The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Mid-week link roundup

Lots of things popped up in my browser today:

And now, back to work.

Another ruling in the gig economy

The Federal court in the Northern District of California ruled today that GrubHub delivery drivers are contractors, not employees:

The ruling may have far-reaching implications for other sharing economy companies, including Uber Technologies Inc., whose business models are built on pairing customers with products and services through apps and typically avoid the costs of traditional employment.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley in San Francisco concluded Thursday, in a first-of-its-kind ruling, that a gig-economy driver doesn't qualify for the protections of employees under California law.

Charlotte Garden, an associate law professor at Seattle University, said Corley's decision is a “doubly big” win for GrubHub due to California's relatively high standard for establishing workers as independent contractors.

“If they can make it here, they can more likely make it anywhere,” Garden said. “It is also the first federal court to reach a verdict on whether workers in the gig economy are employees or not, so companies like Uber and Lyft will also be celebrating this win.”

(Of course, Uber may not survive its ongoing struggle with the Justice Department for other reasons, but that's not the point.)

Judge Corley admonished the state legislature to fix the problem this case exposed: “Under California law whether an individual performing services for another is an employee or an independent contractor is an all-or-nothing proposition,” she wrote. “With the advent of the gig economy, and the creation of a low wage workforce performing low skill but highly flexible episodic jobs, the legislature may want to address this stark dichotomy.”

We can expect multiple lawsuits in other Federal circuits any day now. 

File that under "B" for "Bad OpSec"

Via Bruce Schneier (and other sources), the Australian government suffered one of its worst-ever disclosures of secrets caused by not looking through used furniture:

It begins at a second-hand shop in Canberra, where ex-government furniture is sold off cheaply.

The deals can be even cheaper when the items in question are two heavy filing cabinets to which no-one can find the keys.

They were purchased for small change and sat unopened for some months until the locks were attacked with a drill.

Inside was the trove of documents now known as The Cabinet Files.

The thousands of pages reveal the inner workings of five separate governments and span nearly a decade.

Nearly all the files are classified, some as "top secret" or "AUSTEO", which means they are to be seen by Australian eyes only.

But the ex-government furniture sale was not limited to Australians — anyone could make a purchase.

And had they been inclined, there was nothing stopping them handing the contents to a foreign agent or government.

The found documents ranged from embarrassing (to both major Australian parties) to seriously top secret (troop deployments, police investigations). In response, the Australian government is calling for increased penalties for publishing or even possessing secret documents—but as Schneier points out, in this case that would have made the breech immeasurably worse for Australia:

This illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the threat. The Australian Broadcasting Corp gets their funding from the government, and was very restrained in what they published. They waited months before publishing as they coordinated with the Australian government. They allowed the government to secure the files, and then returned them. From the government's perspective, they were the best possible media outlet to receive this information. If the government makes it illegal for the Australian press to publish this sort of material, the next time it will be sent to the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, or Wikileaks. And since people no longer read their news from newspapers sold in stores but on the Internet, the result will be just as many people reading the stories with far fewer redactions.

In all, it's a reminder of the security adage that no security system can completely protect against human stupidity.

American mobile phone customers, do this now

I got a weird text from T-Mobile a few minutes ago:

T-Mobile Alert: We have identified an industry-wide phone number port out scam and encourage you to add account security. Learn more: t-mo.co/secure

Well, that does not sound good.

And it's not. Apparently thieves have found that American mobile phone providers are unusually helpful when it comes time to steal mobile phone numbers (called "SIM hijacking") or to port those numbers to third-party mobile providers. In both cases, the thieves now have a way to bypass any three-factor authentication (TFA) you may have set up with, for example, your bank.

T-Mobile at least offers a service called "Port Authentication" which lets you set up a 6- to 16-digit PIN that you must have to make any changes to your account—like, for example, getting a new SIM. After getting the text alert, and validating it with trusted online sources, I immediately called 611 and set up port authentication.

There are a couple of other things you should do:

  • Lock your phone all the time, with something very hard to subvert, like a strong password. If you must use a convenience feature like iris or fingerprint authentication, make sure the phone still requires a password on reboot.
  • Set your phone up so that it doesn't display the contents of texts or IMs when your phone is locked.
  • Encrypt your phone, so that even if all your other security is bypassed, you won't be stuck.

Seriously, this all costs you nothing and can save you a fortune.

