Uber drivers have been declared employees for unemployment purposes. U.S. intelligence warns that Gmail’s latest update puts 1.4 billion users at risk. And a German academic researching e-transfer app Venmo learned way more than she wanted to.
Welcome to a special edition of Hashtag Trending! Today’s episode highlights some overlooked stories that were trending over the past month. Look for our usual format to return on Aug. 13.
First, from Reddit: Uber drivers have been declared employees – for unemployment purposes. In New York State. In mid-July, the New York State Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board ruled that, contrary to what Uber would like to believe, drivers can be considered employees, not contract workers, if they need to collect unemployment benefits. The ruling is the state’s official response to an insurance claim filed by three men who, in two cases, were booted from the Uber app, and in one case quit after earning less than minimum wage. Uber, naturally, opposed the claims, just as it’s opposed every attempt to have its drivers classified as employees, which likely saves the company millions of dollars every year. A spokesperson told Ars Technica that the company disagrees with the ruling and is considering how to respond.
Next, also from Reddit: U.S. intelligence officials have warned that one of Gmail’s newest features, Confidential mode, could ironically leave its 1.4 billion users vulnerable to extortion by cyber criminals. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the new feature, which allows users to send emails that vanish after a certain amount of time – and, more importantly, requires users to verify their identity by clicking a link – has created an opportunity for “malicious cyber actors” to exploit. Specifically, cyber criminals could incorporate phishing links into the emails, making it that much easier for users to infect their computers by visiting whatever site lies on the other side. The officials plan to monitor civil servants’ use of the new feature. In the meantime, the message seems to be clear: Don’t use it.
Finally, on LinkedIn: Users were recently chatting about Berlin-based researcher Hang Do Thi Duc’s investigation into PayPal’s e-transfer app, Venmo. Turns out Venmo’s default setting is public, which means that after analyzing more than 200 million public Venmo transactions Duc was able to learn an unsettling amount about certain users. For example, she was able to track 920 payments made by a Santa Barbara-based cannabis seller, who not only was clearly successful at dealing weed but able to hire a second person. Two other users were a couple, and Duc was able to read entire arguments between them. Then there was the young woman who made 965 transactions for soda, alcohol, fast food, and candy over a period of eight months. And while she didn’t publish any of them, Duc knew their names. In response, a Venmo spokesperson said the “safety and privacy” of users is one of the company’s “highest priorities,” and that like other social networks, Venmo users can choose what they want to share on their public feed.