3 reasons to ditch Uber (AND Lyft) and take a yellow cab instead

taxi

In 2017, progressive-minded people learned that if they wish to support transportation businesses that align with their values, they should hail a ride using Lyft instead of Uber.

Why? Well, there’s the gross stuffs, the privacy stuff, and the illegal stuffs.

Eek. Bad stuff.

But if a progressive were to choose a form of transportation that aligns with their values, they wouldn’t use Uber OR Lyft. They’d take a freaking yellow cab.

Here’s why:

1. Cost

Let’s start with the best one. If you fell in love with Uber’s low prices, I urge you to check your favorite Silicon Valley-backed ride-hailing app against the fare estimate in Curb, the app for yellow cabs in many cities. In my (admittedly limited) experience, the fares given in Curb are significantly lower than Uber/Lyft, especially when surge pricing is in effect.

2. Sustainability

When Uber/Lyft are cheaper, it’s because your ride is effectively being subsidized by venture-capital firms. Here’s an article about this {bloomberg} and some tweets:

3. Labor

If progressives truly support fair labor laws, unionization, and a living wage, they shouldn’t support Uber/Lyft, both of which are in the business of undermining those very laws and institutions.

Conclusion

I’m not saying everything is perfect about yellow cabs. There’s the medallion thing and the once-frequent refusal of many drivers to accept credit cards (which is now irrelevant thanks to Curb). But you’re kidding yourself if you think Uber/Lyft are making the world a better place or making the transportation market more efficient.

Image courtesy Flicker user Lensicle, but I added some black lines to it. Used under Creative Commons. 

PSA: Firefox is faster than Chrome and you should try it out

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Firefox. I know. It’s probably been awhile since you heard someone refer to Firefox as their browser of choice. But their new Quantum browser is the browser built for 2017, as Wired put it recently.

Why?

  1. Good battery conservation
  2. It’s faster
  3. Great built-in privacy measures

More from Wired:

The new Firefox actually manages to evolve the entire browser experience, recognizing the multi-device, ultra-mobile lives we all lead and building a browser that plays along. It’s a browser built with privacy in mind, automatically stopping invisible trackers and making your history available to you and no one else. It’s better than Chrome, faster than Chrome, smarter than Chrome. It’s my new go-to browser.

I’ve never been a Chrome guy. It’s ugly, drains my battery, and is made by Google—not a company that aligns with many of the things I care about (see here and here).

Safari is good, and I like how it syncs tabs and passwords across devices. But it’s sometimes noticeably slow and incompatible with ~2% of websites I visit. Not a huge number, but enough to be annoying.

I’ve been using Quantum for a couple months now, and encourage you to check it out. It’s available for Mac, Windows, PC, iOS, and probably others. It supports cross-device syncing, although you can’t set it as your default browser thanks to an annoying iOS limitation.

Facebook lets companies target job ads by age. Is that really so bad?

Young professional

The New York Times and ProPublica released a story a couple weeks ago detailing the extent to which employers can target their recruiting ads on Facebook.

Here’s the lede:

A few weeks ago, Verizon placed an ad on Facebook to recruit applicants for a unit focused on financial planning and analysis. The ad showed a smiling, millennial-aged woman seated at a computer and promised that new hires could look forward to a rewarding career in which they would be “more than just a number.”

Some relevant numbers were not immediately evident. The promotion was set to run on the Facebook feeds of users 25 to 36 years old who lived in the nation’s capital, or had recently visited there, and had demonstrated an interest in finance. For a vast majority of the hundreds of millions of people who check Facebook every day, the ad did not exist.

Setting aside the issue of legality (age-based ad targeting may violate the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the article notes), I’m struggling to see how this is a necessarily bad thing. After all, if a recruiter is biased against older workers, they’re not likely to hire them once they infer their age based on their resume. Many hiring managers have a range of expected ages for a given position based on the required experience, the age range of others on the team, etc. I’m not arguing that this is a good thing. Everyone deserves a fair shake, no matter how old you are. But blaming Facebook for this existing human bias doesn’t advance the cause either.

Further, the issue at hand is only that the companies are advertising open positions to people in certain age ranges. Many companies require all open positions to be posted on the careers page; and the majority of such positions also appear on job boards such as indeed.com. It’s not as though the jobs are being hidden from people; rather, certain people aren’t being actively targeted.

