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Google vs Apple vs Microsoft: Which Online Office Suite Should You Be Using?

Image:
Fabian Irsara/Unsplash
/Google/Apple/Microsoft

You don’t necessarily need to install a desktop application to get your hands on a decent office suite any more, and the biggest names in tech all have free, online productivity tools you can access from any browser-so which one should you be using? We take a look at the features, strengths, and weaknesses of each.

For people who need to get online work done fast
 

Google has had a long time to refine its web app technologies-it picked up Writely, the foundation of Google Docs, in 2006. It shows with the slickness and speed of the Docs, Sheets, and Slides apps that are built into Google Drive. Don’t forget the wider Google Drive app either, because as far as organizing, searching for, and viewing files on the web goes, it’s ahead of iCloud and OneDrive at this point. If all you need to do is bang out a book report or whip up a small spreadsheet quickly to share to your boss, then Google Docs is your best bet. It’s the perfect blend of simplicity and functionality for the majority of people’s productivity needs.

Google Docs. Image: Screenshot

That Writerly heritage shines through most clearly in online-focused features like document sharing, commenting, and collaboration. Working on files with multiple users-and keeping track of who’s doing what-is a breeze, and sharing permissions are kept simple with three levels of access: View, comment, and edit. Files can be exported in a variety of formats, including Microsoft Office ones (but not Apple iWork).

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And as we’ve already mentioned, Google’s online apps are really fast and responsive in the browser, most of the time (we have noticed some minor slowdowns in particularly big spreadsheets). What’s more-and this will be a big deal for some-Docs, Sheets, and Slides can work offline to a large extent, so you can keep on tapping and clicking away even if you lose your web connection. Changes get synced the next time access is restored.

Google Sheets. (Image: Screenshot)

Google Docs isn’t overloaded with features, but what options it does have are neatly laid out in an interface built primarily for speed. You get all the basic formatting options, of course, plus a rudimentary stylesheet system, and standard features like a word counter and spell checker. The layout options aren’t extensive, but you can add tables and columns, while support for images is impressive-various word wrap, border, color cast and other options are available for each one.

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As for Google Sheets, again the formatting options are kept to the fore, with formulas, charts, and data filtering options a bit harder to find. Chart editing options are slick and simple-you can quickly bounce between different chart types for example-but the function and formula builder could be more intuitive than it is, occasionally kicking you out to a help page rather than giving you the tools you actually need to make some calculations in your spreadsheet.

Google Sheets. Image: Screenshot

Google Slides is probably the weakest of the three online office apps that Google has, although everything you need is here, from slide transitions to speaker notes, and the built-in Chromecast support is a great touch. Getting elements arranged on a slide can be a little clunky, and the formatting options aren’t the most extensive, but overall Slides will do its job. It does benefit from being a more modern app, so it doesn’t have all the desktop baggage that PowerPoint and Keynote do.

  • Best for:
    Web-only productivity, offline access, collaboration.
  • On the web:
    drive.google.com/drive

For people who need pretty visuals
 

Google might have the lock on simple and quick productivity, but Apple has the prettiest office suite, and the one best suited for whipping up attractive charts, fliers, and even nice looking slide shows. Yet as good as iWorks is for making pretty documents you still get a sense of desktop applications crammed into a browser rather than online apps written from the ground up to live on the web-in a lot of cases the interfaces look like they’ve been simply copied and pasted over from desktop to web.

iCloud Pages. (Image: Screenshot)

That pretty much sums up iWork for iCloud at the moment: Decent online extensions to the macOS apps, but not that compelling as standalone tools. The recently introduced collaboration options work well though, with invited users able to view or view-and-edit documents (there’s no third view-and-comment option as there is with Google)-user activity is highlighted with colored labels, and threaded comments help to keep everything neat and easy to follow.

