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Some delivery workers have no choice but to bring their kids along during the pandemic

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By Sara Ashley O’Brien, CNN Business
Updated 11:47 AM ET, Fri February 12, 2021

(CNN Business) — For Ashley Vincent, a single mom in Binghamton, New York, delivering for DoorDash often requires some negotiation with her seven-year-old son. “We can go out tonight but you can only do six deliveries,” he’ll say.

Vincent, a school bus driver, started working for the on-demand food delivery company this fall to supplement her income. She used to make ends meet by picking up shifts driving students on school sports trips, but those opportunities evaporated with the pandemic.
A big reason she turned to DoorDash is the ability to bring her son (and sometimes her 14-year-old daughter) on deliveries if need be. The job also doesn’t require her to stick to a strict schedule. “If he doesn’t want to go, I’m not going to force him. I’m going to stay home,” she said.
To ease her son’s boredom during deliveries, Vincent said she took him to a dollar store to pick out some items including a magnetic doodle board and a road sign bingo game. “I made it a game for myself, he thinks it is a game now, too. Like, ‘How much money can we make in this amount of time?'” she said. Now, she added, her son has “made a plan for the future” that he will be a delivery worker too.
    The gig economy, which took root during the Great Recession, has emerged over the past year as a safety net for workers like Vincent — who said she wouldn’t have been able to pay rent “a couple times” without it — as the Covid health crisis sparked an economic crisis. Food delivery companies, in particular, expanded rapidly as many leaned on meal and grocery delivery to their homes so they didn’t have to go out. But while gig work offers the promise of a financial lifeline and a flexible schedule, it also comes with uncertainties that can prompt complicated tradeoffs, especially for parents.
    Largely treated as independent contractors, gig workers typically do not have protections such as a minimum hourly wage. As a result, how much workers make at any given time is dependent on a number of factors, including what orders an algorithm surfaces, customer demand, how many other workers are on the road, and how much customers tip, for example. For solo and breadwinner parents, it can be a risky bet to pay for childcare while doing gig work since there’s no way to ensure the money earned will offset the cost of childcare. Coupled with the pandemic, when schools and childcare facilities have been intermittently shut down, gig-working parents have few options.
    Earlier this week, having kids in the backseat while doing a DoorDash delivery turned into a nightmare for California-based gig worker Jeffrey Fang. His vehicle was carjacked with two of his kids inside; several hours later, the vehicle and the children were found safe. While DoorDash does not have a policy against having children or other people in a vehicle as long as the approved worker is the one handling and completing the order, Fang has been criticized for having his kids in the car.
    “I will take ownership of the fact that I had kids with me and that’s a risk, but I’m not doing it out of willingness. It is more of lack of choice — some might say desperation — and in some ways it was,” Fang, who has done gig work for several years, including ride-hailing and food delivery, told CNN Business. “We are spread really thin and to try to keep our heads above water is not an easy thing.”
    In a statement, DoorDash CEO Tony Xu said the company was “appalled” by what happened and is “actively working with law enforcement in their ongoing investigation.”
    “As a father myself, I can only imagine how terrifying this incident must have been for Mr. Fang and his family,” said Xu in a statement. “We have been in contact with him to offer our full support.” The company said the majority of its delivery workers use the service to supplement their income and more than a third of its delivery workers are parents with children under 18.

    A broken system

    Childcare, or the lack of it, has become a central problem for workers in all corners of the labor market, but Fang’s incident laid bare the particularly precarious position of parents in the gig economy.
    “It shines a light on the brokenness of the whole system because it is the combination of the very low pay of this gig work and the prohibitive cost of childcare,” said Rebecca Givan, an associate labor studies professor at Rutgers University. “They’re not making a minimum wage and, in some cases, they’re barely covering the costs of the car and whatever other expenses they have, so they need to work an extremely high number of hours.”
    Katie Wells, an urban studies foundation postdoctoral fellow at Georgetown University, points out the on-demand economy has sold itself, at least in part, as being attractive to parents of young kids who could fit gig work into their schedules.
    “In this light, there is some irony that the platform workplace, which was supposed to be the childcare friendly option, has increasingly become a last resort form of childcare,” said Wells, who researches the social and economic effects of on-demand services.
    Brittany Warren of Indiana told CNN Business that she turned to gig work during the pandemic while the manufacturer she worked for had temporarily shut down. Warren, who has a nine-year-old daughter and gave birth to her second child in December, said on some occasions her daughter shopped and delivered groceries with her for Instacart.
    “There were some times when she was out of school for two weeks at a time. I was forced to take her with me. I don’t have family to watch her,” said Warren, who said she didn’t know until recently that bringing her daughter along is against the company’s policy and that she would have had no income without Instacart.

