Former Uber engineer sues company alleging sexual harassment: law firm

(Reuters) – A former software engineer at Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] sued the ride-hailing service on Monday, claiming that she was subjected to sexual harassment during her employment but that her complaints were ignored, the law firm representing the plaintiff said.

FILE PHOTO: The Uber logo is displayed on a screen during the Women In The World Summit in New York City, U.S., April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

The law firm, Outten & Golden, said in a statement that Ingrid Avendano, who worked at Uber from 2014 to 2017, believes Uber displayed an “entrenched disregard” for the rights of female employees, and retaliated against her by denying her promotions and raises and giving her negative performance reviews.

Avendano filed her complaint with the California Superior Court in San Francisco, the law firm said. A copy of the complaint was not immediately available. Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York

Tesla Model 3 fails to get Consumer Reports nod due to 'big flaws'

(Reuters) – Influential U.S. magazine Consumer Reports will not recommend Tesla Inc’s (TSLA.O) Model 3 sedan, saying on Monday it braked slower than a full-sized pickup truck, taking the shine off a day of gains for shares in Elon Musk’s electric car company.

The Tesla Model 3 is displayed during a media preview of the Auto China 2018 motor show in Beijing, China April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Musk had driven shares in Tesla as much as 4 percent higher with weekend tweets showing the Silicon Valley company was aiming initially to deliver higher-priced, more profitable fully-loaded editions of the Model 3.

The car is seen as crucial to Tesla’s profitability at a time when it is battling to reverse production shortfalls, confronting reports of crashes involving its vehicles and facing increased skepticism over its finances.

On Twitter, Musk said the fully-loaded Model 3, with all-wheel drive, a dual motor and a 310-mile (499-km) range – but excluding its vaunted Autopilot feature – would cost $78,000. The company has not yet begun to make the $35,000 base price version that Tesla originally claimed would make it a mass-market vehicle.

Consumer Reports, however, declined to recommend the Model 3 and criticized it for having overly long stopping distances and a difficult-to-use center touchscreen.

The magazine, which provides an annual rating of vehicles sold in the United States, said even though its tests found plenty to like about the Model 3 and it was a thrill to drive, it had “big flaws.”

Tesla’s stopping distance of 152 feet (46 m) when braking at 60 miles per hour (100 km per hour) was “far worse” than any contemporary car tested by the magazine and about seven feet longer than the stopping distance of a Ford (F.N) F-150 full-sized pickup, it said.

Tesla said its own testing had found braking distances of 133 feet on average using the 18” Michelin all season tire, and as low as 126 feet with all tires currently available.

“Unlike other vehicles, Tesla is uniquely positioned to address more corner cases over time through over-the-air software updates, and it continually does so to improve factors such as stopping distance,” Tesla said.

“LOSE MONEY AND DIE”

Research firm Berenberg also helped give Tesla shares a boost on Monday, after it raised its share price target to $500 from $470 on Friday.

Its forecast, the highest among over two dozen analysts tracked by Thomson Reuters, is now more than $200 above the stock’s price, which has fallen $100 from September’s peak.

Musk, whose refusal to answer analysts’ questions on a call this month also hurt company shares, said in his weekend tweets that Tesla had to focus first on delivering Model 3s that were priced higher than the base version, or it would “die”.

“With production, 1st you need achieve target rate & then smooth out flow to achieve target cost. Shipping min cost Model 3 right away wd cause Tesla to lose money & die. Need 3 to 6 months after 5k/wk to ship $35k Tesla & live,” Musk tweeted.

The new Model 3 version’s price was similar to the BMW M3, “but 15 percent quicker & with better handling,” Musk added, without giving details.

Also over the weekend, a Model S sedan crashed and killed the driver in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of a recent spate of crashes, some of which involved fire and some of which took place while the company’s semi-autonomous Autopilot technology was engaged.

In the latest case, the car launched off a rural county road into a nearby pond more than 60 feet from the road, state and local law enforcement said.

