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    Smart light bulbs could be vulnerable to data breaches, new study finds

    Researchers want to warn consumers about potential security glitches

    With cybersecurity at the forefront of many consumers’ minds, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio discovered a new smart device that could be vulnerable to attacks: light bulbs. 

    “Your smart bulb could come equipped with infrared capabilities, and most users don’t know that the invisible wave spectrum can be controlled,” said researcher Murtuza Jadliwala. “Any data can be stolen: texts or images. Anything that is stored in a computer.” 

    Lined up to be one of this season’s most popular holiday gifts, the researchers want to urge consumers to be aware of potential threats and understand how these smart devices work so they can take the necessary steps to protect their data. 

    Just like a computer

    The researchers explained that smart light bulbs function in one of two main ways: by bypassing WiFi and connecting to Bluetooth, which many refer to as a smart home hub, or by connecting to a personal WiFi connection, which consumers typically use to connect their other personal devices that store their data, like cell phones, tablets, or laptops. 

    Ultimately, the smart home hub option is better for avoiding data hacks, as connecting the smart light bulb to a personal WiFi network can enable hackers to use that network to steal data from other devices.

    “Think of the bulb as another computer,” said Jadliwala. “These bulbs are now poised to become a much more attractive target for exploitation even though they have very simple chips.” 

    As this technology continues to get more complex, the researchers hope that companies do their part to ensure these devices are secure for consumers and safe to use in conjunction with other smart devices. 

    Understanding the risk of smart devices

    Amazon came under fire earlier this year following an investigation that revealed its employees were listening in on consumers’ requests to their Alexa devices. Revelations like these make it more important than ever for consumers to stay up-to-date on how these devices can create security problems. 

    As smart devices become more popular in the home, researchers found that they could be a source of security weakness for many consumers. Security experts are urging consumers to take precautions when it comes to smart home devices like refrigerators or thermostats. 

    They encourage consumers to avoid smart devices that don’t require authentication of any kind, as having a unique username and password are key to ensuring that data remains secure. 

    With cybersecurity at the forefront of many consumers’ minds, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio discovered a...
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    Warning to consumers: car thieves don’t take holidays off

    An insurance report says thieves strike more on New Year’s Day than any other holiday

    The holidays are fast approaching, and if your car’s security is the farthest thing from your mind, it shouldn’t be. Lots of cars get stolen on holidays.

    In a new report, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) says 22,879 vehicles were reported stolen on the 11 major holidays in 2018. NICB compiled the report using data pulled from the National Crime Information Center's (NCIC) stolen vehicle file.

    The report shows Halloween can be very scary for car owners. Included in all the holiday mischief is the sinister fact that 2,275 vehicles were reported stolen last Halloween, ranking it third on the list of the most dangerous holidays.

    Fortunately, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day are far down the list, but don’t get too complacent -- New Year’s Day is number one. Here’s the complete list:

    1. New Year's Day (2,571)

    2. Presidents' Day (2,380)

    3. Halloween (2,275)

    4. Labor Day (2,235)

    5. Memorial Day (2,167)

    6. New Year's Eve (2,122)

    7. Independence Day (2,071)

    8. Valentine's Day (2,001)

    9. Christmas Eve (1,912)

    10. Thanksgiving (1,698)

    11. Christmas Day (1,447)

    Nearly 2,200 stolen cars on a typical day

    About half of the holidays on the list reported more stolen vehicles than the average day last year. On a typical day in 2018, consumers turned in 2,199 stolen vehicle reports.

    The security experts at NICB say vehicle owners can do their part to reduce these numbers. Their advice includes common-sense steps such as always removing the keys from the ignition, locking doors, and parking in a well-lit area.

    Warning devices, such as audible alarms, can provide an effective second layer of protection. Experts also suggest steering column collars, brake locks, and wheel locks. Other high-tech anti-theft devices include smart keys, fuse cut-offs, kill switches, and devices that disable the starter, ignition, or fuel pump.

    If a thief successfully makes off with your car after all of that, NICB says a tracking device, which emits a signal to the police or a monitoring station, can help law enforcement quickly recover your vehicle.