    The stigma of working with kids in tow

    Unlike DoorDash, Instacart’s guidelines forbid shoppers from “bringing anyone along (including minors) who does not have an Instacart Shopper account while providing services on the platform.” According to Instacart, the policy is in place for safety and security reasons.
    Regardless of whether it is permitted by the platforms or not, gig workers told CNN Business they felt there is a stigma facing parents bringing their children along while working.
    Rob Taylor, a single father in New York who shopped and delivered for Instacart before the pandemic, said he had often taken his elementary school-aged son shopping with him. Sometimes, Instacart in-store shoppers — who are employees rather than independent contractors, like Taylor was — would ask if he was shopping for Instacart.
    “Looking at the phone is an indicative thing that it wasn’t my own personal shopping. There were times I was told to be careful,” said Taylor, who said he once received an email warning him that he’d been seen with an “unauthorized person” while shopping.
    “It seemed a rule that could be bent or broken without much concern because you have no supervisor, you have no one to report to,” he said. “I got the concept or reasoning behind it but at the same time, if we’re independent then we’re independent.”
    For another Instacart shopper in Maryland, who asked that her name be withheld for fear of being deactivated, bringing her six-year-old son to shop with her was her only option once. It was the week of Thanksgiving last year and her mother couldn’t watch him. “I had to work that day because I was a little behind for the week. I took him on one trip and that was probably the last time [I’d do it]. It is really not easy — he wants to run around and look at everything, it makes the job harder.”
      The shopper, who said she started relying on Instacart after losing her bartending job due to the pandemic, is expecting her second child soon. She plans to resume working for Instacart after a couple months of unpaid maternity leave, with her newborn in tow. “Daycare is extremely expensive,” she said, adding that childcare for a newborn, especially, is prohibitively so.
      Recently, she saw another mother scanning the bar codes of items with her phone in a store while caring for a newborn. “She had the baby in her chest one time,” she said. “Another time, in the car seat in the shopping cart.”

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      Lyft focuses on seniors with new option to book rides by phone call

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      By Sara O’Brien, CNN Business
      Updated 12:50 PM ET, Wed February 24, 2021

      (CNN Business) — Lyft is adding an option to allow people to order a ride in a more retro way — by phone call — a year after Uber tried doing the same before shutting it down.

      The ride-hail company said Wednesday it launched a special service in dozens of Florida cities to allow people to call a number (631-201-LYFT) with a cell phone to book a car on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It’s geared towards seniors and those without access to its app. Once a ride is booked, Lyft (LYFT) said it will communicate updates via text message.
      The service, which Lyft said it piloted in late 2020 in Miami before expanding to more Florida cities, is similar to one Uber announced last February. Uber’s service was only available in select markets — Arizona, Florida and New York City — for rides or meal deliveries, but by the end of 2020, the company paused the program.
      An Uber (UBER) spokesperson told CNN Business Wednesday that there was declining use of the service, with only a few hundred people a month using it. Uber’s service also allowed users to order food delivery. (Those who call the Uber hotline now are told they can request rides from the mobile site or app.)
        Sam Bond, regional director for Lyft in the Southeast, said in a statement that the company looks forward to “helping seniors access transportation to essential services and resources that may be currently out of reach without a car.”
        The company didn’t directly address why it believes the program will succeed where Uber’s stalled, only reiterated that it is dedicated to serving vulnerable and underserved communities.
          On an earnings call earlier this month, Lyft president John Zimmer said the pandemic “has amplified transportation and security, especially for seniors and vulnerable communities. We are committed to ensuring that transportation access is not a barrier to beating this virus.”
          At the end of 2020, the company announced a vaccine access program with a goal to provide 60 million rides to and from vaccination sites alongside JPMorgan Chase, Anthem Inc. and United Way.

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          Facebook will restore news in Australia after talks with the government

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          By Michelle Toh and Chandler Thornton, CNN Business
          Updated 11:08 PM ET, Tue February 23, 2021

          Hong Kong (CNN Business) — Facebook will restore news pages in Australia after the government agreed on changes to a planned media code that the company said would allow it to retain greater control over what appears on its platform.

