Uber Said to Be Rethinking Its Car Leasing Strategy in India as Driver Incomes Drop

Global ride-hailing firm Uber Technologies is rethinking its car leasing strategy in India, its second-biggest market, as drivers have returned dozens of leased cars early after the company cut incentives, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Uber had planned to buy 15,000 new cars last year and lease them out in a bid to attract more drivers – a strategy it has used in other markets – but it suspended the scheme for a while in December after leasing just a third of that total.

Uber Said to Be Rethinking Its Car Leasing Strategy in India as Driver Incomes Drop

After burning through millions of dollars over three years in a battle for market share with local rival Ola, backed by Japan’s Softbank, Uber has cut the incentives it gives to drivers and raised the fares it charges passengers.

The incentives – from free smartphones to cash bonuses worth as much as double a day’s fares – meant drivers could earn as much as Rs. 120,000 ($1,838) a month.

Those incentive payments have been pared back, in some cases to as little as 10 percent of fare income. Ride fares have risen to Re. 1.5 per minute of travel from Re. 1.

The incentives and, to an extent, the leasing scheme aimed at drivers without their own cars, boosted Uber’s driver numbers, helping it rapidly gain around 30 percent market share.

Uber has faced challenges elsewhere in Asia, but the stakes are high in India’s $12 billion taxi market, a key area after it exited China last year, and one where CEO Travis Kalanick has said it expects to be profitable soon.

Uber has said its services are in 29 Indian cities and it has more than 250,000 drivers on its platform, but it lags Ola, which says it operates in more than 100 cities with about 550,000 drivers.

Business shift
Two people with knowledge of the matter said Uber miscalculated the impact that the reduced incentives would have on drivers’ earnings, especially those making lease payments.

At an open meeting for staff in December, around the time the incentives were being reduced, Uber’s India chief Amit Jain said the buying-for-lease scheme was being temporarily suspended while the company evaluated its leasing strategy, one of the sources said.

Uber did not comment on Reuters queries related to Jain’s announcement or the impact of the incentives cuts on its leasing programme.

Raj Beri, business head for leasing in India, said the scheme was set up to help drivers without cars get on its platform and make money. “We are very pleased with our progress toward this goal so far, and look forward to introducing the opportunity to more prospective driver partners this year,” he said in a statement.

In a recent blog post on Uber’s website, Jain defended the cuts to driver incentives and signaled a strategic shift for India. “We can shift from startup mode to a more sustainable business model,” he wrote.

“No benefit in leasing”
Leasing is only a small part of Uber’s overall supply in India, but is seen as a way to lock drivers on to its platform for longer, and stop them switching to Ola.

To lease a new small car through Uber’s scheme, drivers pay a Rs. 33,000 ($499) deposit – less than what they would pay to buy a car from a dealer with a bank loan. But weekly payments of about Rs. 5,500 over three years add up to nearly double what drivers would pay to service a car loan.

That wasn’t an issue when incentives were high.

Several Uber drivers said they feel trapped as a surge in the number of cars on Uber’s platform has led to fewer rides, at a time when incentives have been cut, making it harder to keep up lease payments.

“I’ll not be able to save even Rs. 10,000 a month,” said Arjun Chouhan, 38, an Uber driver in Delhi who has leased a car. “There’s no benefit in leasing. What if I’m unwell? They don’t listen.”

In a dusty car lot on Delhi’s outskirts, guards told Reuters that dozens of cars standing idle belonged to Uber and had been returned by drivers.

When Reuters phoned Xchange Leasing, Uber’s local leasing arm that has an office near the car park, officials said no new cars were currently being leased out. One said the priority was to lease those cars returned by drivers, and it could be 2-3 months before new cars would again be offered.

An Uber spokesman said the company doesn’t comment on “anonymous speculation”.

As part of its review, Uber may reduce the three-year lease term and let two drivers share the rent on a car, one of the sources said.

Uber did not comment on its leasing targets or the future of the scheme.

