The perils of the 'de Blasio feature'
August 11, 2015 11:22 AM   Subscribe

"Leading technology companies are increasingly soliciting their users to take political action on their behalf to defend controversial business models from regulation, support new programs, and promote their moral values in active political battles." Matt Stempeck explores the implications [alt link] of Uber and Facebook (among others) turning their users into lobbyists for the companies.
posted by librarylis (25 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm interested to see if a company like Uber, which has huge support from paying customers but focused, politically powerful opposition from its competition, can move the needle. The hoops politicians have been jumping through to argue for regulation of Uber without admitting their financial interest in the entrenched taxi system is impressive.
posted by mikewebkist at 12:05 PM on August 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Although the Facebook issue is arguably the more interesting one: it has origins in the Net Neutrality debate and is focused on the VERY low end of the market. Where Uber is easily seen as a "first world problem" debate, Internet.org is confronting the third world and its politics directly.
posted by mikewebkist at 12:18 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The hoops politicians have been jumping through to argue for regulation of Uber without admitting their financial interest in the entrenched taxi system is impressive.

As is the willful refusal to consider any possible problems with Uber from the techno-libertarian cheerleader crowd.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:24 PM on August 11, 2015 [28 favorites]


Fair, but I don't think the "grassroots" support Uber gets is limited to the "techno-libertarian cheerleader crowd." As the linked article points out, it's clearly in Uber's interest to drum up support – others need to fight for the opposing side in the battle. And right now, the opposition seems to heavily lean toward the conservative entrenched interests, with a smaller contingent of anti-"sharing economy" progressives.
posted by mikewebkist at 12:46 PM on August 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Bring it on, I say. If everyone is screaming at a politician, maybe he'll just say to hell with it and on principle.

I say this, by the way, as someone who doesn't much care about Uber and dislikes both Facebook and DeBlasio. (And yeah, I get it, all politics is whatever the opposite of crowd funding is.)
posted by IndigoJones at 1:07 PM on August 11, 2015


Fair, but I don't think the "grassroots" support Uber gets is limited to the "techno-libertarian cheerleader crowd."

No, but it's being incited and enabled by the techno-libertarian cheerleader crowd.
posted by Etrigan at 1:09 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


heavily lean toward the conservative entrenched interests, with a smaller contingent of anti-"sharing economy" progressives

Where do those of us who just don't like the whole idea of companies skirting regulations by declaring their employees "contractors" fit in?
posted by JaredSeth at 1:15 PM on August 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think you would be part of the "anti-'sharing economy' progressives." The distinction between employees and contractors (or hoteliers vs people-renting-out-their-spare-bedroom) seems to be the core issue there, no?
posted by mikewebkist at 1:21 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


The thing is, sometimes new paradigms can get a little tired disrupting business models all the time. You know how it is, you have a long day at the office disrupting shit, and then when you disrupt home your spouse is on your back about disrupting some dinner, disrupting the kids to sleep, and then helping him disrupt his tax return. So you just think, fuck it, maybe my clients could just disrupt a few things on their own tomorrow - I'll be in late, after disrupting my alarm clock. And if you don't like it, go disrupt yourself. Disrupt!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 1:29 PM on August 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


No, but it's being incited and enabled by the techno-libertarian cheerleader crowd.

And? It seems like you're writing off the opinions of a large swath of people you disagree with because you dislike how that disagreement is organized. Plenty of people support Facebook or Uber in this case for reasons other than philosophical techno-libertarianism, and for you to say those voices shouldn't count because you dislike the associations or even the drivers of what they're saying is... kinda shitty.
posted by Itaxpica at 1:33 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Case in point, I'm about as far from a techno-libertarian as possible (I think of myself as a techno-socialist), and I was fully on Uber's side in the NY debate because DeBlasio's actions were a transparent kowtow to entrenched taxi industry interests (he didn't give a shit about "Manhattan congestion" when he was busy killing any and all attempts at congestion pricing in NY). Does my opinion not count because you dislike the reasoning of some of the people I share it with?
posted by Itaxpica at 1:36 PM on August 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


It seems like you're writing off the opinions of a large swath of people you disagree with because you dislike how that disagreement is organized.