    The holidays are fast approaching, and if your car’s security is the farthest thing from your mind, it shouldn’t be. Lots of cars get stolen on holidays....
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    Walmart gets an early start on the holiday shopping season

    The retailer will start offering deals before Halloween

    Walmart is getting a jump on Black Friday by rolling out holiday shopping deals before Halloween.

    In announcing its move, the retailer points out that there are fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas because of a quirk in the calendar. Black Friday falls on November 29, leaving 25 days before December 25.

    “Saving our customers time is also paramount at this time of year, especially with fewer days to get ready for big family meals, parties and gift-giving,” said Steve Bratspies, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, Walmart U.S. “We’re making sure this season is the easiest yet for our customers with nine tech-enabled ways to shop for everyone on their list – when and how they want.”

    Walmart will begin revealing its holiday shopping deals on October 25. Called the “early deals drop,” the promotion will be available online.

    Earliest ever

    Walmart says October 25 is the earliest any major retailer has begun rolling out its discounts that are normally reserved for the days leading up to Black Friday. It promises deals on electronics, gaming, toys, home, and sporting goods.

    In a preview, Walmart says consumers can expect to see savings on the BouncePro 7-foot My First Trampoline, the Faberware 3.2 quart digital oil-less fryer, and an array of TV sets.

    At the same time, Walmart says it is introducing new technology to make shopping easier and simpler. Among the new features for the holiday season are:

    • Gift Finder: A new way to search for gifts on Walmart.com, with gift options for 40 different types of gift recipients. Customers provide information based on the recipient and their price range and are served up personalized recommendations so they can choose the best gift for anyone on their list, even the hardest to shop for.

    • Scannable Toy Catalog: Customers using iOS devices can use their phones to shop for the hottest toys of the season right from the pages of Walmart’s seasonal toy catalog. 

    • Free NextDay Delivery: Customers can order from up to hundreds of thousands of eligible items and have them delivered to their house the very next day without a membership fee.

    • Expanded Check Out With Me: This feature is now available in all Walmart Supercenters, allowing customers to avoid lines at the register and check out with an associate right where they are shopping, like in Santaland in the garden center, the electronics department or near the registers.

    Competing with Target’s new association with Disney, resulting in Disney stores in 25 Target locations, Walmart is also putting new emphasis on in-store experiences. Over the next few weeks, Walmart says it will host themed events from some of this year’s popular movies, including Pokemon, Star Wars, and Frozen 2.

    Walmart is getting a jump on Black Friday by rolling out holiday shopping deals before Halloween.In announcing its move, the retailer points out that t...
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      USDA issues public health alert for beef products

      The products may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7

      The Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing a public health alert for beef from Ontario, Canada, that has been recalled by Ryding-Regency Meat Packers.

      The products may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7.

      While the Canadian government is in charge of the recall, FSIS is amplifying it by way of a public health alert.

      The following items, produced on May 27 and 30, 2019, have been identified as part of the Canadian recall:

      • 10-lb. cardboard box packages containing bulk plastic wrapped raw frozen ground beef gyros labeled “DEVANCO FOODS CHICAGO’S FAVORITE” GYROS SLICES (STRIPS) with a case code 159 19.
      • 10-lb. cardboard box packages containing bulk plastic wrapped raw frozen ground beef gyros labeled “KRONOS HALAL GYROS STRIPS” HALAL CERTIFIED BEEF GYROS UNCOOKED, IQF STRIPS with a case code 19 159.
      • Retail sized (8 patties) cardboard box packages containing “ZIYAD PREMIUM QUALITY Beef Hamburger Patties” with a case code 911541.021541.
      • Retail sized (8 kabobs) cardboard box packages containing “ZIYAD PREMIUM QUALITY Uncooked Kufta Kabob” with a case code 911154.021154.
      • 8-lb. cardboard box packages containing bulk plastic wrapped raw frozen ground beef patties labeled “Shop Rite 100% PURE QUARTER POUND Ground Beef Hamburgers” and a sell by date of 060720.
      • 3-lb. cardboard box packages containing plastic wrapped raw frozen ground beef patties labeled “Shop Rite 100% PURE Ground Beef Hamburgers” and a sell by date of 060720.
      • 2-lb. cardboard box packages containing plastic wrapped raw frozen ground beef patties labeled “LANDIS BRAND 100% ALL BEEF PATTIES 8 Quarter Pound Patties” and a sell by date of 060720.

