Maths and tech specialists need Hippocratic oath, says academic

Exclusive: Hannah Fry says ethical pledge needed in tech fields that will shape future

Mathematicians, computer engineers and scientists in related fields should take a Hippocratic oath to protect the public from powerful new technologies under development in laboratories and tech firms, a leading researcher has said.

The ethical pledge would commit scientists to think deeply about the possible applications of their work and compel them to pursue only those that, at the least, do no harm to society.

Hannah Fry, an associate professor in the mathematics of cities at University College London, said an equivalent of the doctor’s oath was crucial given that mathematicians and computer engineers were building the tech thatwould shape society’s future.

Despite being invisible, maths has a dramatic impact on our lives

“We need a Hippocratic oath in the same way it exists for medicine,” Fry said. “In medicine, you learn about ethics from day one. In mathematics, it’s a bolt-on at best. It has to be there from day one and at the forefront of your mind in every step you take.”

Fry will explore the power and perils of modern mathematics in December when she delivers the 2019 Royal Institution Christmas lectures. Made popular by figures from Michael Faraday to Carl Sagan, the demonstration-filled sessions were launched in 1825 and became the most prestigious public science lectures in Britain.

In the three-lecture series, Secrets and Lies: the Hidden Power of Mathematics, Fry will examine the maths of risk and luck, from finding the perfect partner to keeping healthy and happy. She will also explore how algorithms that feast on data have infiltrated every aspect of our lives; what problems maths should be kept away from; and how we must learn when the numbers cannot be trusted.

Fry said she got a sense of the ethical blindspots scientists can have while describing to an academic conference in Berlin the computer modelling of the 2011 riots she had done for the Metropolitan police. The audience, which understood the realities of a police state, heckled her from their seats.

When Fry returned to London, she realised how mathematicians, computer engineers and physicists are so used to working on abstract problems that they rarely stop to consider the ethics of how their work might be used.

The issue has become urgent now that researchers are building systems that gather and sell personal dataexploit human frailties, and take on life-or-death decisions. “We’ve got all these tech companies filled with very young, very inexperienced, often white boys who have lived in maths departments and computer science departments,” Fry said.

“They have never been asked to think about ethics, they have never been asked to consider how other people’s perspectives of life might be different to theirs, and ultimately these are the people who are designing the future for all of us.”

The case for a Hippocratic oath for scientists has been made before, including by the philosopher Karl Popper, who wrote in 1969: “One of the few things we can do is to try to keep alive, in all scientists, the consciousness of their responsibility.” Thirty years later, Sir Joseph Rotblat, who quit the allied nuclear bomb project for moral reasons, endorsed a pledge written by the US student Pugwash group.

On algorithms, Fry said she was not against them but wanted to drive home their limitations. She cited the case of the classic textbook The Making of a Fly, by the British biologist Peter Lawrence. At one point, Amazon was offering the book for $23m thanks to a war between sellers’ algorithms which had got out of control. In other circumstances, such a clash might not be so amusing.

The mathematician, who has deleted her Facebook account and uses false names and email addresses online, said she also believed the public must take some responsibility for the products tech firms served up.

“We’re getting the technology we’re asking for. And as part of that it’s really important that we have a national conversation about what it is we actually want. Because it’s very easy to make these decisions without full visibility of everything you are agreeing to.”

The genetics testing firm 23andMe was a case in point, she said.

“We literally hand over our most private data, our DNA, but we’re not just consenting for ourselves, we are consenting for our children, and our children’s children. Maybe we don’t live in a world where people are genetically discriminated against now, but who’s to say in 100 years that we won’t? And we are are paying to add our DNA to that dataset.”

The answer, she said, was to arm people with knowledge. “The future doesn’t just happen. We are building it, and we are building it all the time. The national conversation, what people are saying in the media, what people are talking about on Twitter and on Instagram, I do believe that makes a difference.”