          The announcement caps months of bitter dispute between the American tech firm and Canberra, which had been working on legislation that would force tech platforms to pay publishers for news content.
          The initial version of the legislation would have allowed media outlets to bargain either individually or collectively with Facebook and Google (GOOGL) — and to enter binding arbitration if the parties couldn’t reach an agreement.
          On Tuesday, the Australian government said it would amend the code to include a provision that “must take into account whether a digital platform has made a significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry through reaching commercial agreements with news media businesses.”
            Arbitration, meanwhile, will now only be used as a “last resort” following a period of “good faith” mediation.
            Facebook’s decision to restore news came as the Australian Senate discussed the latest iteration of the media law.
            “It’s always been our intention to support journalism in Australia and around the world, and we’ll continue to invest in news globally, and resist efforts by media conglomerates to advance regulatory frameworks that do not take account of the true value exchange between publishers and platforms like Facebook,” Brown said.
            Google, meanwhile, had already been trying to get ahead of the new legislation by announcing partnerships with some of the country’s largest media organizations, including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (NWS) and Seven West Media. Facebook revealed its own deal with Seven on Tuesday.
              Asked about Google’s partnerships last week, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg alluded to the changes that were ultimately announced Tuesday. He said that “if commercial deals are in place, then it changes the equation.”
              — Kerry Flynn contributed to this report.

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              The worldwide web as we know it may be ending

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              By Rishi Iyengar, CNN Business
              Updated 12:00 PM ET, Tue February 23, 2021

              (CNN Business) — Over the last year, the worldwide web has started to look less worldwide.

              Europe is floating regulation that could impose temporary bans on US tech companies that violate its laws. The United States was on the verge of banning TikTok and WeChat, though the new Biden administration is rethinking that move. India, which did ban those two apps as well of dozens of others, is now at loggerheads with Twitter.
              And this month, Facebook (FB) clashed with the Australian government over a proposed law that would require it to pay publishers. The company briefly decided to prevent users from sharing news links in the country in response to the law, with the potential to drastically change how its platform functions from one country to the next. Then on Tuesday, it reached a deal with the government and agreed to restore news pages. The deal partially relaxed arbitration requirements that Facebook took issue with.
              In its announcement of the deal, however, Facebook hinted at the possibility of similar clashes in the future. “We’ll continue to invest in news globally and resist efforts by media conglomerates to advance regulatory frameworks that do not take account of the true value exchange between publishers and platforms like Facebook,” Campbell Brown, VP of global news partnerships at Facebook, said in a statement Tuesday.
                But if such territorial agreements become more common, the globally-connected internet we know will become more like what some have dubbed the “splinternet,” or a collection of different internets whose limits are determined by national or regional borders.
                The stakes will only get higher if more governments jump on the bandwagon.
                “It’s kind of a game of chicken,” said Sinan Aral, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Business and author of “The Hype Machine: How Social Media Disrupts Our Elections, Our Economy and Our Health.”
                Aral says companies such as Facebook and Google will encounter a slippery slope if they start to exit every market that asks them to pay for its news, which would “severely limit” the content they can serve their global user base.
                “They have a vested interest in trying to force any one market to not impose such regulations by threatening to pull out,” he said. “The other side is basically saying: ‘If you don’t pay for the content, you’re not going to have access to our market of consumers or the content in this market.'”

                As the internet fractures, global regulators coalesce

                A fight over news in Australia is a relatively small part of the clash between tech and governments, which has largely been focused on issues such as censorship, privacy and competition. But the response to Facebook’s move in Australia has shown that a more international effort to rein in Big Tech may be gathering momentum — and with it, the potential for additional fracturing of how internet services function from one country to the next.
                As his government faced off against Facebook last week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a warning to the social media giant: what you do here may come back to hurt you in other countries.
                “These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behavior of Big Tech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them,” he said in a Facebook post. “They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it.”
                On Tuesday, Morrison said Facebook’s decision to restore news was “welcome,” adding that the government remained committed to proceeding with its legislation to ensure “Australian journalists and news organisations are fairly compensated for the original content they produce.”
                Several other countries, including the United Kingdom and Canada are now considering similar legislation against social media companies — and many of those countries are talking to each other about how best to do that.
                “It would be extremely useful if governments would come together in some kind of transnational process and come up with a treaty or some kind of standard about who gets to reach out and affect content and information outside their national territory,” Keller said, “because that’s what a lot of them are trying to do, but they haven’t, and so as a result you get this very fragmented patchwork.”
                  If that increased fragmentation is allowed to reach its natural conclusion, however, the consequences could be dire.
                  “If the eventual outcome of that is that we have social media platforms in every major country or market that are separate, then what we will have is an information ecosystem that is completely bifurcated or splintered across the globe,” Aral said. “What that portends is a citizenry that has completely different sets of information about local events, about world events, and perhaps a very splintered worldview of reality.”

