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.

Enterprise

No code, lots of rules: Why 'citizen data scientists' need guardrails

For all the talk of giving “citizen data scientists” new AI power, no-code AI tools have lots of limitations. And that’s by design.

The limitations imposed on no-code AI tools are about more than just limiting algorithm and coding options.

Image: Boris SV/Moment/Getty Images

When software providers talk about the technologies they say “democratize” AI, they also talk a lot about “guardrails.” That’s because the rapidly evolving world of AI tools is still more like a republic governed by the machine-learning elite.

Although no-code and low-code AI tools promise to give everyone a chance to build business analytics models or simple applications that use AI to complete tedious tasks, the amateurs whom no-code AI companies refer to as “citizen data scientists” are often required to play with the bumper rails up. That’s because toolmakers and management are worried about the risks inherent in allowing just anyone to create sophisticated AI systems.

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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.

COVID-19 accelerated what many CEOs and CTOs have struggled to do for the past decade: It forced organizations to be agile and adjust quickly to change. For all the talk about digital transformation over the past decade, when push came to shove, many organizations realized they had made far less progress than they thought.

Now with the genie of rapid change out of the bottle, we will never go back to accepting slow and steady progress from our organizations. To survive and thrive in times of disruption, you need to build a resilient, adaptable business with systems and processes that will keep you nimble for years to come. An essential part of business agility is responding to change by quickly developing new applications and adapting old ones. IT faces an unprecedented demand for new applications. According to IDC, by 2023, more than 500 million digital applications and services will be developed and deployed — the same number of apps that were developed in the last 40 years.[1]

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Denise Broady, CMO, Appian
Denise oversees the Marketing and Communications organization where she is responsible for accelerating the marketing strategy and brand recognition across the globe. Denise has over 24+ years of experience as a change agent scaling businesses from startups, turnarounds and complex software companies. Prior to Appian, Denise worked at SAP, WorkForce Software, TopTier and Clarkston Group. She is also a two-time published author of “GRC for Dummies” and “Driven to Perform.” Denise holds a double degree in marketing and production and operations from Virginia Tech.
Fintech

The bitcoin crash has people talking about another crypto winter

Volatile crypto prices have scared consumers and companies away from the sector before — sometimes for extended periods.

“Crypto winter” is a prolonged period of flat trading following a price crash.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

The sharp drop in cryptocurrency prices has spurred fears that the notoriously volatile industry is about to go through another prolonged slump.

The market cycle has become such a predictable pattern — a steep decline in coin prices followed by a prolonged period of flat trading — that it even has a catchy name: crypto winter.

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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 Signal at (510)731-8429.

Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs WordPress.com, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool Parse.ly and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Policy

FAQ: Making sense of the fight over 5G

A two-year saga following telecom providers’ 5G technology came to a head the last two weeks. Let’s get caught up.

Airlines say 5G technology could interfere with a sensor used to detect a plane’s distance from the ground or other objects.

Image: Namthip Muanthongthae/Getty Images

The long awaited C-Band 5G rollout has been off to a rocky start.

The deployment of C-Band spectrum, which wireless carriers have praised as the key to wider 5G accessibility and faster network speeds, has been marred by controversy over safety concerns and delays. Telecom companies and aviation experts are still butting heads over whether the latest flavor of 5G and air travel can safely co-exist, a fight which has grounded flights and inevitably pissed off airlines.

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Hirsh Chitkara

Hirsh Chitkara ( @HirshChitkara) is a is a reporter at Protocol focused on the intersection of politics, technology and society. Before joining Protocol, he helped write a daily newsletter at Insider that covered all things Big Tech. He's based in New York and can be reached at hchitkara@protocol.com.

Entertainment

Google is developing a low-end Chromecast with Google TV

The new dongle will run the Google TV interface, but it won’t support 4K streaming.

The Chromecast with Google TV dongle combined 4K streaming with the company’s Google TV interface. Now, Google is looking to launch a cheaper version.

Photo: Google

Google is working on a new streaming device that caters to people with older TV sets: The next Chromecast streaming dongle will run its Google TV interface and ship with a remote control, but it won’t support 4K streaming. The device will instead max out at a resolution of 1080p, Protocol has learned from a source with close knowledge of the company’s plans.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

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