I haven't written off anything. Just pointing out that this "grassroots" advocacy (which someone else scare-quoted first) is being incited and enabled by a very particular group of people, and saying that it's not entirely made up of that group is disregarding that fact.
posted by Etrigan at 1:39 PM on August 11, 2015


As is the willful refusal to consider any possible problems with Uber from the techno-libertarian cheerleader crowd.

What are the potential problems with Uber? I'm hardly what you would call a techno-libertarian but as far as I can tell, it's introduced some great price competition to the urban transportation market. It seems to annoy regulators and medallion holders, who had a nice protectionist racket going until now.
posted by theorique at 1:39 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Aside from the questions around Uber's claim that their drivers are "contractors" (which is hella shady), the major issue is circumventing the normal licensing process and allowing anyone to be a driver without any kind of licensing or checks past what Uber does, which leads to safety and accountability issues (which it's worth mentioning is a non-issue in NYC, as all NY uber drivers are TLC-licensed cab drivers; they just don't hold medallions. That status quo is different in other cities where uber operates).
posted by Itaxpica at 1:46 PM on August 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


As is the willful refusal to consider any possible problems with Uber from the techno-libertarian cheerleader crowd.
My cheerleading of Uber has nothing to do with tech, politics, or a willful refusal to consider any possible problems. Yes, Uber has some questionable employment practices. Yes, the lack of driver training and regulation is a problem. Indeed, surge pricing can be annoying. I fully acknowledge all these things.

But when I'm at home in my marginal neighborhood and want to go somewhere, I know I can call an Uber and they'll actually show up, generally in under 10 minutes. This has never--never--happened with a traditional taxi company. No Uber driver has ever refused to give my black girlfriend a ride, unlike the many, many taxis that have passed her by.

This is not about techno-libertarianism, this is not about corporate-funded "grassroots" advocacy. This is about a cab arriving at my house when they say it will. Uber is not only the best at it; they're the only ones who seem capable of doing it at all, and they do it every time.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:49 PM on August 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


I don't understand how grassroots lobbying for something is somehow "bad." What's happening with Uber, at least, is pure politics. de Blasio and other politicians need to rise to the occasion and provide leadership if they want to "win."
posted by Nevin at 2:03 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


the uber "cause" is definitely being taken up in a grassroots fashion by non-techy types. People in my city have been doing facebook activism/petition signing type stuff to try and get the mayor to allow Uber here. I know a few of them and they certainly don't give a hot loaf about the problems with the Uber model (that Itaxpica mentions). They just want cheap cab rides no matter the safety/labor cost.
posted by ghostbikes at 2:33 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Aside from the Uber vs. de Blasio stuff, I think what's interesting about the linked article is the way this form of advocacy differs from traditional grassroots work. There are organizations that already have a large, active user base; the article talks about them "activating" or "mobilizing" that user base. This is different from a random group of citizens coming along and building a user base and advocacy method.

The ease of the opt-in is the new thing, and I'm curious to see how it plays out with different issues. We've seen this for a while with charitable giving (workplace campaigns, or adding a few dollars at checkout). Maybe there is a traditional analogy - if your local grocery store is invested in a particular piece of legislation, perhaps they hand out an advocacy letter as you exit. But the speediness and ease is completely different. It reminds me of the increasingly aggressive "yes/no" sign-up popups that appear on website, which now require you to click on something like "no, I hate puppies and happiness and I do not wish to improve my life in any way" to opt out. There's a lot of potential for corporate nudging.

