U.S.'s largest gasoline spill, Uber’s poor payment habits, and Google denying trackers

in March 12th, 2021

Here's what we emailed out the week of March 12, 2021. Sign up for updates directly in your inbox.

What happens when a city’s police force is racist? For one, the Major Physics Society won’t gather there. The society, who wants to make their physical spaces inclusive of the Black, Indigenous, and other people of color that make up their more than 55,000 members, shared that they will consider police conduct when choosing cities for future meetings. While this criteria is unique among scientific societies, it’ll be interesting to see if others follow suit. Until then, here are a few stories worth following. 


The U.S. quietly had one of the largest gasoline spills in its history 

Sat Mar 6

Haven’t heard about the Colonial Pipeline Spill? You’re not alone. New reports have brought to light that 1.2 million gallons of gasoline leaked in North Carolina last summer — which is 18 times what the company softly reported back when the country was distracted by a pandemic, protests, and presidential politics.

While the pipe was repaired in August, the company was intentionally slow to release updates about the size and impact of the spill. What was first reported as 63,000 gallons spilled in August 2020 updated to over 200,000 a month later (and now to 1.2 million). This tactic has been employed by many pipeline operators, who know that a larger number from the start will ring alarms of concern from elected officials, press, and the local community.

Though the overall impact to residents was minimal, it could have been a lot worse. While the Colonial Pipeline is 40 years old at this point, nearly half of all pipelines in the U.S. are even older. In fact, over the past decade, there’s been over 3,300 leaks and ruptures to these pipelines, costing 80 lives and $2.8 billion in damages so far.

And it’s expected more issues like the recent leak could arise, which are toxic to the environment and threaten water supplies and agriculture. With over 2.6 million miles of pipeline crossing the U.S. (the Colonial Pipeline itself stretches from Texas to New Jersey), you might want to find out if you’re near one and keep your eyes peeled.  

Some additional resources... 


Uber employees are measuring their own trips to ensure they’re paid properly 

Wed Feb 24

If you were one of those students who loved calculating your own grade before the report came out, imagine having to always do that to ensure you weren’t cheated. That’s the situation many gig workers are in when it comes to their wages, recently learning that apps like Uber and Lyft aren’t always paying them properly for their mileage.

These apps measure distance based on the shortest route available, even if that’s not the route ultimately recommended and taken. For example, one UberEats worker, who delivers by bike, shared how the app once took him through a steep 4-mile trip but only paid him for one mile, a travel distance only possible if he flew. So, he made a Chrome extension to check the algorithm’s math more easily.

Called UberCheats, the tool... 

  • Automatically calculates the shortest possible travel route and flags the trip if it’s different from what Uber calculated.
  • Encourages drivers to call Uber Support and push to speak with a supervisor for adjustments, which the company’s policy allows for trips made within the past 10 days. 
  • That said, this process can take upwards of 30 minutes for a few dollars each time. The extension’s creator, Armin Sammi Had, is working on a more efficient way to take larger action. 

Meanwhile in Europe, some British drivers have already sued Uber over data transparency. With the European Union’s consumer privacy laws on their side, the workers demanded more details on their own personal performance data, which they can only access by request. And with the overall gig economy growing even faster amidst the pandemic (at 13-30% growth by 2029 in the U.S. alone), further regulation and tooling will be particularly helpful for the future of these gig employees.  

  • For more on this story including UberCheats, its creator, and why it came to be, turn to Wired or Reddit.


Google will no longer let advertisers track you individually

Wed Mar 3

You know those third party cookies that follow you around the internet? Google’s no longer allowing those trackers to be embedded by advertisers. This means advertisers will no longer be able track an individual’s journey across websites starting in 2022, and will instead see more general groupings. For example, rather than seeing “Vivian” went from Website A to B to Z, they’ll see something like “People in X Group” followed that path.

But Google is still collecting that data, causing some concern. This will allow Google, now the sole holder of this data, to continue to track and target users based off of their individual journeys (while on their browser, of course). Since no one else will have access to this data for Chrome users, this may hurt competitors in the ad space. As a reminder, digital advertising is where Google generates 90% of its revenue.

Though Google isn’t the first to take this step. Safari and Firefox have long been the go-to browsers for avoiding third party data collection, though they each differ in their approach. 

Some additional resources...

  • For detailed coverage on this update, turn to WSJ or The Verge.
  • For more on Google’s plans to build a “more private web,” turn to their blog.

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Om nom nom nom… Google hungry, want cookies!

Art Credit: Joan G. Stark

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