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Uber Surges Prices During Sydney Hostage Crisis; Offers Free Rides Amid Backlash

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During the recent Sydney hostage crisis in Australia, one company may have profited off of the panic of potential customers trying to flee to safety. That’s right, while a hostile hostage situation unfolded and hostages tried to escape, Uber’s taxi service raised prices for rides to almost $100 AUD ($82 USD) for rides.

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Reports of gunshots frightened the streets of Sydney. Man Haron Monis is an Iranian man known for sending hate mail to the families of fallen soldiers who was apprehended once police stormed the building with automatic weapons and flash grenades to save the unknown number of hostages. At one point prior to police intervention, five hostages escaped, sending the unidentified gunman into a frenzy.

As the Washington Post covered the story, Uber charged $100 a ride to “escape.” While the sentiment seems a bit harsh, it does seem as though someone at Uber Sydney does have to initiate surge-pricing somewhat manually; it doesn’t seem to be a pre-planned, automated event.

Surge-pricing encourages more Uber drivers to get on the road and pick up rides as the drivers know they’ll profit more during those times. Unfortunately, it’s proven to not be a good tool to use in a crisis from a public relations standpoint.

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Within an hour of initiating the surge pricing, Uber retracted the decision. Katie Curran, an Uber spokesperson, spoke with the Washington Post and released a statement amidst the backlash:

We are all concerned with the events happening in Sydney. Uber Sydney will be providing free rides out of the CBD to help Sydneysiders get home safely.

Uber also wrote a blog post and tweeted that riders who were subjected to surge pricing could get a refund on a transaction by emailing [email protected]

Uber Experiences Even More Public Relations Nightmares

Uber Sydney Hostage HackedIn 2012, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman criticized Uber for practicing their surge pricing techniques during the Hurricane Sandy crisis. Uber announced this past summer that it would make sure to cap prices during emergency situations, but it seems to not be practicing that in full effect just yet.

Prior to that, Uber’s SVP of business, Emil Michael, was quoted saying that he believed Uber should investigate and smear journalists due to the negative image the company received. He was targeting a single editor, trying to expose any dirty laundry she had hidden away in her personal life for criticizing the company.

The sentiment was met with overwhelming backlash, so Uber decided to apologize. Unfortunately, the apology was not through Michael himself, but a public relations employee. The statement was released through an Uber spokeswoman, saying the following:

The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner — borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for — do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.

Now the company is facing yet another public relations disaster and hoping that free rides and refunds can fix the damage to the Sydney community.

Images from Shutterstock.

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  1. Alex Gorale

    December 17, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Price Gouging saves lives.

    After or during a disaster high prices is one of the only reasons a business has to continue to operate. If prices are forced to artificially low prices you create a run on the market. E.g. a $.50 bottle of water during a crisis is probably worth $5.00.

    If I get to the market first I am going to buy all the water. I would rather have more than not enough. This prevents other people from having access to the commodity. In Uber’s case, the supply of driver’s is fixed. The demand rises during a disaster. Also, the supply is lowered because people are tending to their emergency.

    The people who remain in service during an emergency deserve to set the price for their good or service just like anyone else.

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Blockchain

Token Analysis: Is NEO (Formerly Antshares) ‘China’s Ethereum’?

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NEO has been called “China’s Ethereum”. The Western market first collectively learned about Antshares, a smart contract and decentralized application (dApp) platform, just ahead of the company’s rebrand to ‘NEO’ – which is Greek for “newness”, novelty and youth. That merely one exchange offers bitcoin-NEO trades has led to a bottleneck in supply. Prices skyrocketed in the weeks ahead of the rebrand. Antshares’ ICO was in the fall of 2016.

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NEO development began in 2014 and the blockchain-startup ONCHAIN is overseeing its enterprise version. Already the platform offers more languages than Ethereum supports. NEO’s partners include crowdfunding platform WINGS and multinational technology corporation Microsoft. Reports last year of a partnership between Alibaba and the former AntShares were false, though the companies have worked together.

NEO’s collaboration with Wings is for research and development purposes. With Ali Cloud and ONCHAIN, NEO is working on a proof of existence e-mail repository.