The car appeared to be going faster than the posted 35 mph limit, but authorities had not yet determined its speed and whether Autopilot was engaged, a California Highway Patrol spokesman said.

Tesla said it did not yet know the facts and had not yet received data from the car, but was cooperating with local authorities.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it was gathering information and would “take action as appropriate.”

On Friday, proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) backed a shareholder proposal to separate Musk’s current chairman and CEO roles, suggesting that shareholders would be better served by having Musk focus on running the company.

Tesla shares closed up 2.8 percent to $284.49 on the Nasdaq.

Reporting by Vibhuti Sharma and Sonam Rai in Bengaluru; Writing by Alexandria Sage; editing by Patrick Graham and Lisa Shumaker

Bottom Fishing Again For A 9% Yield On Qualified Dividends

We’re returning to a very different theme for us – unlike most of our other articles, this is an article about a stock with no common dividends.

“Historically, we’ve chosen to use our cash to de-lever and to grow the business rather than pay dividends. One of the terms of our refinancing in the fall of last year is that we are unable to pay dividends on common stock until January 2021 unless we raise equity capital.” (Source: Q1 ’18 earnings call)

But don’t despair; Global Ship Lease (GSL) has a preferred series with a very attractive 9.13% dividend.

Profile:

Global Ship Lease is a containership lessor publicly traded since 15th August 2008 on the New York Stock Exchange. GSL is a Marshall Islands Corporation with administrative offices in London. It owns a fleet of high-quality, well-maintained containerships that are leased out under fixed-rate time charters.

GSL was created through a $1 billion spin-off from CMA CGM, the third-largest liner operator in the world, effected by a merger in August 2008 between the CMA CGM-owned entity and Marathon Acquisition Corp. (Marathon), a listed special purpose acquisition corporation (SPAC). Marathon was established by Michael Gross, chairman and CEO of investment firms Solar Capital (SLRC) and Solar Senior Capital (SUNS) and a founder and former senior partner of Apollo Management L.P, a leading private equity firm. Mr. Gross is GSL’s chairman of the board. (Source: GLS site)

(Source: GSL site)

CMA is one of the world’s largest shipping lines, with well over 2.5M TEU.

(Source: GSL site)

Earnings:

It’s sounding sort of good so far, right? But take a look at GSL’s earnings trailing growth stats – not too inspiring. Q3 ’17 had some positive numbers, but that’s about it:

GSL’s revenue, operating and net income and EBITDA have trended down since Q3 ’17, but the big black eye is that -$99.82 in negative net income in Q4 ’17:

This stems from GSL’s yearly review of its vessels from which it has taken large, non-cash impairments over the past three years:

(Source: GSL 2018 20-F)

Preferred Dividends:

We took a look at how this affects GSL’s preferred dividend coverage over the past three years. We adjusted net income by adding back the non-cash impairments and deducting preferred distributions. The preferred coverage averaged 5.68X over the past three fiscal years.

We also looked at preferred coverage from a cash flow perspective, via deducting vessel improvement and drydocking costs. This method shows a very robust coverage factor of 18.89x for 2017 and a three-year average coverage factor of 20.94X:

In addition, net cash provided by operating activities was $20.4 million in Q1 ’18, vs. just $8.2 million in Q1 ’17.

GSL’s preferred B series shares, GSL.PB, are cumulative, meaning that GSL must pay you for any skipped dividends. They should go ex-dividend again ~6/22/18. They have no maturity date, but the call date is on 8/20/19, leaving time for five more quarterly payouts:

Another plus is that, at $23.95, they’re $1.05/share below their $25.00 call value. Even though these shares have no maturity date, the table below details a scenario in which GSL redeems these shares on their 8/20/19 call date. Since they’re selling at a discount, their annualized yield to call date yield of 12.54% is much higher than their current yield.

You can track GSL’s preferred shares in our High Dividend Stocks By Sector Tables, in the Services section.

(Source: Quantumonline)

Industry Tailwinds:

Management gave numerous comments on the Q1 ’18 earnings call about the uptick in vessel rates, caused by a very low excess supply. The orderbook-to-fleet ratio has fallen from 60% in 2007 to just 12.6% in 2017.

