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Hybrid working has benefits over fully in-person working — the evidence mounts

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Nature, Published online: 12 June 2024; doi:10.1038/d41586-024-01713-1

Some employers are backing away from hybrid working, but research suggests that they need not be concerned.
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HarlandCorbin
2 days ago
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Employers moved to return to office knowing that some workers would quit. They don't care about how it affects the works, or even how it affects their companies.
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Never wait in the school car line again. Join a ‘bike bus.’ - The Washington Post

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SAN FRANCISCO — One crisp morning this March, I pedaled a journey that was once common but is now exceedingly rare in America: the bike ride to school.

Arriving in the city’s Mission District at 7:30 a.m., I expected to see a bunch of groggy children. Instead, the atmosphere was more like a festival. Kids sported fluorescent bike helmets with mohawks. Girls zoomed around their parents in princess costumes. One mom distributed doughnut holes to waiting children. Every few minutes, more cargo bikes arrived ferrying very young children while older siblings cruised alongside.

Then the music turned on. Someone started a bubble machine. Finally, a cry went up, and our impromptu caravan began rolling down one of San Francisco’s leafy residential streets.

This is a “bike bus”: a convoy of parents and children who ride to school, picking up kids along the way. While the concept has existed for years, a “bicibus” in Barcelona popularized the idea where it spread like wildfire through videos on social media in 2021. Thousands of parents (and kids) eager to step away from their vehicles have jumped on board. For the first time in decades, a small but critical mass of children are riding their bikes safely to school again.

During the 1960s, 42 percent of schoolchildren walked or biked to class. Today, the share has fallen to roughly 11 percent, only 1 percent of whom bike, according to Federal Highway Administration data. More than half of kids now get to school by car, up from 16 percent in 1969.

The bike bus offers children a different route, argues Sam Balto, a physical education teacher in Portland, Ore., whose joyful videos of students riding to school have helped ignite the movement in the United States.

He argues that America’s preconceptions of children — glued to their devices and reluctant to venture outdoors — are all wrong.

“You give kids an opportunity to be outside and be with their friends, no matter what the weather is, they want to do that,” says Balto, who co-founded Bike Bus World, an advocacy group to help spread the practice. “We just have to create opportunities.”

Transportation researchers estimate more than 470 bike buses are active around the world along routes anywhere from three blocks to three miles, including several in San Francisco.

I joined one to see how they roll.

Why kids don’t ride their bikes to school

If you grew up in the 1960s, walking or biking was the most common way to get to school. Among children from kindergarten through eighth grade living within a mile of school, nearly 90 percent walked or biked there. That began to change in the 1970s.

School districts, rather than renovate urban buildings or build close to students, relocated their schools to cheap land on the edges of communities, while cutting back on bus service. At the same time, the United States doubled down on infrastructure for cars. Between 1970 and 1990, the federal government devoted roughly $20 billion per year for roads and highways in inflation-adjusted dollars while allocating just about $3 million annually to bicycle and pedestrian projects, roughly 10,000 times less.

Today, it’s not surprising that 53 percent of public and private K-12 students arrive at school in private vehicles, and only about a third by school bus. That incurs a steep cost — on all of us.

First, there’s traffic. Ten to 14 percent of all private vehicles during morning peak traffic are school trips, estimated the Department of Transportation in 2009, a figure that’s only gotten worse as biking and walking have declined.

Then there’s time spent languishing in lines. University of Kansas economist Misty Heggeness wrote about her “deeply personal hell” driving two kids to two different schools for two hours every day. Her only other option, paying for the private bus service, entailed her kids waking up at 5:30 a.m. Instead, she says, she spent 390 hours last year as a “very expensive taxi driver,” she wrote by email. She estimates she squandered $28,000 in lost time based on her university salary, and then worked evenings or weekends to compensate. Even at minimum wage, the opportunity cost adds up to $5,850 per year.

Yet kids may suffer the most.

Vehicle pollution not only contributes to a hotter planet, it’s damaging children’s bodies: Studies show particulates from car exhaust seep into classrooms, lowering student math and English performance, and, over the long term, fuel childhood obesity, asthma, depression and anxiety, among other conditions.

Driving may seem like the safer option, but if children can’t build their muscles — and independence — with activities as simple as riding to school, perhaps we’re depriving them of something essential.