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                  Former WeWork CEO in talks to get nearly $500 million in SoftBank settlement

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                  By Sara Ashley O’Brien, CNN Business
                  Updated 2:29 PM ET, Tue February 23, 2021

                  (CNN Business) — Adam Neumann, the disgraced former CEO and cofounder of WeWork, may soon have a massive payday as part of a possible settlement with SoftBank, the company’s largest investor, but the amount under discussion is far less than the golden parachute originally offered.

                  Neumann, who stepped down in late 2019 after a disastrous attempt to take WeWork public, could be eligible to sell nearly $500 million worth of his shares to SoftBank as part of a $1.5 billion stock buyback program for early WeWork employees and investors, according to a source familiar with the matter. The deal is not yet finalized.
                  The deal is part of a settlement under discussion to resolve a long-simmering legal dispute between Neumann, WeWork and SoftBank after the Japanese conglomerate walked away from a $3 billion WeWork share purchase agreement.
                  The terms of a possible settlement were first reported by the Wall Street Journal. A second source familiar with the matter told CNN Business that the deal is close to being finalized but could still fall through.
                    WeWork, SoftBank, and a representative for Neumann declined to comment.
                    The settlement is half of what was previously on the table when SoftBank agreed to bail out the co-working company after a period of turmoil. As part of the deal in fall of 2019, Neumann departed and had the chance to sell back nearly $1 billion of his shares — an opportunity that infuriated some workers.
                    Under Neumann’s leadership, WeWork raised billions of dollars, scaled its coworking operations to hundreds of cities around the world, and was valued at an eye-popping $47 billion during one investment round. But the company also failed spectacularly in its attempt to go public in large part because IPO paperwork revealed his unchecked power and numerous potential conflicts of interest, as well as WeWork’s staggering losses.
                      In April 2020, SoftBank abandoned plans to buy $3 billion in WeWork stock from Neumann and others, citing certain conditions of the deal that hadn’t been met, including the existence of pending criminal and civil investigations into the company, global restrictions related to the coronavirus, and the failure to restructure a joint venture in China. In response, Neumann and a special committee of WeWork’s board brought lawsuits.
                      News of a possible deal comes as SoftBank and WeWork attempt to turn the page on the Neumann chapter of the company. As the Journal reported, WeWork is in talks about a potential deal to merge with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, to fulfill its ambitions of becoming a public company at long last.

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                      The hot new thing in tech: speaking into your phone

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                      By Kaya Yurieff and Rishi Iyengar, CNN Business
                      Updated 9:03 AM ET, Wed February 24, 2021

                      (CNN Business) — Before last year, 28-year-old Meredith Giuliani thought voice notes were “kind of weird,” and she mostly stuck to texting. But after the pandemic hit, audio messages became a daily routine for her and many of her friends.

                      “This is my way to debrief and tell everybody what’s going on,” she told CNN Business. “It’s not like it used to be where I would wait until I was going to see my friends over the course of the next week for drinks or for brunch.”
                      For years, Apple and others have offered the option to record short messages and send them via text and chat apps. But the format has gained new appeal for many in the United States during the pandemic as we approach a year of limited opportunities to socialize with friends, family and coworkers.
                      Romina Hyskaj, a 23-year-old recruiter who lives in New York City, uses them mainly to keep in touch with her parents who live six hours away, noting that “it can get your tone, attitude, or joke across.” Nick Hofstadter, a 38-year-old luxury travel adviser in Los Angeles, sends voice notes to a handful of close friends, mostly to tell funny stories with a more “dramatic effect” and to avoid sending long text messages. (He prefers using voice notes on iMessage over Instagram so he can listen to it before sending.)
                        And it’s not just voice messages. Voice is having a moment — and the tech industry is taking notice.
                        Hall said an added part of the appeal — beyond conveying more emotional nuance — is how easy voice notes are to record, store and replay.
                        “Back when we had answering machines, people used to save important messages, particularly from loved ones, sometimes for as long as the machine had space and power to store those messages,” he said. “People don’t use voicemail in the same manner, partly because the phone is not the easiest way to leave a message for another person — that would be a text.”
                          Prior to the pandemic, Giuliani said there were many friends she didn’t talk to daily. Voice notes have changed that.
                          “It’s kept some of my friends and I really close together,” she said. “We send over voice notes and we’re chatting every single day, way more than we ever did before the pandemic.” She added: “I can’t believe that we didn’t before.”

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