That NEO representatives seemingly have the okay from the government – having attended a government-sponsored industry conference – could bode well for the blockchain project. As ONCHAIN’s CEO, and Antshares founder, Da Hogfei, tweeted:

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NEO Price History as Antcoin

The token price, still trading under its former ticker ‘ANC’ or ‘ANS’ across the web on this article’s publish date, and until the rebrand is complete in the third quarter of 2017, skyrocketed particularly from June 19-20. The platform increased from $1.65 on June 15 to $10 at the time of writing on June 20. It then corrected and currently sits at just shy of $7, according to CoinMarketCap. Antshares’ all-time high sits at $11.79.

The decentralized smart contract platform’s first price history, according to CoinMarket Cap, started this past fall. The project’s native token started trading at a price of 55 cents before settling between approximately 10 cents and 30 cents. ANC trended south until the end of October 2016, when it reached a nadir of 8 cents. The price then skyrocketed to 31 cents. After a quick price increase, the price drifted downwards until March 2017 when it, along with much of the crypto-asset complex, increased in value.

Per the rebrand, not only does Antshares become NEO, but Antcoin (ANC) becomes ‘GAS’. “So, it is no longer a ‘dividend interest’ sort of asset, but a utility sub-token for network functionalities,” a NEO community member told Hacked.com.

Under the Hood

NEO smart contracts are based on NEO’s Virtual Machine, which is similar to Ethereum’s Virtual Machine. NEO plans to soon release its “Smart Economy” platform, which has also been termed “Smart Contracts 2.0”.

NEO is designed to solve the same problems as Ethereum. NEO’s incorporation of sharding and concurrency in its computer science model solves scalability problems. Ethereum has yet to make such changes to better scale that smart contract and dApp platform.

NEO

Delegated Byzantine Fault Tolerance

By using Delegated Byzantine Fault Tolerance (dBFT) for its blockchain operations – a consensus method proponents claim offers better security for blockchains – NEO places itself in the company of the well-known blockchain project Hyperledger, and the lesser-known Stellar. “Specialized bookkeeping nodes” reach consensus via “delegated voting” per NEO’s dBFT model. It takes a two-thirds vote for approval of a current copy of a blockchain.

“After investigating and studying the crypto-industry and blockchain technologies for several years, we came to the conclusion that the delegated Byzantine Fault Tolerance alternative (or dBFT) is best suited for such a system,” Erik Iz, co-founder and core developer at Antshares, stated on BitcoinTalk. “It provides swift transaction verification times, de-incentivises most attack vectors and upholds a single blockchain version with no risk of forks or alternative blockchain records emerging – regardless of how much computing power, or coins an attacker possesses.”

Nest Smart Fund

With the rebrand in NEO’s past, the team is looking forward to expanding its western-focused marketing efforts, a NEO community member told Hacked.com. Moreover, it’s partnered on a “do over” for the cryptocurrency community.

“Nest is a whole new form of smart fund written in Antshares smart contracts,” writes NEO about its new ‘DAO’ style fund called Nest Fund, which uses NEO smart contract technology.

The DAO, or ‘decentralized autonomous organization’, had set out to become a decentralized venture capital fund based on Ethereum’s smart contract code. It failed.

NEO adds about its attempt at a similar fund: “Nest aims to, with the power of blockchain, eliminate and neutralize problems like high threshold, high risk, low efficiency and moral risks. Participants invest, manage and exit with smart contracts instead of application to certain organizations. Antshares’ Blockchain enables everyone to join the Nest, with a 0 threshold and 100% transparency, with a safe and free exit option at any given time.”

For a cryptocurrency community that likes to be right – they told you so about Bitcoin, after all – Nest could garner serious interest for users looking to make a point, and prove the ideas behind crypto right.

Numerous Blockchain Products

Nest Fund isn’t the only blockchain-based service or product offered by NEO. Other than its parent, ONCHAIN, NEO leads projects including blockchain-based browsers,  a web-based crypto-asset wallet, as well as an online crowdfunding fund that is not the aforementioned Nest. The team also partnered with Microsoft Azure to bring blockchain technology to the server experience. This project is similar to partnerships pioneered by Azure in the west.