      The recalled products were shipped to institutions and retailers in Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

      What to do

      The recalled products should not be consumed, but discarded or returned to the place of purchase.

      Consumers with questions may call (800) 442-2342

      The Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is issuing a public health alert for beef from Ontario, Canada, that has been recall...
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      Audi recalls SQ5s and Q5s

      The rear wheel arch cover trim may detach from the vehicle

      Audi is recalling 174,278 model year 2018-2019 SQ5s and model year 2018-2020 Q5s.

      The rear wheel arch cover trim may loosen and detach from the vehicle, posing a crash risk.

      What to do

      Audi will notify owners, and dealers will replace the four clips securing the forward part of the rear wheel arch trim free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin November 1, 2019.

      Owners may contact Audi customer service at (800) 253-2834. Audi's number for this recall is 66K8.

      Audi is recalling 174,278 model year 2018-2019 SQ5s and model year 2018-2020 Q5s.The rear wheel arch cover trim may loosen and detach from the vehicle,...
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      Study shows which U.S. counties have the highest opioid prescription rates

      The counties that prescribed the most opioids in general were all in Virginia

      As the opioid crisis rages on, researchers from the American Addiction Center (AAC) have released a new study showing which U.S. counties have the highest opioid prescription rates. 

      In 2017, doctors issued 191,218,272 opioid prescriptions. While that figure represents a slight drop from the 200,000,000 opioid prescriptions that were issued every year from 2006 to 2016, opioid prescription rates are still troublingly high -- especially since about 20-30 percent of people who take prescription opioids misuse them. 

      Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers from the ACC compiled data that sheds light on which counties in the United States prescribe the most opioids. 

      These were the top opioid prescribing counties in 2017, according to the group:

      • Norton City County, Virginia has the most opioids prescribed to its residents, with a prescription rate of 396.1

      • Owsley County, Kentucky, had only 150 fewer prescriptions than Norton City County. 

      The following counties had the lowest amount of prescribed opioid prescriptions: 

      • The District of Columbia with 28.5 prescriptions per 100 people

      • Hawaii County, Hawaii with 58.4 prescriptions

      • Windham County, Connecticut with 61 prescriptions

      Other key insights

      The study found that 17 of the top 100 opioid prescribing counties in the nation are in Virginia; 15 are in Tennessee; 14 are in Georgia; and 13 are in Kentucky. 

      The top counties that prescribed the most opioids in general were all in Virginia. The AAC found that Norton City County, Galax City County, Martinsville City County, and Franklin City County produce 396.1, 345.0, 336.4, and 234.1 opioid prescriptions to their residents, respectively.

      “Even though these counties are providing people with dangerous opioids, that is just the tip of the iceberg,” the study authors said. 

      According to CDC statistics, 68 percent of the more than 70,000 deaths attributed to drug overdoses in 2017 involved a prescription or illicit opioid.

      “We’re in the midst of a public health crisis, and it’s important that we uncover the root causes of opioid addiction so we can help save lives,” AAC researchers said. 

      The full breakdown of which counties have the highest opioid prescription rates can be viewed here.

      As the opioid crisis rages on, researchers from the American Addiction Center (AAC) have released a new study showing which U.S. counties have the highest...
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      Amazon expands availability of Counter pickup option

      Thousands of additional pickup locations have been added

      Amazon has expanded the availability of its Counter pickup option, which it first debuted back in June as a way to facilitate “quick and easy pickup of packages.” 

      Earlier this year, the company announced that the service had become available at more than a hundred Rite Aid stores in the U.S. In its announcement, the company promised that more locations would be added in the coming months.

