Facebook says users must accept targeted ads even under new EU law

MENLO PARK, Calif. (Reuters) – Facebook Inc (FB.O) said on Tuesday it would continue requiring people to accept targeted ads as a condition of using its service, a stance that may help keep its business model largely intact despite a new European Union privacy law.

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

The EU law, which takes effect next month, promises the biggest shakeup in online privacy since the birth of the internet. Companies face fines if they collect or use personal information without permission.

Facebook Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Rob Sherman said the social network would begin seeking Europeans’ permission this week for a variety of ways Facebook uses their data, but he said that opting out of targeted marketing altogether would not be possible.

“Facebook is an advertising-supported service,” Sherman said in a briefing with reporters at Facebook’s headquarters.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

Facebook users will be able to limit the kinds of data that advertisers use to target their pitches, he added, but “all ads on Facebook are targeted to some extent, and that’s true for offline advertising, as well.”

Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, will use what are known as “permission screens” – pages filled with text that require pressing a button to advance – to notify and obtain approval.

The screens will show up on the Facebook website and smartphone app in Europe this week and globally in the coming months, Sherman said.

The screens will not give Facebook users the option to hit “decline.” Instead, they will guide users to either “accept and continue” or “manage data setting,” according to copies the company showed reporters on Tuesday.

“People can choose to not be on Facebook if they want,” Sherman said.

Regulators, investors and privacy advocates are closely watching how Facebook plans to comply with the EU law, not only because Facebook has been embroiled in a privacy scandal but also because other companies may follow its lead in trying to limit the impact of opt-outs.

Last month, Facebook disclosed that the personal information of millions of users, mostly in the United States, had wrongly ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, leading to U.S. congressional hearings and worldwide scrutiny of Facebook’s commitment to privacy.

Facebook Chief Financial Officer David Wehner warned in February the company could see a drop-off in usage due to the EU law, known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Lisa Shumaker

Why Netflix Stock Jumped as Much as 8% to an (Almost) All-Time High

Growth at big companies chasing mature markets is supposed to slow down. Think about wireless phones or cable TV. But that rule doesn’t seem to apply to Netflix, at least not yet.

Even after more than 20 years in business, the world’s biggest streaming video service experienced some of its fastest growth ever in the first quarter, helping to give its stock a big lift.

Netflix shares, which hit an all-time high of $333.98 last month before selling off in the recent stock market decline, jumped as much as 8% in after hours trading on Monday. That put the stock price just pennies below the all-time high. But as CEO Reed Hastings and other executives answered an analysts’ questions on one of Netflix’s famously dull quarterly calls for investors, the after hours gain shrunk to a 5% gain to $324.32.

Netflix’s overall revenue increased 40% to $3.7 billion in the quarter, but excluding the aging DVD rental business, streaming video service revenue rose 43% to $3.6 billion, the company’s fastest quarterly growth rate ever, Netflix said. That was due to the combination of adding 7.4 million new subscribers, the most ever for Netflix in a first quarter, plus the price hikes the company pushed through last year, leading to a 14% increase in the average monthly subscription price.

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Investors and analysts were most impressed by the subscriber gains, which came in well ahead of the company’s own forecasts. Netflix added 1.96 million new members in the United States, after forecasting a gain of 1.45 million, and another 5.46 million in other countries, after forecasting 4.9 million. Netflix’s forecasts for the second quarter for subscriber and revenue growth were also better than analysts expected.

“We think investors will likely push NFLX stock higher after this earnings report,” UBS analyst Eric Sheridan wrote after the results came out. “We see investors focused on the widening moat that NFLX is creating with its business (faster subscriber growth on the back of original content push).”

Netflix’s head of programming, Ted Sarandos, did use the call Monday evening to shoot down one frequent rumor about the company, while declining to address another.

“Our move into news has been misreported over and over again and we’re not looking to expand into news beyond the work that we’re doing in short form and long form feature documentaries,” he said, when asked about rumors of a bigger push into news.

