Campaigners seek ‘to sell US politicians’ browsing data’

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Supporters of one campaign said they would most like to see House Speaker Paul Ryan’s internet history

The organisers of two privacy campaigns say they plan to buy, then sell, the internet browsing histories of some of America’s best-known politicians.

But experts said the schemes were doomed to fail.

The campaigners are protesting against a congress vote to repeal a key internet privacy law earlier this week.

They said the SJR34 resolution, which would let companies continue to sell user data without their consent, would infringe people’s privacy.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the order soon.

One campaign, run by Adam McElhaney, has raised $146,732 (£117,698) in four days on the crowd-funding platform GoFundMe – 9,648 people have made donations.

Mr McElhaney said he planned to “turn the tables” on all of those who had voted to ditch the law.

‘Available for everyone’

“I plan on purchasing the internet histories of all legislators, congressmen, executives, and their families and making them easily searchable at [my website],” he said

“Anything they have looked at, searched for, or visited on the internet will now be available for everyone to comb through,” he added.

Mr McElhaney’s site is also inviting votes on which politician’s data should be purchased first, with Speaker of the House and Republican Paul Ryan topping the list.

Another campaign, run by actor Misha Collins, has raised $62,000 towards a $500m target.

He said: “Since congress has made our privacy a commodity, let’s band together to buy their privacy,”

“This GoFundMe [campaign] will pay to purchase the data of Donald Trump and every congressperson who voted for SJR34, and to make it publicly available.”

‘Individually identifiable’

But several reports suggested the plans were technically illegal.

The US Telecommunications Act prohibits the sharing of “individually identifiable” customer information except under specific circumstances.

Marketers may access user browsing data, but only in aggregate, for the purposes of targeted advertising.

And internet service providers (ISPs) would suffer huge brand damage if they sold off identifiable personal data.

Mike Masnick, founder of the Techdirt blog, said: “Here’s the real problem: you can’t buy congress’s internet data.

“You can’t buy my internet data. You can’t buy your internet data. That’s not how this works.”

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the Obama-era law, which required ISPs to obtain permission before sharing personal information – including location data.

The law was set to take effect at the end of this year.

Supporters of the move to repeal the law said it would increase competition, but critics said it would have a “chilling effect” on online privacy.

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China’s Tencent buys 5% stake in Tesla

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Chinese tech giant Tencent has spent $1.78bn (£1.4bn) on buying a 5% stake in electric carmaker Tesla.

Tencent, best known for its WeChat mobile app, has been investing in a number of sectors, including gaming, entertainment, cloud computing and online financing.

Tesla said the stake was passive, meaning Tencent would not get a say in how the US firm was run.

Shares in Tesla rose 2.3% in early trading following the announcement.

Tesla’s range of electric cars has included the Model S and the Roadster, which was billed as the world’s first electric sports car.

The company also specialises in battery storage, and, through its SolarCity subsidiary, residential solar panels.

The firm has been raising capital ahead of the launch of its mass-market Model 3 sedan, and gained about $1.2bn through a bond and share sale earlier in March.

Tencent, one of Asia’s largest technology firms, has backed several electric vehicle companies in the past.

It was an early investor in NextEV, a Shanghai-based start-up which since has rebranded itself as Nio and has offices in San Jose, California, close to Tesla’s base.

Tencent is now the fifth-largest shareholder in Tesla behind chief executive Elon Musk and investment companies Fidelity, Baillie Gifford and T Rowe Price.

Mr Musk remains the largest shareholder, with a stake of about 21% as of the end of 2016.

A win-win deal? Analysis by Simon Atkinson, Asia Business Reporter

Tencent is no stranger to putting money into US companies. Recent investments have included Snapchat-owner Snap and US Uber-rival Lyft – both of which have tech at their heart.

So its backing of Tesla can be seen as a vote of confidence in Elon Musk and his ambitious plans to produce affordable electric cars, and later fully self-driving vehicles.

More importantly, and perhaps why Tesla’s shares jumped on this news, Tencent could conceivably help Tesla make better inroads into the Chinese market.

Last year Tesla’s sales in the world’s most populous nation topped $1bn – but that is a fraction of what it was turning over in the US.

And if it really is going to make its Model 3 mass market, it needs consumers in places like China to be buying it.

Mr Musk has said he sees Tencent as an “adviser” as well as an investor, and the Chinese giant should have plenty of insight having already invested in businesses that are focusing on the future of transport.

As well as being an early backer of NextEV, it owns a slice of Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-sharing giant that effectively muscled Uber out of the market, as well as a stake in HERE, the German consortium owned by BMW, Audi and Daimler.