      “Over time, the Counter network will expand to thousands of other locations through additional partnerships with retailers, convenience stores and small businesses across the U.S,” the e-commerce giant said. 

      This week, Amazon announced that Counter pickup is now available at thousands of additional locations thanks to recent partnerships with Stage Stores, GNC, and Health Mart. 

      “With this expansion, customers now have access to thousands more Amazon Hub Counter locations with Amazon’s new store partners GNC, Health Mart and Stage Stores,” the company said in a press release. “Delivery to a Counter location is available for the tens of millions of items sold on Amazon.com, and works with Same-Day, One-Day, Two-Day and Standard Shipping.” 

      Show barcode to store staff

      Amazon is reminding consumers that there’s no extra cost to use the service. Customers who choose to have their package sent to a Counter location will get an email containing a barcode that will need to be shown to a store employee. 

      “Simply visit your selected store and provide the store assistant with your barcode to receive your package. You'll have 14 days to collect your package,” Amazon said. 

      Customer response to the new Counter pickup option “has been tremendous,” said Patrick Supanc, Worldwide Director of Amazon Hub. “This new network of pickup points gives customers a pickup experience that is fast, flexible and convenient, and partners are thrilled with the strong engagement and additional foot traffic Counter is driving for their stores.”

      The expansion of Amazon’s parcel pickup option comes as retailers speed up their delivery times in an effort to compete with Amazon’s delivery times. Earlier this week, Best Buy announced that it will be offering its customers free next-day delivery over the holiday season. Walmart and Target have also announced efforts to speed up their shipping times.

      Amazon has expanded the availability of its Counter pickup option, which it first debuted back in June as a way to facilitate “quick and easy pickup of pac...
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      Drug breakthroughs offer hope for Alzheimer’s and cystic fibrosis patients

      The FDA is considering one drug and has already approved another

      There have been two promising drug developments this week that could raise hope for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and cystic fibrosis.

      Drugmaker Biogen announced that it would seek Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of its Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab after deciding several months ago that it was unlikely to win approval. The company first announced the breakthrough four years ago.

      In 2015, Biogen said its drug aducanumab cleared a Phase 1b clinical trial which showed it was safe for humans. Previously, the pharmaceutical company had conducted studies showing that treatment with aducanumab reduced the amount of amyloid plaque in the brain. Amyloid plaque is believed to be largely responsible for the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's.

      The hope turned to disappointment earlier this year when Biogen said further testing led it to believe the drug would not be effective as an Alzheimer’s treatment. But in an about-face this week, Biogen says new data convinces it that it misread the results and that it will seek FDA approval for the drug.

      Higher dosage is the key

      Biogen says the key to the drug’s effectiveness is increasing the dosage. It said patients who got a larger dose experienced “reduced clinical decline.” In a statement, the Alzheimer’s Association said Biogen’s announcement was encouraging. 

      “Alzheimer's and other dementias are complex, and their effective treatment and prevention will likely also be a complex – but achievable – task,” the group said. “All currently pursued treatments that are considered safe should be continued to determine their efficacy.”

      Most cystic fibrosis patients are eligible

      Also this week, the FDA gave its approval to the drug Trikafta, which it describes as the first triple combination therapy available to treat patients with the most common cystic fibrosis mutation.

      The drug is cleared for patients 12 years and older with cystic fibrosis who have at least one F508del mutation in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene, which is estimated to represent 90 percent of the cystic fibrosis population.

      "At the FDA, we're consistently looking for ways to help speed the development of new therapies for complex diseases, while maintaining our high standards of review,” said acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, M.D. “Today's landmark approval is a testament to these efforts, making a novel treatment available to most cystic fibrosis patients, including adolescents, who previously had no options and giving others in the cystic fibrosis community access to an additional effective therapy." 

      Cystic fibrosis is a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time.

      There have been two promising drug developments this week that could raise hope for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and cystic fibrosis.Drugmaker B...
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      Forty-seven attorneys general investigating Facebook for possible antitrust violations

      The state officials join federal lawmakers in raising concerns about the social media giant

      Facebook is now under attack from a new direction. Federal lawmakers have raised the threat of antitrust action against the social media giant, and now they are being joined by the attorneys general from 47 states.