Recent talk shows from the likes of David Letterman should be considered entertainment, not news, he stressed. “David Letterman is a great talk show host—not a newscaster,” Sarandos said.

And about those rumors that former president Barack Obama or his wife Michelle is in talks to host such a show?

“I can’t comment on the Obamas or any other deals that would be in various states of negotiation right now,” he replied.

CEO Hastings was also asked whether the data privacy problems hounding Facebook (fb) and other tech companies could hurt Netflix (nflx), particularly if new laws limited data collection. Last week, some members of Congress raised the possibility during hearings in which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified about his company’s data collection and data sharing practices.

“Well, I’m very glad that we built the business not to be ad-supported,” he said. “I think we’re substantially inoculated from the other issues that are happening in the industry…Just objectively, we’re much more of a media company in that way than pure tech. Of course we want to be great at both but, again, we’re really pretty different from the pure tech companies.”

Singapore seeks feedback on proposal to allow Airbnb-style rentals

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore began seeking public feedback on proposals to allow short-term rentals of private homes such as those on Airbnb.

FILE PHOTO: A woman talks on the phone at the Airbnb office headquarters in the SOMA district of San Francisco, California, U.S., August 2, 2016. REUTERS/Gabrielle Lurie/File Photo

The government is seeking feedback on issues such as what homes should qualify and the responsibilities of short-term accommodation platforms, the Urban Redevelopment Authority said on Monday.

The proposed rules require that a significant majority of owners in a condominium agree to the presence of short-term rentals in their development. The agency also proposed an annual rental cap of 90 days that a property can be used for short-term rentals.

Earlier this month, a Singapore court fined two Airbnb hosts a total of S$60,000 ($45,800) each for unauthorized short-term letting.

Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Stephen Coates

How To Trigger Innovation By Promoting Diversity

Diversity is a critical input for innovation. Variety of talent, thought, experiences and ideas is the fuel and force that makes innovation possible. Yet many companies are not wired to foster diversity and are riddled with practices that actively impede it. One of the most pronounced workplace biased is a gender imbalance that favors men. Psychology Professors Linda Carli and Alice Eagly likened women’s advancement to leadership to a labyrinth, with dead ends and maze-like paths. This is starkly different to a men’s path, which can be compared to a road with bumps and potholes.

This maze-like path is what Danni Mohammed, a Global Strategy and Innovation Consultant, has called ‘Gendered Navigation’. In developed markets, it often happens as a result of unconscious bias. She says, “We don’t consciously know we’re excluding women and other minorities in business.” Mohammed’s latest research pinpoints this unconscious bias to three key factors.

1.     Homophily Bias

This is an innate tendency to bond with others who hold similar values, beliefs and attitudes, and display similar characteristics.  We feel more at ease and familiar with those who we can recognize ourselves in and, often unconsciously, form deeper ties and prioritize connection in such circumstances. For example, until orchestras started hosting blind auditions, they were predominantly comprised of men.

2.     Second Generation Bias

This happens when there are established patterns and values in the workplace that are accepted as normal, yet favor a particular profile, often men.  Think about traditional bonding activities like golf or late-night drinks that tend to exclude women. Exposure gained at these sorts of events can help prop up members, and in doing so, exclude others. This type of bias can often happen subconsciously, and would be a surprise to many in the workplace.

3.     Masculine Leadership Bias

This occurs in workplaces that openly prioritize and idolize masculine working styles, values and traits. Often the motivation may not come from a place of intentional oppression; and is instead driven by a belief that male characteristics are what it takes to get the job done well.

Bias Busting Solution

In all these instances, the bias is not a deliberate choice, but an unconscious way of being. And that’s what makes it so harmful. However, there is hope yet. Mohammed believes that to challenge these labyrinth-like walls that inhibit diversity, we need to reconstruct the organization’s internal Architecture, Routines and Culture (ARC) that value all gender. She sees the ARC as the fabric of a company, and in many ways can be described as its operating system.  Mohammed says, “True diversity can happen when we redesign these structures holistically versus deploying tactical solutions. We design them in a way so that they positively reinforce one another.” By intentionally redesigning these elements in a way that addresses gender bias, companies can thrive.

