#DeleteUber vs. Deleted Uber: Is hashtag activism a farce, or a force?

It was that moment in time, right after Uber CEO Travis Kalanick had defended his choice to be on President Trump’s business advisory council which inspired this tweet: 

It wasn’t the first time the #DeleteUber hashtag was used—but it was one of the first tweets that looked like it could fuel a movement. Then, Uber turned off surge-pricing during strikes in airports across the country later that same day. 

And that’s when #DeleteUber started trending. 

Does hashtag activism actually have a palpable effect on the real world? Or is it all just hot air and bluster?

Uber made a decision to stand with Trump, it seemed, and Twitter just wasn’t having it. 

More than two months—and oh so many Uber-related scandals later—it’s worth asking: 

What effect did the hashtag boycott have? How many people actually deleted Uber?

Does hashtag activism actually have a palpable effect on the real world? Or is it all just hot air and bluster? 

It’s hard to determine. Uber, for one thing, isn’t up for publicly sharing its numbers—well, at least, related to the number of deletions. Uber has more than 40 million monthly active users globally. 

The company also touted new statistics last month: business in the U.S. grew faster over the first 10 weeks of 2017 compared to the first 10 weeks of 2016; several weeks in 2017 have been the busiest weeks for Uber in its history; and more riders took their first trips over the past month than in any previous month. Uber declined to provide more metrics. 

But we have our hints. 

For example: The New York Times reported that 500,000 users requested to delete their accounts in the week after the travel ban protests, writing:

About half a million people requested deleting their Uber accounts over the course of that week, according to three people familiar with the company’s internal metrics who asked not to be named because the numbers are confidential. Those deletions have slowed drastically in recent weeks, and the company continues to add new users on a weekly basis, one of the people said.

With that number in mind, and the sentiment on social media, we can begin to pull out a signal the noise. Crimson Hexagon, a social media analytics company, compiled this chart of Twitter data, referencing the number of unique users who tweeted #DeleteUber on dates related to Uber scandals: 

Image: crimson hexagon

According to Crimson Hexagon: 

  • 49,325 unique users on Twitter tweeted #DeleteUber from January 11 to March 29. 

  • The loudest day was January 29, the day of the airport protests, with 10,610 posts

  • Only 13 individuals were tweeting about #DeleteUber the day prior.

  • The following days had 8,596 tweets, 6,804 tweets, 3,666 tweets, 3,254 tweet, 3,951 tweets, and then dropped to the lower 800s on February 4. 

Since then, the hashtag’s seen numbers in the low 100s and even far lower than that—except for Feb. 20 with 2,016 tweets (the day after former Uber employee Susan Fowler Rigetti published a blog post on sexism and other issues of toxic workplace culture at Uber).

But as it is, if those numbers are true, a substantial win for hashtag activism.

Overall, the #DeleteUber campaign generated more than 220,000 total posts on Twitter, according to Crimson Hexagon. 

More than 134,000 posts were sent on January 29. Looking into the sentiment, the analytics say 30 percent of the tweets resonated with joy while 25 percent had anger. 

It seems that people expressed happiness with deleting their accounts. Others simply showed rage over Uber’s policy and practices. 

But the question still remains: How many people actually deleted their accounts? To stop using Uber officially, you have to submit a request, which until the #DeleteUber campaign, was not an automated process. And again, outside of the Times three sources, we’ll never know the truth.

But as it is, if those numbers are true, a substantial win for hashtag activism.

Crimson Hexagon also compared the number of Twitter users who were talking about joining Uber versus the number for Lyft:

In the first week of January, far before the #DeleteUber campaign began on Jan. 29, people talking about joining Uber had 85 percent of the share of the conversation compared to joining Lyft.

However, that statistic flipped during the week of January 29. Joining Lyft had 84 percent share of the conversation on Twitter. 