Setting up lunchtime reading

Over the weekend I made a couple of minor updates to Weather Now, and today I'm going to spend some time taking it off its Azure Web Role and moving it to an Azure Website. That will (a) save me money and (b) make deployments a lot easier.

Meanwhile, a number of articles bubbled up overnight that I'll try to read at lunchtime:

Back to Azure deployment strategies.

The plan

Today I plan to take Parker on a decent walk before it gets cold and starts snowing. I'm also working on a couple of minor updates to Weather Now, including looking into creating an API against which I can write a React/Relay front-end.

Also I have a lot of reading to catch up on, some of which I may write about.

In other words: a quiet Saturday at home.

Amazon as Tom Sawyer (with billions in cash)

Amazon's bidding process for its second headquarters (HQ2) has given the company a bonanza of information about what 238 cities are willing to give up in order to get a piece of the action, and thus what levers Amazon can pull to get public money for its private gain. Not to mention, the applications gave the company millions of dollars worth of marketing data:

Amazon asked every city and state applying for its second headquarters for details about local resources, like available talent and transit options. Local officials were also prodded for tips on local education programs and tax incentives.

The answers — most of which have not been released publicly — essentially do Amazon’s homework for it, providing valuable information that the company otherwise would have needed to dig up on its own or obtain through one-on-one negotiations.

“This is not just about HQ2,” said Richard Florida, an authority on urban development and a professor at the University of Toronto. “It’s about a broader locational strategy. HQ2 is the carrot. That’s the only thing that makes sense.”

Meanwhile, CityLab has put together a guide to the "HQ2 Hunger Games" with detailed breakdowns of the 20 finalists. And they second the Times' assessment on Amazon's ulterior motives: "As CityLab has previously reported, the economic incentives being offered to lure Amazon’s 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment were historic in proportion even before the company announced the finalists."

Well, they've done it again

The U.S. government has shut down its nonessential functions (including the President's vacation travel) because the ruling party can't play nicely with others:

The federal government shut down for the first time in more than four years Friday after senators rejected a temporary spending patch and bipartisan efforts to find an alternative fell short as a midnight deadline came and went.

Republican and Democratic leaders both said they would continue to talk, raising the possibility of a solution over the weekend. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Friday that the conflict has a “really good chance” of being resolved before government offices open Monday, suggesting that a shutdown’s impacts could be limited.

But the White House drew a hard line immediately after midnight, saying they would not negotiate over a central issue — immigration — until government funding is restored.

Republicans resolved not to submit to the minority party’s demands to negotiate, while Democrats largely unified to use the shutdown deadline to force concessions on numerous issues — including protections for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.

So the Republicans control all three branches of government but couldn't avoid a repeat of their mistakes in 1994 and 2014.

As for my current project, we're fully funded, so we can continue working and getting paid. But about a third of our team are civil servants who are now on furlough. Let's hope that the Republican Party shows a little more willingness to make a deal with the minority over the weekend.

Chicago is an Amazon HQ2 finalist

I can't tell if this is good news or neutral news. It's not bad news:

Chicago has been named a finalist in Amazon’s search for its second headquarters, known as H2Q.

Amazon announced the short list in an early morning tweet, but didn’t offer many other details other than the other cities that made the short list. The other finalists are Columbus, Ohio; Newark, N.J.; Toronto; Indianapolis; Denver; Nashville; Los Angeles; Dallas; Austin; Boston; New York City; Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Raleigh, N.C.; Montgomery County, Md.; Northern Virginia; Atlanta and Miami.

Illinois, Chicago and Cook County teamed up to offer more than $2 billion in incentives to Amazon, and offered 10 proposed sites. They are Lincoln Yards, a development along the Chicago River near Lincoln Park and Bucktown; the Downtown Gateway District, which includes space in Willis Tower and redevelopment of the old main post office and Union Station; City Center Campus, a proposed redevelopment of the state-owned Thompson Center in the Loop; the River District, a 37-acre development along the river and Halsted Street; the Burnham Lakefront, a Bronzeville development that includes the Michael Reese Hospital site; the 78, a development planned on 62 acres along the river between the South Loop and Chinatown; Fulton Market district properties controlled by multiple owners; Illinois Medical District redevelopment; the soon-to-be-vacated, 145-acre McDonald's campus in Oak Brook, which the company will leave for Fulton Market; and more than 260 acres available for development on the longtime Motorola Solutions campus in Schaumburg, where Zurich North America recently built a new headquarters.

Even if Amazon chooses a different city, it's still good for Chicago. I'm just not sure about the $2 bn giveaway.