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The interface isn’t quite as polished as it is with Google’s apps-as with the desktop apps, you can either hide the formatting pane, which gives you a very sparse layout, where a lack of text labels can make it tricky to work out how to do something; or you can show the formatting pane, which leaves you with a rather busy layout that doesn’t feel all that well organized. It’s not terrible, once you get used to it, but it’s probably our least favorite behind the ones crafted by Google and Microsoft.

iCloud Numbers. (Image: Screenshot)

The word processor, Pages for iCloud, comes with all the text formatting options you’re likely to need, including support for inserting charts, shapes, and tables. You can’t chop your pages up into columns using the web app, which is disappointing, but you can use tables and drop in text boxes that give you more flexibility in terms of layouts (linked text boxes are supported too). Image imports are smartly handled and it’s easy to get pictures flowing with your text.

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Numbers for iCloud is easily the weakest of the three productivity apps Apple has put online-it follows in the footsteps of the desktop app in focusing on tables and charts rather than entire spreadsheets, and getting everything together is trickier than it should be. When you do find the options you need, they’re usually simple to operate and switch between, but it’s hardly straightforward, and building up formulas isn’t all that easy either. At least the app can pipe out some decent-looking charts, but again finding the options you need to tweak and customize them could be a lot more straightforward (see Google Sheets). To be fair, Apple has never tried to make Numbers a full Excel rival, but that does mean the online version of the app is lacking.

iCloud Keynote. Image: Screenshot

There’s much better news in Keynote for iCloud, which could easily lay claim to being better than the rival offerings from Google and Microsoft. From adding new slides, to arranging elements on screen, to getting your presentation playing, everything is intuitive and responsive. In this app the formatting pane is actually useful and well laid out, and it’s perfectly possible to use Keynote for iCloud as a standalone program without any help from the desktop equivalent.

  • Best for:
    Extending Apple’s desktop applications on the web.
  • On the web:
    www.icloud.com

For people who really need Microsoft Office
 

Sometimes you don’t have a choice, the file has to be edited in Word, or you need the sheer power of Excel. While Microsoft took a while to respond to the growing threat of Google Docs, it now makes lightweight versions of its Office apps available to anyone online for free. As with Apple, these are very much desktop apps ported to the web and not nearly as powerful as their offline counter parts. Though overall we’d say Microsoft has done a better job of tweaking the functionality to work in a browser.

Word Online. Image: Screenshot

Again, documents can be easily shared with others online, whether to edit collaboratively or just to view, though the whole sharing, collaborating, and commenting process is more finicky than it is with the online apps from either Google or Apple. Files can be quickly opened in the desktop equivalents, as you would expect, and an area where Microsoft does have the edge is with the inline help system that can quickly tell you how to do something if you get stuck.

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In terms of the interface, the online versions of these Office programs are all taking their cues from the desktop programs-the ribbon menu is here, albeit with fewer options than you get on the applications for Windows and macOS. The bottom line is you get three apps that are more powerful than Google’s offerings, but also more cluttered and sluggish too, so it’s up to you which matters most: Features or simplicity.

Excel Online. Image: Screenshot

Load up Word Online and you get all of your formatting and page setup options neatly laid out on the ribbon menu, though we could do without the chunky top bar that doesn’t seem to serve any purpose except for shoehorning Skype into the app. All the usual features are here, from word count to headers and footers to comments, but it’s not quite as clean and polished as we would like-two separate icons for importing Pictures and Online Pictures? Perhaps the most positive compliment we can give it is that you’ll feel right at home if you’re a seasoned user of the Office applications for the desktop. Of course, as with all these Microsoft apps, you can create some very professional-looking documents, complete with tables and columns and images, but you’ll also get the feeling that the interface could use some optimization.

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When it comes to Excel Online, Microsoft’s years of experience pay off much better-because the app is necessarily more complex, the more complex ribbon menu layout makes more sense here. All the key stuff you need to do with a serious spreadsheet, like manipulating rows and columns, or filtering data, or building up formulas, is made much easier in Excel Online than it is in Google Sheets or Numbers for iCloud.