Lately, the conversation’s been fairly even. From February to March, discussions about joining Uber had 56 percent compared to conversations about joining Lyft, at 44 percent conversation share. Lyft did indeed see a real bump, though—according to data Lyft shared with TIME, from January to February, the company saw a 40 percent increase in app installations, and more than a 60 percent increase in activations (i.e. users entering credit card details) compared to the common single-digit increases over that same time period prior to it.

In other words: Given all of the problems at Uber since the #DeleteUber hashtag started, they might not be hearing your voice, but your fellow riders definitely are—and they’re acting on it, too. 

WATCH: This charity is helping kids through video games

You can now buy the IRL Pong table on Kickstarter

Last year, a YouTube video showed off a physical version of the classic video game Pong. Players maneuvered a pair of paddles back and forth on each side of the table, while motors and magnets allowed the puck to bounce between each side like a souped up version of air hockey. The video garnered enough attention that its designers decided to sell the table through Kickstarter.

This isn’t a cheap Kickstarter: it’ll cost you over a grand to get one of these retro-style tables for yourself. The table comes in four different styles (PONG, black, brown, or white), and backers can add on a coin slot or Atari-branded seating cubes. For $5,000, backers can get their unit signed by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell (or a “campus pack” of five tables).

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But, if you’re willing to throw down that amount of money, you’ll not only be able to play Pong IRL (officially licensed by Atari), but tell the time with a built-in clock, charge your phone with a couple of USB ports, and stream music over Bluetooth.

The Kickstarter outlines that the group will start manufacturing the device in August, with delivery anticipated for December. That’s assuming that they make their $250,000 target in the next four days. As of now, they’ve raised just shy of that – $223,782.

Retro hipster style meets functional design in this old-timey keyboard

It doesn’t happen often that your douchey hipster aesthetic leads to functional delight. 

Then, comes along the Penna Bluetooth keyboard. 

This amazing wireless keyboard has all the old-world charm of those gigantic antique typewriters that weighed 20 pounds each and had steel-rimmed keys — back when real writers chopped wood, grew non-ironic beards and chewed on bitter black coffee instead of sipping non-GMO Kombucha.

I’ll admit it — I want this thing. And based on early Kickstarter results, apparently, I’m not alone. 

The makers of the device launched a funding campaign to raise $50,000 on Thursday, and that campaign has already racked up $116,000. 

That’s probably because the Penna gets everything right versus the earlier Hemingwrite, an all-in-one, old school style world processor that, despite its funding success, was the target of derision when it launched. 

Instead of forcing you to use an antiquated screen and unwieldy syncing and saving process, the Penna can pair with existing iOS, Android and Windows mobiles devices. Additionally, the device only needs two AA batteries to operate and comes in black, white, pink, green, and (of course!) faux wood color. 

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This thing also has a Macro Bar that’s fashioned to look like the return lever on an old typewriter. It allows you to trigger a saved action (enter, backspace, as well as frequently used words or phrases). 

You can pretend you don’t want this thing, but just remember, you aren’t required to wear suspenders or join a food co-op to use it — this is quirky tech that’s actually quite sensible. 

The Penna weighs just 1.7 pounds, costs $99 and is scheduled to ship to backers in August.  

WATCH: Old-school arcade games have made a comeback at this underground gaming tournament

Jelly Cam is the new Bear Cam

Spring is now fully under way, and as the weather gets warmer, the internet turns to nature cams. At any given time, there are thousands of live nature feeds available on YouTube and other services, but somehow they become more appealing as the snow thaws and the background starts to come alive.

Every year, a specific cam rises above the fray. 2015 was the year of Bear Cam, of course, while 2016 belonged to Eagle Cam — both of which arguably lived in the shadow of the original 2008 Puppy Cam. Each was iconic and era-defining in its own way, but they belong to the past now.

I can’t predict what will take off this year, but my read is that the internet is ready for something boldly new — something both shockingly different and possessing an ethereal calm, a necessary counterbalance to the ambient psychic distress of 2017.

In that spirit, I present to you the following: Jelly Cam.