“In the midsize of smaller categories vessel demand growth outpacing supply growth aren’t the same and multiyear basis exemplified by a significant reduction in the idle fleet, which is now fallen to below 1.5% on a capacity basis. This supply demand tension is driving upward pressure on short-term market rates and on asset values. Net fleet growth in most mid-size and smaller fleet segments was either negative or neutral in 2017, continuing a trend established in 2016.”

The Q1 ’18 spot market index was up 41% vs. Q1 ’17, but still near cyclical lows:

(Source: GSL site)

Here’s why this matters. Much of GSL’s fleet is chartered on lower rate contracts which are due to expire in 2018-2020.

“All but one of the vessels, which we expect to renew in the short-term market over the next 18 months or so, already is in that markets at relatively low rates, reflecting the state of the market at the time. The current rate for such a vessel is in excess of $20,000 per day, up significantly over the last 15 months.” (Source: Q1 ’18 earnings call)

(Source: GSL site)

Management signed a charter extension for the OOCL Qingdao in February at $14,000 per day, “up significantly from the $11,900 per day rate achieved by her sister ship just one month earlier, and well up on the approximately $8,000 per day market rate from a year ago. I’m pleased to say that this upward trend has continued and has in fact accelerated with the current prevailing rate for comparable vessel, an 8000 TEU ship in excess of $20,000 per day.” (Source: Q1 ’18 earnings call)

As rates are rising, vessel expenses are remaining stable – GSL’s average operating cost per ownership day was just under $6,500 per day, which is broadly in line with the prior year period.

Risks:

Vessel Impairments/Recontracting – We’ve shown how GSL’s non-cash impairment charges have hurt its net income in Q4 ’16 and in the past. If its market flips back to another downturn, it could hurt future recontracting rates and trigger more vessel impairments.

Valuations:

These valuations relate to GSL’s common units, which have risen ~20%, since we first wrote about them in January 2018. At $1.46, GSL has very low valuations for price/book, price/sales, and EV/EBITDA, but no common dividends.

Financials:

Those negative numbers for ROA, ROE, and operating margin are caused by GSL’s big non-cash vessel impairments. GSL’s Debt/Equity ratio is roughly in line with industry averages, whereas its net debt/EBITDA of 2.91X looks generally lower than other leverage valuations we’ve seen in the shipping industry.

Debt and Liquidity:

As of 3/31/18, GSL had $91.3M in cash and total assets of $689.1M, of which $592M were vessels. Its debt was $414.8M, with $360M of senior secured notes, plus $54M under its super senior secured credit facility.

Here’s a breakdown of liabilities, as of 3/31/18 (left column), and 12/31/18 (right column):

(Source: GSL site)

Options:

GSL has options available, but there are no bids on the call options, and the lowest put strikes are deep in the money, at $2.50 and $5.00.

However, if you’re interested in selling covered calls, we maintain daily a table of over 30 other trades in our Covered Calls Table.

We also have a similar size table of Cash Secured Puts, which is updated throughout each trading day.

Summary:

We rate the GSL.PB preferred shares a buy based upon their discount to call value, cumulative status, attractive yield, and very strong coverage.

All tables furnished by DoubleDividendStocks.com, unless otherwise noted.

Disclaimer: This article was written for informational purposes only, and is not intended as personal investment advice. Please practice due diligence before investing in any investment vehicle mentioned in this article.

We publish exclusive articles each week with investing ideas for the HDS+ site that you won’t see anywhere else.

Our strategy is working in 2018 – the HDS+ portfolio is outperforming the market handily, and has an average dividend yield of over 8%.

Disclosure: I am/we are long GSL.PB.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Editor’s Note: This article covers one or more stocks trading at less than $1 per share and/or with less than a $100 million market cap. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.

