People

Gig work can be a dangerous job. That's why workers are petitioning the DOL for death benefits.

They don't trust gig companies to follow their own policies.

A gig worker rides with an Uber Eats backpack.

Gig Workers Collective, an activist organization, wants gig workers to be eligible for workers' compensation and occupational death benefits.

The pandemic made clear how many health risks gig workers can face while on the job. But even before COVID-19, workers faced high risks. Uber drivers, Amazon Flex delivery workers and Instacart shoppers have been killed while picking up passengers, delivering packages or fulfilling a customer's grocery order.

"It's been something that, unfortunately, has become somehow even worse over time and has recently been at the forefront of our minds: that gig workers are being murdered, being infected with diseases, encountering all kinds of situations that leave them vulnerable and totally unprotected," Vanessa Bain, co-founder of Gig Workers Collective, told Protocol. "And that's shameful."

In some cases, companies provide death benefits to the families of these workers. Other companies, however, do not offer such benefits. Even companies that do offer those benefits may do so only in California, as a result of state law. Gig workers also have doubt that companies will follow through with their own policies.

That's why Gig Workers Collective is petitioning the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs to classify gig workers as employees so that they would be eligible for workers' compensation and occupational death benefits. They're petitioning to the DOL "so that we have proper recognition as employees under those programs," Bain said.

The murder of Lynn Murray, who died in a mass shooting in Colorado this year while working as an Instacart shopper, highlighted the differences around what happens to independent contractors and employees when they die on the job, Bain said.

In Murray's case, her family ended up launching a GoFundMe, which received a $50,000 donation from Instacart. The company also reached out to Murray's family to offer its support, an Instacart spokesperson told Protocol.

Instacart also said it offers workers insurance called Shopper Injury Protection at no additional cost to them. Eligible shoppers may be eligible for accidental medical expenses up to $1 million per accident, disability payments equal to 66% of the shopper's weekly earnings from all network companies (subject to minimum and maximum limits), accidental death benefit payments up to $320,000 for eligible dependents and burial expenses up to $10,000.

Uber offers similar coverage for drivers and delivery workers, but only in California. For drivers outside of California, Uber offers workers the option to pay for injury protection coverage. Lyft offers occupational accident insurance, which includes death benefits and disability payments, but only to workers in California.

These types of benefits are more common in California as a result of the highly-contested Proposition 22. Gig companies spent north of $200 million lobbying to pass the law, which solidified the classification of gig workers as independent contractors in California. The proposition, which took effect late last year, also forced companies such as Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash and others to offer health care subsidies, occupational accident insurance and accidental death insurance.

But Gig Workers Collective takes issue with the fact that it's at the discretion of the company whether a worker is eligible for those benefits.

"It's a conflict of interest if your employer is the one that gets to make the determination," Bain said. "Most of these benefits are conceptual. They're not really practically usable or even something that is accessible in any shape or form."

An Instacart shopper on Reddit said they were injured during a delivery about a month ago. The shopper said they contacted Instacart, who said someone would call them in a few hours, but the shopper said they never heard back. In a follow-up post, the shopper said: "4 days later and still nothing."

Instacart declined to comment on how many shoppers have requested to receive benefits under the Shopper Injury Protection insurance, and how many shoppers actually received them. The company cited privacy concerns and said it was out of respect to its community of shoppers.

Uber also wouldn't comment specifically on how many drivers and delivery workers have benefited from the accident insurance, but pointed Protocol to a recent Uber-commissioned survey that found 77% drivers say "having occupational accident insurance makes me feel safer when I'm out on the road."

Lyft and Amazon Flex did not reply to our requests for comment.

"Being at the mercy of our employers who very clearly already don't value our lives and are not willing to pay into systems that provide a real social safety net, it's not a process that inspires a lot of confidence in workers," Bain said.

Climate

A pro-China disinformation campaign is targeting rare earth miners

It’s uncommon for cyber criminals to target private industry. But a new operation has cast doubt on miners looking to gain a foothold in the West in an apparent attempt to protect China’s upper hand in a market that has become increasingly vital.

It is very uncommon for coordinated disinformation operations to target private industry, rather than governments or civil society, a cybersecurity expert says.

Photo: Goh Seng Chong/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Just when we thought the renewable energy supply chains couldn’t get more fraught, a sophisticated disinformation campaign has taken to social media to further complicate things.

Known as Dragonbridge, the campaign has existed for at least three years, but in the last few months it has shifted its focus to target several mining companies “with negative messaging in response to potential or planned rare earths production activities.” It was initially uncovered by cybersecurity firm Mandiant and peddles narratives in the Chinese interest via its network of thousands of fake social media accounts.

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Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Some of the most astounding tech-enabled advances of the next decade, from cutting-edge medical research to urban traffic control and factory floor optimization, will be enabled by a device often smaller than a thumbnail: the memory chip.

While vast amounts of data are created, stored and processed every moment — by some estimates, 2.5 quintillion bytes daily — the insights in that code are unlocked by the memory chips that hold it and transfer it. “Memory will propel the next 10 years into the most transformative years in human history,” said Sanjay Mehrotra, president and CEO of Micron Technology.

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James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Fintech

Ripple’s CEO threatens to leave the US if it loses SEC case

CEO Brad Garlinghouse said a few countries have reached out to Ripple about relocating.

"There's no doubt that if the SEC doesn't win their case against us that that is good for crypto in the United States,” Brad Garlinghouse told Protocol.

Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile for Collision via Getty Images

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse said the crypto company will move to another country if it loses in its legal battle with the SEC.

Garlinghouse said he’s confident that Ripple will prevail against the federal regulator, which accused the company of failing to register roughly $1.4 billion in XRP tokens as securities.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Policy

The Supreme Court’s EPA ruling is bad news for tech regulation, too

The justices just gave themselves a lot of discretion to smack down agency rules.

The ruling could also endanger work on competition issues by the FTC and net neutrality by the FCC.

Photo: Geoff Livingston/Getty Images

The Supreme Court’s decision last week gutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions didn’t just signal the conservative justices’ dislike of the Clean Air Act at a moment of climate crisis. It also served as a warning for anyone that would like to see more regulation of Big Tech.

At the heart of Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision in West Virginia v. EPA was a codification of the “major questions doctrine,” which, he wrote, requires “clear congressional authorization” when agencies want to regulate on areas of great “economic and political significance.”

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Enterprise

Microsoft and Google are still using emotion AI, but with limits

Microsoft said accessibility goals overrode problems with emotion recognition and Google offers off-the-shelf emotion recognition technology amid growing concern over the controversial AI.

Emotion recognition is a well-established field of computer vision research; however, AI-based technologies used in an attempt to assess people’s emotional states have moved beyond the research phase.

Photo: Microsoft

Microsoft said last month it would no longer provide general use of an AI-based cloud software feature used to infer people’s emotions. However, despite its own admission that emotion recognition technology creates “risks,” it turns out the company will retain its emotion recognition capability in an app used by people with vision loss.

In fact, amid growing concerns over development and use of controversial emotion recognition in everyday software, both Microsoft and Google continue to incorporate the AI-based features in their products.

“The Seeing AI person channel enables you to recognize people and to get a description of them, including an estimate of their age and also their emotion,” said Saqib Shaikh, a software engineering manager and project lead for Seeing AI at Microsoft who helped build the app, in a tutorial about the product in a 2017 Microsoft video.

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Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

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