America’s unsafe cars, hypocritical real estate company, and hackers expose watchers

in March 26th, 2021

Here's what we emailed out the week of March 26, 2021. Sign up for updates directly in your inbox.

In the mood for some impulse purchases? You might just be hungry. A new study found that higher levels of ghrelin (considered the “hunger hormone”) can influence our monetary decisions, especially for women. In one example, the study details how women who fasted beforehand showed a preference for $20 immediately versus $80 two weeks later. Perhaps a timely insight for those preparing for the fasting month of Ramadan approaching in a few weeks. In other food news, Happy National Spinach Day! 


VEHICLE SAFETY

U.S. car safety ratings are outdated

Thu Mar 4

When it comes to cars, buying American might mean compromising safety. While the U.S. was the first to encourage manufacturers to build safer vehicles in 1979 with the creation of the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), they have yet to push the envelope since.

Currently, the NCAP requires five tests, all focused on impact in a crash to only the adult driver or front-seat passenger. These tests currently do not reflect technological advances to vehicles, among other issues. In fact, many are concerned that the bar is so low that an NCAP rating is little more than a participation trophy. On top of all that, big cars (Jeeps, pickups, etc) are promoted to look safer — based on historical ratings of safety — but aren’t actually.

Meanwhile Europe’s NCAP requires 21 tests, taking into consideration rear seat occupants, child seat protection, and even those outside the vehicle such as pedestrians or bikers — all things U.S. tests fail to consider. As a result, vehicle-related fatalities are increasing in the U.S. while decreasing in countries with more robust NCAPs. In 2018 alone, the U.S. fatality rate on roads was 11.17 per 100,000 people while the EU’s was less than half that at 5.1.

So why don’t we just improve car safety standards in the U.S.? Many Presidents have tried, with Obama being the last, but the extensive process of proposal, public comment, and revision makes it unlikely upgrades get approved under a single presidency. Many groups called on Trump’s administration to push the effort forward with no luck. It now falls on the Biden administration to push progress forward.  

Some additional resources... 

  • To dig more into this problem turn to Vice or Bloomberg.
  • For more factors that are making U.S. roads more dangerous than other countries, turn to Safe Roads USA.
  • For more on the EU’s continued push for improved vehicle safety, turn to the European Commission.

REDLINING

Real estate company sued for the same discrimination they studied and decried

Thu Mar 18

Practice what you preach, especially when it comes to discriminatory practices. Last June, real-estate brokerage Redfin published a study on how the racist practice of redlining effectively blocked Black families from obtaining loans and widened the wealth gap. But four months later, they were accused themselves (in a federal lawsuit) of “digital redlining” that worsens the historical injustice in the housing market. 

How are they being sued for the very discrimination they condemn? Redfin offers lower fees than traditional brokerages, but to make the most of their services, your home must meet their minimum price policy. In the lawsuit, fair housing organizations accuse Redfin of setting these minimum prices unjustifiably high for racially diverse neighborhoods. For example last June, the minimum price requirement in Chicago was $125,000 higher than in nearby DuPage County, a predominantly White county with similar median sales prices.

This meant minority neighborhoods were less likely to be offered those services, including professional photos, virtual tours, or even commission rebates. In absence of these Redfin benefits, minority homes stay on the market longer, sell for lower prices, and ultimately keep these communities from moving past historical redlining.

Redfin argues they have a long history of expanding into lower-priced communities. And just this month, they released a second study, this time showing how racist housing policies have made Black neighborhoods more vulnerable to flooding than white ones. The latest study does not mention the lawsuit that is still ongoing. While it continues, local governments are being called on to help remove the systemic barriers propelling this residual inequity. 

Some additional resources... 

  • For more on how the original lawsuit came to be, turn to the Chicago Sun Times or Associated Press
  • For more on the recent updates, turn to Vice
  • To read Redfin’s studies yourselves head here for the first on wealth gap and here for the second on flooding. 
  • For more on redlining, its history, and a path forward, turn to the National League of Cities

WATCHDOGS

Hackers carry out data breach to show just how much we’re being watched

Fri Mar 19

We understand that security cameras are present at companies everywhere, but do we know who is responsible for that security? One Silicon Valley startup supplying security cameras at companies such as Tesla, Equinox, and Cloudflare was recently hacked after the username and password of a super admin was found online (possibly through a different data breach).

In fact the company in question, Verkada, has a murky history altogether given some of their employees have access to all footage their cameras capture.

  • That means for companies employing these cameras, their own security teams aren’t the only ones viewing their recorded spaces. The hacked footage includes conversations between police officers and criminal suspects, hospital workers pinning a patient to a bed, and inmates being tracked through secret cameras.
  • On top of the hacked data, last October three Verkada employees were fired after reports surfaced that they had used the cameras to take pictures of female colleagues to make sexual comments about them in a private Slack channel.
  • Verkada also touts their facial recognition feature, which makes it easier to identify who is in the footage. This was one of the ways the fired employees could tie names to their female coworkers' images. It’s a feature many surveillance companies are quickly adopting.

The breach itself was conducted by a hacker collective who hoped to shed light on both how easily these systems can be broken into and how pervasive the surveillance actually is. It may be worthwhile to conduct a quick online search of the company behind the video surveillance employed either at your workplace or even installed in your own home to check their security practices and policies. Also take the extra step of reading the employee handbook where companies often detail where and what they surveil. 

Some additional resources...

  • For complete coverage on this data breach, turn to Bloomberg
  • For more on the hacker behind the breach, head to Forbes
  • To dig into the U.S.’s growing surveillance market, turn to Mordor Intelligence
  • P.S. Verkada raised $80M at a $1.6B valuation to be every building’s security solution last year.   

ASCII ART OF THE WEEK
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Thank goodness they don’t test for rear seat passengers - really Dodge-d a bullet there!

Art Credit: Hayley Jane Wakenshaw