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The Morning After: New York City’s Airbnb listings may outnumber rentable apartments

Airbnb makes news for a mix of good and bad reasons. When it’s not expanding the service to make it easier to stay between multiple properties on the same trip, its safety team (and terrible rentals) are becoming the subject of a documentary series.Now…

I tried (and failed) to channel my inner Bezos

We live in an age where the power of narrative is so strong that it has become the defining way to build organizations, products and brands. In recent decades, the tech industry has presented itself as the savior to all of our problems, and now dominates so much of our culture as a consequence. And there is a quasi-religious fervor to this, especially when we look at the lionization of certain individuals, or the fact that paid-for-marketing-types are called “evangelists,” and the in-group mentality that forms afterward.

If the model for this sanctified tech guru was Steve Jobs, then its most recent exponent must be Elon Musk. Musk’s rise coincided with a vacuum left in the wake of Jobs’ demise, and his image – his personal brand – has been tweaked several times in the last two decades. Compare this footage from the turn of the century when he received his first McLaren F1 to a more recent clip from last year. And Musk’s savviest piece of personal branding is to make him an aspirational figure both as an engineer and entrepreneur.

Noted philosopher Andre Agassi once said that “image is everything,” and that was back in the days before social media. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently after watching Apple TV’s WeCrashed. There’s a scene where Anne Hathaway’s character enlists the help of a personal branding expert who asks her, deep down, what sort of person she wants to be. It’s a scene designed to emphasize her inner turmoil at the time, but it got me wondering. Were these consultants invented for the purposes of the story, or do they really do exist?

It turns out that there’s a whole industry of people helping the titans of industry massage their personal brand. But branding, in this context, isn’t the same as styling or something similarly superficial. Its boosters would say it’s a combination of psychotherapy and marketing that, when done properly, is about resolving deep-seated internal conflicts in your psyche. And yes, you might need to pick a pair of shoes that test well with adults aged 29-45, but it’s a lot more about crafting a story around you, about you, which you can present to the wider world.

Branding consultant Lucy Freeman says that many of her clients reach their late ‘30s or early ‘40s and feel suddenly unmoored from their own personalities. “They come to this realization that [having reached a point of leadership in a company] they’ve let themselves disappear,” she said. That’s a problem, especially if they’re now expected to take on a more public-facing role and now need to “fight their way out of the company brand.”

Branding expert Am Golhar says that, often, it’s about how people “want to be perceived” that drives them to seek out help. Ed Zitron, owner of PR agency EZPR, agrees, saying that the point of personal branding is to gain “attention with the media,” so a person can “position themselves as good at, or smart, about something.” He added that “third-party validation is huge: You’d rather listen to a reporter that’s ostensibly done research on something than an ad or piece of marketing collateral.”

Emerge founder Emily Austen recruits a behavioral psychologist as part of her process, with a mission to help identify “what [the client’s] POV should, or could, be to have the space to say something others cannot.” She added that being seen as an “entrepreneur has become a status symbol,” a phenomenon supercharged by the ability to broadcast what you’re doing over social media. “It satisfies the [public] fascination with success, and it looks glamorous and exciting,” she said.

I also asked if it would be possible to drag some random from the street, My Fair Lady style, and turn them into a branding superstar. Golhar says that there’s “got to be something there,” citing the example of Gemma Collins, a British reality TV star who leveraged her larger-than-life personality on The Only Way is Essex to become a household name.

All of the people I spoke to described, in one way or another, a process whereby the figure looking to change has to first interrogate themselves. Golhar says that it’s about them going through an “alignment process [to discover] who they are.” Thought Leadership PR founder Helen Croydon added that the questions you ask people include “why they chose this career path” and what are their “talking points.” Before you can brand, or rebrand yourself, you need to understand what it is that you’re selling.

One common anxiety that clients share is the belief that they’re about to become a strutting diva. After all, executives don’t need a brand, which sounds a little too much like caring about what other people think of you, do they? (I mean, we all do care about what other people think about us, but it seems gauche to do anything so drastic as to do anything about that.) Freeman says that the process is more about re-discovering your “non-negotiables and absolute truths.”

Another thing that came up repeatedly was a desire for these figures to demonstrate that they were an expert in the subject matter at hand. “They do care about their image,” said Croydon, “but [they’re] more concerned with portraying professional expertise in their industry.” The hope is, as always, that the greater your esteem, the more you’ll be able to leverage that into future opportunities.

There are shortcuts, if you can afford it, that will help cut some of the time it would normally take to build your new brand. Croydon, for instance, explained that agencies will hire journalists to ghostwrite material on behalf of their clients. She herself employs a number of writers who can produce such content in the service of furthering someone’s brand. Not, she explains, because the individuals can’t do it themselves, but often they’re sufficiently time-poor that they need the help.