The lectures, to be broadcast on BBC Four, will be only the fourth in nearly 200 years to focus on mathematics.

“One of the problems maths struggles with is that it’s invisible,” Fry said. We haven’t got explosions on our side. But despite being invisible, mathematics has a dramatic impact on our lives, and at this point in history that’s more pertinent than it’s ever been.”

Tickets for the live filming of the 2019 Christmas lectures will be available to RIGB members, patrons and UK registered schools via a ballot opening on 5 September.


Hundreds of Google employees urge company to resist support for Ice

Petition demands that the company not provide any technical services to US immigration agencies, citing ‘system of abuse’

Tech giant Google is facing a demand from hundreds of employees for an assurance that it will not bid on a government cloud computing contract that could be used to enforce US immigration policies on the southern border.

A group of employees called Googlers for Human Rights posted a public petition overnight Thursday urging the company to resist tendering for a US Customs and Border Protection or Immigration and Customs Enforcement contract.

It is not clear if Google or its parent Alphabet has already applied – the application deadline was 1 August – but the tech giant has previously drawn employee protests after signing cloud-computing or data storage deals with the government.

The company confirmed in March 2018 that it was involved with Project Maven, a $250m Department of Defense artificial intelligence initiative designed to provide 3D mapping that could be used for improved drone-strike battlefield accuracy.

Over 3,000 Google employees signed a petition in protest against the company’s involvement.

Google allowed the Project Maven contract to lapse in March this year.

In the latest dispute, more than 800 Google employees have so far signed a petition citing a “system of abuse” and “malign neglect” by US immigration agencies. The petition demands that the company does not provide any technical services to CBP, Ice or the Office of Refugee Resettlement until they “stop engaging in human rights abuses”.

“In working with CBP, ICE or ORR, Google would be trading its integrity for a bit of profit, and joining a shameful lineage,” the organizers said, pointing to federal Ice raids that have separated large numbers of migrant children from their parents and poor detention conditions that may have led to the deaths of minors from neglect.

Action by Google employees is not limited to protests over government contracts. Last fall, thousands walked out in protest at the company’s handling of sexual misconduct claims. That protest succeeded in forcing the company to publish new sexual misconduct guidelines.


Google Play app store accused of anti-gay bias

A popular gay social network has accused Google of discrimination after its app was removed from Google’s Play store several times without warning.

Hornet said Google often employed moderators in Malaysia, where same-sex relationships are illegal, to vet apps.

A rival gay dating app told the BBC that it had also been blocked globally by moderators based in the country.

Google said it did not comment on individual apps but denied that the company was anti-LGBT.

Christof Wittig, chief executive of Hornet, said he was concerned that moderators in Malaysia had the power to “remove LGBT apps worldwide, without warning”, given the country’s stance on LGBT rights.

In one example seen by the BBC, a moderator that appeared to be in Malaysia had gone through “nearby” profiles in the app and found a photo of a topless man.

The image did not appear to breach any of Google’s “sexual content” guidelines and was not reported to Hornet via its own content moderation tools.

However, the moderator suspended Hornet from Google Play.

Christof Wittig runs Hornet

Image captionChristof Wittig runs Hornet

In January, gay dating app Scruff introduced stricter profile image guidelines, banning photos of men in underwear or swimwear.

The app had also been suspended from Google Play several times prior to the change.

Mr Wittig said the practice felt like “selective enforcement” against LGBT-focused apps.

He pointed out that apps such as Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter had not been removed from the app store for hosting much more sexually suggestive content.

‘Algorithmic flagging’

On Wednesday, a group of eight LGBT video-makers said they were suing YouTube and parent company Google, alleging discrimination against LGBT people and content.

The group claimed Google’s algorithms routinely marked videos using words such as “gay” or “lesbian” as unsuitable for advertising.

YouTube said sexual orientation and gender identity played no role in deciding whether videos could earn ad revenue or appear in search results.