And recently Tencent Chairman Ma Huateng said he could see his firm getting involved in developing artificial intelligence (AI) technology for driverless cars in the future.

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Uber set to pull out of Denmark

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Cab hire firm Uber will withdraw from Denmark in April because of new taxi laws that require drivers to have fare meters and seat sensors.

Local taxi driver unions and politicians have complained that Uber poses unfair competition by not meeting legal standards required for established taxi firms.

According to Uber, 300,000 riders use its app in Denmark and it has around 2,000 drivers.

The service will shut down on 18 April.

In a statement the firm said: “For us to operate in Denmark again the proposed regulations need to change. We will continue to work with the government in the hope that they will update their proposed regulations and enable Danes to enjoy the benefits of modern technologies like Uber.”

Uber has been operating in Denmark for less than three years.

The firm said it would “allocate resources” to help Uber drivers during the shutdown process. It will maintain its software division in Aarhus in northern Denmark where it employs 40 people.

The firm has faced opposition from traditional taxi drivers in cities around the world. In the UK, a 2015 High Court challenge arguing that Uber should be regulated in the same way as other London taxi businesses was dismissed by a judge.

But in 2016, Uber drivers won the right to be classed as workers rather than as self-employed.

Earlier this month, it suspended its self-driving cars after an accident in Arizona when one of the autonomous vehicles – a Volvo SUV – ended up on its side.

It has also faced negative stories about its workplace practices and a number of executives have quit, including the president Jeff Jones.

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Samsung: Is Galaxy S8 the firm’s most important phone yet?

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The Samsung Galaxy S8 will likely be the South Korean firm’s biggest test yet: a phone that has to live up to the highest expectations and also the toughest scrutiny.

Even in normal circumstances, the stakes are high when a phone maker unveils its latest flagship handset. But the past few months have been anything but normal for Samsung.

And at the simultaneous release of the S8 in London and New York, the elephant in the room is a big one.

This is the launch that follows the Note 7 scandal last year, the phone Samsung recalled and then eventually scrapped after some batteries overheated and caught fire.

“With this launch, Samsung gets a chance to redeem itself after the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco…but it may be too early to say that Samsung’s troubles are behind it now,” says Kiranjeet Kaur of tech analysts IDC.

How much damage has been done?

While the Galaxy S models are the company’s flagship line and widely seen as the only serious competitor to Apple’s iPhone, the Note models are a range of large-screen phablets, aimed only at a niche market.

So did the global headlines of Note phones going up in flames burn the Samsung image?

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Samsung has said its Note 7 recall has cost it millions of dollars

Anecdotally the brand still seems in good shape.

Despite the YouTube videos of burning phones, the drip-drip of negative stories and the internet memes, Samsung does not seem to have been as tarnished anywhere near as badly as you might expect.

A Reuters/IPOS study in the aftermath of the scandal found Samsung users in the US remained as loyal to their brand as Apple users were to their iPhones.

Because the problem was identified shortly after the Note 7 was released the recall was mostly limited to early adopters, and this limited the negative experiences, said Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research.

“Your own personal experience trumps what you read and what people tell you,” Dawson said at the time of the Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Yet recalling, and then ultimately killing off, the Note 7, is thought to have cost Samsung $5.3bn (£4.3bn).

So, are they struggling financially?

No. Samsung Electronics saw profits surge 50% in the last three months of 2016, despite the Note 7 phone fiasco.

And the firm’s share price has climbed steadily over the past 12 months.

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Despite a difficult year, Samsung’s shares have climbed and climbed

That resilience is largely because the Galaxy S7 – the precursor to the new phone launched this Wednesday – has been a real success.

And it is even more remarkable given Samsung is also embroiled in South Korea’s political corruption scandal – with the firm accused of having bribed the government in return for political favours – something it strenuously denies.

Samsung heir apparent and de facto boss Lee Jae-yong has been arrested and is on trial accused of bribery and corruption. He also has maintained his innocence.

While this scandal has sent shockwaves though South Korea and the country’s corporate world, there is no evidence it has impacted the decision of consumers around the world when it comes to choosing their next smartphone.

What’s the competition?

For the past several years, Samsung’s has been caught in the middle, competing with both Apple’s premium iPhone on the one hand, and cheaper Chinese smartphones on the other.

Neither of these have gone away. The iPhone 7 continues to be a top seller for Apple, with the US company now even offering cheaper options – the older iPhone 6s and the scaled down iPhone SE – that still benefit from the premium brand image but are more affordable.

These factors saw Apple overtake Samsung in smartphone shipments for the first time in the last three months of 2016.

