Pilfered Waymo files, gross Postmates ads, and YayYo’s sketchy IPO
|Ali Griswold||May 16, 2017|
By far the best thing about the Uber-Waymo dispute is the judge. Throughout the litigation, William Alsup hasn’t hesitated to lightly chide either side. He has critiqued Uber and Waymo for using too many redactions, for failing to produce specific documents, and for failing to ask the specific questions that might have surfaced those documents. He is fond of the phrase, “you lawyers,” as in, “you lawyers are killing us,” and “you lawyers think that all I’ve got to do is rule on your summary judgment motions.” But in an injunction order made public on Monday (May 15), Alsup was stern.
“Waymo has made a strong showing that Levandowski absconded with over 14,000 files from Waymo, evidently to have them available to consult on behalf of Otto and Uber,” Alsup wrote. “Defendants maintain that Waymo’s files never crossed over to Uber’s servers or devices and that ‘Uber took strict precautions to ensure that no trade secrets belonging to a former employer would be brought to or used at Uber.’ These denials, however, leave open the danger of all manner of mischief.”
Mischief here includes the possibility that Uber allowed Levandowski, the star engineer and former Waymo employee it brought onboard in an acquisition last summer, to keep his “treasure trove” of files on hand using a personal device, Alsup writes. He is similarly unimpressed by Uber’s recent efforts to write Levandowski out of its autonomous vehicle program history. “Put differently, the record shows that Uber bought Levandowski’s services for a tremendous amount of money and positioned him at the forefront of its self-driving car efforts but is barren on how Levandowski has been earning that money and title,” he writes.
Alsup last week denied Uber’s bid to move the case to private arbitration, paving the way for public trial. He also referred the dispute to the US attorney, a “rare if not unprecedented” step that could lead to criminal charges or even jail time for Uber execs. Yesterday he instructed Uber to return the “pilfered” files to Waymo by May 31 at noon and granted Waymo sweeping access to Uber’s books. In the partially granted injunction, Alsup has ordered Uber to:
Return all materials downloaded from Waymo by Levandowski
Immediately remove Levandowski from any work on lidar technology (“light radar”)
Investigate, under oath, anyone who has seen or heard of the downloaded materials
Detail the “complete chains of custodians” for every copy of any downloaded materials
Provide Waymo with a log of all lidar-related communications between Levandowski and other Uber affiliates by June 23 at noon, including “conferences, meetings, phone calls, one-on-one conversations, texts, emails, letters, memos, and voicemails”
Let Waymo’s lawyers “inspect any and all aspects” of Uber’s ongoing lidar work, including “schematics, work orders, source code, notes, and emails”
Waymo said it was pleased with the injunction and strangely so did Uber, pointing out that Alsup’s order didn’t actually shut down its self-driving car program or get the company sanctioned. All I can say is that if that’s your silver lining, things are not great.
Elsewhere, Travis changed his Twitter photo:
Here is the old one, for comparison. He also updated the link in his bio to “uber.com” from a link to his page on Crunchbase. As for the picture, I suppose he looks more approachable now? I mean, at least he’s smiling. Someone was probably like, bro, we need to talk, you have a huuuuge image problem, and Travis was like, yeah ok, you’re right—I’ll find a new profile pic.
Let’s go now to Massachusetts where Uber is defending the right of drivers to be their own boss. Uber is sparring with state regulators who want to ban drivers from working more than 12 hours in a row, 16 hours total in a single day, and 70 hours in a week. Such restrictions have become more common as states look to prevent accidents caused by fatigued drivers, but Uber doesn’t see it that way. In a letter to regulators last week, the company called the hour limits “overly burdensome.” “Many individuals in many different industries work 70 hours in a seven-day period, at least on occasion,” it added.
Ah Uber, a champion of workers’ rights until the very end. It really is touching that Uber will stand up to local officials and their burdensome regulations so that its drivers remain free to set their own schedules. Personally I am reassured knowing the next Uber I take in Boston might be driven by someone who was empowered to work more than 12 consecutive hours. Actually, wait, that happened to me once in San Francisco. A year and a half ago I was in an UberPool from SFO to downtown San Francisco when my driver mentioned that one great thing about working for Uber was the lack of limits on how many hours he could drive. He told me he sometimes worked two eight-hour shifts with two to three hours of rest between them. “That’s why I have a coffee,” he said, holding up his cup. Wow was I glad when I got out of that Uber.
Elsewhere in pesky local regulators, Portland may subpoena Uber over its use of “greyball” software. “In my opinion, we need the whole playbook to be sure nothing is being held back from us,” says the commissioner. And over in San Francisco, city attorney Dennis Herrera is taking Uber to court to ensure compliance with local ride-hailing rules. “Not surprisingly, Uber is thumbing its nose at the law,” Herrera says. “It’s time for that to stop.”
Love at first bite.
Postmates is grossing out New Yorkers. The food delivery company has blanketed New York’s subway system with ads that, to quote the internet, “look like torture.” The “love at first bite” campaign features close-ups of people’s faces (mostly women) as they thrust weird-looking bits of food into their mouths: a burger, yellowing avocado toast, squid-ink pasta as dark as licorice, and a blue-and-gold speckled thing that could be either a macaron or a toad. Here see for yourself:
That’s the avocado toast. Here is the macaron:
Oh look, a corridor of mouths!
I assume the goal was simply to get people talking about Postmates and, credit where credit is due, the ads have done that. Friends and coworkers who had never heard of Postmates are suddenly talking about it because of the subway ads. The chatter has mostly been negative but if even a few of those people download the app, Postmates might count it as a win. Postmates would also probably rather people talk about their current ad campaign than the fundamentals of the business, like how it quietly raised the “service fee” on every order to 9.99% from 9%. Profitability by 2018, here they come!
Here is a crazy story from Business Insider about YayYo, a startup that “plans to be an aggregator for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.” Plans is the operative word here because as of publication time YayYo didn’t have a working product. It also seems not to have had working relationships with Uber or Lyft, which have denied any affiliation with YayYo and, in Lyft’s case, served it a cease-and-desist letter. What YayYo did have was a TV commercial, featuring Seinfeld actor John O’Hurley, that told people to invest in the company “before all the shares are gone.”
YayYo has priced its IPO at $8 a share, valuing the company at $200 million. CEO Ramy El-Batrawi (“whose life before YaYo… ultimately led to accusations of a stock-manipulation scheme and one of the biggest securities bailouts in history”) says 700 people have already invested, with purchases ranging from $8 to $100,000. Look El-Batrawi says there is nothing to worry about:
“It may feel like vaporware for some people. But the moment we start launching and generating revenue, which is not far along, our valuation is so much lower than what you would consider what Uber and Lyft is and everybody else.”
But can they launch before blowing through the advertising budget?
The ad has run at least 33 times nationally since it debuted on April 19, which cost the company at least $111,000, according to analytics company iSpot, which tracks only national airings. The ad has likely run far more times on DirecTV, which reaches a sizable portion of the population.
“We are moving along in pretty good shape,” El-Batrawi says.
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