But Mr Wittig said he had experienced a similar problem with Hornet’s editorial content, which is hosted in its app and on its website.

He said Hornet had been excluded from advertising revenue for publishing LGBT-focused content, and he suggested that using keywords like “gay” and “homosexual” in articles about history, health and lifestyle “triggered algorithmic flagging”.

Google said it did not comment on individual apps.


Privacy campaigners warn of UK facial recognition ‘epidemic’

Investigation uncovers widespread use in museums and shopping centres

Privacy campaigners have warned of an “epidemic” of facial recognition use in shopping centres, museums, conference centres and other private spaces around the UK.

An investigation by Big Brother Watch (BBW), which tracks the use of surveillance, has found that private companies are spearheading a rollout of the controversial technology.

The group published its findings a day after the information commissioner,Elizabeth Denham, announced she was opening an investigation into the use of facial recognition in a major new shopping development in central London.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has already raised questions about the legality of the use of facial recognition at the 27-hectare (67-acre) Granary Square site in King’s Cross after its owners admitted using the technology “in the interests of public safety”.

BBW said it had uncovered that sites across the country were using facial recognition, often without warning visitors.

Secret police trials had taken place last year in Sheffield’s Meadowhall shopping centre, which could have scanned more than 2 million visitors. A spokesperson for its owner, British Land, said: “We do not operate facial recognition at any of our assets. However, over a year ago we conducted a short trial at Meadowhall, in conjunction with the police, and all data was deleted immediately after the trial.”

Up to 15 million visitors to the Trafford Centre in Manchester could also have been scanned by facial recognition, until an intervention by the surveillance camera commissioner pressured the site to stop using the technology.

It also emerged that Liverpool’s World Museum had scanned visitors’ faces during an exhibition on Chinese history in 2018. The National Museums Liverpool group, which controls the site and others, including the International Slavery Museum, told BBW it was “currently testing feasibility of using similar technology in the future”.

In Birmingham, the Millennium Point conference centre revealed in its privacy policy that it used facial recognition “at the request of law enforcement”. The area around the centre has been the scene of demonstrations by trade unionists and anti-racism campaigners.Quick guide

The privacy policies of a number of casinos and betting shops also refer to their use of facial recognition surveillance, including Ladbrokes, Coral and the Hippodrome Casino London.

Silkie Carlo, BBW’s director, described the rollout as an “epidemic of facial recognition in the UK”. She said: “The collusion between police and private companies in building these surveillance nets around popular spaces is deeply disturbing. Facial recognition is the perfect tool of oppression and the widespread use we’ve found indicates we’re facing a privacy emergency.”

Last month, the House of Commons science and technology committee said authorities should cease trials of facial recognition technology until a legal framework was established.

In a report on the government’s approach to biometrics and forensics, the MPs referred to automatic facial recognition testing by the Metropolitan police and South Wales police, noting that an evaluation of both trials by the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group had raised questions about accuracy and bias.


Social media must not rob us of the right to change our minds

To avoid charges of hypocrisy, Twitter users stick dogmatically to their declared beliefs. It’s poisoning our public discourse

It could all have been so different. In some parallel dimension, social media is being used to shape our political discourse for the better: as an arena where views and beliefs are expressed generously and listened to eagerly, where we allow our prejudices to be challenged, where we welcome opposing opinions, where we learn from those who see the world differently from us.

Alas, we are in this dimension, and we are human beings, so what could have had a beneficial effect on public life instead threatens its viability. And at a time when compromise is needed more than ever – not least to help ease a political impasse that endangers the social fabric of Britain – social media gives every appearance of having been devised solely to guarantee tribalism and intransigence. It is time for us first to acknowledge and then to resist its calculated manipulation of our psychological weaknesses, and assert afresh one of our greatest freedoms: the freedom to change our minds.

