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Why Uber is appealing against drivers’ rights

By Alexander J Martin, technology reporter

Uber drivers went on strike for 24 hours on Tuesday complaining that, two years after a court ruling granting them statutory workers' rights, the company has still not implemented them.

Although not all of the ride-hailing company's drivers went on strike, members and supporters of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) were not using the app over the strike period.

Declaring that "the app is the picket line" and urging passengers to shun the company over the same period, the drivers gathered outside the company's offices to demand fairer pay and treatment in line with the 2016 ruling.

Uber has not had to implement the ruling because it is currently in the process of appealing – although another hearing is due to take place at the end of this month.

Image: Drivers for taxi-sharing app Uber rallied outside Uber's offices

The case has been brought by IWGB members James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam. Both of them are Uber drivers, and they are being represented by Jason Galbraith-Marten QC and Sheryn Omeri of Cloisters Chambers.

Tom Gillie, another barrister at Cloisters Chambers but one who is not active in the case, told Sky News: "Uber will argue… that the employment tribunal ought to have found in 2016 that Uber London Limited (the holder of the private hire vehicle operator's licence for Uber in London) acts as nothing more than a booking agent for the drivers, that is that Uber London Limited works for the drivers.

"The drivers' case is that this is a complete distortion of the reality in which Uber is clearly the entity selling the rides provided by drivers and controls the drivers in a variety of ways."

These include "interviewing and recruiting drivers, excluding them from accessing passenger information [and] requiring drivers to accept jobs whenever they are logged on to the Uber app".

Uber also sets the "default route for each journey, fixing the fare paid by the passenger and subjecting drivers to a performance management system through its five-star rating system", said Mr Gillie.

He explained: "These and other facts demonstrate that in every sense, the drivers are working for Uber and are therefore entitled to basic employment protections such as minimum wage and holiday pay."

Uber drivers are striking for 24 hours  as the company continues to appeal against a court ruling giving them employee rights.
Image: Uber continues to appeal against a court ruling giving drivers' employee rights.

Explaining the company's position, an Uber representative claimed that almost all taxi and private hire drivers have been classed as self-employed for decades.

They claimed that, with Uber, drivers have more control than in any other private hire operator and many other forms of independent work.

Uber argued that the main reason drivers use Uber is because they value the freedom to choose if, when, and where they drive.

The company cited a survey by academics at the University of Oxford which suggested 81% of drivers preferred to remain independent contractors rather than employees, although this was not the standard set by the court ruling.

In a statement, the company said: "Over the last few months we've introduced dozens of new features, including sickness, injury, maternity and paternity protections.

"We continue to look at ways to help drivers increase their earnings and our door is always open if anyone wants to speak to us about any issues they're having."

Protesters on strike outside of Uber's office
Image: Uber argues that 81% of drivers do not want to be employees

Speaking during the demonstration outside Uber's London offices, Mr Farrar told Sky News that Uber was only paying heed to complaints ahead of an initial public offering (IPO) next year.

He said: "Uber has done just about enough, or what it thinks is just about enough, to keep the investors happy while it heads for an IPO next year.

"The trouble with these so-called benefits is that they're fleeting and they can be taken away or they can be given to some people and not to others, and we really don't have any say.

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"What we want is our statutory rights, not just some fiddling around the edges. We want Uber to obey the law, give us our statutory rights, to be paid fairly and to have holiday pay.

"If they want to give extra benefits on top of that, that's fantastic, but they can't offer these marginal benefits in lieu of proper worker rights and obeying the law."

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Chunk of moon fetches $600,000 at auction

A chunk of the moon that fell to Earth as a lunar meteorite has fetched more than $600,000 (£458,997) at auction.

The 5.5kg (12lb) lump, affectionately known as The Moon Puzzle, is comprised of six fragments that fit together.

RR Auction in Boston, Massachusetts, announced on Friday that the set had sold for $612,500 (£468,559).

The winning bid came from a representative working with the Tam Chuc Pagoda complex in Ha Nam Province, Vietnam.

