TIME Companies

Uber Is Trying to Patent Its Surge Pricing Technology

The practice recently fueled criticism when users in Sydney faced rising prices as they tried to flee the area of a hostage crisis

The fast-growing ride-sharing service Uber wants to patent a pricing technology that has come under fire from critics who accuse the company of price gouging.

The technology, which Uber calls “surge pricing,” is among at least 13 patent applications the company has filed with the U.S. patent office, which typically become public 18 months after filing, Bloomberg reports. So far, most of the applications have been initially rejected for “obviousness” or because they were otherwise ineligible, but there’s been no decision yet on the surge pricing technology.

Read more: This is how Uber’s surge pricing works

The company, which was founded in San Francisco in 2009 and has already expanded to more than 50 countries, has defended the practice, which adjusts prices in real time based on the amount of demand in the area.

But Uber, already under pressure in jurisdictions around the world over regulatory and safety concerns, drew renewed criticism when the service raised prices in Sydney earlier this week as users were trying to leave the area around a hostage crisis.

[Bloomberg]

TIME Pakistan

Pakistani Court Grants Bail To Mumbai Terror Attack Suspect

Zaki-ur-Rehman, Syed Salahuddin
An alleged plotter of Mumbai attacks Pakistani Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, center, prays with Syed Salahuddin, right, chief of Hezbul Mujahideen or United Jehad Council, at a rally on June 28, 2008 in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir. Roshan Mughal—AP

The move was likely to infuriate India, days after a brief show of solidarity in the wake of the deadly school attack in Peshawar.

Ties between India and Pakistan were set to further sour after a Pakistani court granted bail on Thursday to man allegedly behind the 2008 attack on Mumbai.

The suspect, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, was arrested in 2009 in Pakistan after the sole surviving gunman in the rampage that left 166 people dead identified him as the mastermind. On Thursday, his defense lawyer confirmed to Reuters that he was issued bail and would be out of prison by early next week.

The Mumbai attack, during which ten militants linked to the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorized the city for three days, damaged relations between the two countries.

The move to grant bail comes days after a terror attack at a school in Peshawar prompted a brief reprieve in the country’s long-standing rivalry and united Pakistan against militants within its borders.

[Reuters]

TIME India

India Successfully Launches Its Heaviest Ever Rocket

The GSLV MK III also had an unmanned capsule capable of carrying two or three astronauts

India added another feather to its space-exploration cap on Thursday, successfully launching the country’s heaviest ever rocket from its Sriharikota base in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

The 630-ton Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) MK III carried a capsule capable of launching two or three astronauts into space, the BBC reported. The rocket is also capable of carrying satellites weighing up to 4,000 kg, potentially allowing India to avoid reliance on foreign launchers for its spacecraft.

According to the Indian Space and Research Organization, the capsule “safely splashed down into the Bay of Bengal.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his congratulations, calling the launch “yet another triumph of brilliance & hard work of our scientists.”

Thursday’s achievement comes about three months after India successfully placed a satellite into Mars’ orbit, becoming only the fourth global power to do so.

TIME Pakistan

Taliban Attack in Pakistan Prompts Cross-Border Solidarity From India

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Schoolchildren pray during morning assembly at their school in Shimla, India, on Dec. 17, 2014, as they pay tribute to slain students and staff after an attack on an army school in Peshawar, Pakistan STRDEL—AFP/Getty Images

Indian schools join lawmakers in observing two minutes of silence after #IndiaWithPakistan trends on Twitter

Amid the horrific massacre at an army-run school in the Pakistani city of Peshawar on Tuesday that resulted in over 140 deaths, mostly of children under the age of 16, the overwhelming support from regional rival India was a silver lining that has briefly lifted spirits.

The two countries generally don’t see eye to eye and have had a bilateral relationship that can be described as fractious at best. But in the aftermath of the Pakistani Taliban’s brutal attack, military posturing and border skirmishes were briefly set aside as India mourned with its neighbor.

Indian news channel NDTV reported that schools across India observed a two-minute silence on Wednesday, expressing solidarity with the victims of the attack. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who condemned the attack on Twitter soon after the news broke and later telephoned his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, also led the Indian Parliament in marking the incident.

The outpouring of shared grief began on Tuesday while the attack was still ongoing, with several Indians posting their sadness and outrage on Twitter as the hashtag #IndiWithPakistan began trending:

Several Pakistanis responded with gratitude, as both nations grasped each other’s outstretched virtual hands.

TIME apps

France to Ban Uber’s Cheapest Service Next Year

Latest regulatory headache for the ride-sharing app

The French government announced plans Monday to ban Uber’s low-cost service next year, as Paris taxis clogged the capital in a “go slow” or “escargot” protest against the ride-sharing service.