Much has been written about the echo-chamber effect, our propensity to surround ourselves with views with which we already agree, and distance ourselves from those holding opposing opinions. It encourages us to see the world as divided between us and them, to exaggerate the differences between self and other. But there is much more going on, and it has a direct relevance to Britain’s current bind.

We need more public figures to take risks, eschew cheap popularity and brave the inevitable charges of inconsistency

One of Twitter’s great selling points is that it allows us to record countless thoughts the moment they pass through our minds. But perhaps this public record of our beliefs makes it harder for us to change them. If, for example, a certain individual has spent years tweeting about the dangers of Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister, any softening of that opinion would surely be met with countless reminders of previous tweets on the subject. It is far easier to be consistent than risk looking hypocritical. In this way, Twitter encourages us to become beholden to notions that in truth now belong in the past, beholden to previous versions of ourselves.

There is something deeper here, too. Those previous opinions may well have proven popular – perhaps especially if they were expressed in strident terms. Likes and retweets and followers rack up; it’s addictive. Certain individuals thus build themselves up into brands: they become loved or loathed (each is of equal value on Twitter) based on the very predictability of what they are going to say.

This can be lucrative. In the current example, if your brand has been built on your visceral dislike of Corbyn, then any sign of equivocation risks not only a charge of hypocrisy, but essentially a threat to your personal business model. For the rest of us, it jeopardises self-esteem. And this is before we get on to the slew of icons and flags that so often accompany Twitter handles: what begins as an attempt to describe us can end up defining us.

Most people are not on Twitter. Huge swathes of the population are blessedly detached from it. But politicians and journalists – who, despite everything, still wield great power – almost uniformly are, and so what happens there has a wildly disproportionate effect. It is tempting to place on Twitter much of the culpability for our polarised politics, and it would certainly be naive to view it as somehow neutral, like a parish noticeboard.

Yet to blame the tech can be to abrogate our responsibility. We can lose sight of the fact that at the heart of all this are humans: weak, fragile, needy beings. If we can see what social media is doing to us and how it is doing it, we can start to do things differently.

Changing one’s mind, or allowing new circumstances to introduce greater nuance into strongly held beliefs, is essential to avoid the polarisation that poisons so much of our politics. There is nothing hypocritical about changing your mind; there is, however, in claiming to be evidence-led, but remaining defiantly dogmatic in the face of a changing world. We need more of our public figures and leading opinion-formers to take risks, eschew cheap popularity and brave the inevitable charges of inconsistency. Maybe the rest of us can help by giving them the room to do so without losing face. At times, it seems like Twitter holds us in a strange captivity. But to admit that we have got things wrong, and to let others do the same, is a way of breaking free. The need to do so has rarely been greater.


Huawei boss: UK ‘won’t say no to us’ over 5G rollout

Ren Zhengfei confident of UK deal with Chinese company, but security concerns remain

The founder and chief executive of Huawei has said Britain “won’t say no to us” over the Chinese firm’s involvement in the rollout of 5G mobile internet infrastructure.

The UK is considering the inclusion of Huawei equipment in the project after Donald Trump in May in effect banned the company from trading with American firms.

Concerns have been expressed about the security of Huawei’s 5G equipment and its alleged links to the Chinese government.

The Huawei CEO, Ren Zhengfei, told Sky News that Britain had a “very important” decision to make about the rollout. He added: “I think they won’t say no to us as long as they go through those rigorous tests and look at it in a serious manner. I think if they do say no, it won’t be to us.”

The UK’s National Security Council decided in April to an in-principle block against Huawei accessing critical parts of national networks.

Last month, the then culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, said the UK was still seeking clarity on the implications of US action against the Chinese firm, adding it would be “wrong to make specific decisions” before this had been achieved.

The White House said Trump and Boris Johnson discussed issues including “trade, 5G and global security” in a phone call this month.

The debate over Huawei’s future in the UK as a provider of 5G telecoms equipment has been a lingering issue, amid fears that it could enable the Chinese government to spy on people in the west – an allegation the firm has repeatedly denied.

