Uber facing legal action in UK over its workers’ rights

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Uber is facing legal action in the UK from British drivers who claim the taxi-booking firm does not provide them with basic workers’ rights.
The case is being brought by law firm Leigh Day on behalf of the GMB union. It argues Uber does not currently ensure its drivers are paid the minimum wage or that they receive paid holiday.
It says Uber does not provide its drivers with the rights normally afforded to employees, claiming instead that they are “partners”.
Uber operates a car hire smartphone app that connects passengers to drivers. Using the app, passengers can request to be picked up from any location within London, or 300 other cities worldwide. Passengers pay Uber for the journey, and it then passes on a percentage of that payment to the driver.
But Leigh Day’s lawyers claim Uber’s contract terms breach of UK employment law. They also argue there are serious health and safety issues. They alleged Uber does not ensure its drivers take rest breaks or work a maximum number of hours per week. They argue this provides a substantial risk to all road users given that, according to Uber’s chief executive, there will be 42,000 Uber drivers in London in 2016.
Leigh Day added there had been reports of drivers being suspended or deactivated by Uber after having made complaints about unlawful treatment, without being given any opportunity to challenge the claims. The law requires that workers should not be denied the right to work for raising such issues.
A successful legal action against Uber could see substantial pay outs for drivers, including compensation for past failures by the company to make appropriate payments to what lawyers argue are their workers.
Nigel Mackay a lawyer in the employment team at Leigh Day said: “Uber not only pays the drivers but it also effectively controls how much passengers are charged and requires drivers to follow particular routes. As well as this, it uses a ratings system to assess drivers’ performance. We believe that it’s clear from the way Uber operates that it owes the same responsibilities towards its drivers as any other employer does to its workers. In particular, its drivers should not be denied the right to minimum wage and paid leave.”
The case is the first to be brought against San Francisco based firm in the UK although it has face legal action elsewhere around the world. Last week taxi drivers in Canada’s biggest city, Toronto, became the latest group to own legal proceedings against Uber. The drivers are seeking C$400m (£198m) in damages and an injunction to stop the taxi-booking app from operating in the province of Ontario. The action alleges that services like Uber X and Uber XL have created an “enormous marketplace” for illegal transportation in the city.
Taxi drivers in London have staged a number of protests over the company’s operations. Last month, they launched a campaign to highlight their struggle with it. Meanwhile, France has seen riots in response to Uber-Pop a subsidiary of Uber which allows unlicensed and untrained drivers to offer journeys to potential customers in their own cars.


Ofcom fines Unicom for misleading customers

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Ofcom has today fined Universal Utilities Ltd, trading as Unicom, £200,000 for mis-selling landline telephone services.
The decision also requires Unicom to take a number of steps to help compensate customers affected by the mis-selling and to guard against it happening again. Ofcom launched the investigation into Unicom, which provides telephone and broadband services to around 100,000 small businesses, after receiving complaints from customers and having assessed evidence submitted by Unicom in the course of initial enquiries.
The investigation into Unicom is part of Ofcom’s wider monitoring and enforcement programme into the sales and marketing activities of communications providers. Under Ofcom rules, communications providers must give prospective customers accurate information about the services they are providing.
Ofcom’s investigation found that, over the period investigated – from 1 March 2013 to 8 July 2014 – Unicom used sales processes that gave some prospective business customers a misleading impression about costs they could face. Specifically, this related to Unicom giving a misleading impression about the payment of early termination charges if the prospective customer chose to leave their existing communications provider.
Over the same period, Unicom’s sales processes also misled some prospective business customers that transferring their landline telephone service to Unicom would not affect their existing broadband services. As a result, Unicom has been found in breach of Ofcom rules, which state that providers must not engage in misleading conduct. Ofcom has imposed a fine of £200,000 against Unicom and outlined steps the company must now take. These include: Compensating any customers who were misled in the relevant ways during the period investigated; Allowing those customers to exit their contract with Unicom penalty-free; Covering the cost of any reconnection charges for those customers where they choose to return to their previous provider; Making all necessary changes to its policies, procedures and marketing and sales materials to ensure it complies with the rules; and Providing appropriate training to sales staff, and introducing a system to monitor the conduct and compliance of Unicom agents.
Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s Consumer and Content Group Director, said: “Small businesses in the UK increasingly rely on high-quality communications services. Service interruptions and unexpected costs can cause a real concern for these customers. Ofcom does not accept misleading practices and we will take action against companies that break the rules.”
The £200,000 fine is payable to Ofcom and then passed on to HM Treasury. Unicom must pay it within 20 working days of receiving Ofcom’s decision.
Last month Ofcom announced an agreement from three of the UK’s largest suppliers – BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, which account for the majority of business broadband users – to work on a new Code of Practice for business broadband services. The Code for business broadband, which Ofcom aims to publish in the autumn, is expected to set commitments for providers to give accurate estimates of the actual speeds that business customers will receive.
Last year, Ofcom also launched a dedicated online portal with advice for businesses on choosing and switching provider, navigating and negotiating contracts, and resolving complaints.