The IDC data showed Apple had 18.3% market share compared with Samsung’s 18.1%.

From the side of Chinese competition, the likes of Huawei, Oppo and Xiaomi are continuing to offer Android phones that regularly get top reviews but tend to be much cheaper than whatever Samsung has to offer with comparable specifications.

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The likes of Huawei are ready to take a big bite out of Samsung’s market dominance

So for a long time, Samsung’s lower and mid-tier offerings have been able to benefit from Samsung’s reputation of very good quality phones – distinguishing them from that “cheaper upstart” image of the Chinese competition.

In that respect, brand image was crucial for Samsung and many of its phones feed off the reputation of the flagship.

But it is worth noting Huawei, Oppo and another Chinese brand Vivo are now the third, fourth and fifth best-selling handsets respectively – with Oppo and Vivo each recording more than 100% year on-year growth in 2016, though admittedly from a low base.

Smartphone fatigue?

New smartphones tend to have incremental updates. Innovation is rarely distinctive enough to really stand out from whatever the previous model had to offer.

And that means all smartphone makers face the growing problem of handset fatigue.

Even Apple’s latest iPhone has been criticised as “more of the same”, with improved details but lacking enough new features to wow the average consumer.

Samsung faces the same tough problem.

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How to stand out from the competition?

The attention will be on three hardware elements: the camera, the display and the battery.

We can safely assume that the camera will be better, possibly trying to edge out the iPhone’s snapper with some added 3D features.

The display is expected to be bigger with a smaller bezel so that there might be more screen packed into the same overall size of the phone.

As for the battery, it is safe to assume that after the Note 7 issues, Samsung will have pushed its engineers more towards battery safety than capacity this time round.

In terms of software, analysts are also expecting a range of changes, with the new Bixby virtual assistant being just one of them.

Make it or break it?

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 might well be a make it or break it moment for the company.

If it does everything right, there is a good chance they can hold on to the crown of the Android market and the Note 7 will go down as a one-off flop.

Yet should anything at all go wrong, things might turn out differently. Trust tends to be a lot easier to lose than to regain.

The close scrutiny that Samsung’s new phone will be facing in the coming weeks and months, means even small glitches risk being magnified.

Jake Saunders, vice president of tech research firm ABI says there is little doubt that Samsung will have had its engineers working around the clock to make sure that the new phone is absolutely foolproof – but there will still be nerves.

“Samsung may be hoping for a smooth, glitch-free launch to restore consumer confidence in the brand, but it could be a long, hot summer.”‎

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Apple wins iPhone 6 patent battle in China

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Sales of Apple iPhones have declined in China thanks to strong local competition

A ban that threatened to stop the sale of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus phones in China has been overturned after a court ruled in favour of Apple in a patent dispute.

Chinese firm Baili sought a ban last year saying the iPhone infringed on the design of its 100C smartphone.

China’s patent regulator agreed with Baili and imposed the ban on Apple and local reseller Zoomflight.

The Chinese court that overturned the ban said the regulator did not follow proper procedure when it was imposed.

Application denied

Sales of the Apple phones were allowed to continue while the court case and appeal were being heard.

The Beijing Intellectual Property Court said the patent body had not given enough evidence to prove that a patented design was being violated.

The court said the iPhone 6 models did not infringe on the design and patents owned by Baili as people could easily distinguish between the 100c and the Apple models.

It did deny Apple’s application to have Baili stripped of the patent at the centre of the case.

Sales of Apple phones in China have come under pressure recently thanks to strong local competition from Huawei, Xiaomi and newer firms such as Oppo and Vivo. Last year, Apple sales in Greater China, which covers China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, were down 33%.

Beijing’s Intellectual Property Office and Baili said they were considering whether to appeal against the court’s decision.

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WhatsApp’s privacy protections questioned after terror attack

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The home secretary said it was “absurd” that terrorists’ messages were inaccessible to investigators

Chat apps that promise to prevent your messages being accessed by strangers are under scrutiny again following last week’s terror attack in London.

On Sunday, the home secretary said the intelligence services must be able to access relevant information.

Her comments followed the discovery that Khalid Masood appeared to have used WhatsApp minutes before carrying out his killings.

There are doubts about whether that action was related to the atrocity.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw has highlighted that the police had declared that they believed Masood had acted alone on the day, and would not have done so unless they had accessed and read messages stored on his phone.

Even so, the home secretary has summoned WhatsApp’s owner, Facebook, and other technology companies to a meeting on Thursday to discuss ways to ensure that security officers get the data they need in the future.

What has this got to do with encryption?