A Security Flaw in a Free Web Service Let Anyone Anonymously Track U.S. Cell Phones

A bug in the free demo version of a service called LocationSmart made it easy for a moderately savvy attacker to anonymously track the location of nearly any U.S. cell phone, before the bug was identified by a security researcher. The flawed tracking portal has since been shuttered, but the incident is a scary reminder that cell phones can be a major risk to personal security and privacy.

LocationSmart allows location tracking of phones on networks including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. It normally requires that a phone’s owner consent to being tracked, and the company markets its service primarily to companies who want to keep track of their own workers, resources, or consenting customers.

But this week Robert Xiao, a PhD candidate at Carnegie Mellon University, told the security site KrebsOnSecurity that he had discovered a huge flaw in a demo tool that LocationSmart provided to potential customers. While the demo tool was supposed to require consent from the user being tracked, Xiao told KrebsOnSecurity that with “minimal effort” the tool could be used to “track most peoples’ cell phone without their consent.”

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Xiao and Krebs tested the exploit on several cell phone users, including one in Canada. In addition to finding the phones’ location to within 100 yards without the targets’ consent, the data could be plugged into Google Maps to determine the tracked phone’s direction of movement. (The tests were performed only after targets gave permission outside of the LocationSmart system). The exploit, which reportedly hinged on an insecure API feature, did not require that an attacker provide any of their own identity information.

In response to the report, LocationSmart issued a statement Friday saying that it has “resolved” the vulnerability and disabled the exploitable demo. The company also claims “the vulnerability was not exploited prior to May 16th and did not result in any customer information being obtained without their permission.”

The flaw was discovered, though, following reports that connected LocationSmart to another scary cell-tracking incident. On May 10th, the New York Times reported that a former Missouri sheriff had used a service provided by Securus Technologies to track the locations of private citizens without a court order. ZDNet then discovered that Securus was getting its data from LocationSmart.

At Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes Didn’t Work Alone

Theranos, the disgraced, collapsing, and allegedly fraud-rife blood-testing startup, is most often associated with its founder and CEO, Elizabeth Holmes. But a new profile by indefatigable Theranos watchdog John Carreyrou sheds light on another major figure, suggesting some of Theranos’ worst sins weren’t Holmes’ doing at all.

Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani was 37 years old and already a multimillionaire when he met Holmes, then 18, at a Stanford University language-learning program in China in 2002. According to reporting in the Wall Street Journal by Carreyrou, who has spearheaded efforts to uncover deceptive practices at Theranos, Balwani helped defend Holmes from bullies during that sojourn, and soon became her mentor. Within three years, Balwani had divorced his wife and was living with Holmes.

Though Holmes founded Theranos in 2004, Balwani was not directly involved until 2009. That’s when Balwani guaranteed a $12 million loan to keep the capital-intensive company going, and became president and COO. Former employees told Carreyrou that Balwani was both a flashy and overbearing presence, driving exotic cars and frequently berating employees. Balwani also reportedly fired Theranos employees so often that they were referred to as being “disappeared,” a phrase normally associated with despotic political regimes like those of Augusto Pinochet and the Nazi Gestapo.

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In particular, Balwani and Holmes fired or marginalized employees who raised concerns about the company’s working conditions, test results, or product claims. Balwani reportedly leaned on labworkers to reveal which of them had written a negative note about the company on the jobs site Glassdoor, while also ordering the company’s HR staff to write fake positive reviews on the site.

Though Holmes played a direct role in many of the most notorious episodes in the Theranos story – including displaying a fake laboratory to Vice President Joe Biden – it was Balwani who left the company after the depth of its problems became clear. Though the departure was framed as voluntary at the time, a source close to Holmes told Carreyrou that the CEO actually fired Balwani.

Balwani has denied charges from the SEC alleging fraud, including wild exaggerations of its revenue. He and Holmes are, unsurprisingly, no longer a couple.

Trump urged U.S. Postal Service to double package rates for Amazon: Washington Post

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump has personally pushed the postmaster general to double the rates the U.S. Postal Service charges Amazon.com and other companies to ship packages, the Washington Post reported on Friday, citing three unnamed sources.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Amazon is pictured inside the company’s office in Bengaluru, India, April 20, 2018. Picture taken April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Abhishek N. Chinnappa/File Photo

Postmaster General Megan Brennan resisted Trump’s suggestion in private conversations in 2017 and 2018, telling him that package delivery rates are set by contract and reviewed by an independent commission, the sources said, according to the newspaper.

