China. China demanded that Siemens share the technology used in these plants. And now Chinese companies are producing those same plants, with Siemens only supplying the parts that China has not yet started manufacturing.
The general railway market was the real prize, however. Siemens, Alstom, Bombardier, and Kawasaki all wanted to sell train sets in China. But China demanded that all four companies share their technology. And now China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock manufactures train sets with perhaps the highest technology in the world, which was only possible because the Western companies traded their crown jewels for a short period of sales.
Der Spiegel asked "how attractive are these types of deals to Western companies when they're being forced to essentially give away costly technology -- or at least look the other way when it's copied by the Chinese?"
The answer lies in the radically different culture of China.
Siemens has a plant in Sacramento, California, which supplies light rail vehicles to Denver, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, and St. Louis, as well as the Canadian cities of Calgary and Edmonton. No American company has started manufacturing Siemens-style light rail vehicles because intellectual property (IP) laws are upheld here. But Chinese courts refuse to prosecute when it comes to foreign IP.
"The scale of international theft of American intellectual property is unprecedented -- hundreds of billions of dollars per year, on the order of the size of US exports to Asia," reported the Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property.
As I wrote before, AMD has given its crown jewels to China in the hope that it will remain in the Chinese market, but it won't be long before we see AMD-style processors for sale. The only question is whether AMD will be able to prevent China from selling its copies outside China.
China's rationale for wanting mostly domestic processors are threefold. First, it will save China a great deal of money in licensing fees. Second, it will reduce spying by the NSA. And third, it will have products it can sell to the world, with those products potentially having firmware and hardware to steal yet more technology, as is happening with Lenovo PCs , or prevent users from attacking China.
It has little to do with rigging the semiconductor market or what its actions represent for jobs in other countries. China now has the technology for all major chip architectures including x86, ARM, and Power. Game over.
The multinational corporate lobby answered with its usual answers: an increase in H-1B visas, lower taxes, and more free trade agreements, even though H-1B visa abuse is rampant, growth was much higher during Eisenhower's terms when personal tax rates exceeded 90%, and free trade agreements have resulted in massive job losses.
During the Cold War, the U.S. did not trade with the Soviet Union, but somehow our leaders allow massively unbalanced trading with China. Some of its weapons were stolen from the U.S. and Russia and others were bought or manufactured using the trillions we have given it. The upcoming war with China, probably triggered by the conflict in the South China Sea, may go very badly.