In an indication of easing over Huawei, Three and Sky Mobile recently said they would offer the firm’s 5G smartphone to customers as part of the rollout of their new 5G mobile networks, making them the first UK mobile operators to do so.

Last week, the US national security adviser said during a visit to the UK that fears over Huawei’s involvement in Britain’s 5G network could wait until after Brexit to be resolved.

John Bolton said representatives of Johnson’s government had expressed an appreciation for the White House’s views on Huawei. He added: “They said in particular that looking really from square one on the Huawei issue that they were very concerned about not having any compromise in the security of telecommunications in the 5G space.”


Honor 20 Pro review: it’s all about the camera

The best camera in the mid-range market, backed by good performance and long battery life

The Honor 20 Pro is the new flagship phone for Huawei’s cheaper offshoot, offering some of what made the Chinese firm the camera master but at £550 it is a little overpriced.

The Honor 20 Pro is essentially the same phone as the £400 Honor 20 with a better camera on the back, a slightly larger battery and more storage. It was meant to be released alongside its cheaper sibling, but Donald Trump’s Huawei blockade caused it to be delayed.

From the outside the phones are practically identical. The Honor 20 Pro is 0.5mm thicker, 0.3mm taller and 8g heavier than the Honor 20, not that you’d notice. It has the same 6.26in LCD screen, which looks good but can’t match the OLED screens on rivals.

honor 20 pro review
 The selfie camera pokes through a small hole in the screen. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The same 32MP selfie camera pokes through the same-sized hole-punch notch in the top left of the display. The body has the same metal sides and glass back. The Honor 20 Pro has a nicer light-reflecting finish under the glass, but it’ll probably spend most of its life in a case anyway.

The side-mounted fingerprint scanner, which doubles as the power button, is equally great for right-handed users, but less so for those who primarily use their phone in their left. There’s no headphone socket either.

Overall the Honor 20 Pro is a good-looking, well-made phone that has a large screen, but isn’t quite as massive as some of the monsters available in 2019.


  • Screen: 6.26in FHD+ LCD (412ppi)
  • Processor: octa-core Huawei Kirin 980
  • RAM: 8GB of RAM
  • Storage: 256GB
  • Operating system: Magic UI 2.1 based on Android 9 Pie
  • Camera: rear 48MP wide, 16MP ultra-wide, 8MP telephoto and 2MP macro, 32MP selfie
  • Connectivity: USB-C (2.0), LTE, wifi, NFC, Bluetooth 5 and GPS (dual-sim available in some regions)
  • Dimensions: 154.6 x 74 x 8.4 mm
  • Weight: 182g

Reliable performance and battery life

Honor 20 Pro phone
 The USB-C port in the bottom handles power as well as wired audio, as there’s no headphone socket. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Under the hood is the same Kirin 980 chip as the Honor 20, but the 20 Pro has 2GB more RAM (8GB total) and twice as much storage at 256GB. Unsurprisingly it performs exactly the same. I couldn’t appreciate the greater amount of RAM in day-to-day usage.

That means you get a good performing all-rounder, which feels slick in operation, but not quite as fast and smooth as the OnePlus 7 or 7 Pro. The battery also lasts a long time, managing over 36 hours between charges, enough to see me from 7am on day one to 7pm on day two – four hours longer than the Honor 20.

There’s no wireless charging on the Honor 20 Pro. Cable charging reaches 75% in an hour and a full power in less than 90 minutes.

Magic UI 2.1

honor 20 pro review
 Magic UI’s gesture controls are in line with Google’s incoming changes to Android Q with swipes in from the side replicating the back button. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Honor 20 Pro runs the exact same Android 9 Pie-based Magic UI 2.1 software as the Honor 20. It works well most of the time, is good on battery and is fairly customisable. Some might not like the look of it out of the box, but you can change most of it with themes.

