Breaking the donkey’s back: Texas cracks down on Burro’s delivery app for working with ‘household goods’

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The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has sent a letter to Burro, an on-demand delivery service from Austin, asking it to stop transporting household goods until its drivers prove that they are complying with the state’s laws.

Burro co-founder Ethan Hurtado says the company received the letter May 6 and ceased operations. The company hopes to be up-and-running next week as the result of various changes made to its “technology, marketing, and service.”

Until those changes are made, co-founder Jason Ervin says, Burro will offer free deliveries to all of its customers. He says Burro can “sustain itself” until all of the “technology and legal changes have been made” to the company’s service.

Here’s how William Harbeson, the director of TXDMV’s enforcement division, explained the department’s concerns about Burro’s service in the letter he sent:

Texas Transportation Code §643.051 requires all household good carriers to register, no matter the size of their vehicle. Anyone moving household goods in a pick-up truck or other type or size of vehicle for hire is required to register with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and show proof of insurance in the amounts required by law. “Household Goods” are defined by 43 Tex. Admin. Code Section 218.2(20), as “personal property intended ultimately to be used in a dwelling when the transportation of that property is arranged and paid for by the householder or the householder’s representative…” Thus, a piece of furniture bought at a garage sale would qualify as a “household good” and the person hired to transport that item from the point of sale to the purchaser’s residence must be registered as a household goods mover by the state of Texas.

Burro currently advertises itself as a way for people to receive goods from businesses, move household goods without having to rent a U-Haul, and facilitate the movement of items sold through online platforms like Craigslist.

Hurtado says that moving household goods, however, represents 15 percent of its business. He adds that the company’s growth “won’t be slowed by this little speed bump” and that it’s planning to introduce other services in the future.

But that didn’t stop him from complaining about the code in an email:

The codes are antiquated and need updating. If a store or manufacturer of household goods makes a request (arranges) for delivery and pays for the delivery with our technology, our drivers are not subject to Code 643.051 and TXDMV has no issue. But, if a Joe public pays for and makes this same request through out technology from the same exact store, TXDMV gets involved. […] This would be like the PUC saying to Uber or Lyft, ‘You’re illegal if Joe public uses your app to request a ride, but if a hotel, business, or bar makes the ride request and pays for Joe public’s ride, then [you’re] not breaking the law.’

Harbeson’s full letter to Burro can be found below.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]

PandoDaily

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Facebook cracks open Internet.org to address net neutrality concerns

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Facebook has introduced a new platform to address concerns that Internet.org threatens net neutrality in the developing markets it’s hoping to bring online.

The platform intends to make it easier for developers to create software that works with the initiative to “offer services through Internet.org in a way that’s more transparent and inclusive.” Facebook is waving the white flag.

Internet.org has been criticized in the past for offering what the Electronic Frontier Foundation described as a “fishbowl” Internet that allows some freedom but cuts people off from the Internet’s larger “ocean” of websites.

That proclamation followed recent criticism from Indian companies that backed out of partnerships with Internet.org and Latin American activists who warned against plans to use the initiative to provide Internet access to remote regions.

Mark Zuckerberg then took to his Facebook page to respond to those criticisms. His argument boiled down to this: It’s better for consumers in remote areas to have access to a fishbowl Internet than for them to remain totally land-locked.

Facebook explains in this platform’s announcement that Internet.org should be open to all companies, and that it initially limited access to the initiative so it could make sure its telecom partners wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the effort.

Yet this isn’t really an “open” platform. Facebook has some requirements — namely, that services help people “ultimately become paying users of the Internet” and are built specifically with Internet.org compatibility in mind.

That first requirement isn’t surprising. Of course Facebook wants people to pay to use the Internet; that brings them a step closer to making Facebook money. But the technical specifications, which explicitly prohibit developers from requiring the use of various encryption standards, are a little more worrisome.

Does that mean Facebook can’t guarantee the safety of data transferred via Internet.org? Is the company worried that encrypting the data will lead some governments to ban Internet.org from their countries? Or is it a technical issue?

You won’t find any answers on the technical guidelines page Facebook links to in its announcement. At the time of writing, this is the only thing on the page:

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 9.21.30 AM

[illustration by Brad Jonas]

PandoDaily

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