“People left well-paying jobs to drive an Uber,” said Sandeep, another Delhi driver, adding his monthly ride income has nearly halved to Rs. 60,000 in two years, despite working longer hours.

“We were tempted at the thought of becoming millionaires.”

Twitter Says It’s Exploring Building a Premium Version of Tweetdeck Aimed at Professionals

Twitter Inc is considering whether to build a premium version of its popular Tweetdeck interface aimed at professionals, the company said on Thursday, raising the possibility that it could collect subscription fees from some users for the first time.

Like most other social media companies, Twitter since its founding 11 years ago has focused on building a huge user base for a free service supported by advertising. Last month it reported it had 319 million users worldwide.

Twitter Says It's Exploring Building a Premium Version of Tweetdeck Aimed at Professionals

But unlike the much-larger Facebook, Twitter has failed to attract enough in advertising revenue to turn a profit even as its popularity with US President Donald Trump and other celebrities makes the network a constant centre of attention.

Subscription fees could come from a version of Tweetdeck, an existing interface that helps users navigate Twitter.

Twitter is conducting a survey “to assess the interest in a new, more enhanced version of Tweetdeck,” spokeswoman Brielle Villablanca said in a statement on Thursday.

She went on: “We regularly conduct user research to gather feedback about people’s Twitter experience and to better inform our product investment decisions, and we’re exploring several ways to make Tweetdeck even more valuable for professionals.”

There was no indication that Twitter was considering charging fees from all its users.

Word of the survey had earlier leaked on Twitter, where a journalist affiliated with the New York Times posted screenshots of what a premium version of Tweetdeck could look like.

That version could include “more powerful tools to help marketers, journalists, professionals, and others in our community find out what is happening in the world quicker,” according to one of the screenshots posted on the account @andrewtavani.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Other social media firms, such as Microsoft Corp’s LinkedIn unit, already have tiered memberships, with subscription versions that offer greater access and data.

In the fourth quarter of 2016, Twitter posted the slowest revenue growth since it went public four years earlier, and revenue from advertising fell year-over-year. The company also said that advertising revenue growth would continue to lag user growth during 2017.

Financial markets speculated about a sale of Twitter last year, but no concrete bids were forthcoming.

Google Chrome to Start Blocking Flash; Switch to HTML5 as Default

Google Chrome to Start Blocking Flash; Switch to HTML5 as Default

  • Flash Player will run on Chrome only on click-to-play basis.
  • Google wants all websites to use HTML5 instead.
  • To avoid over-prompting, ten most used websites have been white-listed.

In line with its earlier announcement, Google has now confirmed that it will start to de-emphasise Flash in favour of HTML5 from September. The tech giant wants to promote HTML5 as it provides faster load times and consumes less power as compared to Adobe Flash Player.

With its stable Chrome version 53 channel, Google will block Flash and encourage HTML5. For sites running solely on Flash, Google Chrome will speed-break on users’ browsing experience and ask for permission to run.

“Today, more than 90% of Flash on the web loads behind the scenes to support things like page analytics. This kind of Flash slows you down, and starting this September, Chrome 53 will begin to block it,” Google reasons on its blog.

With Chrome 55 in December, Google will make HTML5 the default. It will ask for permission to run Flash on specific sites that only support the Adobe software.

 This move doesn’t come as a surprise as Google had announced in May that it plans to reduce ties with Flash through the course of this year. It had announced that by the end of the year, Flash will only be available on click-to-play basis on Chrome

At that time, Google named ten most used websites that run Flash, and white-listed them to avoid over-prompting. The names of some of the white-list websites are YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, Yandex.ru, Live.com, Mail.ru, OK.ru, VK.com and Twitch.tv. These websites will have Flash Player running without any hiccups. However this white-list expires in one year, and by the end of 2017, these websites are expected to make the switch to HTML5.

Google admits Flash played a huge role in the adoption of video and gaming on the Web, but it’s plain to see it failed to keep up with the momentum that’s built up in the recent years. Because of that and various security threats that it poses, all browsers including Firefox, Safari, and Edge are now transitioning to HTML5.


