Credit…Teresa Eng for The New York Times

Uber suffered an important labor defeat in its largest European market on Friday when Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that drivers must be classified as workers entitled to a minimum wage and vacation time.

The case had been closely watched because of its ramifications for the gig economy, in which companies like Uber rely on a sprawling labor force of independent contractors to provide car rides, deliver food and clean homes.

Uber and other gig-economy companies say their model gives people flexibility to choose when they work, while critics say it has eroded job protections and the traditional company-employee relationship.

Uber has fought the effort by drivers in Britain to be classified as workers for the past five years, appealing the decision all the way to the country’s top court. Friday’s ruling is expected to initially affect only the 25 drivers who brought the case, but is expected to set a precedent for others across the country. An employment tribunal will decide how to reward the drivers.

The drivers argued that although Uber claims to be a technology platform that connects drivers with passengers, it behaves more like an employer by setting rates, assigning rides, requiring drivers to follow certain routes and using a rating system to discipline drivers.

Nigel Mackay, a partner at Leigh Day, the law firm representing the drivers, said that Uber would have to begin providing a minimum wage and holiday time to drivers or risk facing a wave of cases from others.

Uber and other gig economy companies have been fighting off efforts in other parts of the world to classify workers as employees. In California, the companies funded a successful ballot measure in the November election to exempt them from a law that would have required them to employ drivers and pay health care, unemployment insurance and other benefits.

Mr. MacKay said he hoped the decision would provide a stronger legal basis for other countries to provide more labor protections for gig workers.

“People around the world will be follow this decision,” he said.

The chief executives of Facebook, Google and Twitter will face skeptical lawmakers again next month when a congressional committee questions them about the ways disinformation spreads across their platforms.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee said Thursday that it will hold a hearing on March 25 with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google and Jack Dorsey of Twitter.

The committee has been examining the future of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a 1996 law that shields the platforms from lawsuits over much of the content posted by their users. The attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, which included participants with ties to QAnon and other conspiracy theories that have spread widely online, has renewed concerns that the law allows the platforms to take a hands-off approach to extremist content.

“For far too long, Big Tech has failed to acknowledge the role they’ve played in fomenting and elevating blatantly false information to its online audiences,” a group of the committee’s top Democrats said in a statement. “Industry self-regulation has failed.”

Andy Stone, a spokesman for Facebook, said the company “believes it’s time to update the rules of the internet, and this hearing should be another important step in the process.”

The House Judiciary Committee announced its own set of hearings on the tech industry on Thursday. It said it would hold multiple hearings on how to update antitrust laws to address the power of the tech giants. The committee questioned chief executives before concluding a lengthy investigation into the companies last year.

The Judiciary Committee’s first hearing will take place on Wednesday.

An all-electric Renault Zoe. Renault’s chief executive, Luca de Meo, last month presented a plan to return the automaker to profitability.
Credit…Samuel Zeller for The New York Times

Renault, the French carmaker, reported a loss of 8 billion euros, or $9.7 billion, in 2020 as the pandemic gutted sales, but the company said that was profitable in the later part of the year.

Most of the annual loss stemmed from Renault’s stake in its troubled partner, Nissan. Losses at the Japanese carmaker drained €5 billion from the bottom line, Renault said. In addition, Renault car sales plunged 20 percent for the year, to just short of three million vehicles.

“After a first half impacted by Covid-19, the group has significantly turned around its performance in the second half,” Luca de Meo, Renault’s chief executive, said in a statement, without giving a figure. He said that 2021 was “set to be difficult given the unknowns regarding the health crisis as well as electronic components supply shortages.”

In 2021, shortages of semiconductors, a problem for almost all carmakers, could cut production by as much as 100,000 vehicles, Renault said.

Mr. de Meo, who became Renault’s chief executive in July, last month announced a plan to return to profitability that includes cuts in production capacity, sales of fewer models and increased parts sharing among vehicles to simplify manufacturing.

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transcript

Congressman Calls Robinhood’s Help Line and Gets Voicemail

After telling the House Financial Services Committee about the suicide of Robinhood user Alex Kearns, who died believing he had lost $730,000 on the brokerage app, Representative Sean Casten called its help line.

June 2020, Alex Kearns, who was 20 years old at the time, from Naperville, Illinois, killed himself, largely thanks to a bug in the Robinhood system. The bug was that he turned on the app, it said he owed $730,000 that he did not have, because of options positions that he thought canceled out but didn’t appear to. He called the help line. The help line, of course, was not manned, as we’ve discussed. He sent several panicked emails — three, to be precise — did not receive a response. Ultimately there was a response from the emails saying that, in fact, his positions were covered. But by that point, it was too late, because he had taken his own life. The — this is a gentleman who is 20 years old. Under Illinois law, he was not allowed to buy a beer, but he was allowed to take on $730,000 in positions and exposure that he did not have the liquidity to cover. Your mission, Mr. Tenev, is to democratize finance. But the history of financial regulation is to protect people like Alex Kearns from the system. As the old joke goes, if you’re playing poker and you can’t figure out who the fish is at the table, you should leave the table because you’re probably the fish. And there is an innate tension in your business model between democratizing finance, which is a noble calling, and being a conduit to feed fish to sharks. So I’m nervous. I think I got an exposure. And I call your help line now. Let’s call and let’s listen in the time we have remaining to what I’m going to hear on the other end of the phone. Voicemail: “Thank you for calling Robinhood. Please visit us at robinhood.com or on our app for support. If you have an urgent trading need, please make sure to include details of it when reaching out. Thanks have a great day.”

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After telling the House Financial Services Committee about the suicide of Robinhood user Alex Kearns, who died believing he had lost $730,000 on the brokerage app, Representative Sean Casten called its help line.CreditCredit…via C-Span

The chief executives of Robinhood, Reddit, Citadel and Melvin Capital Management were among the witnesses at a hearing on the GameStop trading frenzy held by the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday.

  • Vlad Tenev, the chief executive of Robinhood, was the target for both Democrats and Republicans, fielding more than half of the lawmakers’ questions. “I love your company because it does, when correctly managed, provide investment opportunities for individuals who are currently frozen out of the markets for one reason or another,” said Representative Anthony Gonzalez, Republican of Ohio. He added: “At the same time, though, I believe a vulnerability was clearly exposed in your business model.”

  • Representative Sean Casten, an Illinois Democrat, capped his sharp questioning of Mr. Tenev, in which he relayed the story of a 20-year-old college student who killed himself last summer believing that he’d lost more than $700,000, by dialing the Robinhood help line and letting everyone listen in as a short message was played and the call was terminated. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, said Robinhood’s decisions had “harmed customers,” and accused it of passing on hidden costs to its customers.

  • Keith Gill — known on YouTube as Roaring Kitty — testified that his interest in the company was based on his belief that the market was underestimating the brick-and-mortar retailer’s value. His testimony included winking references — such as dangling what appeared to be his oft-worn red headband off a picture of a kitten visible over his shoulder and the statement “I am not a cat” — to internet meme culture.

  • Several harsh questions were directed at Kenneth C. Griffin, the chief of Citadel. Members of Congress asked skeptical questions about Citadel’s practice of paying to trade against customers at online brokers like Robinhood. Mr. Griffin tried to explain the intricacies of the business but was often cut off. “Our folks are tired of bailing you all out when you screw up and gamble with the retirement fund. And that’s exactly what happens every single moment,” Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, said to him.



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