PowerPoint Online. Image: Screenshot

Finally, PowerPoint Online feels disappointingly limited compared with the desktop version, but if you take it on its own merits it’s competent enough-you still get some transitions, and animations, and organizing elements on slides is simple enough. The desktop features that are missing, like background customizations and dropping in audio files, mean it’s not quite as fully featured as we would like, but the capabilities that PowerPoint Online does have are all easy to operate and find your way around.

  • Best for:
    Producing Office-standard files in your browser
  • On the web:
    www.office.com
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Apps,

Brilliant Augmented Reality App Lets You Star in Your Own ’80s Music Video

GIF

GIF:
YouTube

One of the most memorable music videos of the 1980s is
A-ha’s “Take On Me”
featuring a young woman who’s pulled into a world that looks like it only exists as crude pencil sketches. The video took 16 weeks to animate by hand, but
Trixi Studios
created an augmented reality app that can recreate the effect in real-time.

Ever since Apple announced the availability of ARKit-a suite of new tools that make it easier to add augmented reality features to an app-at its
WWDC event back in June
, iPhone and iPad users have been anticipating how developers will use AR in new and unique ways.



Trixi Studios’
‘Take On Me’
app isn’t exactly a must-have feature for your phone, but watching it turn this home into a series of simple doodles inhabited by a virtual performer makes smartphones seem amazing again. And it’s experiments like this that will eventually lead to augmented reality breakthroughs we won’t be able to live without.

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[
YouTube
via
prosthetic knowledge
]

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Apps,

WhatsApp is now used by one in every eight people on the planet


WhatsApp now has a billion users actively using the app everyday. The messaging app which was acquired by Facebook jumped from
a billion users in a month
, to a billion users in a day in just a year. That’s one in every eight people on the planet.

WhatsApp has become omnipresent of sorts. It offers a versatile array of features like sharing photos, videos, documents to sending voice messages, video calling, apart from the emoji-filled texting. It virtually offers everything you need to communicate with anyone and all you need is a phone number and a working internet connection. It’s no wonder people have come onboard like anything.


The super high user numbers also points out the fact that WhatsApp is extremely easy to use. It’s not just the
internet-savvy millennials
who are using it, but even the late adopters. It doesn’t take much to learn to use the app.

The Evolution of Social Media: How did we get here in the last 20 years

WhatsApp now has a billion users actively using the app everyday. The messaging app which was acquired by Facebook jumped from a billion users in a month, to a billion users in a day in just a year. That’s one in every eight people in the planet.

However, with more users on board, WhatsApp has also become an echo chamber of fake news. People who are perhaps new to the app are falling for convincingly worded messages intended to incite a reaction. WhatsApp forwards have become a dreaded thing.

Also important is the way WhatsApp has penetrated every facet of our lives. It’s often our go to means of communication. Both formal and informal. That speaks of the dominance Facebook has in our lives. Together with Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram, Facebook is the platform where we are communicating digitally.

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Apps,

How Google Is Stopping Phishing Attacks from Unverified Apps

Photo: AP

Google is stepping up its effort to block phishing attempts that use app permissions to gain access to users’ Gmail accounts. These phishing attacks invite users to grant an app permission to manage their Google account-which lots of safe apps do, too-and then exploit those permissions to take over an account or send spam.

To stop these kinds of attacks, Google is adding a screen to the permissions process that will warn users if the app is new or unverified-signs that it might be linked to a phishing attempt.

“The ‘unverified app’ screen precedes the permissions consent screen for the app and lets potential users know that the app has yet to be verified. This will help reduce the risk of user data being phished by bad actors,” Google’s Naveen Agarwal and Wesley Chun wrote in a blog post announcing the change.

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The warning looks a little bit like Chrome’s warning when a site’s HTTPS encryption isn’t trusted. It requires users to click into advanced settings before they can commit to granting permissions to the app. Here’s what the warning will look like:

GIF

Courtesy of Google

Google recently started requiring new apps to go through a verification process to assess possible risks before being approved. In addition to the new warning system, Google will require some existing apps to undergo the verification process.