Court Deals Blow to Berlin’s Airbnb Ban

Court Deals Blow to Berlin's Airbnb Ban

An attempt by Berlin to clamp down on properties being rented out as holiday homes on Internet platforms like Airbnb suffered a setback on Tuesday as a court ruled in landlords’ favour.

The administrative court backed the claims of three homeowners, who had sued for the right to rent out their second homes in the German capital to tourists when they weren’t themselves staying there.

The same court had in June quashed a legal challenge to the law, which outlaws property owners and tenants from renting out whole apartments or houses for short-term holiday lets.

The ban still effectively prohibits primary residences from being advertised on Airbnb.

Tuesday’s decision had been keenly awaited as a further indication of how judges would view the new regulation.

Some landlords even received letters, seen by AFP, indicating that the city was waiting for a legal steer before proceeding against them.

In the case of the three landlords – who live in Rostock in northern Germany, Denmark, and Italy when not in Berlin – “private interest outweighs the public interest” in keeping the properties vacant, the judges said.

 Berlin’s “wrongful use law”, in force since May 1, provides for fines of up to EUR 100,000 ($111,000) for people advertising their homes for Airbnb-style rentals without official authorisation.

Supporters of the law say increasing use of online rental platforms in Berlin – a tourism and party hotspot that draws visitors from all over Europe and beyond – is driving up property prices by taking large numbers of homes off the residential market.

Citizens can even report those they suspect of using an apartment for holiday rentals anonymously via the city government website.

In June 2015, the city also introduced a cap on rent price hikes in a bid to keep residential apartments affordable.


Linux Distributions Vulnerable to Cyber-Attacks

Linux Distributions Vulnerable to Cyber-Attacks: Report

Researchers from University of California-Riverside have identified a weakness in the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) of all Linux operating systems that enables attackers to remotely hijack users’ internet communications.

Such a weakness could be used to launch targeted attacks that track users’ online activity, forcibly terminate a communication, hijack a conversation between hosts or degrade the privacy guarantee by anonymity networks such as Tor.

To transfer information from one source to another, Linux and other operating systems use the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) to package and send data, and the Internet Protocol (IP) to ensure the information gets to the correct destination.

When two people communicate by email, TCP assembles their message into a series of data packets, identified by unique sequence numbers, that are transmitted, received, and reassembled into the original message.

Those TCP sequence numbers are useful to attackers, but with almost four billion possible sequences, it is essentially impossible to identify the sequence number associated with any particular communication by chance.

 The researchers led by Yue Cao, computer science graduate student, identified a subtle flaw in the Linux software that enables attackers to infer the TCP sequence numbers associated with a particular connection with no more information than the IP address of the communicating parties.

This means that given any two arbitrary machines on the internet, a remote blind attacker without being able to eavesdrop on the communication, can track users’ online activity, terminate connections with others and inject false material into their communications.

The weakness can allow attackers to degrade the privacy of anonymity networks, such as Tor, by forcing the connections to route through certain relays, the authors stated.

The attack is fast and reliable, happens in less than a minute and has a success rate of about 90 percent.

The researchers alerted Linux about the vulnerability which resulted in patches applied to the latest Linux version.

The study was set to be presented at the USENIX Security Symposium in Austin, Texas, this week.


Trai to Release Discussion Paper on Net Neutrality by Month-End

Trai to Release Discussion Paper on Net Neutrality by Month-End

Telecom regulator Trai Wednesday said it will bring out a consultation paper on Net Neutrality, and separately also firm-up its views on the issue of Free Data by the end of the month.

“For net neutrality, the pre-consultation has happened and we are now in the process of firming-up the final consultation paper, hopefully by the end of this month,” Trai Chairman, R S Sharma said on the sidelines of a conference.

He further said the regulator will take a view on Free Data in a similar timeframe. “By month-end, we will be able to take a call… I can’t say what will be the outcome of that.