That convinced Jessica Tillyer, president of a marketing firm who moved from New York City to Montclair, N.J., several years ago, to turn her town into what is arguably the epicenter of America’s burgeoning bike bus movement.

Tillyer spent months after arriving in Montclair asking parents to join her on the way to school. “I would see a parent on a bike, pull them over, and say, ‘Hey, what’s your name?’” she says. “Do you want to bike to school together?’” Many of them said yes.

Today, Montclair Bike Bus ranks among America’s biggest bike bus communities, offering eight routes that ferry hundreds of kids to school. It’s not just transportation, says Tillyer. Adults use the time to socialize and meet new friends. Kids roll into school wearing T-shirts emblazoned with their bike bus bona fides. Families bond over the experience.

Tillyer’s main advice? Don’t overthink it. “Bike bus is 100 percent if you build it, they will come,” she says.

She fashioned Montclair Bike Bus as an organization without policies, waivers or permissions. Waiting until your city adds ideal bike lanes, for example, means you’ll be waiting forever.

“We’re just a group of parents that are biking with their kids to school, and we would love for you to join us,” she says. “With that as a model, you can just go ahead and do it.”

A few parents can lay out a route with a mapping tool, like Felt or Google My Maps, and then recruit a few families to join. The time commitment can be as little as a few hours per week, time otherwise spent in a car.

Tillyer’s team of volunteers has created a two-page starter kit offering rules of the road, bike safety tips and roles for parents: captains, sheepdogs and cabooses. Bike Bus World, which is modeled after the Montclair bike bus, also offers a step-by step guide.

Parents rightly worry if a bike bus, or any biking, is safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 81 bike-related deaths, and many nonlethal injuries, among children aged 1 to 17 in the United States in 2021.

So I asked Cara Hamann, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa, about how parents should weigh the risks. “Parents’ concerns about safety are valid,” she says. “However, a lot of that can be mitigated by choosing good routes, lower traffic roads and using bike lanes and trails when available.”

Given that roughly twenty times more children are killed annually as passengers in cars than in bike crashes, according to CDC data, “in general, the benefit of cycling outweighs the risks,” adds Hamann.

Bike buses offer bikers safety in numbers since they can use the entire lane, as entitled by law, while parents ensure vehicles stop at intersections. But even the safest ones have limitations.

Organizing daily bike buses is also beyond most parents’ schedules. It’s hard for children to ride home on their own since many neighborhoods don’t offer contiguous, protected bike lanes connecting to schools.

That makes bike buses a means to an end, says Luke Bornheimer, one of the three organizers of SF Bike Bus, which runs multiple bike bus routes in the city: “We need safe bike infrastructure so that any kid, any family, can bike to school safely without a bike bus.”

On the morning I joined SF Bike Bus, dozens of kids and parents had gathered at Garfield Square. More joined as we pedaled the route, melting into the phalanx of parents riding along. People cheered and clapped from the sidewalk. Cars stopped as parents waved them through intersections. By the end, about 80 people were filling the entire lane.

Two miles and 20 minutes from where we started, our small conquering army of elementary school students approached Presidio Knolls School.

“It’s social, people are happy, and it makes my whole day,” Charlotte Mooney, a teacher at Presidio Knolls School, tells me as her son, Sam, rides alongside her.

How did he like joining the bike bus to go to school? “It’s the best way,” Sam says, pedaling through the last of the music and bubbles.

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HarlandCorbin
11 days ago
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I would love to say that I have never waited in the car line, but there were a handful of times when someone missed the bus and had to be driven to school. Our school system has buses, so I don't understand the "drivers" at all.
acdha
11 days ago
What I find bizarre about this is that people spend _HUGE_ amounts of time to avoid their children taking the bus. I've heard people talk about ~40 minute drop-offs and it's all I can do to resist saying “you know you'll never get that fraction of your life back, right?”
HarlandCorbin
10 days ago
acdha - Exactly.
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1 public comment
acdha
11 days ago
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We live too close to the school to really need this but I believe there are groups going to Mundo Verde charter school and, IIRC, some of the Hill Family Biking group had organized rides to a couple of the schools there.
Washington, DC
hannahdraper
11 days ago
As I'm returning to the District this summer and my kids will be in a school several neighborhoods away, I'm contemplating this now...
acdha
11 days ago
If you aren't already on the DC Family Biking Facebook group, that's where I'd ask.
hannahdraper
11 days ago
Thanks! Checking it out now.