Ofcom outlines plans to improve mobile switching

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Ofcom is today outlining options to make it easier for consumers to change their mobile phone provider.
Consumers currently face different processes for switching mobile provider, depending on whether they wish to keep their existing mobile phone number. Ofcom is concerned these processes may cause confusion and increase the perception that switching is hard, meaning consumers may miss out on the best deals.
Today’s consultation seeks views on a range of mobile switching options. These include a simple process – technically known as ‘gaining provider led’ switching – which places the responsibility for the switch entirely in the hands of the company to which the customer is moving. This would mean the customer would no longer need to contact their current provider to switch, unless they wish to.
Ofcom is also considering simplifying the process for obtaining a code which allows a customer to keep their existing number.
Enabling consumers to make good, well-informed choices is an important part of Ofcom’s work. This can include switching to a different provider, but if this process is not straightforward then people can be less inclined to switch, and competition can be restricted.
How it works today
When switching mobile provider, a customer can choose whether to receive a new phone number or keep their existing one by ‘porting’ it to the new mobile network. To keep their number, the customer must contact their current provider for a ‘porting authorisation code’, or PAC, and take this to the provider they plan to join. If the customer does not intend to keep their number then, if they are on a monthly contract, they must deal with the existing provider to stop that service and organise a new service with the new provider themselves.
Ofcom is concerned that some operators can make this difficult, making it unnecessarily hard for consumers to switch. Last month, Ofcom opened an industry-wide investigation into arrangements for cancelling and terminating services.
Switching rates for mobile services have fallen from 9% to 6% between 2013 and 2014, according to Ofcom research. This can be due to a complex range of factors, something which Ofcom is continuing to research.
Simpler, more effective processes – Today’s consultation is part of Ofcom’s wider work to make it easier to switch between communications services. Last month, Ofcom made broadband switching simpler and smoother by introducing a ‘one touch’ process for millions of broadband customers of providers using the Openreach copper network – including BT, EE, Sky and TalkTalk.
As well as today’s mobile switching consultation, Ofcom is also examining consumers’ experiences of switching ‘triple play’ – landline, broadband and pay TV – services between providers using the Openreach, Virgin Media cable or Sky satellite networks.
Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “Consumers should be able to switch their mobile providers with minimum hassle to take advantage of the best deals on the market. Ofcom has recently made switching easier for millions of broadband users, and we are now focusing on improving the process for mobile customers.”
The closing date for responses to the consultation is 6 October 2015.

Android bug: MMS threat affects ‘one billion’ phones

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A bug in the Android mobile operating system has been discovered by researchers, who say it affects nearly a billion devices.
The flaw can be exploited by sending a photo or video message to a person’s smartphone, without any action by the receiver.
Google said it had patched the problem, but millions of devices still need their software updating. The researchers said the flaw was “extremely dangerous”.
Researchers from US information security company Zimperium said they believed it was one of the worst Android vulnerabilities to date, estimating that 950 million devices were affected.
Hackers were able to send malicious code within a multimedia message that could access a service within Android called Stagefright.
After Stagefright had been invoked, which required no action from the victim, other data and apps on the handset could be accessed by the malicious code. “These vulnerabilities are extremely dangerous because they do not require that the victim take any action to be exploited,” the researchers wrote.
Further details on the flaw will be revealed by the team, at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas next week. James Lyne, global head of security research at security company Sophos, said the flaw affected a “massive array” of phones running Android version 2.2 and higher.
“On some devices, the privileges at which this runs means an attacker could access all kinds of content on your device or access resources such as the camera,” he said.
Zimperium’s researchers notified Google, which subsequently produced a patch to fix the problem. However, millions of devices currently remain unpatched because hardware manufacturers and mobile operators have to distribute updates to customers themselves, and customers can reject updates manually.
In a statement, Google said: “This vulnerability was identified in a laboratory setting on older Android devices, and as far as we know, no-one has been affected. “As part of a regularly scheduled security update, we plan to push further safeguards to Nexus devices starting next week. And, we’ll be releasing it in open source when the details are made public by the researcher at Black Hat.”

