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Monthly Archives: August 2014

Digital account inheritance law passes in Delaware

Ownership of digital assets is an ongoing legal debate. A new law in Delaware allows individuals to bequeath their digital accounts, email, Twitter, World of Warcraft, to an heir or estate. This is important evolution to treating digital accounts the same way physical assets or documents might, though the influence of this law may not be as vast as intended or needed. For example, in states without such protections, individuals could include their user name and passwords in their will. Though this may have some security issues (can you trust your lawyer), it is a simple way to ensure account information isn’t lost forever. Some terms of services, like Facebook, forbid this type of transfer, though how will they know.

Yahoo received significant publicity for refusing a family access to their son’s email account after he was killed in action in Iraq. This law may help in situations like this if the will is executed in Delaware. Whether this law is needed nationally remains uncertain. I would prefer data portability and privacy laws be emphasized over the right to bequeath an email account. A data portability law, giving the user some or complete ownership of their data, like email or web history, would allow users to download, backup, and move information between services. This then turns digital accounts into more specific files and data what are already owned by the individual. The information in these accounts is important while the user is still alive and that should be the priority for new legislation.


Uber bringing gender diversity to taxi drivers through safety

When I described Uber to my mother, she immediately ruled it out, saying she didn’t trust the background checks of the drivers. Both Uber and Lyft do full background checks on their drivers, at least as much as traditional taxi companies, while only Uber and Lyft give you the driver’s name, phone number, picture, and GPS tracking. This can make using an Uber arguably safer than a regular taxi.

Uber’s policies also appear to significantly improve the lifestyle for the drivers, making the profession safer and thus opening it up to more women.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported that cabbies were 60 times more likely to be killed on the job than other workers. Drivers often work alone, carry cash, and and travel through high-crime areas. Only about 2 percent of all U.S. taxi drivers are female.

Driving an UberX car, which is open to anyone who signs up and passed the background check, has turned out to be a much safer operation. Just like riders, drivers can see the name and rating of a potential pick-up. The rider already has a credit card on file, meaning the driver never needs to carry or handle cash. And the car is tracked completely through GPS. While this doesn’t make crime again driver or rider impossible, it significantly lowers the risk. Though Uber won’t release gender breakdowns for its drivers, casual estimates place the number around 15%.

What stands out about this discussion is how Uber has been incentive to create a superior product to traditional taxi cabs without the strong regulatory regime. The initial taxi monopoly regimes were created to encourage safety, reliability, and maintain certain standards. However, this has led to a large undeserved market, mostly from a lack of available drivers or rigid pricing regardless of demand.  Uber, incentivized to create a superior product to taxis, has put technology to innovative use, making taxi transportation far more efficient for the drivers and riders. This is why bans on Uber, as Berlin recently did, have more to do with protecting entrenched businesses or simply ignorance of how the service works.  Uber is likely also the reason demand for taxi medallions, once one of the best investments available, is now dropping.

For regulations, it’s important to recognize what the business already incentivizes. Companies can only cut costs to the point employees and customers are willing to partake in the transaction. If driving or riding an Uber became unsafe, both drivers and riders would exit to competitors. And since there is no longer an artificial limit on supply, competitors like Lyft can more easier enter the market, forcing all entrants to engage in higher levels of service. Legislation should look at what the base line of service their car sharing services offer and determine that to be what is needed for consumers to use the product and for the businesses to be able to make a profit.