The warnings and reviews are intended to shore up an area of vulnerability for Gmail users, who may not be aware of the security risks that come with granting permissions to untrusted apps. These kinds of
OAuth exploits are on the rise
, so it’s good to see Google working to prevent them.

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Apps,

‘LinkedIn Lite’ Android App launched in India

Professional networking giant LinkedIn on Thursday rolled out the ‘LinkedIn Lite’ Android app, a faster and lighter version of its flagship app, in India.

The Lite app offers a seamless and intuitive experience of LinkedIn to users on Android’s operating system, that accounts for 97 per cent of India’s smartphone market.

LinkedIn has more than 42 million members in India.

“Besides providing a fast, data-light solution for professionals in slow network areas, we hope the LinkedIn Lite app will democratise access to economic opportunity,” said Akshay Kothari, LinkedIn’s Country Manager for India, in a statement.

“Regardless of their device or location, we hope to level the playing field for all LinkedIn members so they can get closer to their dream jobs, grow their networks and become more successful,” he added.

Developed by LinkedIn’s R&D team in Bengaluru, LinkedIn Lite app is first being rolled out to members in India.

The Lite app was inspired by the success of the lightweight mobile website, which was launched in September 2016.

LinkedIn plans to roll out the mobile web version and the Android app in over 60 countries shortly.

Built to run smoothly and offer faster access even on lower end smartphones, the app loads extremely fast – in under five seconds, even on 2G network.

The app size is only 1MB and reduces data usage by 80 per cent.

It also offers all key features like news feed, jobs, profile, network, messaging, notifications and search.

The LinkedIn Lite app is available on Google Play Store for all Android users in India.

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Apps,

Microsoft Kaizala is yet another productivity tool for organisations

With the world moving to mobility, communication and decision making in large organisations can get cumbersome. Various productivity apps have come up and today Microsoft added another one to list.

Microsoft Kaizala is now in India. It’s a mobile-only product designed for large group communications and to manage work. If you remember, the platform was announced at Microsoft’s Future Decoded event in Mumbai by CEO Satya Nadella earlier this year.


What is Kaizala?



It is a chat based productivity app which aims to connect mobile-first and mobile-only workforces and enable collaboration and work management. It is powered by the Microsoft Azure cloud platform and is said to support 2G networks and low-end smartphones as well.

According to the company, the app helps organisations seamlessly communicate, collaborate and complete tasks and bring together desktop and mobile-only users within or outside the organisation.

The new platform is being adopted by various Indian organisations including Yes Bank, Apollo Telemedicine, Republic TV, United Phosphorous Limited and Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan. Apart from these, the government of Andhra Pradesh is also one of the first users of the productivity application.

“The Digital India initiative is focused on harnessing technology to help India transform. Microsoft Kaizala, a made for India product, brings together the two disparate worlds of mobile only messaging apps and a digitally integrated modern workplace. The product will make it possible for organizations to interact with everyone both within and outside, seamlessly and with rich content. Microsoft Kaizala has been optimized for 2G networks to enable connectivity in remote locations and offers features with offline support.” said Anant Maheshwari, President, Microsoft India.


How is it different from Microsoft Teams?



While both offer similar features, Kaizala has been positioned as an end-to-end connectivity and productivity solution for people in the organisation that may or may not have access to Office 365 or are not necessarily using a desktop. As for Microsoft Teams, it is for organisations, which are already using and have deep integration with Office 365 applications.


Availability and features



Microsoft Kaizala is being offered in two options, a free version where users get 1:1 and hierarchical group chat, support for media and document sharing, built-in actions for polls, surveys, announcements, work management, offline and 2G support. Then there is a pro version which offers organization group management, user management (remove users from groups and wipe group data from device), the ability to create public groups, publish custom actions, advanced reporting, analytics, system integration and automation using Kaizala APIs. The pro version is priced at Rs 130 per admin for a month. The app will be available starting today on iOS and Android.