The decision to ban UberPop came after a French court on Friday declined to ban Uber from operating in the country. But Uber’s victory was short-lived.

“Not only is it illegal to offer this service but additionally for the consumer there is a real danger,” French interior ministry spokesperson Pierre-Henry Brandlet told iTELE, questioning drivers’ inadequate insurance. Brandlet said that the ban will begin Jan. 1.

MORE: 5 places where Uber is fighting for its life right now

The decision comes as Uber is facing scrutiny and regulatory pushback around the world. It was banned in Spain, Thailand and parts of India—where an Uber driver was recently accused of raping a passenger — late last week.

Uber did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment, although it tweeted Monday morning that demand in France remains strong.

The company, which was fined 100,000 euros in France this October for fraudulent business practices, called some of the country’s attempts to ban the app “discriminatory” last month.

TIME isis

ISIS Twitter Fan Boy Revealed to be Indian Food Exec

He says he "doesn't know what to do" now that Indian police are searching for him

He is one of the most active supporters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on the Internet but on Thursday @ShamiWitness was revealed to be an Indian food company executive called Mehdi.

With a Twitter following of roughly 18,000, @ShamiWitness has been one of the most influential voices on Twitter propagandizing on behalf of ISIS. Mehdi works for an Indian food conglomerate in Bangalore.

Channel 4 News says the agency is not revealing his full name “as he says his life would be in danger if his true identity was made public.”

Nonetheless, in the wake of his semi-unmasking, Mehdi deactivated the @ShamiWitness Twitter account and has said that Indian police are now searching for him and he “doesn’t know what to do.”

Mehdi said if given the opportunity he would join forces himself with the Islamic State but that he cannot because his family depends on him financially. “If I had a chance to leave everything and join them I might have,” he said. “My family needs me here.”

[Channel 4 News]

TIME India

New Delhi Police Plan to Use Drone Cameras to Boost Public Safety

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Richard Newstead—Getty Images/Moment RF

The drones will be equipped with night-vision cameras

In the face of increased outrage and scrutiny over the safety of its women, India’s capital New Delhi plans to incorporate a new tool into its surveillance arsenal: drones.

The helicopter-like unmanned aircraft will be equipped with night-vision cameras and will be launched next month in the city’s north district, the Times of India reported.

Each drone will fly at a height of about 200 m and will cover a hexagonal area of 3 or 4 km.

The announcement comes about a week after a New Delhi woman accused an Uber driver of rape, an incident that has reignited the conversation around public security in a city known for being unsafe for women.

TIME Companies

Why Uber’s Rape Scandal Is More Than a ‘Growing Pain’

Uber Growing Pains
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez — Getty Images

The problem goes beyond Uber's breakneck growth

When Uber CEO Travis Kalanick categorized the rideshare company’s recent privacy controversy as “growing pains” last week, the term seemed to be a fitting description. Uber has moved with lightning speed in five years, going from a small startup to a company investors have valued at $40 billion — and any company with that kind of meteoric growth is bound to make missteps.

But Uber’s latest debacle — accusations that a driver in India raped a female passenger — is far too serious to brush aside simply as “growing pains.” Still, Kalanick’s response to the alleged assault, as apologetic and deadly serious as it begins, soon drifts into the “growing pains” argument.

“We will work with the government to establish clear background checks currently absent,” he wrote. That’s an admission that Uber, hungry to tap a new and potentially lucrative market, overlooked India’s low bar for driver checks.

If Uber had properly done its homework before barging into India, it would know that Indian transportation systems have long been dangerous places for women. As Facebook’s Sriram Kirshnan argued in a Medium post this week, India’s preexisting sexual violence problems — which spurred global outrage after a 2012 fatal bus gang rape — require not only tighter driver laws, but also an unspooling of history, culture and politics.

Those are problems that can’t be “outgrown” as simply as Uber can learn to avoid playing fast-and-loose with users’ privacy. But they’re also problems that should have slowed Uber from moving into India unless it was better prepared to keep its passengers safe.

Transportation violence isn’t solely an Indian problem by any means. Uber has had its passenger safety practices come under fire here in the states several times: when a Washington, D.C. driver allegedly raped a female passenger last year, for example, and when a San Francisco Uber passenger accused his driver of attacking him with a hammer in September. Those and other episodes have been enough to prompt lawsuits against the company regarding its background check process.

