Former Equifax chief will face questions from U.S. Congress over hack

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers are due to question the former head of Equifax Inc (EFX.N) at a Tuesday hearing that could shed light on how hackers accessed the personal data of more than 140 million consumers.

Richard Smith retired last week but the 57-year-old executive will answer for the breach that the credit bureau acknowledged in early September.

Late Monday, Equifax said an independent review had boosted the number of potentially affected U.S. consumers by 2.5 million to 145.5 million.

In March, the U.S. Homeland Security Department alerted Equifax to an online gap in security but the company did nothing, said Smith.

“The vulnerability remained in an Equifax web application much longer than it should have,” Smith said in remarks prepared for delivery on Tuesday. “I am here today to apologize to the American people myself.”

Smith will face the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday but there will be three more such hearings this week.

Equifax keeps a trove of consumer data for banks and other creditors who want to know whether a customer is likely to default.

The cyber-hack has been a calamity for Equifax which has lost roughly a quarter of its stock market value and seen several top executives step down alongside Smith.

Smith’s replacement, Paulino do Rego Barros Jr., has also apologized for the hack and said the company will help customers freeze their credit records and monitor any misuse.

There has been a public outcry about the breech but no more than 3.0 percent of consumers have frozen their credit reports, according to research firm Gartner, Inc.

Smith said hackers tapped sensitive information between mid-May and late-July.

Security personnel noticed suspicious activity on July 29 and disabled web application a day later, ending the hacking, Smith said. He said he was alerted the following day, but was not aware of the scope of the stolen data.

On Aug. 2, the company alerted the FBI and retained a law firm and consulting firm to provide advice. Smith notified the board’s lead director on Aug. 22.

Patrick Rucker contributed from Washington; editing by Clive McKeef.

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Former Vodafone boss backs India’s music-streaming service Saavn as it hits 18M users

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Mumbai-based music-streaming service Saavn announced Thursday that former Vodafone chief executive Arun Sarin has joined as an investor and strategic advisor.

The news comes less than three months after the company announced $ 100 million in fresh funding. At the time, it said it was adding one million new users per month, with 14 million in total.

As of today, that number has grown to 18 million monthly active users, which it says represents a tenfold increase in daily active users in India since last year.

Beyond that, it’s claiming more than 20 million songs (over 250 million streams per month) and a global team of 145 people across five offices.

“Music streaming is a core app on today’s smartphones, and Saavn is superbly positioned to grow rapidly in the fast expanding smartphone market in India,” Sarin said in a statement.

“As an innovative and nimble music-streaming company, at the heart of one of the world’s most valuable markets, Saavn hits all the right notes,” he added.

Meanwhile, the company’s cofounder and chief executive, Rishi Malhotra, said that over 90 percent of the service’s usage is driven by smartphones, and that it plans to “work more deeply with carriers in India and additional territories” in the coming months.

Sarin’s investment amount was not disclosed.

The company’s most recent series C round in July was led by New York-based hedge fund Tiger Global Management, and at the time it said that it expects to hit 20 million users by the end of the year.

But while the service may be the market leader on its home turf in India, it certainly has its work cut out if it hopes to expand globally — an area in which Sarin’s expertise will no doubt help. That said, the company did not make any mention of expansion plans today.

In general, the music-streaming space has been busy.

Earlier this week, we reported that Deezer is planning an IPO later this year as the battle with rivals Spotify and Apple Music heats up. And Google Play Music continues to expand with its official entry into Japan a few weeks ago.

Microsoft’s Groove Music just announced support on Sonos speakers, and Spotify hasn’t managed to keep out of headlines either: On Wednesday it launched its new “Mix Mates” playlist generator to help friends find music they share in common. (We also heard rumors that Spotify will be supported on Google’s upcoming second-generation Chromecast.)

The announcements from Saavn today are encouraging, but it’s only just the beginning of the global music-streaming wars — and versus many of the other big players, its user numbers are still relatively low.

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Former Uber driver was an employee, rules California department

An Uber car is seen parked with the driver's lunch left on the dashboard in Venice, Los Angeles, California, United States July 15, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Uber has lost another legal round in the dispute over whether its drivers are independent contractors or employees, an issue that threatens the core of the ride-hailing company’s business model.

The California Employment Development Department (EDD) determined that a former Uber driver in Southern California was an employee, not an independent contractor as the company has claimed, and the decision was upheld twice after Uber appealed by both an administrative law judge and the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.

The board’s ruling came from its Inglewood office in August. The case came to light when a lawyer suing Uber on behalf of other drivers posted documents to her website.

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The EDD decision is the third such ruling that appears to undercut how San Francisco-based Uber operates, relying on independent contractors to transport passengers.

The other two were by a Florida regulatory agency in May and the California Labor Commissioner in June.

More significantly, this is the first of those cases to be appealed and have those appeals denied, foreshadowing how other appeals may be handled, some legal experts say.

In the Inglewood case, a former Uber driver, whose name was withheld from case documents, applied for unemployment benefits in April 2014.

After the EDD determined the driver had rights to unemployment benefits as an Uber employee, the company appealed the decision first in November and again in June, according to the EDD.

According to the administrative law judge who heard the first appeal, Uber has sole discretion over fares, and can charge drivers a cancellation fee if they choose not to take a ride, prohibit drivers from picking up passengers not using the app and suspend or deactivate drivers’ accounts.

Based on that, “there was in fact an employer/employee relationship”, according to the decision.

The company argues that drivers want independent contractor status because they value the chance to be their own boss.

The decision, an Uber spokeswoman said, “does not have any wider impact or set any formal or binding precedent”.

Eight states have issued rulings that classify Uber drivers as independent contractors: Georgia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Indiana, Texas, New York, Illinois, and California, which made such a ruling in 2012 that applied to only a specific case.

But a federal judge in San Francisco ruled last week that drivers are entitled to class-action status in litigation over whether they are independent contractors or employees.

(Reporting by Heather Somerville; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

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