Every consultation paper does not have to result into regulation or tariff order but whatever the conclusion, we will be able to make it, by the month-end,” he said.

The two issues, Free Data and Net Neutrality, will be handled separately. “These two will be different, certainly. Because in the Free Data paper, we have said that whatever architecture is brought out that should respect the principles of Net Neutrality,” he said.

In Free Data, the regulator is exploring models to give consumers free Internet service within the Net Neutrality framework, after barring platforms like Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero under its differential pricing rule.

It sought public views on whether there is a need to have TSP-agnostic platform to provide free data or suitable reimbursement to users, without violating the principles of its differential pricing for data rules.

In May this year, Trai, through a pre-consultation round, sought public views on aspects of Net Neutrality that need be considered for a discussion framework.

There has been a conflict between telecom operators, Internet companies and consumers interest on the issue of net neutrality.

While all the three major stakeholders – telecom operators, Internet companies and consumers – favour net neutrality, they define it differently from their standpoint.

The debate on net neutrality picked up in India when telecom operator Bharti Airtel in December 2014decided to charge extra for making Internet calls. But, the company rolled back its plan after public protest.

It then launched Airtel Zero platform which provided fee access to websites under it, while websites were required pay for being on it.

Later, Facebook also came up with a zero rating platform ‘Free Basics’ which provided free access to some websites available on its platform for Reliance Communications customers in India. Both these platforms were seen as violation to net neutrality and later Trai issued a regulation which barred zero rating platform.


Gmail’s New Security Features to Warn Users About Unsafe Links, Senders

Gmail's New Security Features to Warn Users About Unsafe Links, Senders

  • Unauthenticated sender’s picture will be replaced with red question mark
  • Potentially dangerous links will produce a warning with update on web
  • Security updates to roll out in couple of weeks

Emails can be a tricky thing. Even though they are one of the most important tools in everyday life, they can often pose security problems for users. To protect users, Google has released two new security features that attempt to make Gmail a little more foolproof place to be. The new features will rollout within a couple of weeks, Google says.

On the Web and on the Android app, users will get see now red question marks instead of profile pictures of senders if they have not been authenticated by either Sender Policy Framework (SPF) or DKIM, the search giant said in its blog post.

For the Web only, Google is extending its Safe Browsing feature from Google Search and Chrome to Gmail. When you receive an email with a link to website known to be associated with phishing, malware, or unwanted software, users will now see the below warning.

warning_gmail_update_3423_blog.jpgIt is important to mention that a sender who has not been authenticated or the link that has been shown as potentially dangerous might or might not pose any threat to the user. These warning signs have been added so that the users can take a moment to consider their safety before they fall prey to the hackers.

Earlier this year, Google added a new security feature to Gmail – an upgrade to its Data Loss Prevention service with the inclusion of OCR. The feature reads email attachments with the aim of preventing a leak of confidential documents, and is meant only for Google Apps for Work Unlimited customers.

Before that, Google started warning Gmail users about emails from unencrypted sources, flagging those email providers not using the Transport Layer Security (TLS) standard.


Samsung Buys US Luxury Home Appliance Maker Dacor in IoT Push

Samsung Buys US Luxury Home Appliance Maker Dacor in IoT Push

Samsung Electronics said Thursday it had acquired US luxury appliance maker Dacor, as part of its push towards a full production line of high-end, Internet-connected homeware.

The purchase of the California-based company is the latest in a series of acquisitions by the South Korean electronics giant in recent years – including that of US home automation startup SmartThings in 2014.

A Samsung statement gave no details on the value of the deal to acquire Dacor, whose products include stovetops, ovens, ranges and refrigerators.

Samsung – the world’s top smartphone maker – is also a leading home appliance manufacturer, producing refrigerators, washers and air conditioners.

It has been on a something of a buying spree in the United States, snapping up a handful of firms including cloud computing start-up Joyent in June.

Samsung has been searching for ways to bolster profits beyond its key smartphone business as growth in the global handset market continues to slow.