It’s a live feed of the Open Sea exhibit at Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is populated by a type of jellyfish known as a sea nettle. Native to the coastal regions of the Pacific, the nettles can deliver paralyzing stings through their tentacles, and are believed to play a crucial role in the plankton ecosystem. The aquarium site informs us they may travel as much as 3,600 vertical feet over the course of a day. One nettle is slightly larger than the others; I have chosen to call him Timothy.

Like Eagle Cam and Bear Cam before it, Jelly Cam connects us to an aestheticized version of the natural world. The sea nettles are framed in close-up, their trailing tentacles and mouth-arms casting otherworldly yellows and browns against the deep blue of the tank. More abstract than its predecessors, Jelly Cam presents us with the danger of Bear Cam without its brutality, the raw pleasures of Puppy Cam without the attendant naïveté.

Try it out next time you’re bored at work. And if that doesn’t work, you can always watch the llama escape again.

Google’s Fact Check Labeling System Goes Global

Google on Friday announced the extension of the Fact Check feature it introduced last fall in partnership with Jigsaw. Publishers now can display a Fact Check tag in news stories everywhere that Google News is available.

The company also has introduced the Fact Check feature globally in Google Search, in all of the languages it supports.

“For the first time, when you conduct a search on Google that returns an authoritative result containing fact checks for one or more public claims, you will see that information clearly on the search results page,” noted Jigsaw Product Manager Justin Kosslyn and Research Scientist Cong Yu in an online post.

“The snippet will display information on the claim, who made the claim, and the fact check of that particular claim,” they said.

Google Fact Check

How the Process Works

Not all stories will be fact checked, and not all publishers will be eligible to use the Fact Check label. Those who want to have the option must use the Schema.org ClaimReview markup on the specific pages where they fact check public statements.

Or, they can use the Share the Facts widget developed by the Duke University Reporters’ Lab and Jigsaw.

Only publishers algorithmically determined to be an authoritative source of information will qualify for inclusion. The content must adhere to the following:

At its discretion, Google may ignore a site’s markup if it fails to adhere to these policies.

Alternative Facts?

Although Google is enabling a system for fact checking and vetting its participants, it is not conducting any fact checking itself or assessing the validity of any fact-checked conclusions.

“There may be search result pages where different publishers checked the same claim and reached different conclusions, Kosslyn and Yu acknowledged.

“These fact checks are not Google’s and are presented so people can make more informed judgements,” they said. “Even though differing conclusions may be presented, we think it’s still helpful for people to understand the degree of consensus around a particular claim and have clear information on which sources agree.”

By taking that approach, Google is avoiding responsibility for the quality, according to Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“This appears to fall under the ‘we want to look like we are doing something but really don’t want to fully fund the effort’ category,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Google’s Dilemma

“There is no revenue upside in fact checking, and doing this right would be very costly,” Enderle maintained. “However, if they don’t do anything, the solution might be both legislated and very expensive, so they’re focused on looking busy but minimizing the cost and exposure.”

Not addressing content quality might be expensive indeed. The German government is moving ahead with legislation that could result in fines of up to US$53 million imposed on social networks that don’t offer users the option to complain about sites that publish hate speech and fake news, or those that refuse to remove illegal content.

Google “could be acting preemptively” ahead of the German legislation, said Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“You’re going to see a lot of this stuff being announced or implemented to some extent by most of the social sites,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Many parts of the globe are starting to get really serious about public discourse on the Internet.”

However, a really effective solution would prevent social sites from conducting business, Jude pointed out, “so they’ll do these palliative things, whatever they can, to continue conducting business without incurring a lot of fines.”


Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology.
Email Richard.

Department of Labor claims that Google systematically underpays its female employees

In January, the US Department of Labor sued Google, claiming that the company was withholding information relevant to an ongoing compliance audit. Now, the agency claims that it has found “systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce.”

During a court hearing for the case on Friday, DoL Regional Director Janette Wipper explained that the agency determined that the tech giant pays its female employees less than their male counterparts, according to The Guardian. In a statement to the paper, DoL Regional Solicitor Janet Herold confirmed the statement, noting that while the agency was still investigating, it has “received compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters.”