RR Auctions had predicted it would sell for around $500,000 (£382,497).

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The meteorite, which fell roughly 250,000 miles to Earth, was found in a remote area of Mauritania in northwest Africa in 2017.

It is thought to be one of the most significant lunar meteorites ever found because of its large size.

The piece also has "partial fusion crust" caused by the tremendous heat that would have seared the rock as it fell.

RR Auctions states on its website that the meteorite is classified as NWA 11789, and is unofficially known as "Buagaba".

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The auction house says the rock was likely blasted off the surface of our moon by a different meteorite.

Earlier in 2018, scientists confirmed that water exists in the darkest and coldest parts of the moon's poles.

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Remain is outspending Leave in Facebook ad war

By Rowland Manthorpe, technology correspondent

Anti-Brexit groups are running at least twice as many adverts as major Leave campaigns on Facebook – and possibly up to 59 times more, Sky News can reveal.

The two largest Remain campaigns, People's Vote and Best for Britain, are currently running 16 Facebook ads on their pages.

By contrast, Leave Means Leave, the group backed by Nigel Farage, is running five ads. Leave.EU is only running two.

A data set of Facebook ads over the last two-and-a-half months, seen exclusively by Sky News, presents an even starker contrast.

In this period, the Best For Britain and People's Vote campaigns ran 177 ads, whereas the two largest pro-Brexit campaigns ran only three.

Fake news inquiry targeted by 'sophisticated' campaign

Fake news inquiry targeted by 'sophisticated' campaign

Ahead of the Remain-supporting March for the Future taking place in London on Saturday, People's Vote and Best for Britain aimed ads at different geographic regions of the UK – including Swansea, Edinburgh, Hackney, Liverpool and Stoke.

It also targeted ads at supporters of Premiership football clubs, including West Ham United and Manchester City, telling fans how much their club had lost out on in the transfer window as a result of the weak pound.

Remain groups are out-advertising leave
Image: Remain groups are out-advertising Leave

Tom Baldwin, director of communications for People's Vote, told Sky News that the campaign had also targeted Facebook users in the West Midlands after the boss of Jaguar Land Rover said that Brexit could put tens of thousands of jobs at risk.

Baldwin said the People's Vote campaign had increased the number of ads it was putting out in recent weeks, adding: "We've just really started doing this, and we've managed to reach around two or three million people, that's the kind of impressions that we're getting."

The adverts are targeting MPs as well as voters
Image: The adverts are targeting MPs as well as voters

The historic Facebook ads come from a start-up called Who Targets Me, which uses a free browser plug-in to collect Facebook ads from around 10,000 different news feeds. It pulls in between 7,000 and 8,000 ads a day, many of which are related to Brexit.

"There's a lot more advertising coming from the Remain side," said Sam Jeffers, one of the project's founders. "We're not seeing a lot of stuff on the Leave side at the moment.

"Maybe that's confidence on their side, that things are going the way they want it to be, or maybe those campaigns haven't really got going yet."

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During the 2016 referendum, the official Vote Leave campaign spent more than £2.7m on Facebook ads, using data taken from social media and other sources to target specific groups with tailored — often wildly exaggerated — messages.

Baldwin denied he was repeating the same practice: "We're trying to reach people in a straightforward way using existing Facebook tools."

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UK-built spacecraft begins journey to Mercury

The European Space Agency has launched its first mission to Mercury from its space port in Kourou, French Guiana.

The British-built BepiColombo took off aboard an Ariane 5 rocket at about 2.45am UK time on Saturday to begin its seven-year, 5 billion mile (8.5 billion km) journey to the closest planet to the Sun.

Stephane Israel, chief executive of rocket-maker Arianespace, confirmed the launch had been a success.

"Arianespace is delighted to announce that BepiColombo has been separated as planned on the targeted escape orbit and is now on its way towards Mercury," he said.

BepiColombo comprises of two orbiters: one European and the other Japanese, which will circle the planet while mapping and probing its surface and enveloping magnetic field.