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WhatsApp indicates Khalid Masood used WhatsApp a couple of minutes before his attack

Several chat apps have adopted a technique called end-to-end encryption.

This digitally scrambles their messages’ contents when it leaves a sender’s device, and then reassembles it on the recipient’s computer using a shared key.

The technology company running the service is not made privy to the key, so is unable to make sense of the conversation even though it passes through its computer servers.

Some apps, including WhatsApp, Apple’s iMessage, Signal and Threema, use end-to-end encryption by default.

Others, such as Telegram, Line and Google’s Allo, offer it as an option.

If end-to-end encryption is active, the technology company running the app is limited in what useful information it can remotely disclose.

But if a phone, tablet or PC is not passcode-protected – or if the authorities find a way to bypass the code – the physical device itself will provide access.

Does that mean the technology companies have made it impossible for themselves to help investigators?

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Unscrambled data can be retrieved from iCloud back-ups

Not necessarily.

When someone sends or reads a message, they generate what’s known as “metadata” – information about their interaction that is distinct from the chat’s contents.

This can include:

  • the time a message was written
  • the telephone number or other ID of the person it was sent to
  • the physical locations of the sender and recipient at the time

WhatsApp has shared such details with law enforcement officers in the past and has said it has been co-operating with authorities over last week’s incident.

In addition, if Apple users subscribe to the company’s iCloud Backup service, the firm may be able to recover messages copied to its servers for safe-keeping and it has co-operated with investigators in the past.

What more does the government want?

It is not exactly clear.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, told the BBC that chat apps must not “provide a secret place” for terrorists to communicate, and that when a warrant had been issued, officers should be able to “get into situations like encrypted WhatsApp”.

On Sky News, she later added that she supported end-to-end encryption as a cybersecurity measure, but said it was “absurd to have a situation where you can have terrorists talking to each other on a formal platform… and it can’t be accessed”.

How this would work in practice is uncertain.

WhatsApp, for example, does not store messages on its servers after they have been delivered.

So, even if there was a way to retrospectively unencrypt the chats, it is unclear how this would work without significant changes to its systems.

At one point, there had been speculation that the Investigatory Powers Act – which came into effect last year – might ban chat app’s use of end-to-end encryption outright.

Instead, it stated that technology companies could be compelled to “provide a technical capability” to remove “electronic protection” within their products – which has been interpreted by some to mean app-makers might be compelled to secretly create backdoors or other security weaknesses to let messages be unscrambled.

Why might technology companies resist?

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Recent CIA leaks indicate it can be difficult to keep hacking tools a secret

Files leaked by rogue US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden and Wikileaks suggest that even the most closely guarded hacking secrets can be revealed.

And even if the tech companies did not share the technical details of the backdoors with the authorities – instead limiting themselves to passing on unscrambled chats – the very fact vulnerabilities existed means someone else might sniff them out.

As a consequence, public trust in their software might be undermined.

“The encryption debate always rages after a terror incident, regardless of how effective backdoors would have been,” said security consultant Troy Hunt.

“Even if, say, the UK was to ban encryption or mandate weaknesses be built into WhatsApp and iMessage, those with nefarious intent would simply obtain encryption products from other sources.

“These responses are kneejerk reactions by those who have little understanding of the efficacy and implications of what they’re actually proposing.”

The TechUK lobby group said other hacking powers and a move to make internet providers keep a record of their customers’ internet habits – which were also outlined in the Investigatory Powers Act – meant counter-terrorism officers already had strong powers to tackle threats.

“From storing data on the cloud to online banking to identity verification, end-to-end encryption is essential for preventing data being accessed illegally in ways that can harm consumers, business and our national security,” said its deputy chief executive, Antony Walker.

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Samsung plans to relaunch refurbished Note 7 devices

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Greenpeace crashed the Samsung stage at Mobile World Congress in March 2017

Samsung hopes to refurbish the 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7 devices that it recalled after a battery fault led to some catching fire.

If local authorities and carriers agreed, and there was demand, it may then resell the phones, Samsung said.

It also unveiled two other proposals for recycling the devices, including detaching the components and retrieving the hardware’s precious metals.

Samsung had faced pressure from environmental campaigner Greenpeace.

The organisation had lobbied the technology giant over its plans for the devices, launching a petition and staging global protests including at the Mobile World Congress event.

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Samsung said the refurbishment would depend on local authorities

“While we welcome this news, Samsung must share as soon as possible more detailed timelines on when it will implement its promises, as well as how it intends to change its production system to make sure this never happens again,” said Greenpeace East Asia campaigner Jude Lee.

Samsung said it would have to liaise with “regulatory authorities and carriers” and measure local demand before determining where and when refurbished handsets would be released.

