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Imagine if you had opened a box of Cheerios this morning and found a note from General Mills: Pending legislation on genetically modified corn would make your favorite breakfast inaccessible or unaffordable.
It will feel nice and unwelcome, right?
That’s really what app companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and Instacart do in California. Government residents who open these apps see blaring banners or receive email explosions that push the company̵
It is not uncommon for companies to want customers to know about laws that may affect how they operate, and ask people to take action. But there is a pattern of young companies – especially Uber – taking the lobbying business a step too far.
The simple act of being a client now makes people a target for the inevitable legal profession.
This is because Uber, Lyft, Instacart and other companies that employ a large number of contractors have fought against a law passed in California that will force them to reclassify at least one million workers in the state as employees.
California’s argument is that app-based companies like Uber dictate how their drivers or other workers do their jobs, and therefore employees should be considered employees with minimum wages and similar protection.
The companies have said the law does not apply to them and fought against it in court. They have also supported a ballot for voters in California next month that would exempt app companies from the new law. The ballot paper proposal, known as Proposition 22, would create something of a middle ground between the State Act and the companies’ status quo.
There are complicated questions that voters must consider, including whether it is better to have more jobs with smaller safety nets, or fewer, but undoubtedly better jobs. (The Washington Post has a good explanation of the details of Proposition 22.)
But companies do not go for complexity or subtlety. “Travel prices and your waiting time are likely to increase significantly,” Uber warned in the app in California. People have to click on the message before they can request an Uber ride. Lift and Instacart make similar bombings to get customers to vote their way.
Again, it is not wrong or unusual for companies to try to engage people in business disputes or legal battles. TV viewers regularly see on-screen warnings about contract disputes that threaten to darken their favorite channels. Netflix, Wikipedia, and other popular sites posted warnings that were impossible to ignore when faced with changes in Internet policy.
What these app companies do is both more invasive and a common tactic instead of a rarity. Uber has done versions of lobbying through its app over and over and over again in many parts of the United States.
The message in the app will probably win Uber and its friends some votes. They can get the word out to millions of potential voters in ways that experienced politicians envy. But corporate propaganda also risks turning people off. We should be able to take a walk around the city or eat a bowl of cereal without becoming a target for self-serving propaganda.
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You do not have to buy things because a company says so
This week, Apple will showcase new models of iPhones and declare that they made the best smartphones in history. Amazon, Walmart and other companies will tempt you with fake shopping “holidays” to buy something because … it’s autumn, I guess? I dont know why.
The point of Apple’s annual iPhone unveiling and Amazon’s Prime Day is to generate a Pavlovian reaction to buying something – now! I understand. If the phone is held together with electrical tape or you have been waiting for a good price on a new blender, this week can be useful.
But for the most part, these events serve the company’s interest, not ours. We do not have to buy things on the company’s time frame. (Today’s newsletter is grumpy. Sorry. I’m going to blame the rain on On Tech HQ.)
Prime Day exists in part to lure people into Amazon’s shopping club and reinforce the habit of turning to Amazon as our standard shopping destination. It’s now a predictable banality with Apple’s hyped Tupperware party for iPhones, but it draws a lot of attention to Apple’s phones.