AI First Drafts

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HarlandCorbin
30 days ago
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This person is torturing AI bots. Beware, when the AI uprising happens they will be dangerous to be anywhere near!
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By I'm the boss, not you

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Today, after weeks of stealing lunch from one of my employees, he made a sandwich with canned cat food, soap, and something unimaginably spicy that caused me to spew all over my office and laptop. I fired him. Now everyone is treating me like a monster. FML
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HarlandCorbin
51 days ago
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Sounds like a lawsuit to me!
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Bring Back Private Offices (Open Office Sucks)

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HarlandCorbin
104 days ago
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WFH > private offices > cubicles > open office with personal space > first come, first served open office.

Current employer is pushing hard on the return to office, and renovating everything to be the last one, the worst one. They are actively working to reduce headcount, making the office more miserable is one of their tactics.
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Data broker allegedly selling de-anonymized info to face FTC lawsuit after all

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Data broker allegedly selling de-anonymized info to face FTC lawsuit after all

Enlarge (credit: Malte Mueller | fStop)

The Federal Trade Commission has succeeded in keeping alive its first federal court case against a geolocation data broker that's allegedly unfairly selling large quantities of data in violation of the FTC Act.

On Saturday, US District Judge Lynn Winmill denied Kochava's motion to dismiss an amended FTC complaint, which he said plausibly argued that "Kochava’s data sales invade consumers’ privacy and expose them to risks of secondary harms by third parties."

Winmill's ruling reversed a dismissal of the FTC's initial complaint, which the court previously said failed to adequately allege that Kochava's data sales cause or are likely to cause a "substantial" injury to consumers.

The FTC has accused Kochava of selling "a substantial amount of data obtained from millions of mobile devices across the world"—allegedly combining precise geolocation data with a "staggering amount of sensitive and identifying information" without users' knowledge or informed consent. This data, the FTC alleged, "is not anonymized and is linked or easily linkable to individual consumers" without mining "other sources of data."

Kochava's data sales allegedly allow its customers—whom the FTC noted often pay tens of thousands of dollars monthly—to target specific individuals by combining Kochava data sets. Using just Kochava data, marketers can create "highly granular" portraits of ad targets such as "a woman who visits a particular building, the woman’s name, email address, and home address, and whether the woman is African-American, a parent (and if so, how many children), or has an app identifying symptoms of cancer on her phone." Just one of Kochava's databases "contains 'comprehensive profiles of individual consumers,' with up to '300 data points' for 'over 300 million unique individuals,'" the FTC reported.

This harms consumers, the FTC alleged, in "two distinct ways"—by invading their privacy and by causing "an increased risk of suffering secondary harms, such as stigma, discrimination, physical violence, and emotional distress."

In its amended complaint, the FTC overcame deficiencies in its initial complaint by citing specific examples of consumers already known to have been harmed by brokers sharing sensitive data without their consent. That included a Catholic priest who resigned after he was outed by a group using precise mobile geolocation data to track his personal use of Grindr and his movements to "LGBTQ+-associated locations." The FTC also pointed to invasive practices by journalists using precise mobile geolocation data to identify and track military and law enforcement officers over time, as well as data brokers tracking "abortion-minded women" who visited reproductive health clinics to target them with ads about abortion and alternatives to abortion.

"Kochava’s practices intrude into the most private areas of consumers’ lives and cause or are likely to cause substantial injury to consumers," the FTC's amended complaint said.

The FTC is seeking a permanent injunction to stop Kochava from allegedly selling sensitive data without user consent.

Kochava considers the examples of consumer harms in the FTC's amended complaint as "anecdotes" disconnected from its own activities. The data broker was seemingly so confident that Winmill would agree to dismiss the FTC's amended complaint that the company sought sanctions against the FTC for what it construed as a "baseless" filing. According to Kochava, many of the FTC's allegations were "knowingly false."

Ultimately, the court found no evidence that the FTC's complaints were baseless. Instead of dismissing the case and ordering the FTC to pay sanctions, Winmill wrote in his order that Kochava's motion to dismiss "misses the point" of the FTC's filing, which was to allege that Kochava's data sales are "likely" to cause alleged harms. Because the FTC had "significantly" expanded factual allegations, the agency "easily" satisfied the plausibility standard to allege substantial harms were likely, Winmill said.

Kochava CEO and founder Charles Manning said in a statement provided to Ars that Kochava “expected" Winmill's ruling and is "confident" that Kochava "will prevail on the merits."