Zitron has made his name as a vocal critic of much of what the PR industry does and isn’t a fan of the idea of personal branding at all. “There isn’t an honest [process],” he said, “personal branding is intentionally choosing what you want to share with the world at large.” That, however, “involves hiding specific things, or intentionally obfuscating parts of your life so you look better or are accepted by more people.” “If you are building a narrative for a singular person that is not ‘this is their history and this is where they’ve got to in their lives,’ then you are intentionally misleading people.” Zitron added that while there is “nothing wrong with trying to present your best self,” which, of course, we’re all doing a lot of the time, there’s a problem if “you are doing so with malicious intent.”

But despite Zitron’s warnings, I did want to explore the world of personal branding, hell, it might even help me in my career. Freeman was kind enough to sign me up for a 90-minute session where we would delve into what exactly my personal brand was, and what it could be. She started by asking me questions about what I like, what my values are and what brings me joy. Then we moved on to questions about what I’d like to do more and less of, looking for problems in my day that I’d like to get past.

Then we spent a long time discussing, for instance, how my friends, family and co-workers perceive me – or how I think they do. These were, I’ll admit, hard questions, and there’s a noticeable pause when I’m asked Who do you tell yourself you are? The follow up was harder: Who are you afraid to tell yourself that you are? It was heavy stuff. Now, in any normal story, this is the point where I reveal I’ve got lots of good tips on finding my own personal brand to share with you. But that didn’t happen, mostly because, based on my responses, Freeman told me “you have never, actually thought about [your authentic self] for a second.”

Ah. Maybe it’s true, then, that in order to cultivate a personal brand that there has to be some nugget of raw something that can be shaped into something more effective. I wonder, too, if you don’t require a fairly hefty dose of self-belief, enough to propel you toward the idea of considering your brand in the first place. Clearly that is something I’ll need to work on.

Tesla Autopilot under investigation following crash that killed three people

A recent Model S crash that killed three people has sparked another Federal probe into Tesla’s Autopilot system, The Wall Street Journal has reported. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is conducting the investigation and said it’s currently looking into more than 30 incidents involving Tesla’s Autopilot.

The accident occurred on May 12th in Newport Beach’s Mariners Mile strip, according to the Orange County Register. The EV reportedly struck a curb and ran into construction equipment, killing all three occupants. Three construction workers were also sent to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Police declined to say whether Tesla’s Autopilot was involved. 

Tesla is one of a number of automakers that have released Level 2 driver assistance systems designed to ease driving chores. Those systems are far from full self-driving (Level 4 or 5) though, and Tesla specifically instructs drivers to pay attention to the road and keep their hands on the wheel. 

The NHTSA said last August that it was opening an investigation into Autopilot following 11 crashes with parked first responder vehicles since 2018 that resulted in 17 injuries and one death. 

The NHTSA itself has been criticized by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for not ensuring automakers include the right safety features in their Level 2 autonomous vehicles. NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy has called Tesla’s use of the term “Full Self-Driving” for its latest Autopilot system “misleading and irresponsible,” saying “it has clearly misled numerous people to misuse and abuse technology.” 

Apple Store workers at the World Trade Center accuse the company of union busting

The Communications Workers of America has filed a second Unfair Labor Practice charge against Apple this week. This time, the labor union is accusing the tech giant of violating multiple federal labor laws at its flagship World Trade Center store. The complaint alleges that Apple interrogated workers at the WTC store regarding their “protected concerted activities.” Apple also allegedly monitored those activities, or at least made employees believe that they were being monitored. Based on the group’s filing, those incidents happened on or about May 3rd. 

By May 15th, the group said Apple “unlawfully implemented” a rule at the store that prohibits employees from posting union flyers in work areas during their breaks. Further, it’s accusing the tech giant of conducting “captive-audience” speeches designed to discourage them from unionizing. 

Earlier this year, Apple Store workers across the US started planning to unionize in an effort to get the company to increase their pay, which they claim isn’t keeping up with the cost of living. Apple reportedly hired anti-union law firm Littler Mendelson, which counts Starbucks and McDonald’s as clients, in response. According to a Motherboard report, the company also recently started arming its Store managers with anti-union talking points. They were apparently instructed to tell employees that they could lose career opportunities, as well as personal time off and work flexibility, if they join a union. 

The Communications Workers of America also filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint against Apple on behalf of workers at the Cumberland Mall store on May 17th. In it, the group accused the company of holding mandatory captive audience meetings regarding the upcoming union election for the Atlanta location that’s scheduled to take place in early June. 

Tim Dubnau, CWA’s Deputy Organizing Director, said:

“Apple retail workers across the country are demanding a voice on the job and a seat at the table. Unfortunately, and in contradiction to its stated values, Apple has responded like a typical American corporation with heavy-handed tactics designed to intimidate and coerce workers. The best thing Apple can do is allow workers to choose for themselves whether or not they want a union. When we learn of situations where Apple is violating labor law, we intend to hold the company accountable and help the workers defend their rights under the law.”