NEO, Microsoft Azure servers

The Verdict

Antshares is available on just five exchanges currently, and that limits the amount of buying demand for ANC. Just a single exchange buys and sells ANC for Bitcoin. Now, as many westerners learn of NEO for the first time, the demand will only increase.

But a lack of information available in English about NEO could slow demand. When NEO’s implementation of blockchain technology receives increasing press in the English-speaking world – and it likely will considering its corporate partners – there could be further price implications. The crypto-asset is currently the 23rd largest, according to Coin Market Cap. On CoinCap.io, it is the 21st largest.

Only time will tell with NEO, but there are lots of intriguing projects in the works at the blockchain company, including authentication work with Chinese authorities to map real-world assets with smart contracts. The company also has numerous patents, including ones for cross-chain interoperability. It’s partnered with numerous blockchain projects, like Bancor, Agrello, Coindash and Binance.

Due to NEO’s corporate partners –  among whom are included Microsoft, etc. –  and its under the radar Ethereum-esque functionality, we give the project a 7.75 out of 10. 

Token Details

In order to use the new version of the platform, NEO, Antshares users do not need to do anything other than download the new client/app when it is ready later this year. ‘ANC’ becomes ‘NEO’, and ‘ANC’ becomes ‘GAS’.

ANC – as it is still currently referred to throughout much of the digital asset realm until the rebrand to ‘GAS’ is completed – can be purchased on the western-facing digital asset exchange Bittrex. In the east, the asset can be found at exchanges Yunbi, Yuanbao, Jubi, and 19800.

Featured image from NEO company presentation

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Cybersecurity

TokenCard ICO Bug: End of the Road for TokenCard?

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A Hacked member writes:

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Love your service. I was wondering what you thought of the tokencard bug and if you think it will negatively affect the project and it’s token value?

We at Hacked did not previously cover the TokenCard ICO. Looking into it, we have less-than-positive news to report. The TokenCard team seems to be taking the issue of mis-distributed funds lightly, have frozen transactions until they have a resolution, and overall seem to think that downplaying the issue is the best way forward. This is not true at all. For, it was only very recently that Bitcoin Unlimited enjoyed rather large support. Then, a bug in their code gave competing implementations and detractors the opportunity to declare the Bitcoin Unlimited team as incompetent.

TokenCard is only the latest entrant into the world of debit card + cryptocurrency. Already experiencing problems will certainly have an effect on the value of the token. Moreover, the failure to properly address user concerns is a monumental case of operator error on the part of Monolith Studios. Let’s look at what they had to say in their blog post on the subject:

All is fine. We are indeed fully aware of the bug that has occurred and there are indeed a number of solutions. Though it is not a large issue, we are taking this very seriously.

The TKN Creation Event pushed the boundaries of Ethereum crowdsales and with that we deemed it appropriate to explore these possibilities with adequate safety measures put in place. We were prepared for these kinds of possibilities; transfers are frozen until we are satisfied with the results. I want to thank the quality work done by Peter Vessenes and Dennis Peterson (New Alchemy) to be able to mitigate issues like this.

Translation: we’re not worried about this and neither should you be, despite the seriousness of not delivering on our stated promise of how coins would be distributed. Look at how great we are, and how unique. Don’t lose faith, oh no, don’t lose faith. We are awesome!

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Lacking serious novelty – virtually any bank in the world could launch a competing product and fund it without an ICO – would have been enough reason to earn this a low rating as an ICO from the author. But now seeing that they couldn’t even launch properly but still managed to raise $12 million brings great concern for the ultimate fate of that $12 million. Other teams out there who were not even previously considering a debit card play may soon consider it. Anyone who is considering getting one of these Ethereum-based debit cards will surely not have brand loyalty to TokenCard, as well. Perhaps they’ll be considering Uquid, or some other option soon to come.

Mistakes can be forgiven, but accountability and responsibility are the watch word with these things. Will those who invested in the TKN token get their money back from the investment? Maybe. Can this mistake be considered malfeasance? Not necessarily, but certainly the team’s Hollywood-sex-scandal type response to the thing is a major red flag.