It’s not as good as OxygenOS on a OnePlus nor Google’s Pixel phones, but it’s getting better with each software release.

Under normal circumstances you could expect bi-monthly software updates for two to three years from release. But there’s a question mark still hanging over Huawei and therefore Honor’s ability to work with US companies such as Google, due to Trump’s actions. Honor says it is “confident” that it can update the 20 Pro with Android Q.


Honor 20 Pro phone
 The camera app on the Honor 20 Pro is easy to use, while its AI system does a solid job most of the time, tweaking colour and settings automatically. 
Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Honor 20 Pro has the same great 48MP standard camera, with added optical image stabilisation here, fun 16MP ultra-wide angle camera and disappointing 2MP macro camera as the Honor 20. New for the Honor 20 Pro is an 8MP telephoto camera with a 3x optical zoom.

That means you get some really good images from the main camera, well balanced with good colour and dynamic range. While overall detail is good, images look a little smooth on a highly textured surface on full crop, something most will probably never do.

Low-light performance was also good, although not quite as game-changing as Huawei’s P30 Pro. The ultra-wide angle camera is clearly inferior in less than ideal lighting conditions, but works really well in good lighting and gives you another perspective to use in your photography.

The 8MP telephoto camera produces a 3x optical, 5x hybrid and then up to 30x digital zoom. The 3x and 5x zooms produce really good, usable images in even average light levels, getting you far closer to the action than 2x optical zooms. The Honor 20 Pro has the best zoom short of the Huawei P30 Pro, which has 5x optical zoom, 10x hybrid and 50x digital.

Performance in video was similar to flagship rivals, although it caps out at 4K at 30 frames per second (not 60fps). While the camera app is generally easy to use, it still hives off HDR to a dedicated mode, rather than being built straight into the main photo mode. The front-facing 32MP camera pokes through a hole in the screen and is good, capturing detail-rich selfies even in fairly challenging lighting conditions.


honor 20 pro review
 The side-mounted fingerprint scanner is fast and easy to reach with your right thumb, but less so with your left index finger. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • The phone is pretty slippery so you’ll need a case to keep it from dropping out of shallow pockets when you sit down.
  • The vibration motor is not as good as rivals in 2019, feeling baggy and imprecise.
  • The frame of the phone traps hairs and fluff.
  • Call quality was good, but the speaker is fairly small and needs a bit of attention to get the correct alignment with your ear.


The Honor 20 Pro costs £550 in either phantom black (purple) or phantom blue (green).

For comparison, the Honor 20 costs £400Honor View20 costs £350, the OnePlus 7 costs £499, the Huawei P30 Pro costs £899, the Samsung Galaxy S10e costs £669 and the Apple iPhone XR costs £749.


The Honor 20 Pro offers a lot of camera for £550, getting you closer to the action and with a greater versatility than some phones that cost twice as much.

The rest of the phone is good too. It’s slick, isn’t enormous, has top performance and long battery life. The software is solid too, but there’s still the Trump-China trade war lingering over things that could cause issues with Android security and version updates should it escalate.

The two biggest problems with the Honor 20 Pro are its price and the existence of its non-Pro sibling. You get the same experience minus the camera zoom with the vanilla Honor 20 for £150 less, which also undercuts the best of the competition: namely the £499 OnePlus 7. I would argue the Honor 20 Pro is therefore £50 too expensive.

So the question is whether the Honor 20 Pro’s optical zoom is worth the extra money. If you’re after one of the most capable and adaptable camera systems on your phone for less than £600 then yes. If not there is better value to be had elsewhere.

Pros: hole-punch notch, snappy performance, good battery life, cracking camera, good screen, dual-sim, fast fingerprint sensor.