AI tools

A new spade of AI tools have been designed to tackle bias head on.  One company, Pymetrics, invites candidates to play a series of games in the early rounds of the recruitment process. These games ignore characteristics like race, gender and level of education entirely. Instead, they focus on traits more meaningful to workplace success, like memory and attitude to risk. Another company, Texio, focuses on using machine learning to create job descriptions that optimize appeal to a diverse array of candidates. For example, women are more attracted to jobs that talk about ‘developing a team’ rather than ‘managing a team’. According to Texio, this can help get 25% more qualified talent through the door, as well as bolster diversity.

Rotating Sponsorship Programs

In a bid to tackle homophily head on, successful companies initiate a ‘Rotating Sponsorship’ Program, where different leaders are tasked with sponsoring and mentoring different employees, on a rotating basis. This prevents the common phenomenon of men in senior leadership positions sponsoring those they deem to be just like them; and opens up mentorship and the chance at leadership positions to those normally left out of the equation. It is an easy and brilliant way to unearth hidden talent.

 

Instant Feedback Systems

New enterprise applications like Workday and Impraise, are setting out to challenge the traditional appraisal systems that tend to favor men.  To combat the informal day-to-day encouragement than more vocal men tend to receive from mentors, these apps encourage a workplace where everyone receives informal feedback on a regular basis. Feedback can be given between peers, as well as to team leads and supervisors, based on a job well done. This frequent, fair feedback means that everyone has an equal chance to be encouraged, and therefore motivated.

UK could launch retaliatory cyber attack on Russia if infrastructure targeted: Sunday Times

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain would consider launching a cyber attack against Russia in retaliation if Russia targeted British national infrastructure, the Sunday Times reported, citing unnamed security sources.

A Russian flag is seen on the laptop screen in front of a computer screen on which cyber code is displayed, in this illustration picture taken March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration

Britain’s relations with Russia are at a historic low, after it blamed Russia for a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England, prompting mass expulsions of diplomats.

Russia has denied involvement, and on Saturday also condemned strikes against Syria by Western powers, which Britain took part in.

Cyber security has become a focal point of the strained relations. On Thursday, a British spy chief said that his GCHQ agency would “continue to expose Russia’s unacceptable cyber behaviour”, adding there would be increasing demand for its cyber expertise.

The Sunday Times also said that British spy officials had been preparing for Russia-backed hackers to release embarrassing information on politicians and other high-profile people since the attack on the Skripals.

Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Jonathan Oatis

The Airline Whose Planes Are Said to Break Down In Mid-Air More Often Than Anyone's Is About To Have a Big PR Problem

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

They say you should get out ahead of a bad story.

Present your version before the story hits, so that people can have good feelings about you before aspersions are cast.

I wonder, therefore, what Allegiant Air might do this weekend.

I wrote about this airline a couple of years ago, after it had been accused of having planes that break down four times more often than those of other airlines.

In mid-air, that is.

Of the airline’s 86 planes, it was said that 42 of them had broken down in mid-air the previous year.

The airline fought back and claimed that the accusations were “incendiary.” Indeed, its stock went up 24 percent soon after the original Tampa Bay Times article was published.

Now, though, Allegiant might have a bigger PR problem. 

On Sunday, it’ll be featured in a 60 Minutes segment, one that CBS teases will be twice the usual length.

Here’s the teaser.

Just those 48 seconds suggest that Allegiant should brace for something of calm, considered skewering.

I asked the budget airline what it thought of the upcoming exposé. A spokeswoman told me Allegiant would wait until the segment airs before offering a rebuttal.

One of the main issues with Allegiant’s record of breakdowns is that it flies old planes. Very old planes, some 22 years of age.

Recently, though, it has begun to replace these planes with Airbuses. Indeed, last May was the first time that Allegiant enjoyed the experience of fitting out a new(ish) plane.

The question, then, is how much Sunday’s 60 Minutes piece will reflect the whole current scenario.