      New York Attorney General Letitia James says her office’s investigation has raised the possibility that Facebook may have put consumer data at risk, reduced the quality of consumers’ choices, and increased the price of advertising. 

      “As we continue our investigation, we will use every investigative tool at our disposal to determine whether Facebook’s actions stifled competition and put users at risk,” James said.

      This all goes back to the 2018 revelation that a political marketing firm made unauthorized use of Facebook user data to target ads on behalf of Donald Trump and the British forces advocating an exit from the European Union.

      Connecticut Attorney General William Tong says the concern is about social media’s growing influence and power in the U.S. economy.

      ‘Wide-ranging harm’

      “Any effort by Facebook to unlawfully stifle competition could cause wide-ranging harm to smaller companies, restrict consumer choice, and increase costs for all,” Tong said. “We cannot prejudge the outcome of this investigation, but stand ready to follow the evidence where it takes us to protect American consumers."

      Investigations by 47 of the 50 states can hardly be ignored. In a statement distributed to various media outlets, Facebook executive Will Castleberry said the company will work “constructively” with the state officials.

      "We welcome a conversation with policymakers about the competitive environment in which we operate," Castleberry said.

      Too powerful?

      The state officials have reportedly expressed concern about a number of Facebook policies, from its handling of user data to its ongoing growth through the acquisition of other technology-related companies.

      The attorneys general are reportedly trying to identify specific Facebook policies and activities that could possibly run afoul of antitrust laws.

      “Even the biggest of the big tech companies should be held accountable, and that’s what we’re seeking to do with this investigation,” said Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmidt. “This coalition of attorneys general will investigate Facebook’s business practices to determine whether they engaged in anticompetitive behavior, put user data at risk, reduced consumer choice, and more.”

      Facebook is now under attack from a new direction. Federal lawmakers have raised the threat of antitrust action against the social media giant, and now the...
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      Existing home sales drop in September after two months of gains

      Industry experts say a lack of inventory continues to depress sales

      Despite a drop in interest rates, the U.S. housing market faltered in September, with existing home sales falling 2.2 percent. The previous two months had shown increases in sales, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

      Compared to September 2018, when mortgage rates were much higher, sales were up a healthy 3.9 percent. NAR’s chief economist Lawrence Yun says robust sales in July and August have reduced the level of available homes for sale.

      "We must continue to beat the drum for more inventory," said Yun, who has called for additional home construction for the last 12 months. "Home prices are rising too rapidly because of the housing shortage, and this lack of inventory is preventing home sales growth potential."

      Increasing home prices

      The drop in inventory is having an impact on prices. NAR reports the median price for all existing homes -- including condos -- was $272,100 last month. That’s a 5.9 percent increase over September 2018. In fact, the rise in the median home price in September marks 91 straight months of year-over-year gains in home prices.

      Housing inventory is down for the year, but it remained  at about the same level in September as it was in August. The inventory of unsold homes amounts to a 4.1-month supply at the current sales pace. A six-month supply is considered to be a healthy housing market.

      NAR statistics show first-time buyers accounted for a third of sales last month, a slightly better showing than in August. The improvement is encouraging since first-time buyers are considered to be key to growth in the housing market. Lower inventories of entry-level homes in recent years have provided barriers to this key consumer group.

      RE/MAX reports sales surge

      Meanwhile, a much smaller industry report shows a big increase in home sales in September. National real estate broker RE/MAX reports that its September home sales surged 8.1 percent compared to September 2018.

      Sales were up in 47 of the 54 markets covered by the report. But on the downside, that big increase in sales caused inventory levels to record the biggest drop of the year, falling 6.1 percent year-over-year.

      “It was encouraging to see the improvement in September home sales, especially given how tough last September’s results were,” said RE/MAX Holdings CEO Adam Contos. 

      But Contos admits the market still presents some challenges for buyers heading into the end of the year. But while prices are going up and inventory levels are going down, he says the industry is on a better footing than it was at this time last year.