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Apps,

Yahoo Shutters That $30 Million App It Bought From a Teen

Image: Getty

Yahoo
is shutting down an app created by teenager
. Four years ago, said teenager sold the app to the struggling internet company for a reported $30 million. It’s one of many casualties from Verizon’s recent acquisition from the big purple Dot Com giant, but it’s especially interesting since Yahoo turned so many heads by spending such a huge sum on an app created by a teen. Then again, maybe it was inevitable all along.

The app in question was called Yahoo News Digest. It was apparently downloaded 9.5 million times and was based upon technology that aggregated news articles and summarized them in short paragraphs. The technology made headlines before its Yahoo days, when it was called Summly, because it was built by then 15-year-old named Nick D’Aloisio in 2011. Gadgetlayout encountered the young man the same year, when he sent an inordinate number of emails to our staff begging us to write about his app. Apparently,
we made him feel like crying
when we declined to cover the early incarnation of Summly.

But our sad buddy did okay in the end. Yahoo bought D’Aloisio’s app
for a reported $30 million
and gave the teen a job at Yahoo in 2013. D’Aloisio lasted two years at Yahoo, before leaving to attend Oxford in 2015. In his meteoric rise to recognition, the young man won worldwide press attention and his Yahoo spawn, News Digest, even won an Apple Design Award in 2015. According to Small Business Trends, a website we’ve never heard of and have no reason to trust, D’Aloisio is the “youngest funded entrepreneur.” A feather in his cap!

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How far they fall, how fast. After several mind-bendingly massive acquisitions (like Tumblr and, well, the teen-made app), Yahoo was officially taken over by Verizon earlier this month, leading to the long-awaited exit of embattled former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer as well as countless employees from both companies. News Digest’s send off was much less splashy than it’s acquisition to boot.

“We will not be creating any new digests as of June 30, 2017, the app said in a update. “We’ve loved serving you guys all these years.”

News Digest is just the latest victim of Yahoo’s demise, and as such, the app’s demise also serves as a fresh example of how misled, mistaken, and simply spendy huge Silicon Valley companies have become.

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We presume D’Aloisio is doing just fine, going to college and being a millionaire. Maybe he’ll end up working at Facebook, when he graduates. Maybe he’ll build a new app, one that survives longer than half a decade. Maybe he’ll fill a bathtub with cash and contemplate the narrative arc of his early life memoir.

One things for sure, though. He won’t be running Yahoo News Digest. Because Yahoo News Digest is dead.

[
Business Insider
]

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Apps,

Facebook hits 2 billion-user mark, doubling in size since 2012

Facebook Inc said on Tuesday that 2 billion people are regularly using its flagship service, marching past another milestone in its growth from a college curiosity in the United States to the world’s largest social media network.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg disclosed the number to his followers in a Facebook post. “It’s an honor to be on this journey with you,” he wrote.

The user base is bigger than the population of any single country, and of six of the seven continents. It represents more than a quarter of the world’s 7.5 billion people.

Facebook defines a monthly active user as a registered Facebook user who logged in and visited Facebook through its website or a mobile device, or used its Messenger app, in the past 30 days. It does not include people who use the Instagram or WhatsApp networks but not Facebook.

The company said in May that duplicate accounts, according to an estimate from last year, may have represented some 6 percent of its worldwide user base.

The social network’s user population dwarfs that of similar companies. Twitter Inc reported in April monthly active users of 328 million, while Snap Inc’s Snapchat had 166 million daily users at the end of the first quarter.

WeChat, a unit of Tencent Holdings Ltd and a widely used service in China, said in May that it had 938 million monthly active users in the first quarter.

Facebook had 1.94 billion people using its service monthly as of March 31, an increase of 17 percent from a year earlier. It reached 1 billion in October 2012.

The company, which Zuckerberg started in 2004 in his college dorm room, uses its huge size advantage to lure advertisers, offering them highly targeted marketing capabilities based on its data about users.

The number of advertisers topped 5 million in April, the company said.