The problem for the airline’s PR department, though, is that Allegiant will surely come out looking not so good on one of the most respected news programs in America, one that’s watched by 12 million people.

It’s inevitable, then, that it will instantly be associated with the sort of bad reputation that plagued United Airlines over the last year. 

Worse, perhaps, is the idea that instead of a brutal lack of customer sensitivity — as in the United case — Allegiant might be tarred with the notion that it’s simply an unsafe airline.

On Friday, the airline’s stock began to drop. What might happen to it on Monday?

Within Facebook, a Sense of Relief Over the Zuckerberg Hearings

About two hours, or 20 percent, into Mark Zuckerberg’s marathon testimony before Congress this week, the Facebook CEO had a slightly awkward exchange with senator John Cornyn (R-Texas). Cornyn wanted to know what happens to people’s data when they delete their accounts. Zuckerberg responded that Facebook deletes their data. But Cornyn continued, “How about third parties that you have contracted with to use some of that underlying information, perhaps to target advertising for themselves?”

To Zuckerberg, this must have been exasperating. As he has said over and over, Facebook doesn’t sell data to advertisers. Doing so could allow outsiders to build competitive ad-targeting products that would undermine Facebook’s business. And so Zuckerberg patiently explained, yet again, how Facebook works. “We do not sell data to advertisers. We don’t sell data to anyone.”

Before the hearings, Zuckerberg’s colleagues in Menlo Park had been nervous. The company had been battered, insulted, and mocked for weeks. The stock price had collapsed. And now Zuckerberg, who isn’t known for his charisma or quick-witted stage presence, would be grilled by professional grillers. The whole thing felt to Facebook roughly like watching the father of the bride at a tense wedding, refilled glass of chardonnay in hand, slide up to the microphone to give a toast. It could go OK. It should go OK. But it might also go horribly wrong.

Once the hearings started, though, according to numerous Facebook employees asked about their reactions, everyone at headquarters started to calm down. For one, it became immediately clear that many of the senators didn’t actually know what Facebook does. “I was personally surprised by how ill-prepared the members were,” one Facebook executive told me. “Once it was clear how bad it was and how mismatched they were, everybody had this awakening: We have made some mistakes, but these guys know even less.” Numerous people at the company passed around a meme in which Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) putatively asked Zuckerberg, “Mr. Zuckerberg, a magazine I recently opened came with a floppy disk offering me 30 free hours of something called America On-Line. Is that the same as Facebook?”

After Zuckerberg finished his session with Cornyn, John Thune (R-South Dakota) interjected that it was time to take a break. Thune may have had the most power over Facebook in the room—he oversees the Senate Commerce Committee, which in turn helps oversee the Federal Trade Commission—and he may also have the best jawbone. But Zuckerberg responded that, actually, no, he was fine to keep going. “You can do a few more,” Zuckerberg said. He wasn’t worn down.

In Menlo Park, there were cheers from some employees. According to one who was watching a TV nearby, “It was like magic.” At another spot in Facebook’s offices where senior executives had gathered, people started laughing and smiling. The toast was going just fine. Nothing was going to go horribly wrong. Meanwhile, employees had their eyes on the stock ticker, which, for the first time in a while, had started to turn upward.

Shortly thereafter, Dean Heller (R-Nevada) asked a question without an easy answer. “Do you believe you’re more responsible with millions of Americans’ personal data than the federal government would be?”

Zuckerberg had a choice: He could weasel his way out and say the answer is hard. He could throw out something patriotic and muddled. But he decided to do something simple. He just said, “Yes.” Then he paused and moved on to talking about something else.

It was another moment of magic, a Facebook employee said. “The mood totally changed internally.”

Some Bad Reviews

Zuckerberg didn’t impress everyone this week. The New York Post dubbed him “The Social Nitwit.” At the TED conference, Facebook was hammered repeatedly, and one speaker, Jaron Lanier, declared, “I don’t think our species can survive unless we fix this.” People made fun of him for sitting on what was dubbed a booster seat. Those perhaps seeing Zuckerberg for the first time were surprised that he can appear like a humanoid. Trevor Noah said Zuckerberg must “have sent a robot version of himself.” Jimmy Kimmel declared that he “almost even managed to replicate a human smile.”