      Despite a drop in interest rates, the U.S. housing market faltered in September, with existing home sales falling 2.2 percent. The previous two months had...
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      GM recalls model year 2020 Chevrolet Equinox vehicles

      The rear brakes may drag

      General Motors is recalling 166 model year 2020 Chevrolet Equinox vehicles.

      The rear brake calipers may have been produced with an incorrect lubricant, potentially causing the rubber seals to swell and the brakes to drag.

      Brake drag may result in overheating of the brake pads, affecting the braking ability and increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will replace the rear brake calipers, including the brake hose gasket, brake fluid and wheel to hub lubricant, free of charge.

      The manufacturer has not yet provided a notification schedule.

      Owners may contact Chevrolet customer service at (800) 630-2438. GM's number for this recall is N192270920.

      General Motors is recalling 166 model year 2020 Chevrolet Equinox vehicles.The rear brake calipers may have been produced with an incorrect lubricant,...
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      BMW recalls K 1600 GT, K 1600 GTL & K 1600 B motorcycles

      The bikes could experience damage of transmission parts

      BMW of North America is recalling 4,672 model year 2017-2020 K 1600 GT and model year 2018-2020 K 1600 GTL & K 1600 B motorcycles.

      Certain transmission parts may not have been produced to the appropriate hardness level.

      This could affect the function of the transmission, possibly causing double engagement of two gears and/or the damage of transmission parts.

      Double gear engagement or transmission damage can cause the rear wheel to lock up, affecting the vehicle stability and increasing the risk of a crash.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will replace the shift forks, the selector sleeve of 5th/6th gear and the gear wheel of 6th gear free of charge.

      The recall was expected to begin October 17, 2019.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at (800) 525-7417.

      BMW of North America is recalling 4,672 model year 2017-2020 K 1600 GT and model year 2018-2020 K 1600 GTL & K 1600 B motorcycles.Certain transmission...
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      Lyft no longer shows drivers how much passengers pay for individual trips

      The company said the move increases transparency on overall driver pay

      Lyft recently made a change to its platform that removes drivers’ ability to see what passengers pay for single rides. The ride-hailing firm said the change was implemented with the aim of boosting the transparency of the driver earnings statement. 

      “We want to make sure there’s never any confusion about how much you earn throughout your week,” Lyft said in a blog post on its website. “That’s why we’ve developed a clearer, more comprehensive view of your pay details. You’ll soon see a weekly pay statement in your Driver Dashboard.”

      The amount earned isn’t impacted by the change, and drivers can still access their earnings breakdown for previous rides. However, drivers will only see an aggregated look at their earnings for all passengers transported after the change is phased in. Lyft says the new view “makes it easier to see your net earnings from week to week,” as drivers won’t have to calculate what they made in a given week.

      While intended to increase transparency, some have raised questions about what Lyft could potentially be hiding through its redesign of drivers’ weekly pay statements.

      “Personally, it makes me wonder what they are hiding,” an unnamed Lyft driver told Jalopnik. “I mean, I know when I was a kid and didn’t want my parents to know something I kept it from them and lied to them and it definitely was cause [sic] I was up to something that was wrong for me to do. It’s that simple.”

      Legal debate over classification of drivers 

      The move comes as Lyft and Uber continue to push back on a bill that would require them to reclassify drivers as employees. In a statement regarding the passage of California’s AB 5, Lyft said it will continue to fight to preserve driver flexibility. 

      “Our state’s political leadership missed an important opportunity to support the overwhelming majority of rideshare drivers who want a thoughtful solution that balances flexibility with an earnings standard and benefits,” a Lyft spokesperson told Vox. “We are fully prepared to take this issue to the voters of California to preserve the freedom and access drivers and riders want and need.”

      Jalopnik notes that removing the driver’s ability to know what the rider pays for an individual trip “further highlights the disconnect between Lyft’s legal arguments and its business practices.”

      Lyft recently made a change to its platform that removes drivers’ ability to see what passengers pay for single rides. The ride-hailing firm said the chang...
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