Facebook issues $397 checks to Illinois residents as part of class-action lawsuit

More than a million Illinois residents will receive a $397 settlement payment from Facebook this week, thanks to a legal battle over the platform’s since-retired photo-tagging system that used facial recognition. It’s been nearly seven years since the …

A pregnant worker and labor activist says Amazon made her pick up trash alone

Two Amazon employees have accused the company of retaliating against them for their efforts to organize workers at a warehouse in Liverpool, New York. Ashley Mercer and Jason Main filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on May 17th.

According to Vice News, Amazon tasked Mercer last week with picking up cigarette butts, broken glass and other discarded trash in the parking lot of its SYR1 warehouse in Liverpool. Mercer told the outlet her manager sent her out alone and without water or sunscreen on a day when the temperature went above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Making the optics of the situation worse, Mercer is about six months pregnant, putting her at the end of her second trimester. “Approved for 10 hours parking lot clean-up,” an accommodation report obtained by Vice states. 

On the same day, the company suspended Mercer’s partner, Jason Main, who is also named in the NLRB complaint. Amazon later fired him for reportedly not using a step stool for moving merchandise. Mercer and Main have both been involved in agitating on behalf of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) at a variety of warehouses in New York. Additionally, the two have come to work at the Liverpool facility wearing ALU-branded shirts and masks, while Mercer has also done the same at two warehouses in nearby Syracuse, and passed out leaflets at JFK8, the Staten Island facility that became the first unionized Amazon warehouse in the US last month.

“It wasn’t until I started mentioning that I am part of Amazon Labor Union that they pulled me out of my position and put me outside the building,” Mercer told Vice. “I think it’s retaliation because I’m a big part of [the ALU] and it feels like as soon as you bring up the union, they treat you differently.”

We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment.

Amazon has yet to recognize the ALU. In April, the company challenged the result of the JFK8 vote, accusing the organization of threatening employees unless they voted to unionize. It also recently fired two employees who were involved in organizing that facility, and ALU itself was born out of the company’s termination of founder Christian Smalls, a former worker at the JFK8 facility.

Ubisoft’s free-to-play ‘Roller Champions’ heads to PC and consoles on May 25th

After it first unveiled the game at E3 2019, Ubisoft will finally release Roller Champions on May 25th, the publisher announced today. The free-to-play title will be available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – as well as Xbox Series X/S and PS5 throu…

Google’s Russian division is filing for bankruptcy

Google’s Russian division submitted a notice of intention to declare bankruptcy after officials seized its bank account. That “has made it untenable for our Russia office to function, including employing and paying Russia-based employees, paying suppliers and vendors, and meeting other financial obligations,” a Google spokesperson told Reuters.

Like many other companies, Google suspended most of its commercial activities in Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Despite that and the bankruptcy filing, it will continue to provide Russians with access to free services such as Search, YouTube, Gmail, Maps and Android for the time being.

In May last year, Russia fined Google around $82,000 for failing to delete thousands of pieces of content it deemed to be illegal. Authorities then fined the company approximately $98 million in December for similar reasons. That was estimated to be around 5.7 percent of Google’s 2021 turnover in Russia.

In recent months, telecoms regulator Roskomnadzor has been pressuring YouTube to lift restrictions on access to Russian media. A Russian TV channel reported last month that bailiffs seized around 1 billion rubles (approximately $15 million) from Google after it declined to restore the station’s access to its YouTube account.

While Russia has blocked many other platforms and services, including Google News, it doesn’t currently have plans to prevent users in the country from accessing YouTube. It said this week that residents would likely suffer as a result of such a move. Reutersreported that the streaming platform has around 90 million Russian users. 

Russia’s minister for digital development also said that, despite testing its own, closed-off version of the internet, the country plans to stay connected to the global network.

New York State AG investigates Discord, Twitch roles in Buffalo mass shooting

New York State wants to understand the part internet services may have played in the deadly Buffalo mass shooting. Attorney General Letitia James is launching investigations into Discord, Twitch, 4chan and 8chan over concerns they let the attacker “discuss and amplify” his plans. It was “chilling and unfathomable” that the shooter could post his intentions months in advance without facing consequences, James said.

The perpetrator reportedly talked about his plans for racism-fuelled violence on Discord, 4chan and 8chan. He tried to livestream the entire attack on Twitch. The service took down the shooter’s channel within two minutes and has clamped down on attempts to reshare the video, but that didn’t stop others from trying to distribute the video on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. On Discord, meanwhile, the culprit invited others to review his plans half an hour in advance. Both 4chan and 8chan have long focused on an anything-goes approach to content and have been accused of harboring hate speech.

A Discord spokesperson told Engadget the company would cooperate with the investigation. We’ve also asked Twitch for comment. Discord has a long history of banning extremist chat servers. Likewise, Twitch has previously pulled violent streams and curbed efforts to share the associated clips.

The investigations won’t necessarily lead to action against the involved sites. Whether or not they do, the move underscores the pressure on internet services to proactively remove hate and threatening speech, rather than reacting to incidents.

Democratic lawmakers want FTC to investigate controversial identity firm ID.me

A group of Democratic lawmakers led by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is calling on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate ID.me, the controversial identification company best known for its work with the Internal Revenue Service. In a letter addresse…