Of course this is easy for a 30-something well-versed in technology to say. But the outrage over this issue robs job seekers of their agency and gives Facebook too much credit. If your idea of a job search is to browse your Facebook Feed for ads from companies who want to recruit you, I don’t think you’re going to have much luck. It’s far more effective to seek out companies and career opportunities that match your objectives than waiting for them to come for you via Facebook ads.

Image via Flickr.

Net neutrality isn’t a big deal: the contrarian’s take

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I’m not sure where I stand on the net neutrality debate at the moment. My gut says net neutrality is a good thing and we should fight for it. But when my gut happens to be leaning in the same direction as an angry mob, I check myself.

Net neutrality is the principle that all network traffic should be treated equally by ISPs like Comcast and Verizon. Netflix movies should load as fast as YouTube movies, which should load as fast as mom-and-pop-streaming-dot-com. When net neutrality ceases to become the law of the land, ISPs might charge consumers extra fees to access the services they want at top speeds. They might program their networks to prioritize the delivery of content created by entities they own (i.e. NBC programming will load faster than ABC for Comcast customers).

I’m no fan of ISPs. (See also: I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and don’t have internet in my apartment). But this isn’t a clear case of good vs. evil, either.

Two articles in particular have started to change my thinking on this.

Ben Thompson

Ben starts by debunking a bit of marketing material from Portugal, which has been used to demonstrate the ills of net neutrality. It appears to show an internet plan in which access to iTunes, Pandora, and Last.fm cost more.

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The rub? Ben explains:

There’s just one problem with the tweet I embedded above: Portugal uses Euros, and the language is Portuguese; the tweet above has dollars and English. The image is completely made-up […] the packages [are] for an additional 10GB/month of data.

He goes on to argue that Title II classification (which the new proposed rules roll back) is overkill, and that regulations that introduce fewer complications (and thus unintended consequences) are better. If my summary sounds dumb to you, give his argument a second chance and read the whole thing.

Tyler Cowen

Tyler’s argument is even easier to recap: based on two recent studies, he thinks the rule change won’t make much of a difference at all.

The first analyzes the stock prices of the big ISPs and Netflix in 2015 when the soon-to-be rolled back net neutrality rules were introduced:

When the court first struck down net neutrality, Netflix shares rose in value. When Obama made it clear he would try to reinstitute net neutrality, Netflix shares fell in value. Again, those patterns reflect the opposite of the usual critical story that Netflix or its customers will be charged a fortune for bandwidth use if net neutrality is removed. Netflix shares have done fine over the last year, even in light of this expected revision to net neutrality policies.

That’s only one example, and it hardly proves that service prioritization will benefit the internet as a whole. Still, we’ve been living with various forms of nonneutrality for some while, and when they’re not framed as such we typically don’t find them so outrageous.

Get his full argument here.

Conclusion

While I think net neutrality is a worthy principle, there’s more than one way to achieve it. I think over-regulation can be over-burdensome, especially in the fast-changing technology landscape of broadband.

How writing leads to empathy / why does anybody waste money on a speaker like Google Home

alexa

This morning I saw a Tweet with this graph showing the top things people ask their Alexa and Google Home devices:

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Since you’re probably too lazy to click the image for the full-size version, the top three things people say to their Alexas are:

  • Tell me the weather
  • Set a timer
  • Play me a song

After I saw this, I decided I was going to write a post about how I think products like Google Home and Amazon Echo are stupid and I don’t get why people would waste money on them, especially if they’re just using them to see if they need to bring an umbrella to work tomorrow.

I was going to write about why people don’t just use the “Hey Siri” function on their phones to set a timer for that soufflé. Inspired by the graph, I tried it after work tonight and it worked great. When I said “Hey Siri, play the new Sufjan Stevens album,” she got it and soon I was listening to Greatest Hits for the tenth time today.

I was going to write about how Siri also set a timer and told me tomorrow’s weather, all without me having to touch my phone or talk to a $100 speaker.

Then I realized that the reason people want these stupid speakers is because not everyone lives in a studio apartment in Brooklyn where one set of speakers is more than enough to carry the sound throughout my home.

But that’s the cool thing about writing. Not only does it force you to examine the validity of an argument, it also helps you empathize with other people. There had to be a good reason this guy at work was bragging about the Black Friday deal he got on a Google Home today, I thought to myself. I should write about why that guy is stupid.

I guess I’m the stupid one.

Image from the Amazon Alexa product page.