Facebook’s growth has increasingly come from outside the United States, Canada and Europe. Three years ago, those regions accounted for some 38 percent of users, compared with about 30 percent in the first quarter of this year.

To increase penetration rates in developing nations, Facebook has rolled out pared-down versions of its apps that use less data, and it has been developing solar-powered drones to extend internet connectivity around the planet.

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Apps,

Secure Chat App Wickr Thinks It’s Solved the Encrypted Conference Calls Problem

Photo: AP

Remember when encrypting stuff was really hard? It kinda drives me crazy to think about how much time I wasted trying to set up encrypted OTR chat on Adium a few years ago, and now we can just download Signal or WhatsApp or Messenger and bam! Our chats are encrypted, just like that. We can even have an encrypted group chat. We’re so cyber-spoiled these days.

But calling is still a different story. Signal and WhatsApp have enabled encrypted one-to-one calls (although they’re a bit unreliable and drop regularly, at least they’re more secure) but conference calling has remained tricky because of the challenges of multi-party key management.

When you’re chatting or calling with one person, your device and that person’s device exchange keys, verifying that you’re talking to that person rather than some eavesdropper on your network. But the more people you add to a conversation, the more keys need to get exchanged, and it starts to create a mess. Cryptographers have tried to streamline the process with a few different tactics, and Wickr’s coming out with their own solution.

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“For the first time, you no longer have to choose between conference calling and encrypted calling,” Wickr’s cryptographer Joel Alwen told Gadgetlayout. “We’re giving people the option to have encrypted and forward-secure conference calls.”

Of course, other cryptographers will want to pick through Wickr’s protocol to make sure it’s secure. The code is
publicly available
on GitHub for review.

Because Wickr’s business is more focused on enterprise clients than consumers-the company likes to pitch itself as the encrypted version of Slack-the new offering is only available in its Pro app, at least for now. Wickr CEO Joel Wallenstrom explained that lots of his D.C. clients have been clamoring for a way to make secure group calls and so it became a priority for Wickr. “This is customer requirement number one from Wickr professional customers,” he said. “People have needed this for a while.”

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Apps,

Lawsuit: Over 99% Of Uber’s NYC Cars Inaccessible to People With Disabilities

Photo: AP

Getting rid of
CEO Travis Kalanick
has apparently not magically resolved all of ride-hailing giant Uber’s many, many problems, with the company now facing a lawsuit in New York over its near-total lack of cars accessible to people with wheelchairs.

Disability Rights Advocates filed a lawsuit in the State Supreme Court on Tuesday on behalf of a coalition of activists, the

New York Times

reported, claiming just 100 of Uber’s 58,000 cars within city limits are equipped to handle customers who use wheelchairs. In a complaint also posted to
DRA’s web site
, the plaintiffs wrote “Uber has demonstrated a total disregard for the needs of people with disabilities in the provision of its transportation services and the anti-discrimination laws of New York City.”

DRA noted that 100 wheelchair-accessible vehicles means over 99.9% of Uber’s NYC fleet is inaccessible to many passengers with disabilities. It said passengers trying to hail a car with Uber’s pilot program for wheelchair-accessible vehicles, UberWAV, “face extended wait times, or are still denied access to the service altogether, demonstrating that the new service is nothing more than window-dressing, designed to avoid government regulation and legal requirements.”

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For its part, Uber told the
Times
its UberWAV program has expanded to nearly 200 cars (in a city of
over 8.5 million people
), as well as offered financial “incentives” to sign up drivers with wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

In 2013, NYC
settled
a major class-action lawsuit by agreeing to require half of the city’s yellow-cab taxis to be wheelchair accessible.

DRA previously
filed lawsuits
alleging the MTA, which manages the city’s subway systems, systematically discriminated against passengers with disabilities by installing elevators in roughly 100 of 472 stations.

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Uber’s prior best hits include allegations of a
toxic culture of sexual harassment
,
miscalculating drivers’ income
and
theft of trade secrets
from Google’s autonomous car company Waymo.