It’s unlikely, though, that Zuckerberg cared much about the cheap shots and the jokes. He surely noticed that the value of the company rose by about $17 billion during the hearings, making him more than $2.5 billion richer. And in some ways, the most important part of the hearings was to calm his restive employees. In recent weeks, working at Facebook has come to seem a bit like working at Goldman Sachs in 2008. The most important challenge for Facebook is employee retention: Despite the billions the company makes and the kombucha shots it serves on the corporate roof, competition for engineers in Silicon Valley is severe. In recent weeks, Facebook has seemed weak and easy to raid. One employee even boasted publicly of quitting.

And if your metric is employee morale, Zuckerberg’s testimony was a success. Early in the Senate hearings, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) pushed Zuckerberg on why the company doesn’t have a subscription model. Zuckerberg responded carefully and cautiously. Hatch then asked, “Well, if so, how do you sustain a business model in which users don’t pay for your service?”

Zuckerberg responded, again, with a smile: “Senator, we run ads.”

Since then, in Menlo Park, numerous Facebook employees have repeated the mantra in meetings, joking, “Senator, we run ads.”

How the Ad Business Works

That isn’t to say the hearings went over perfectly, even at home. One mystifying thing to employees was that Zuckerberg frequently seemed to come up short when asked for details about the advertising business. When pressed by Roy Blunt (R-Missouri)—who, Zuckerberg restrained himself from pointing out, was a client of Cambridge Analytica—Facebook’s CEO couldn’t specify whether Facebook tracks users across their computing devices or tracks offline activity. He seemed similarly mystified about some of the details about the data Facebook collects about people. In total, Zuckerberg promised to follow up on 43 issues; many of the most straight-ahead ones were details on how the ad business works. It’s possible, of course, that Zuckerberg dodged the questions because he didn’t want to talk about Facebook’s tracking on national TV. It seemed more likely to some people on the inside, however, that he genuinely didn’t know.

Why was this? Inside Facebook it was simply seen of a sign of something that many of his colleagues know: Zuckerberg is much more interested in product and engineering than he is in the business. His former speechwriter Kate Losse told me that she thinks he did well. But she too was struck by his inability to answer questions about the details of the way Facebook makes most of its money. “I genuinely believe that he doesn’t care about ads.”

Zuckerberg’s marathon testimony also didn’t close out questions about some of his company’s biggest threats. Zuckerberg did not give thorough answers (and the congressmembers did not ask thorough questions) about the extent of Russian operations on the platform. It is still entirely possible that we will, in due course, see the threads of the Cambridge Analytica and Russia stories converge. If that happens, the company will have to deal with something much darker than even the mess of the past few weeks. It will mean, in short, that the data—and even the private messages—of trusting Facebook users ended up in the hands of a foreign adversary trying to manipulate a presidential election.

And there is still the looming issue of the 2011 FTC consent decree, and whether Facebook violated its terms by not acting reasonably to protect people’s privacy after it learned about Cambridge Analytica’s data gathering. An investigation is ongoing, which Zuckerberg did little to put to rest. It could cost the company billions.

Still, back at home, the troops were happy. On Thursday, the day after the hearings ended, Sheryl Sandberg was supposed to address the staff in a company-wide Q&A. Instead, Zuckerberg returned to Menlo Park and answered questions in person. “It was a Mark lovefest,” one employee said.

Facing Up

3 Proven Strategies Every Startup Should Use to Partner With a Bigger Company

Wrangling a partnership with Uber can’t be easy. Large companies can already be difficult to work with–and Uber’s recent history has been, well, tumultuous.

On Wednesday, San Francisco-based car-rental startup Getaround pulled it off. Uber and the startup, which landed on Inc.’s 30 Under 30 list in 2016, have teamed up to create “Uber Rent,” a service that allows users to rent vehicles from Getaround’s fleet through Uber’s app. 