The Facebook action also strikes me because we increasingly live and work online, and traditional(ish) organizing is still happening through Facebook groups and events. Ghostbikes mentions people doing "Facebook activism" because that's where so much of this happens now. What does this type of mobilizing look like going forward?
posted by earth by april at 2:38 PM on August 11, 2015


I was fully on Uber's side in the NY debate because DeBlasio's actions were a transparent kowtow to entrenched taxi industry interests (he didn't give a shit about "Manhattan congestion" when he was busy killing any and all attempts at congestion pricing in NY).

It's possible to be critical of the taxi industry without "fully" supporting Uber. If you're a socialist, as you claim, Uber's treatment of its workers, use of its app to neuter drivers politically, and attacks on regulation ought to make your support qualified at best.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:41 PM on August 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


If people who support this particular use of technology to make the taxi industry more libertarian are "techno-libertarian cheerleaders," then yes, the people who support Uber are... the people who support Uber. Where else would support come from? Would it be reasonable to call the people who supported the Affordable Care Act just "big-government Obamacare cheerleaders"? Again, it doesn't matter—ask why people are supporting something, not what label best categorizes their support for quick partisan agreement/dismissal.
posted by Rangi at 3:49 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


While the taxicab business has been somewhat in NEED of disruption since "Taxi" was a sitcom, making it easy for Uber to provide services that are usually as reliable and sometimes more so for usually less money, I worry about the long-term strategy. Could Uber end up 'disrupting' private car ownership or maybe public bus service? Because a bus trip to my doctor's office (with one transfer) is still 1/8 the cost of using Uber. And I can still rent a car (from Enterprise who'll 'pick me up') for 24 hours for less than two round trips on Uber. So I am in the position of being currently UNdisrupted but worried what Uber MIGHT disrupt in my life.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:14 PM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just reflecting a bit more on this, it's more of a political problem than anything else. And the challenge is the general power sophistication of elected officials like DeBlasio to confront sudden and powerful cultural changes like Uber.

Government *does* have the power to take on the Facebooks and Ubers of the world. For example, US security and spying services are able to easily access personal data collected by Facebook, Google and any other technology company that collects personal data.

Indeed, the US government gets to look at *my* Canadian banking transactions, even though I am not a US citizen, and my bank account is not located in the United States.

The US government took on Microsoft in the 90's, and the EU has seriously thwarted Google's business in Europe.

Anyone who has ever had a bad experience with a licensed taxicab can tell you that DeBlasio has one hell of a challenge.
posted by Nevin at 4:20 PM on August 11, 2015


Apart from the limited similarity that both Facebook and Uber have some form of protest signup on their webpages, I don't think the two are even remotely similar. Uber was essentially trying to fit a clear legal limit on its services, while Facebook wants India's telecom regulator to rule against its previous net neutrality ruling, in the guise of providing some social service.

Simply put, Facebook simply has been lying in its message, with the express aim of beating existing grassroots campaigns in favour of net neutrality, which had already brought out a million emails and support across partylines in its favour. Let's not overlook this key fact here.
posted by the cydonian at 6:02 PM on August 11, 2015


I was very happy when my city's mayor pushed hard for Lyft and Uber to be approved to operate here last year. The local Yellow Cab company is possibly both the most incompetently run business that you'll ever deal with and the most arrogant. They have exactly zero interest in doing anything but running between the big hotels downtown and the airport and refuse to come anywhere near my neighborhood. They're famous for lying that they're coming and just never showing up no matter how many times you call them back.

My wife, who doesn't drive, just got home from a late meeting at work on the other side of the city and without Uber I would have had to go rescue her or she could have attempted to take a series of buses but service is pretty spotty at 11:00 at night. Uber has done wonders for her personal mobility since it came here.
posted by octothorpe at 8:02 PM on August 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Leading technology companies are increasingly soliciting their users to take political action on their behalf to defend controversial business models from regulation, support new programs, and promote their moral values in active political battles."

Of course they are. Facebook and Uber have been reading the NRA's playbook.
posted by mattdidthat at 8:05 PM on August 11, 2015


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