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Electronics

Dot: Precision Tracking Hardware Makes Your Smartphones Smarter

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Dot

A team of five Berkeley engineers has developed a new hardware product that utilizes precision location tracking to make smartphone notifications highly intelligent and contextual.

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In the technology-minded world that we live in it’s nearly impossible to walk down the street without encountering someone on their phone. However, with the amount of information that we store in our phones it can be difficult to filter out what’s important and what’s not.

This is where Dot enters the scene.

Dot

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Developed by startup Iota Labs, Dot is a physical push notification that informs your smartphone where you are so that it can determine your patterns and behaviors in the locations that make up your world. This could be your living room, bedroom, place of work, car, or garage.

The team behind the creation have made it so that it serves a dual purpose. The first is to provide ultra-precise location data to your smartphone. The second is to permit users to create extensible, interactive interfaces anywhere.

Speaking to Hacked, Rahul Ramakrishnan, co-founder of Iota Labs, said that the idea behind Dot came up over a year ago through a combination of two events. The first was when he and a fellow co-founder of Iota Labs were at a restaurant and witnessed a family constantly checking their phones instead of paying attention to each other.

He said:

Then we watched 2001: A Space Odyssey with Hal 9000 and thought that it would be awesome if there was some sort of personal secretary that streamlines your life and your phone.

After getting into the Foundry in October 2015, a startup accelerator on Berkeley’s campus focused on hardware startups, the team at the time were only undergraduate students where they received some funding from the Foundry team to make their idea a possibility.

Dot

From October to May, the team focused on the product development and from June 2016 they turned their attention to their Kickstarter campaign for an August launch. At the close of their Kickstarter campaign yesterday, the team managed to raise over $115,000 with more than 1,700 backers, and according to Ramakrishnan, nearly 5,000 units have been pre-ordered.

He said:

Our product is out there and people seem to like [it].

How Does It Work?

While the idea behind Dot may not have taken long to design, the execution of it took the team around nine months to make in order to achieve the small size of it. Within the small piece of hardware, though, is a Bluetooth low energy chip and LED. Due to the proximity sensor within the Dot, it can track your location within 200 feet of range of your smartphone as it communicates with iOS and Android apps.

dot-app

According to Ramakrishnan, the Dot acts as a beacon that triggers functions on a smartphone such as notifications or app launching. A smartphone can also communicate to the Dot by turning on the LED to different colors or changing the blink rates, based on what is set on the app.

Ramakrishnan added:

All of this occurs when you are within range of a Dot and triggers actions on your phone, making it contextual and intelligent.

What Does It Do?

As most people tend to have different uses for their phone, the team at Dot realized that they needed to ensure that Dot was equipped with an endless amount of applications to fulfil people’s needs.

DotSome of the applications Dot has are: digital post-it notes, which allows you to post a message on a Dot for another person to see when they come in range; smart home control that gives you control over your home devices such as turning a light on or off; contextual app launching that enables the Dot to open up apps on your smartphone that you utilize frequently in certain areas; location notification, which allows a Dot to enable a smartphone to send you updates when you walk into a new area; and LED colour changes, which permits a Dot to track certain reminders based on the color of the dot.

The team is hoping that with the use of the Dot it will help to streamline people’s lives by eliminating the clutter that a smartphone provides.

Ramakrishnan stated:

This will free the user to take action only when it’s readily available based on where they are and what they are doing rather than being overwhelmed with all of their tasks that are on their phone.

Not only that, but compared to many things available the Dot is considerably cheaper that adds to the functionality and ease of existing technology.

The smart home is dominated by these $200 devices like Philips Hue light bulbs and Nest thermostats that don’t know who you are, where you are, and what you are doing. With just a $25 Dot, all of these questions can be answered and can greatly improve the experience of the smart home without any additional user input.

Ramakrishnan added that every notification you receive from Dot means that it’s important. “You don’t have to sort through your notifications any longer. With Dot, we make your smartphone smarter.”

The team is expecting to ship Dot’s to their Kickstarter backers in March 2017 with pre-orders still accepted on the website.

Featured image and story images from Iota Labs.

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