The way the deal came together is perhaps the more interesting news. It’s instructive for any entrepreneur looking to partner with an industry behemoth.

Getaround first approached Uber about a potential partnership several years ago through a mutual investor, says co-founder and CEO Sam Zaid, and talks went nowhere. In the ensuing years, Getaround started gaining traction in the Bay Area. When the company reached out again in late 2016, Uber employees were using the service themselves–and were more willing to engage in conversations. “It wasn’t like we were pitching a pitch deck,” Zaid says. “Everyone knows what Getaround is, everyone in the room knows what Uber is, so let’s talk.”

Then, 2017 hit. For Uber, that meant sexual harassment allegations, lawsuits, regulatory fights, and boardroom power struggles. The Getaround deal stalled.

After a few months of patient negotiations, a pilot program launched in May 2017. The following month, Uber founder Travis Kalanick resigned as CEO–but the program survived, and Uber Rent is now live. Zaid attributes overcoming those roadblocks to three strategies, which every startup should use when striking a partnership:

1. Don’t be afraid to push back.

In classic Silicon Valley fashion, the early conversations around Uber Rent were heavily strategic and guarded. Neither company wanted to reveal its agenda. Zaid says the teams started communicating more transparently after he encouraged his employees to push back against the larger company, earning Uber’s respect. “When you have a smaller company working with a bigger company, a lot of the time, the smaller company is afraid to say ‘no’ or ‘this doesn’t work for us’ or ‘let’s do it a different way,'” Zaid says. “That’s what fostered this degree of trust.”

2. Treat everyone as one team.

Uber dispatched just a handful of staffers to examine a potential partnership. Getaround’s “team” included most of its company. The difference in scale stopped mattering once the parties started viewing the employees involved as a single team, regardless of who paid their salaries. “Obviously, there’s always going to be some tension there,” Zaid admits. “That’s where the transparency, trust, and communication balance it out.”

3. Align your goals.

Any partnership will feature competing priorities and goals. Zaid wishes he had worked more intentionally to make sure Getaround and Uber’s visions were aligned from the beginning. “Early stages, it’s probably not as necessary,” he says. “But then things start snowballing. There could be product issues, engineering issues, operational issues, legal questions that come up throughout.” Being aligned from the start could save you months of back-and-forth–and could keep the partnership from falling apart.

AT&T economist argues Time Warner merger is good for consumers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – AT&T’s (T.N) proposed merger with Time Warner Inc (TWX.N) would save consumers money because the marriage of a pay-TV provider with a movie and TV giant would create a more efficient company, an economist testifying for AT&T said in court on Thursday

FILE PHOTO – An AT&T logo is seen at a AT&T building in New York City, October 23, 2016. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith/File Photo

Dennis Carlton, from the University of Chicago, sought to rebut testimony on Wednesday from an economist for the government, Carl Shapiro of the University of California at Berkeley, who said the $84.5 billion deal would cost American consumers some $286 annually in higher prices.

The government filed a lawsuit in November to block the deal, citing antitrust concerns. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon will order the deal stopped if he determines it would raise prices for pay TV consumers or threaten the development of online video.

Shapiro had argued that the proposed deal would spur AT&T, which owns DirecTV, to charge its pay TV rivals more for Time Warner content, in particular the Turner family of news and sports shows.

He also said the combined company would have an incentive to decline to offer content to cheaper online video services.

Carlton attacked the assumptions in Shapiro’s testimony and used newer data to show that by his tally, the deal would provide a net benefit to consumers of 52 cents per pay TV subscriber a month.

“There is an efficiency from vertical integration,” argued Carlton. The proposed transaction is considered a vertical deal since AT&T, which owns satellite television company DirecTV, is buying a content supplier, Time Warner.

Carlton said Shapiro underestimated how many people were dropping pay TV altogether and overestimated how many people would leave their pay TV provider if they lost access to Turner’s channels.