EE switches on 600th 4G town

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EE, the UK’s largest mobile operator, has switched on its superfast 4G mobile network in a further 90 large towns and cities in 2015, bringing the total number to 600. As well as covering hundreds of places with a population over 10,000, superfast 4G from EE is now also available to residents and businesses in more than 6,000 villages and small towns.
Exmouth, in south Devon was the 600th town to be switched on, and  4G from EE now stretches from the coastal village of Sennen Cove in Cornwall to Roseisle in the North of Scotland, and from Newport in Norfolk to Tywyn in west Wales.
Ed Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, said: “Faster mobile internet is an increasingly important issue for businesses and residents in Exmouth, so I’m delighted it has been named EE’s 600th 4G town. With the arrival of the latest generation of mobile technology, Exmouth has become an even more attractive place to live, to work and to do business. Thousands of people will now be able to benefit from living and working in one of the best connected areas in the South West.”
One of the businesses that will benefit from the 4GEE switch on in Exmouth is the River Exe Café, a restaurant situated in the middle on the Exe Estuary. Accessible only by boat, the restaurant is unreachable by fixed line broadband and is entirely dependent on mobile internet to help run the business smoothly.
Paul Craven, owner of the River Exe Café, said: “Without a fixed line, we use mobile internet for everything – from taking bookings over email to processing card payments. So as you can imagine, a fast and consistent connection is vitally important. The arrival of 4G allows the business to run more efficiently than ever, which is great for both us and our customers. The speed of connection here on our barge, in the middle of the Estuary is absolutely phenomenal.” 
Mansoor Hanif, Network Director at EE, said: “Covering the places where people live and work is still hugely important for planning the next steps of our 4G rollout, but we also look at where people need us the most – train routes, roads, stations and parks. People really want 4G anywhere that they’re sitting or waiting and they need to work, or just want to get online because they’re bored – people expect to get online on their phones everywhere now, and that drives us to rollout 4G as fast as ever.”

Vodafone says it would invest if BT’s broadband arm becomes separate firm

Vodafone has fuelled the debate about the future of BT, saying it would be prepared to become a shareholder in any new company owning the UK’s largest telephone and broadband network. 

Vodafone has fuelled the debate about the future of BT, saying it would be prepared to become a shareholder in any new company owning the UK’s largest telephone and broadband network.
Rivals are calling for BT to be split in two, with its Openreach division, which builds and maintains its network of copper and fibre-optic cables, spun into a separate company. Telecoms watchdog Ofcom is considering the idea in its first strategic review of the broadband market for a decade.
“We would be prepared to put equity in a vehicle that could deliver fibre to us and also other companies, whether it is an independent Openreach or a similar vehicle,” said Vodafone’s chief executive, Vittorio Colao.
He was speaking at a trading update on Friday, which showed that the pace of decline in Vodafone’s European markets is slowing. Service revenue – a key metric which excludes handset sales – fell 1.5% year on year in the three months to 30 June, down from a 2.6% fall in the previous three months.
A condition for Vodafone’s investment in a national broadband company would be that all internet service providers, such as Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone and the rump of BT, would have equal access to its cables. Colao said any new infrastructure should be of the highest quality, with fibre-optic cables running all the way to the doorstep of homes and businesses. Fibre to the doorstep allows speeds of up to 1,000 megabits per second. This compares to an average UK speed of 23 megabits per second.
BT last week warned a decision to split the company in two could lead to a decade of litigation. Instead, it is proposing to invest an estimated £4bn over ten years to upgrade its broadband service with a technology called G.fast. This would use new equipment on old copper wires, allowing download speeds of up to 500 megabits per second by 2025. Upload speeds – transferring data from computers to the internet – would be slower.
In a jibe at BT’s massive investment in football broadcasting, Colao said: “It’s important that the UK gets more fibre and not more expensive football.”
In Italy, Vodafone has teamed up with rival mobile operator Wind to offer to buy a stake in the partly state-owned fibre-optic company Metroweb. The Italian government is planning to invest €6bn (£4.2bn) to build high-speed networks across the country. 
Vodafone is advocating using Metroweb as a vehicle for a shared national fibre infrastructure, and Colao said the same could happen in the UK. Such a project would avoid wasted resources, he argued, by deterring fibre companies from digging up the roads twice to build competing networks in the same neighbourhoods. “It’s better to share, and compete at the service level, rather than all build in the same areas.”