She also told Trump, using a set of slides that showed other companies besides Amazon that partner for deliveries, that the arrangements have helped the financially challenged Postal Service, the Post said, citing the sources.

Trump has repeatedly said without evidence that deliveries for Amazon were costing the service money.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Amazon and the Postal Service declined to comment.

Trump has criticized both Amazon and Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive officer of the online retailer. Bezos also privately owns The Washington Post, which has published stories that have angered the president.

Trump has repeatedly said without evidence that deliveries for Amazon were costing the service money. Last month, he ordered the creation of a task force to study the Postal Service and its financial difficulties.

Big increases in its parcel delivery rates could cost Amazon and other businesses billions, leading to higher prices for consumers.

Reporting by Eric Walsh; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Nick Zieminski

Ethereum is top public blockchain, bitcoin No. 13 in China's new index

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Ethereum is the top public blockchain in the cryptocurrency space, while that of bitcoin, the original virtual currency, is ranked 13th, according to the Chinese government’s first monthly Global Public Chain Assessment Index released on Thursday.

Representation of the Ethereum virtual currency standing on the PC motherboard is seen in this illustration picture, February 3, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

The index was created and released by the China Center for Information Industry Development, part of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in Beijing. It evaluates the technological capability, usefulness of the application, and innovativeness of the project.

Blockchain, the system powering cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, is a shared database that is maintained by a network of computers connected to the internet.

Ethereum, whose currency is called ether, garnered an overall score of 129.4. It has the become the foundation for many initial coin offerings, in which start-ups create their own digital currencies and sell them to investors to generate financing for their projects.

Bitcoin, founded nearly 10 years ago, had a rating of 88 and came in at No. 13.

Blockchain projects Steem, Lisk, NEO and Komodo took second, third, fourth, and fifth place, respectively, with scores of 115.9, 104.8, 103.0 and 101.5.

The index, which has 28 blockchain projects with their corresponding cryptocurrencies, will be updated monthly.

The sector currently has more than 1,500 cryptocurrencies, with total market capitalization of nearly $380 billion, according to digital currency tracker coinmarketcap.com.

Bitcoin, the largest of the digital currencies, last traded at $8,153.39 BTC=BTSP on the BitStamp platform. Ethereum was down 1.4 percent at $689.62.

China in general sees blockchain technology as an active area of innovation and expects public blockchains and decentralized applications to become significant parts of the future economy. In the second half of last year, though, the Chinese government started to crack down on illegal initial coin offerings.

China was the most active filer of blockchain patent applications last year, according to data collated by Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law from the World Intellectual Property Organization database.

Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Editing by Leslie Adler

Apple CEO Tim Cook Says Apple Music Has Over 50 Million Users

Apple CEO Tim Cook said that Apple Music has more than 50 million users.

The Apple (aapl) executive made his comments this week in an interview with Bloomberg Television and said that the 50 million number includes users with paid subscriptions and free trials.

In April, Variety reported that Apple Music had 40 million paid subscribers in 115 countries, with 8 million people signed up for free trials of the company’s online music streaming service.

Apple has been heavily promoting Apple Music as it continues to push hard into augmenting its core iPhone and Mac computer business with different software services. The company’s “services business,” which includes Apple Music and the App Store, grew 31% year-over-year to $9.1 billion during the company’s latest quarter.

Meanwhile, Apple faces competition from rivals like Spotify. Spotify (spot) said in early May that it has 75 million paid subscribers out of a total of 170 million monthly active users. Apple does not have a free version of its music service like Spotify.

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Other companies investing in online music streaming services include Amazon (amzn), Google (goog), and the French firm Deezer.

Tax Compromise Gives Amazon’s Latest Seattle Office New Life

Amazon says it will move forward with plans for a new office building in Seattle after the city council slashed a proposed corporate tax by nearly half.