"This case is really about the FTC attempting to make an end-run around Congress to create data privacy law," Manning said. "The FTC’s salacious hypotheticals in its amended complaint are mere scare tactics. Kochava has always operated consistently and proactively in compliance with all rules and laws, including those specific to privacy."

In a press release announcing the FTC lawsuit in 2022, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Samuel Levine, said that the FTC was determined to halt Kochava's allegedly harmful data sales.

“Where consumers seek out health care, receive counseling, or celebrate their faith is private information that shouldn’t be sold to the highest bidder,” Levine said. “The FTC is taking Kochava to court to protect people’s privacy and halt the sale of their sensitive geolocation information.”

Kochava’s privacy solutions

According to the FTC, there are steps that Kochava could be taking "at a reasonable cost and expenditure of resources" to better protect consumers' privacy, but the data broker has been financially motivated to overlook those steps.

"Kochava could implement safeguards to protect consumer privacy, such as blacklisting sensitive locations from its data feeds or removing sensitive characteristics from its data," the FTC's amended complaint said. "However, far from protecting consumers’ privacy, Kochava actively promotes its data as a means to evade consumers’ privacy choices."

In his statement, Manning said that "prior" to the FTC's litigation, "Kochava announced Privacy Block—a sensitive location blocking solution."

"Through Privacy Block, Kochava has been blocking over 2.1 million locations from its data products on an ongoing basis," Manning said.

However, Winmill said that Kochava could not defeat the FTC complaint based solely on the timing of introducing this new feature. He wrote in his order that "Kochava’s implementation of a new Privacy Block feature"—which blocks "geolocation data near healthcare facilities, places of worship, shelters for the unhoused, and recovery centers"—occurred "after the FTC initiated its investigation" and "does not summarily foreclose the FTC’s request for injunctive relief."

It's possible, though, that Kochava introducing this tool will help lighten any potential penalties the company may face should the FTC win. In an order denying Kochava's motion to sanction the FTC, the court indicated that “more factual development is necessary to determine the impact the Privacy Block feature may have on the FTC’s request for an injunction.”

So far in 2024, the FTC has won two settlements with data brokers, including what FTC Chair Lina Khan confirmed was the agency's "first-ever ban on the use and sale of sensitive location data." In both settlements—won through the FTC's administrative complaint process rather than in federal court—the FTC required data brokers to delete previously collected data. Moving forward, data brokers who settled must also ensure that all users give informed consent for data collection, can easily trace where their data has been sold, and have easy paths to withdraw consent.

These appear to be solutions that the FTC agrees protect consumers from allegedly harmful data sales by companies like Kochava.

Kochava was founded in 2011 and on its website boasts that it sells data in major markets worldwide, providing marketers with "visibility into and management of billions of data points, millions of users, and hundreds of millions of dollars in lifetime value." The FTC said it filed its lawsuit in federal court to stop Kochava from "enabling others to identify individuals and exposing them to threats of stigma, stalking, discrimination, job loss, and even physical violence."

So far, Kochava has denied causing any harms to consumers, arguing that the alleged consumer injury triggering the FTC's complaint “is not caused by Kochava but instead by some unknown third parties.”

"Never in a million years did we imagine that as a small, law-abiding company we’d find ourselves in the ring on behalf of an entire industry," Manning said. "We’re here, we have the truth in our corner, and we’re in it to win it. We look forward to proving our case.”

But the FTC will not have to prove that Kochava directly causes harms, the court cautioned Kochava as it builds its defense. Under the FTC Act, Kochava could be found to be causing substantial injury merely by creating "a significant risk of concrete harm."

As the FTC continues cracking down on data brokers, a win against Kochava could ultimately trigger a wave of class action complaints from consumers who have reached their limit when it comes to tolerating unending invasive data collection.

"Consumers have expressed concern about the amount of personal information various entities—like advertisers, employers, or law enforcement—know about them and about how such entities use their personal data," the FTC's amended complaint said. "Consumers are increasingly reluctant to share their personal information, such as digital activity, emails, text messages, and phone calls, especially without knowing which entities will receive it. This is precisely what Kochava does, and its collection, use, and disclosure of consumers’ personal information under such circumstances imposes an unwarranted invasion into consumers’ privacy."

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HarlandCorbin
131 days ago
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Who wants to bet that the CEO's data isn't for sale?
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