On cross-examination, government attorney Craig Conrath sought unsuccessfully to push Carlton to concede that a previous vertical deal, Comcast’s purchase of NBCU, led to more expensive TV shows and movies when NBCU negotiated new contracts with other pay TV companies.

The trial, which began in mid-March in U.S. District Court in Washington, is expected to wrap up this month.

In a sign of the high stakes of the trial, the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, sat at the government counsel’s table on Thursday, prompting a reaction from Leon, who said: “My goodness gracious,” when Delrahim introduced himself.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney

This Passenger Just Claimed He Was Forcibly Dragged Off a Plane By His Collar (No, It Wasn't United Airlines)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

For United Airlines, the anniversary of dragging a paying, bloodied passenger, Dr. David Dao, down a plane brought nothing more than a few fond remembrances and claims that the airline is so much better now.

This doesn’t mean that somewhere, on some airline, there aren’t passengers still being forcibly dragged off planes.

Indeed, as if with perfect timing, a passenger has just claimed that he was “threatened,” “manhandled by the crew” and “offloaded from the aircraft.”

His alleged offense?

He complained that the early Sunday morning flight was garlanded with mosquitoes.

Dr. Saurabh Rai, a heart surgeon, was flying on IndiGo Airlines from Lucknow to Bangalore in India.

He claims that his complaints led to him being dragged by the collar and marched off the plane.

He even claims he was told: “If you have a problem with mosquitoes, then why don’t you leave India.” Which does seem a touch harsh.

He told Times Now that he asked for mosquito repellant cream or spray. He said many children were crying.

Thankfully, there’s at least a little video, posted by Asian News International, that appears to show mosquitoes were bothering several of the passengers. (It was incorrectly marked by ANI as Jet Airways.)

I contacted IndiGo, a budget carrier that enjoys more passengers than any in India, to ask for its perspective. I will update, should I receive a reply.

Could it be that complaining about mosquitoes can get you removed from an IndiGo flight? 

Bugs are, after all, an occurrence in flights all over the world. In some cases — British Airways, for example — a big problem appears to be bed bugs.

IndiGo doesn’t appear to see things in the same way as Rai. It suggests he had a stinging manner.

The airline told DNA India:

Before cabin crew could address his concerns he became aggressive and used threatening language. As matter escalated after closure of the aircraft doors, he attempted to instigate other passengers on board to damage the aircraft & used words such as ‘hijack’. Hence, keeping in mind applicable safety protocols crew apprised pilot-in-command, who decided to offload him.

That sounds very different from Rai’s version.

Oddly, DNA says passengers on the flight insisted that the cabin crew’s only reaction to Rai’s complaints was to suggest he take another flight.

There was more. It doesn’t make the airline look entirely friendly.

“Eyewitnesses said neither the staff nor the security men arranged any vehicle to drive Dr Rai back to the airport lounge; he walked all the way back,” said DNA.

Indeed, at least one passenger offered his complaints on Twitter.

NDTV suggests that this isn’t the first incident involving alleged manhandling on an IndiGo flight.

And now India’s Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu has ordered an inquiry.

Optimists will say that at least Rai doesn’t appear to have suffered physical injury, unlike Dao, who lost a couple of teeth.

Pessimists will say that Rai must have provoked the cabin crew in some way with his tone and manner and surely won’t get the sort of large settlement that Dao is said to have received.

In the end, such incidents merely underline the problems that, all too often, surround the flying experience these days.

Airlines used to pride themselves on customer service. Many still claim to, but good customer service requires a commitment that begins at the highest levels.

One difficult interpersonal incident can reverberate beyond anything airlines thought previously possible.

Passengers have phones with cameras. They have the web, which can magnify and accelerate with untold speed.

The minute they complain, the airline is often on the defensive.

The line between a situation defused and an international PR issue is thinner than a hamster’s nasal hair.

Knowing how to react to a complaint — look how cleverly KFC did it recently — can bring enormous benefits in the future.

A strong brand doesn’t want this sort of thing buzzing around it for a long time.