But while the American taxi industry employs strict background checks, it doesn’t have a perfect safety record either. In the last few months, cabbies have gotten slapped with multi-decade sentences, not to mention horror stories from victimized passengers. The background check lawsuits facing Uber, then — while beneficial for improving safety — reinforce a misleading notion: that if Uber just gets on par with the taxi industry’s safety standards, somehow nothing bad will ever happen on an Uber ride.

From the start, Uber had set out to define itself against the taxi industry’s historical image — overpriced fares, beaten cars, a unionized immigrant workforce — and to re-imagine the sector as offering cheap rides, hip vehicles and attractive side jobs for recession-hit Americans. That contrast led some to believe Uber has operated on a different playing field, unregulated by law. But as safety concerns —and lawsuits — have emerged, Uber now faces a choice: On one hand, it can simply meet pre-existing taxi regulations, skirting by with minimum effort. On the other, it can go one better and do to taxi safety what it’s done to taxi convenience, making rides simpler and safer.

Read next: How Uber Breaks the Rules (And Why You Should Care)

TIME India

Putin Turns to India With Energy, Defense Offers

INDIA-RUSSIA-POLITICS
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Dec. 11, 2014 Findlay Kember—AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin was holding talks with Indian leaders Thursday to strengthen trade and energy cooperation

(NEW DELHI) — Russian President Vladimir Putin was holding talks with Indian leaders Thursday to strengthen trade and energy cooperation with Asia’s third-largest economy as Western sanctions threaten to push his country’s economy to the brink of a recession.

Putin’s discussions with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi are expected to focus us on deepening ties at a time when New Delhi is perceived to be drawing closer to the United States, especially in areas such as defense and investment.

Indian officials said nearly two dozen agreements on space, defense cooperation and energy were likely to be signed.

“Looking forward to a productive visit that will take India-Russia ties to newer heights,” Modi tweeted.

Putin’s visit comes as Russia is faced with plunging global oil prices and a depreciating rouble that has battered its economy.

Russia’s relations with the Western nations have plummeted since it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March. The United States and Europe have imposed sanctions for what it says is Moscow’s role in providing Ukrainian militants with personnel and arms, something Moscow denies.

The annual summit meeting would provide an opportunity for the two nations to take stock of the “special and strategic partnership” that the two countries enjoy, said Ajay Bisaria, the top official in India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

“This is a very significant visit,” said Bisaria. “Russia is a long-standing and a steadfast partner for India.”

During the Cold War decades, India and the Soviet Union shared a close relationship, while the United States tilted toward India’s neighbor and rival, Pakistan, especially in the dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.

India bought billions of dollars with of military hardware from Moscow during the Soviet era.

In recent years, India has become the world’s biggest arms importer, with an economic boom enabling it to modernize its military. New Delhi’s has a huge shopping list including fighter aircraft, tanks, submarines and other defense equipment that Moscow hopes to sell.

Over the past decade, India has tried to diversify its defense purchases, buying military hardware from the United States, Israel and France. Last week India said it was very close to clinching a $15 billion deal with France for 126 fighter aircraft.

Despite its attempts at diversification, Russia would continue to be the prime supplier of military hardware, Indian officials said.

“Russia is our primary defense partner, and will remain so for decades,” said Bisaria.

India is expected to seek assurances from Putin that Russia’s current problems with the Western world will not push it closer toward China. With the increased tensions with the West, Putin has sought to improve Russia’s relations with China with a new gas pipeline project worth tens of billions of dollars.

Putin has voiced hope that energy cooperation with India will increase, saying Moscow welcomes Indian energy companies to tap prospective oilfields in the Arctic. Russia plans to start supplies of liquefied natural gas to India starting in 2017, he said.

___

Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov contributed to this report from Moscow.

TIME India

Hyderabad Becomes the Second Indian City To Ban Uber

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Hyderabad Getty Images

Local transport boss says Uber’s services in the city are illegal

The southern Indian city of Hyderabad banned Uber on Wednesday, two days after the municipal government of New Delhi executed a similar ban.

Hyderabad’s joint transport commissioner T. Raghunath said that Uber’s services in the city, much like in Delhi, were illegal, the Times of India reports.

“Uber has not obtained permission from the Regional Transport Authority (RTA) to operate or facilitate taxi or cab services in the city,” he said.

New Delhi, meanwhile, has cracked down on all web-based taxi services for flouting transport regulations, and local authorities are urging the rest of the country to follow suit.

The Delhi ban followed, but was not related to, an accusation of rape made by a passenger against one of the ride-sharing company’s drivers. The Indian capital’s police have now reportedly summoned Uber’s Asia-Pacific head, Eric Alexander, for questioning about those allegations.

Uber’s legal woes across the globe continue to expand as well, with Spain and Thailand ordering the company to cease its operations this week.

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