It has rolled out a growing number of wireless devices or Internet-enabled home appliances in a move towards the nascent market for the Internet of Things, in which household appliances and electronic devices are all inter-connected.


Australian Census Back Online 2 Days After Cyber-Attack

Australian Census Back Online 2 Days After Cyber-Attack

Australia’s first attempt to conduct a census online resumed Thursday almost two days after it shut down due to what an angry prime minister described as system failures that left it vulnerable to cyber-attack.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull blamed failures of the Australian Bureau of Statics and systems provider IBMafter the 470 million Australian dollar ($360 million) national survey was taken offline on Tuesday. The bureau removed the site because a digital shield failed to block traffic from a fourth denial-of-service attack that came from somewhere overseas.

“These denial-of-service attacks are absolutely commonplace, they are highly predictable, they were inevitably going to happen to the census website,” Turnbull told Sydney Radio 2GB early Thursday.

“Measures that ought to have been in place to prevent these denial-of-service attacks interfering with access to the website were not put in place – that is a fact, that was a failure. That was compounded by some … technical hardware failures and inadequate redundancy,” he said.

 He said the system failures had been rectified at his personal direction under the supervision of government’s top electronic security and intelligence agency, Australian Signals Directorate.

The Bureau of Statistics tweeted that the website was available again almost 43 hours after it was shut down.

“Thanks for your patience. We apologize for the inconvenience,” the bureau said.

Turnbull said there were “very big issues” for both the Bureau of Statistics and IBM.

“I, too, am very angry about this,” Turnbull said.

IBM, the global technology giant based in Armonk, New York, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The Bureau of Statistics said 2.3 million Australians, including Turnbull, managed to access the site before it was shut down. Another 3.7 million tradition paper forms have been mailed to households.

Another 5 million households among Australia’s population of 24 million are expected to file their forms online.

Australian National University demographer Liz Allen said she had also been denied access to the website and feared public frustration would adversely affect the results.

The opposition blamed underfunding for the failure, saying it would reduce responses to the census and compromise the results.

The government had recently considered cutting costs by following the United States in holding a census ever 10 years. Instead, Australia opted to maintain its five-year time frame, but attempted to save AUD 100 million by conducting most of the survey online.


Pakistan Approves Controversial Cybercrime Law

Pakistan Approves Controversial Cybercrime Law

Pakistan on Thursday approved a controversial cybercrimebill the government says will safeguard citizens against harassment and criminalise online child pornography, but which activists say curbs free speech.

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2016 has been the focus of heated debate over provisions that critics say give the government the power to conduct mass surveillance and criminalise satire.

Farieha Aziz, director of the Bolo Bhi digital rights group, said a section intended to tackle cyber-stalking was drafted in sweeping language that would allow public officials criticised on social media to claim they were being harassed.

It was of particular concern, she said, that the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority would be allowed to ban speech considered “against the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan”.

“This should not be the task of an executive body, this is a matter for the courts,” she added.

Gul Bukhari, an activist with the campaign group Bytes for All, said: “It authorises the state to exchange the private information of citizens with foreign governments or agencies without recourse to any judicial framework.”

 Defending the bill, IT Minister Anusha Rahman told AFP: “We have built in safeguards against misuse.

“It is not as sweeping as it has been made out to be – for most offences, the government will still need to go to court to get a warrant against offenders,” adding the only exceptions were child pornography and cyber-terrorism.

She added that “dishonest intent” was also a requirement for an offender to be punished.

Free speech campaigners in Pakistan have long complained of creeping censorship in the name of protecting religion or preventing obscenity.

In November 2011 the telecommunications authority tried to ban nearly 1,700 “obscene” words from text messages, which included innocuous terms such as “lotion”, “athlete’s foot” and “idiot”.

YouTube was banned from 2012 to January this year following the upload of a US-made film that depicted Prophet Mohammed as a thuggish deviant and triggered protests across the Muslim world.

In 2010 Pakistan shut down Facebook for nearly two weeks over its hosting of allegedly blasphemous pages. It continues to restrict thousands of online links.