The company is set to launch a new device on Wednesday 29 March.

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Google and Symantec clash on website security checks

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The clash is over the way websites handle secure connections

Search giant Google and security firm Symantec have clashed over the way websites are kept secure.

Google claims Symantec has done a poor job of using standard tools, called certificates, that check the identity of thousands of websites.

It will change its Chrome browser to stop recognising some Symantec certificates, causing problems for people who visit sites using them.

Symantec said Google’s claims were “exaggerated” and “irresponsible”.

The row concerns identity checks known as “security certificates”, which underlie the HTTPS system that ensures data is encrypted as it travels to and from a website.

Symantec is one of the biggest issuers of basic security certificates as well as their extended versions, which are supposed to give users more confidence in the security of a site.

‘Strong objection’

Google alleges that Symantec has not done enough to ensure that these basic and extended certificates are being issued correctly. It claims to have evidence that over the past few years 30,000 certificates are suspect.

In a bid to tackle the problem, Google said it would change the way many versions of Chrome display information derived from Symantec certificates. This could mean many users get warnings that sites are insecure or are blocked from visiting them.

In response, Symantec said it “strongly objected” to the way Google had acted, saying its decision was “unexpected”.

Its statement added that Google’s statements about the way it issues certificates was “exaggerated and misleading”. It threw doubt on the claim that 30,000 certificates had been issued incorrectly and said only 127 had been identified as wrongly issued.

Symantec said it had taken “extensive remediation measures” to improve the way it issued certificates and noted that many other certificate issuers had not gone as far.

It queried why it had been “singled out” by Google when other certificate issuers were also at fault.

“We are open to discussing the matter with Google in an effort to resolve the situation in the shared interests of our joint customers and partners,” it concluded.

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Social media firms ‘must do more’ to stop extremist material

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Social media companies must do more to tackle extremism and terror, senior ministers have said in the wake of the Westminster attack.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said she was asking companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook to be more “proactive”.

She is due to meet the firms this week.

In the Sunday Times, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also called for internet companies to develop technology to detect and remove extreme material.

The calls come after Wednesday’s terror attack when attacker Khalid Masood ran down pedestrians and fatally a stabbed police officer who was guarding the houses of Parliament.

In total five people died – including the attacker who was shot by police – and 50 others were injured, two seriously.

On Saturday the Metropolitan police said they believed Masood acted alone. But they added they were also “determined” to find out whether he had been was inspired by terrorist propaganda.

Ms Rudd said: “Each attack confirms again the role that the internet is playing in serving as a conduit, inciting and inspiring violence, and spreading extremist ideology of all kinds…

“We need the help of social media companies, the Googles, the Twitters, the Facebooks of this world.

“And the smaller ones, too: platforms such as Telegram, WordPress and

“We need them to take a more proactive and leading role in tackling the terrorist abuse of their platforms.

“We need them to develop further technology solutions.”

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Amber Rudd said she is meeting social media firms this week to discuss the issue

Mr Johnson attacked internet giants for their “disgusting” failure to remove extremist material.

He said: “They are not acting when they are tipped off.

“Evil flourishes when good men do nothing – and that’s what’s happening here.

“They are putting up adverts next to it.”

Earlier this month, Google’s European boss apologised after adverts from major firms and government agencies appeared next to extremist content on its YouTube site.

Matthew Brittin promised to review the firm’s policies and strengthen enforcement.

Marks and Spencer and Audi were among the companies that pulled their online adverts over the issue.

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Uber suspends self-driving cars after Arizona crash

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Uber said the car was in self-driving mode at the time of the crash

Uber has pulled its self-driving cars from the roads after an accident which left one of the vehicles on its side.

Pictures posted online showed the car on its right side on an Arizona street, next to another badly damaged vehicle.

The car – a Volvo SUV – was in self-driving mode at the time of the crash, on Friday, Uber said. No one was hurt.

A spokeswoman for the police in Tempe, Arizona said the accident occurred when another vehicle “failed to yield” to the Uber car at a left turn.

“There was a person behind the wheel. It is uncertain at this time if they were controlling the vehicle at the time of the collision,” spokeswoman Josie Montenegro said.

Uber’s self-driving cars always have a human in the driving seat who can take over the controls.

The company pulled its self-driving vehicles off the road in Arizona at first, followed by test sites in Pennsylvania and California – all three states where it operated the vehicles.

The incident follows a tumultuous few weeks for the car-hailing app service, after several negative stories about workplace practices and ethics.

A number of executives have quit in recent weeks, including the president, Jeff Jones.

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