Scientists hope to unravel some of Mercury's mysteries, such as the reason for its over-large iron core, its spectacular volcanic vents, and why the planet's dark side emits x-rays.

ESA's director general Jan Woerner said it was "really a great day and I can tell you I'm really happy".

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"It's just the beginning of the trip, but it's already a great day for ESA," he said.

More to follow…

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Yes, you really can work yourself to death


Stress and sleeplessness are surprisingly lethal.

Tech companies and gig economy platforms love to boast sleepless nights and 100 hour weeks. But there’s a danger to working too much.

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Fake news enquiry targeted by ‘sophisticated’ campaign

By Rowland Manthorpe, technology correspondent

Members of the parliamentary enquiry into fake news have been targeted by an anonymous group which may have spent £250,000 spreading pro-Brexit messages on Facebook.

Damian Collins and Paul Farrelly were among the MPs whose constituents were targeted by the campaign to "chuck Chequers", which is estimated to have reached between 10 and 11 million people on Facebook.

The campaign was run by a site calling itself "Mainstream Network", an apparently legitimate news website, running pro-Brexit articles on business and politics.

Its Facebook adverts urged voters to email their MP asking them to "chuck Chequers". Once the user clicked on the ad, it generated a pre-addressed email to the MP.

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Mainstream Network has no named organisation, UK address, group or individuals connected with it, and this information cannot be found.

Mr Collins chairs the digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) committee, which released details of the campaign.

He said: "Here we have an example of a clearly sophisticated organisation spending lots of money on a political campaign, and we have absolutely no idea who is behind it.

Mike Harris, chief executive of 89up, the digital agency which passed details of the campaign to the DCMS committee, said: "We looked at the WordPress code, we looked at the digital fingerprint.

"They have done a very very thorough job of hiding."

Facebook will have the names attached to the credit cards used to pay for adverts. The social media firm confirmed that it would respond to requests from law enforcement agencies or the Electoral Commission.

In addition to campaigns, Mainstream Network also promoted its own content. Its 20 most popular articles have had more than 140,000 social media engagements, with the vast majority coming on Facebook. Given its lack of natural appeal, this suggests it has spent significant money to promote its news items.

Damian Collins, chairman of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee
Image: Damian Collins is chairman of the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee

Since Mainstream Network first appeared on 15 February, 89up estimates that it could have spent as much as £257,000 on Facebook ads – a rough guess based on a cost of 75p per Facebook share.

By contrast, UKIP has declared just £114,000 since the beginning of 2018.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced new requirements obliging political advertisers to confirm their identity and location, and to disclose who is paying for ads. These will come into force from 7 November.

"We know we can't prevent election interference alone and offering more ad transparency allows journalists, researchers and other interested parties to raise important questions," the firm said in a statement.

Mr Harris said that as soon as Facebook's new requirements were announced, Mainstream Network took down its 70 ads on Facebook.

Misinformation has become a serious concern for social networks
Image: Misinformation has become a serious concern for social networks

Other MPs targeted by the campaign included Labour's Gloria de Piero and the Conservatives' Rebecca Pow, Alex Burghardt and Bob Neill, all of whom voted to remain in the European Union. However, Mr Harris believes the campaign was potentially far more widespread.

"This is part of a sophisticated advertising campaign, with pages setup to target users in every key constituency in the UK, with bespoke localised messaging; encouraging users to lobby their respective MPs," 89up said in its submission to the committee.

Rob Leathern, director of product management at Facebook, said: "On 7 November, all advertisers will have new requirements before they can place political ads in the UK, including Mainstream Network.

"These advertisers will need to confirm their identity and location through an authorisations process and accurately represent the organisation or person paying for the ad in a disclaimer.

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"These steps must happen or the advertiser will be prevented from running ads related to politics on Facebook.

"We know we can't prevent election interference alone and offering more ad transparency allows journalists, researchers and other interested parties to raise important questions."

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