Amazon halted plans for the new building earlier this month in response to the proposed tax, which is designed to help the city’s growing homelessness problem. The city council approved the smaller tax bill unanimously on Monday, and Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan promised to sign it. But Amazon still isn’t happy.

“We are disappointed by today’s city council decision to introduce a tax on jobs,” Amazon spokesperson Drew Herdener said in a statement. “While we have resumed construction planning for Block 18, we remain very apprehensive about the future created by the council’s hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here.”

Amazon hasn’t yet decided whether to use space it leased in another Seattle building or sublease it, as it had threatened to do. Meanwhile, the company is still planning a second headquarters somewhere outside of Seattle.

As originally proposed last month, the tax would have imposed a per-employee fee of about $500 a year on Seattle companies with revenue of $20 million or more. That would have worked out to less than one percent of Amazon’s annual profit. In 2021, the per-employee tax would have become a 0.7 percent payroll tax.

Durkan negotiated the compromise version of the bill, which will impose an annual fee of about $275 per employee and will not convert into a payroll tax. City council estimates the tax will raise $50 million per year.

The council passed a non-binding resolution Monday to spend 66 percent of the money on affordable housing; 32 percent on homelessness-related costs such as emergency shelters, trash pickup, and raises for service workers; and 2 percent on administration, the Seattle Times reports. Seattle’s unsheltered population grew by 44 percent to 5,500 over the past two years, according to a recent US Department of Housing and Urban Development report. The city hosts the third-largest homeless population in the country.

Amazon says the city doesn’t need more money, saying city revenue grew to $4.2 billion in 2017, from $2.8 billion in 2010. “This revenue increase far outpaces the Seattle population increase over the same time period,” Herdener said in a statement. “The city does not have a revenue problem—it has a spending efficiency problem.”

Amazon was far from alone in that sentiment. More than 100 Seattle based companies, including tech companies like Expedia, Chef Software, and Tableau, signed a letter urging the city council to reject the tax, arguing that it will punish businesses for creating jobs.

“If they cannot provide a warm meal and safe bed to a five-year-old child, no one believes they will be able to make housing affordable or address opiate addiction,” Starbucks spokesman John Kelly said of the city government in a statement. Starbucks did not sign the letter opposing the tax. “This city pays more attention to the desires of the owners of illegally parked RVs than families seeking emergency shelter.”

Supporters of the tax were more happy with the compromise. “Given extortion from @JeffBezos & Goliath-like clout of @amazon, even a smaller tax is huge victory & pushback on corporate bullying,” tweeted socialist city councilor Kshama Sawant, who actually proposed doubling, instead of halving, the corporate tax.

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Uber Is Harnessing the Sexual Harassment Crisis to Rebuild Its Brand

In nine months as CEO of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi has proven adept at positioning the company to benefit from the public’s unease with Silicon Valley. After a challenging year for Uber, in which reporters covered every errant executive departure and corporate misstep, Khosrowshahi responded by thanking the press for their role in helping clean up the company’s culture. In Davos last January, when conversation turned to whether the tech industry should be regulated during a panel at the World Economic Forum, Khosrowshahi seized the moment to say he thought some regulation was good.

Now, Uber has announced that it will drop forced arbitration agreements, in which employeers, riders, and drivers are required to resolve disputes before a private arbiter rather than through the open courts, for claims of sexual harassment and assault. Alongside this policy change, the company is responding to requests from customers and former employees with myriad efforts to be more transparent about customer safety. In the first paragraph of the blog post announcing the changes, chief legal officer Tony West quoted Khosrowshahi: “We do the right thing, period.”