Cons: Magic UI not to everyone’s taste, slow updates, Trump, no expandable storage, no water resistance, no wireless charging, no headphone socket, right-side fingerprint sensor not for left-handed.

honor 20 pro review
 The glass back has multiple shades of purple that change depending on the reflected light pattern. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian


Buenos Aires judge bans delivery apps after road accidents spike

Ruling also raises concerns over workers’ rights, and orders credit card companies to block transactions made via apps

When a courier delivering a takeaway in Buenos Aires was hit by a car, the company’s response was not to check how he was, but to ask: “How is the order?”

Courier Ernesto Floridia, 63, was run over on 27 July while delivering pizza ordered through Glovo, an on-demand courier service. When he texted the company about the accident, the co-ordinator replied: “How is the order. It is in good or bad condition to be delivered?” When he said he couldn’t move, the coordinator messaged: “Ernesto can you send me a picture of the products please?” Journalist Yanina Otero tweeted a photo of the exchange in which Floridia’s phone appears to be smeared with blood.

The tweet went viral, andwas retweeted more than 60,000 times, with social media users outraged at Glovo’s response. A judge has now taken it to a provocative conclusion: he has ordered the suspension of delivery apps after finding that major players Rappi, Glovo, and PedidosYa, failed to comply with the law – which the companies deny.

Glovo said in a statement quoted in the judgement: “The company recognises its error in the handling of this specific case, since the internal action protocols were not followed correctly. The priority of the company is the safety of its couriers.”

On 2 August, Judge Roberto Gallardo ordered the suspension of the apps in the city over concerns that the companies don’t satisfy transport and labour laws. They are banned until they start following the law. His ruling applies to all companies that fail to comply with the law, but specifically mentions major delivery apps Rappi, Glovo, and PedidosYa.

Gallardo, who interrupted the mid-year judicial recess in order to handle the case, later said: “The situation described entails a foreseeable and immediate risk to frustrate the rights to life, physical integrity and work.”

He has ordered credit card companies to block transactions made via the apps. Delivery companies will also be fined ARS10,000 (£149.35) each time police checkpoints catch a courier breaching health and safety requirements.

But for many migrants, especially those fleeing the crisis in Venezuela, delivery apps have been a financial lifeline. Some say delivery work pays better than other work available, allowing them to send money home or study – but that rates vary between apps and some pay poorly.

Daniel Parucho, 21, arrived from Venezuela nine months ago. Faced with the need to earn, he worked on a delivery app using his uncle’s account while waiting for his immigration papers.

He looked for contracted work, but when he landed a job in a sushi restaurant the monthly wage was just ARS10,000 (£149.35) – paid under the table. The Argentine minimum wage is currently ARS12,500. Now, he is a full-time courier and made ARS18,000 in his first month. “I can cover my expenses, I can pay the rent, I can pay my debts and afford some luxuries I want to treat myself to,” he said. Nonetheless, he said companies need to do more to protect workers against theft and other problems.

In recent months there has been an alarming number of road accidents in Buenos Aires involving couriers, with 13 to 40 incidents per month since February, according to figures quoted in the ruling.

Venezuelans in Buenos Aires express their support for the leaders of the Venezuelan opposition. For many migrants fleeing the crisis in Venezuela, delivery apps have been a financial lifeline.
 Venezuelans in Buenos Aires express their support for the leaders of the Venezuelan opposition. For many migrants fleeing the crisis in Venezuela, delivery apps have been a financial lifeline. Photograph: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy

ASIMM, the delivery workers’ union which presented the recent case, said apps reward couriers for working faster, creating incentives to cut corners with road safety. It added that people sometimes use the platforms to send drugs, turning couriers into unwitting mules. Some couriers lend out their accounts, making it impossible to tell who’s really delivering the products. One worker who was hit by a bus reported that he was not covered by the insurance Glovo provided.

When asked for a response, Glovo told the Guardian: “In regard to the suspension of delivery applications in the city of Buenos Aires, we cannot comment on the individual allegations that appear in the court order while the issue is ongoing.”

