WPP merges Young & Rubicam with its digital ad firm VML

Advertising group WPP said on Wednesday it was merging Young & Rubicam, the U.S. agency it bought in 2000, with digitally focused VML to offer clients a broader range of creative and data-driven services from a single firm.

Alexa is reported down across Europe

Reports are coming in that Amazon’s Alexa service is down in parts of UK, Spain, Germany and Austria. According to Down Detector and Twitter, the problem started surfacing around 8am local time and still continues. Interestingly, some users are reporting the issue is isolated to Echo Dot 2 models and while other Echo devices are still working. Sometimes. Other reports say everything is down. When users try to talk to their Echo devices, Alexa will report an error with connectivity and spin a red ring around the top.

Because of this outage, users will have to use wall switches to turn on lights, press buttons to make coffee and look outside to assess the weather. Sucks. I know.

As Engadget points out in their coverage, the outage could stem from Amazon Web Service issues at the company’s Ireland facility. Amazon is now reporting that those issues have been resolved so there’s a chance Alexa will be coming back online shortly.

Top Uber executive disciplined after probe into office conduct: WSJ

Uber’s head of corporate development, Cameron Poetzscher, was disciplined after a probe found he had a pattern of making sexually suggestive comments about other co-workers, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, citing people familiar with the investigation.

China’s Didi Chuxing adds more safety features following passenger murder

Didi Chuxing, China’s largest ride-hailing firm, is rolling out new security systems one month after a female customer was raped and murdered by a driver, the second such fatality on its Hitch service this year.

Today the company said it introduced a number of new safety features which include random biometric ID testing for drivers (in addition to a selfie-based log-in each day) and the introduction of an SOS button within Didi’s driver app which connects directly to police. Didi said that SOS feature is tied into “a streamlined critical response process” — which includes “a special police response team” set up to assist with issues on the Didi service — and there are fatigue and tiredness alerts for drivers.

Earlier this month, Didi added a safety center featuring guidelines and help, and updated the SOS button within the passenger app so it goes directly to the police rather than customer support agents. The company also started trialing an on-route audio recording function for its Express and Premier services.

Didi’s CEO and chairwoman earlier said that it plans to prioritize user safety over growth.

The company faced strong criticism after it emerged that its own systems had been at fault in both murders. For the first fatality, the driver who committed the murder bypassed Didi’s driver authentication system (using an account belonging to his father) while a sexual harassment complaint lodged against the account before the incident was not followed up on.

The second murder showed further problems. The driver had been flagged to Didi’s safety team just one day before the murder after a female passenger complained that he had requested her to ride in the front seat and then followed her for some time after she left his vehicle. Yet, the safety center representative who handled the complaint had not followed company policy of initiating an investigation within two hours.

Didi fired two executives following the second murder — the general manager for Hitch and the company’s vice president of customer services — and it suspended the Hitch service for the second time this year.

China instituted new regulations around ride-sharing last month which included tasking provinces and autonomous regions with setting up passenger safety committees and ensuring that incidents are investigated promptly.

Rival Meituan, which raised $4 billion from an IPO in Hong Kong last week, entered the ride-hailing space earlier this year. The company has been keen to battle Didi but, perhaps sensing the difficulty of the moment, it suspended plans to expand beyond Nanjing and Shanghai and into more parts of China.

Didi has been without a strong direct competitor since it reached a deal to acquire Uber’s China-based service two years ago.

Google launches its group planning feature for Maps

Earlier this year, Google announced its revamped Google Maps, which puts a stronger emphasis on discovery. Some of the features the company announced back then have already launched, including many of the promised discovery and exploration tools, but the one feature that was still missing was group planning. But you won’t have to wait much longer to collaboratively plan your outings with friends in Google Maps because today, these collaboration tools are finally launching.

The basic problem Google is trying to solve here probably feels familiar to everybody who has ever tried to get a group of more than two people to decide on where to go for dinner — or any other outing, really. It usually takes way too many text messages to get everybody to agree.

Now, however, you’ll be able to create a list of places in Google Maps and then share those with your friends. And then, like in any good democracy, your friends can vote on where to go. Group members can also veto places by removing them from the shortlist and add other ones that they’d prefer (nobody said democracy was easy, right?).

Once you have created a list, you can share it just like any other link and your friends will be taken right to Google Maps on mobile or the web to join in the planning fun.

Grab halts late-night car-pooling in Singapore after driver complaints

Ride-hailing firm Grab said on Wednesday it would stop offering car-pooling services during late-night hours in Singapore after drivers complained about some passengers being drunk and argumentative.

Google to acknowledge privacy mistakes as U.S. seeks input

Leading internet search engine Google will acknowledge that it has made “mistakes” on privacy issues in testimony an executive of the Alphabet Inc unit will deliver to a U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday, according to a document reviewed by Reuters.

Tinder’s ‘Swipe the Vote’ campaign aims to educate young voters and get them to polls

Tinder has partnered with nonprofit Rock the Vote for a second time, in the hopes of driving young people to the polls through in-app messaging. The company claims a young adult user base where more than half are in the 18 to 24 demographic, and believes it’s well-positioned to mobilize younger voters during the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.

It’s critical to get these voters to the polls, as only 46.1 percent of the 18 to 29-year olds turned out to vote during the 2016 election, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the company notes.

Tinder says it will begin to share “fun facts” with its users during election season right in the app — like the volumes of voter registrations and other anecdotes related to past and upcoming elections. These facts will have a particular focus on those that are of most interest to Tinder’s younger users.

For example, some that will be shared include: “Did you know that only about 40% of eligible voters turn up for the midterm elections?,” and “Even though millennials make up 25% of the population, they make up less than 5% of state legislatures,” plus, “The average American is twenty years younger than their congressional representative.”

The facts will pop up in the app as often as two to three times a week in the U.S. as a “Swipe the Vote” native display card.

These cards will also include a way to tap to navigate in-app to the Rock the Vote website, where users can enter their ZIP code and details in order to register to vote.

Additionally, the two organizations also produced a Schoolhouse Rock!-inspired video encouraging young Americans to vote. (Though the Schoolhouse Rock reference may fly over the 18-year-olds’ heads.)

Tinder isn’t the only large platform participating in National Voter Registration Day today (September 25).

Others, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Snapchat, Lyft, HBO and many more have also rolled out their own campaigns in an effort to mobilize and register voters.

But because of Tinder’s access to a very young group of potential voters, it’s one of the more interesting efforts to watch, along with Snapchat.