Google denied these allegations, staying in a statement that it “vehemently disagree[s] with [Wipper’s] claim,” and that the company has found no evidence of a pay gap during its annual analysis. It claimed that this was the first time it had heard of these allegations, and that the DoL hasn’t provided the company with information about its methodology or data to support them. In a Tweet posted earlier this week, the company said that it has closed the wage gap between genders globally.

The initial lawsuit was initiated when the company didn’t turn over some requested data on employee compensation during a September 2015 audit. According to Google, that information was withheld for privacy reasons, saying that the request by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) was “overly broad”. The company refused to turn this information over, and the DoL has taken it to court to compel it to do so.

The OFCCPT ensures that businesses which take federal contracts comply with federal law. In particular, any contractor that does more than $10,000 in business with the government for a year is subject to equal employment opportunity regulations, which specifically prohibit contractors from “discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin.”

In February, the OFCCP asked for a summary judgement on the matter, which a judge denied. Despite that setback, the DoL is pressing on. On Friday, the DoL issued a pre-hearing statement, in which it spelled out its case asking the court to compel Google to turn over the information it required to the OFCCP. While neither side disagrees that the tech firm is subject to these regulations, the statement explains that the DoL and Google disagree over a couple of facts: first, that the information including employee names and contact information are relevant to the audit, and that the company faces an “undue burden” by producing this data.

The DoL outlined that Google isn’t burdened by its request, nor is complying interrupting its business. The agency pointed to Google’s own policies and internal Affirmative Action Plan, saying that “Google created much of the burden about which it now complains,” as well as the fact that it’s devoted $150 million to address diversity issues. The agency also noted that the amount of business that Google does with the federal government is irrelevant when it comes with compliance with the federal order: more business doesn’t mean that the bar for an audit is raised. Furthermore, the OFCCP says that it had offered to bear the cost of compiling the information.

Spotify Premium Director Robert Lamvik leaves company for meditation app Headspace


Meditation app Headspace recently brought on Robert Lamvik, Spotify’s now-former director of its Premium service, and Dr. Megan Jones Bell, former chief science officer at mental health startup Lantern. Their respective roles at Headspace are head of growth and chief science officer — two new roles at the company.

“We’ve always had team of scientists, but as we go into this next stage of growth, we thought it was important to build out the seniority of the team and bring real leadership to it,” Headspace co-founder Rich Pierson told me. “It’s a really important part of what we do. With the growth side, we’ve got to that stage now where turning our free users into subscribers is a really important part of the mission as well.”

Lamvik spent almost four years at Spotify working on the music streaming company’s growth and revenue initiatives, i.e. subscription service Spotify Premium. With Lamvik on board Headspace as head of growth, the goal is to essentially turn Headspace into a subscription leader like Spotify.

“[Spotify has] basically perfected the freemium model,” Lamvik told me. “This was an opportunity to join a mission-driven startup like Headspace and an opportunity to bring people together and bridge together health and happiness.”

He went on to say that his goal at Headspace will be to educate and inspire people to learn more about the freemium product. Lamvik’s departure from Spotify is notable, given that Spotify has been rumored to be considering going public but might not take the traditional approach of filing an initial public offering, TechCrunch’s Katie Roof reported this past week.

Headspace makes money through selling subscriptions to its guided meditations. Anyone can try out the service for free through Headspace’s “Take 10” program, which offers 10 guided meditations that you can replay as many times as you want. But if you want a variety of meditations, that’s where the money comes in. Headspace has a few membership plans. One costs $12.95 per month on a month-to-month basis and another costs $7.99 per month if you sign up for a full year.

Headspace wouldn’t get into specifics about growth projections, but was willing to say that more than 14 million people have downloaded the app, and that the goal is to more than double revenue this year versus last year. Super helpful, I know.

Bell, on the other hand, told TechCrunch she was attracted to Headspace for the “broader canvas to paint on” in regards to changing the culture around mental health wellness.

“For me, joining Headspace is bringing me back to the root of my personal and professional mission — to make that broader impact,” Bell said.