In April, Ramiro Coyola, a 20-year-old Rappi courier and journalism student from Bolivia, was run over by a lorry and killed. Police said he wasn’t working for Rappi at the time, but local news reported that he was wearing Rappi clothing and two witnesses maintain his phone kept beeping with alerts from Rappi while the emergency teams did their work.

The delivery workers’ union says that apps reward couriers for working faster, potentially creating incentives to cut corners in terms of road safety.
 The delivery workers’ union says that apps reward couriers for working faster, potentially creating incentives to cut corners in terms of road safety. Photograph: Agustin Marcarian/Reuters

There have also been concerns over the employment status of couriers. Gallardo has ordered the companies to provide a list of all staff on their books. He referred to a July resolution stating that under Argentina’s transit and transport code, delivery app couriers should be treated as drivers employed by the companies. PedidosYa said the app workers are freelancers, free to choose how many hours they work and to work for other companies.

The three major app companies are defying the suspension and are continuing to operate. PedidosYa said the company has appealed against the ruling and said: “We are continuing to operate normally, since we comply with local regulations.” Glovo said: “[W]e feel that this measure – which will negatively impact more than 20,000 people – fundamentally infringes upon the autonomy of independent couriers, threatening their right to work by arbitrarily seeking to suspend a source of income. We are also deeply concerned about the economic consequences for a large number of local businesses.” Glovo is also planning to appeal against the suspension. Rappi did not respond to requests for comment.

Many couriers are also working despite the ruling. Some say they see no reason to stop because they are complying with all legal requirements, while others are not using company-branded gear to avoid being stopped by police.

ASIMM recognises that suspending the apps makes life difficult for couriers, said framework officer Gonzalo Ottaviano. He described the measure as “the last remaining alternative” in a drawn-out struggle against precarious working conditions.

Juan Manuel Ottaviano (no relation), a labour lawyer and assessor at the Association of Platform Workers, drew parallels with Uber. The ride hailing app is fighting a legal battle with the City of Buenos Aires about whether the law should treat it as a technology company or a taxi service. Drivers are left in a legal grey area, but keep working because they need the income.

“Instead of discussing working conditions, it’s about the legality or illegality of the workers,” Juan Manuel said. “It generates underground work, means more precarious working conditions.” He said app work is not characteristic of self-employment because it’s most couriers’ sole source of income, they receive direct orders, and can be disciplined.

While many people in the city rely on this work to make a living, the drawbacks of these apps are becoming increasingly apparent. “If the most important thing is how quickly the pizza gets there, more guys are going to die,” said Gonzalo.


Capital One accused ‘breached 30 other organisations’

A software developer accused of stealing data from finance company Capital One took files from over 30 other organisations, prosecutors claim.

The alleged thief, Paige Thompson, was arrested after reportedly talking online about taking Capital One data.

In court papers, the US Department of Justice claimed Paige Thompson had “terabytes” of data in her possession.

It said she had “intruded” into servers belonging to companies, schools and government agencies.

Legal challenges

Further charges against Ms Thompson could result from the evidence gathered during a search of her home, it said.

The FBI was working to identify all those who had had data taken so it could alert them to the suspected theft.

And investigators were also looking at the types of information allegedly taken.

The DoJ said there was no evidence yet that Ms Thompson had tried to sell the data she had allegedly taken from Capital One.

Ms Thompson is a former employee of Amazon and is alleged to have taken data from cloud servers it runs.

The Capital One data breach involved personal information about more than 106 million of its customers.

Data taken included names, addresses and phone numbers of customers who had applied for credit cards and other financial services.

Capital One said no credit card information was taken in the breach.

The legal document added the theft had left Capital One facing more than 40 cases of legal action in the US and eight in Canada.

The DoJ filed its court papers in a bid to ensure Ms Thompson stays in prison until the trial centring on the Capital One data breach begins.

It claimed she had a history of mental illness and threatening behaviour that led to her being a “flight risk”.

A hearing about the case is scheduled to take place on 15 August.