Uber’s actions might seem bold, but in reality they are a savvy way for Khosrowshahi to anticipate the inevitable. Regulation is coming to the large tech companies in Silicon Valley. With public pressure mounting for those companies to drop policies like forced arbitration, it’s likely that in the future, many of Uber’s peers will be forced into this shift. But by acting before these changes are required, and implemented by competitors, Uber curries favor with customers, regulators, drivers, and employees. It’s a strategic way for Khosrowshahi to restore trust to the company’s sullied brand and go a step further, advancing the perception that Uber is a leader among tech companies in creating policies that are good for people over profit. Indeed, hours after Uber’s announcement, Lyft also removed mandatory sexual assault arbitration.

It’s impossible to overestimate how critical this redemption narrative will be to Uber’s future success. Khosrowshahi has said he aims to take Uber public next year. In the United States, the company’s largest base, Uber is, at worst, still marked as unethical by the misdeeds of its early leadership team, and, at best, a commodity. Increasingly, both riders and drivers have a lot of choices among ridesharing services. Jump into an Uber in New York City where I live, for example, and the driver is likely to be monitoring Lyft and Juno as well, engaging in constant mental math to figure out how to make the most money. Riders, meanwhile, check a series of apps to see what’s cheapest.

As analyst Ben Thompson writes in his daily newsletter, Stratechery, “Uber’s position is very difficult to defend.” It may offer the largest network of drivers for now, but both drivers and customers are free to come and go. Other companies can catch up and surpass the service.

To succeed, Uber will need to be a customer’s first choice, every time, period. And customers won’t choose Uber if they don’t believe it’s safe. In April, 14 women who accused Uber drivers of sexually assaulting them wrote a letter to the company’s board asking that the arbitration agreement be waived so that they could sue Uber in open court. Separately, a CNN investigation published April 30 found at least 103 drivers had been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing passengers in the past four years.

Today’s announcements, delivered in a blog post entitled “Turning the lights on,” are intended to shore up customer safety while advancing the perception that the company is capable of setting the gold standard in rideshare safety. The changes are straightforward: as mentioned, the company will no long require Uber riders, drivers or employees to arbitrate individual claims of sexual harassment or assault. Uber will also give victims the option to settle their claims with Uber without a confidentiality requirement that covers the facts of their experience. Finally, Uber has promised to publish a safety transparency report that will include data on sexual assaults and other incidents that occur on the Uber platform. In fact, the company plans to take this one step further, by collaborating with experts and then outsourcing its methodology so others in the travel and transportation industry can use it.

West notes these changes are extensions of a larger effort the company has made since Khosrowshahi has arrived to make rides safer. Uber says it has also strengthened driver screenings and invested in new technology to detect when a driver is involved in criminal activity. And it has added a feature that lets riders share live trip information with up to five people, so you can ensure, for example, that your wife knows you are on your way home. Last, Uber says it plans to roll out a new emergency button in the app so riders can automatically send a car’s location to a 911 center.

As West lays out this blanket of impressive initiatives, he also suggests that Uber is not really to blame for the large intractable social problem that is rape and sexual assault. He takes responsibility for the incidents while skillfully positioning Uber as part of a solution to a larger societal problem, rather than a problem in and of itself. The last 18 months, West writes “have exposed a silent epidemic of sexual assault and harassment that haunts every industry and every community,” linking to a New York Times story about how the Harvey Weinstein scandal has “unleashed a tsunami” of people speaking up about sexual harassment. The message is clear: this is not so much Uber’s problem as society’s problem.

And in promising to publish a safety transparency report, Uber flags that it will make its methodology public so that other companies in the travel and transportation industries can use it. This is a not-so-subtle way of reminding any reader that this is an industry issue, not an Uber issue. If it works, and other companies adopt Uber’s methodology, Uber sets the safety standard for the industry—a role that’s great for the brand.

In reality, that report likely won’t arrive for a long time. While West’s post doesn’t make clear the timing, West told the New York Times it first had to complete a system for reporting incidents, which it hoped would be in place by the end of the year.

But by stepping out early on the issue of forced arbitration, Uber has picked up goodwill, which will take effect immediately. It may do as much for the ride-sharing company’s good name as the 60-second ad campaign Uber released yesterday. It’s all part of Khosrowshahi’s not-so-secret plan to convince the world that Uber is a brand worth believing in.

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