Table Talk – The Opioid Crisis and Uber Under Investigation

November 14, 2017

FBI investigating Uber tracking Lyft activity

San Francisco-based Uber corporation is reportedly under federal investigation by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Joon Kim, for illegally tracking the driver activity of one of its largest competitors, Lyft.

“Thanks to a secret software-based effort within Uber called ‘Hell,’ Uber could track how many Lyft drivers were available for new rides and where they were,” reported The Information, a news site that follows the technology industry.

A concurrent class action lawsuit, brought on by a former driver, was recently dismissed by Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley. Although she permits a refile, it is unclear whether the case will proceed. Uber argued that the information was readily accessible and there was no proof of eavesdropping, nor any allegations of injury or monetary loss.

With its “Hell” software, Uber reportedly monitored trips and fares in different locations, and collected data on drivers who worked for both companies so it could incentivize exclusive use of Uber’s platform. The Los Angeles Times reported that the company stopped using the software in 2016.

This incident joins a number of allegations surrounding Uber’s tactics. Another Uber program discovered in March, known as “Greyball,” allegedly enabled it to avoid law enforcement investigators by identifying terms-of-service violators and denying their ride requests.

Other allegations ranging from stealing medical records and Google’s self-driving technology to withholding evidence in court have seen the company plagued with lawsuits, many still unsettled.

Under pressure from board members and investors, former CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick ultimately resigned in June, and the company’s worth has continued to drop as multiple investors fled, reducing stock prices by 15 percent.

But the company continues to grow. Although Uber maintains a negative net income, losing about $2.8 billion in 2016, ride requests have increased by 150 percent in that time.

And regardless of the unwelcome publicity, the company’s aggressive business strategy seems financially effective.

The company’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, will have to deal with a host of difficulties and allegations, including sexual harassment and discrimination, most of which began well before he arrived.

A former CEO of Expedia, Khosrowshahi has had little time as yet at Uber, but his résumé made him a natural choice for his new board of directors.

Expedia’s quadrupling of its revenue while he was CEO and his reportedly collected personality have instilled hopes of a virtuous and successful future among Uber’s stockholders.

Table Talk – The Opioid Crisis and Uber Under Investigation

Opioid Crisis to be Declared National Emergency

Last Thursday, Oct. 26, President Trump announced that he was instructing the Department of Health and Services to declare the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency.

This declaration calls for more grant money already in the budget to combat the crisis, but does not supply immediate additional funding according to the New York Times

If the crisis were declared a national emergency, then under a law called the Stafford Act, the government would have been able to tap into the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief fund to fight the crisis. This act is what is invoked for disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes.

Instead, President Trump’s announcement invokes the Public Health Services Act, which tells federal agencies to direct more grant money, hire experts in the field, and expand the use of “telemedicine” — where clinical health care is provided via long-distance communication if doctors are in short supply, usually in rural areas.

According to CNN, a senior Trump administration official said that FEMA money was better suited for national disasters that for health crises.

Dr. Andrew Kolodney, co-director of opioid policy research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, told the New York Times that without a much larger sum of money, the emergency declaration will not help get rid of the opioid crisis.

President Trump said that the government would start an aggressive advertising campaigning trying to convince people to not start using opioids in the first place.

Drug overdoses killed more Americans last year than guns or car accidents, according to the New York Times, with heroin and fentanyl contributing to the majority of overdose deaths. The number of Americans dying from drug overdoses per year has tripled from 1999 to 2016, going from just under 20,000 people per year to more than 64,000 people, according to National Institute of Drug Abuse. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in 2015 12.5 million Americans misused opioid prescription drugs, which are commonly prescribed for relief of short-term or long-term pain.

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