Music streaming in UK passes 500m in a week for first time

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A surge in music streaming in the UK has seen it pass 500 million streams in a week for the first time.
Figures from The Official Charts Company show there were 505,849,000 audio streams in the week ending 16 July – almost double the amount of the similar period last year.
There have been 11.5 billion streams in the first half of 2015 – an increase of 80% on the similar period in 2014.
Ed Sheeran is the most streamed artist of the year so far.
Geoff Taylor, chief executive of music industry body the BPI, called the figures “remarkable”.
“It demonstrates vividly just how quickly streaming is being embraced by British music fans,” he said.
He added he hoped “it will help our world-leading record labels invest even more into unearthing the next generation of British talent for fans here and around the world”.
The figures also show 59 tracks have been streamed more than 10 million times in the UK so far this year.
The most streamed song is Mark Ronson’s and Bruno Mars’s Uptown Funk, which has been streamed more than 45 million times.
Ed Sheeran tops the list of the most streamed artists, with more than 170 million streams in the first six months of 2015.
Sam Smith is in second place with more than 100 million streams.

Huawei smartphone sales jump 39% in first half of the year

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Chinese tech giant Huawei on Wednesday said its global smartphone sales jumped by 39% in the first half of the year.
It comes after the world’s fourth-biggest smartphone maker posted a 30% growth in overall revenue on Monday.
Huawei said it shipped 48.2 million devices globally in the first half of 2015, giving them a 87% surge in handset sales revenues
The company is competing with Apple and Xiaomi for the top spot in China, the world’s biggest handset market.
The boost in sales figures comes after the firm said it would shed its low-cost appeal and include high-margin premium models to challenge Samsung and Apple at the top-end of the market. Huawei said that shipments for the mid-to-high-end category recorded a year-on-year increase of 70%.
Regarding sales in China, the firm managed to defy a slowdown hitting its rivals Samsung and Xiaomi. Overall smartphone shipments in China in the first quarter of 2015 shrank for the first time in six years, with one-time leader Xiaomi saying the domestic market was nearing saturation.
On Monday, Huawei released its earnings results for the first six months of the year, posting a 30% increase in revenue to 175.9bn yuan ($28.3bn; £18.2bn) and giving a positive outlook for further growth in 2015.
Aside from smartphones, the Shenzhen-based firm is one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies, competing with the likes of Sweden’s Ericsson on infrastructure such as mobile phone masts.

What is an ad-blocker?

 In a nutshell, the term covers a variety of technologies used to prevent adverts appearing on internet-connected devices.
In a nutshell, the term covers a variety of technologies used to prevent adverts appearing on internet-connected devices.
They are already widely used on PCs, where the most common technique is to install a browser plug-in, but until recently were relatively rare on smartphones and tablets. Once installed, web pages should be decluttered of distracting content.
Pages should also load more quickly, mobile data allowances should come under less strain and mobile device batteries can also last longer between charges.
However, one consequence is that websites can see a drop in revenues, causing them to start charging for content or paying for technologies that frustrate the ad-blockers’ efforts.

Vodafone to trial Radio Dot 4G technology

Mobile network operator Vodafone are looking at taking a stand and putting a stop to poor indoor coverage!
Mobile network operator Vodafone are looking at taking a stand and putting a stop to poor indoor coverage! 

They are due to start trialling Ericsson’s 4G Radio Dot technology – a technology that can improve upon indoor mobile coverage, which is great for businesses, retailers and venues that suffer from poor indoor coverage.
The Radio Dot is a small smoke alarm-sized cell that can be situated around a building to improve mobile signal and boost 4G capacity.
Jorge Fernandes Vodafone’s Chief Technology Officer has said, “With 70 per cent of customers using their mobile device mostly indoors, we want to eradicate the frustration of losing a conference call or video streaming session when moving throughout a business park or leaving a music venue.”
He also added, “Through our work with the world’s leading equipment and network experts such as Ericsson, we are taking a big step towards achieving that goal through this trial, the first of its kind in the UK.”