As chief science officer, Bell plans to expand upon the research and evidence of the work Headspace is doing.

“We’re very keen to show measurable impact and particularly to validate that,” Bell said.

Headspace has raised $38.3 million in funding, with its most recent round coming in at $30 million in September 2015 from The Chernin Group, Advancit Capital, Allen & Company, Breyer Capital, The Honest Company co-founder Jessica Alba, actor Jared Leto, TV personality Ryan Seacrest, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and others.

New trailers: The Mummy, Master of None, and more

Some films have a bad habit of avoiding technology — just think of every horror movie where someone’s phone is dead or can’t find a network. So last weekend when I saw Personal Shopper — the new thriller / supernatural drama starring Kristen Stewart — I was pretty surprised to see just how much of an emphasis it put on connectivity.

Throughout the film, Stewart watches multiple YouTube videos to learn about history — which we, the viewer, watch in part through a camera trained right on her phone. It’s an accurate depiction of how we consume media today, but it’s also kind of bizarre seeing a video on an iPhone projected onto a giant movie theater screen.

The movie also features an extended iMessage conversation with a mysterious stalker. I’m surprised by how effective the tension is watching a little “…” bubble appear or hearing the phone buzz and waiting to see what’s on it. Exactly how long an iMessage conversation should be maintained on screen is something for a longer discussion, but Personal Shopper definitely proves that there’s an interesting dynamic to explore.

Check out nine trailers from this week below.

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The Mummy

Universal’s first trailer for The Mummy made the film look a little too serious — and backfired big time when the trailer got uploaded without sound — which may be why this new one has a much different tone. This trailer really plays up the film’s sense of adventure, and while I’m not exactly sold on it, it’s definitely closer to what I suspect people are looking for. The film comes out June 9th.

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Ingrid Goes West

Ingrid Goes West explores the oddly relatable and completely irrational fury one occasionally feels after seeing someone else’s perfect, manicured Instagram account. And by “explores,” I mean it looks like a ridiculous comedy about Aubrey Plaza getting really mad at her friends. The film comes out August 4th.

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Master of None

We all wanted more of Aziz Ansari partying in Italy, and it looks like we’re about to get it. Master of None returns May 12th.

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Maudie

Sally Hawkins stars alongside Ethan Hawke in this film about the life of Canadian artist Maud Lewis, whose paintings soared in popularity in the mid-1900s. Her life is getting turned into a bit of a love story in its translation to the screen, but there appears to be some truth behind it all. The film comes out April 14th in Canada and June 16th in the US.

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All Eyez On Me

After months of delays, the Tupac biopic All Eyez On Me is finally headed toward theaters again. And maybe the delay was for the best, because this also feels like its strongest trailer yet, giving a clear look at the characters and stories the film is telling. It comes out June 16th.

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Cable Girls

Cable Girls is Netflix’s first Spanish (though not Spanish-language) series, following a group of women in 1920s Madrid working as phone operators. While the time period is different, there’s a bit of a Mad Men vibe here: a distinctly stylized period piece, a focus on sexism, and lots of drinking. The series comes out April 28th.

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Girlboss

Netflix put out a first look this week at Girlboss, its series inspired by the founder of Nasty Gal. There’ll be a lot to unpack when the series arrives, but for now, what stands out is how stylized the series’ acting and dialog is. It could turn out really goofy, but right now the show seems to be pulling it off. The series comes out April 21st.

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I Am Heath Ledger

Almost a decade after his death, Spike looks back at Heath Ledger’s life and work in a new entry into its I Am documentary series. The doc speaks with Ledger’s family members and filmmakers who worked with him, including Ang Lee. It premieres May 17th.

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Chuck

Chuck follows the career of New Jersey boxer Chuck Wepner, who’s famous for being the loose inspiration for Rocky… though not necessarily in a good way. The film has some good reviews out of festivals, and its great cast — including Elisabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, and Ron Perlman — certainly doesn’t hurt. It comes out May 5th.