2015-08-27 / Opinion

Caveat Emptor

In Latin, we say, “Caveat emptor.” In English, “Let the buyer beware.” The admonition was once applied to such things as used cars or to the wares hawked out of a suitcase by old-fashioned traveling salesmen.

Today, technology has changed everything.

In days of yore, if you were without a set of wheels you called a cab. No big deal: Call the local cab company and a driver was dispatched to your door. They were all regulated and licensed. Everyone played by the same rules.

Two years ago, Uber arrived in Newport—unregulated and unburdened by the regulatory strictures that, at the very least, provided riders with a modicum of assurance that they were in good, steady hands, and in a safe vehicle for their trip.

Regulated and licensed cab drivers pay for insurance, sales taxes and licensing fees. Who knows what credentials your Uber driver possesses— or is required to possess—in order to be driving you?

Online, Uber advertises, “Transportation in minutes with the Uber App.” Of course, this is where technology makes a difference. Your “app” makes reservations and waiting in lines things of the past. Money never changes hands; payment is automatically deducted from your debit or credit card.

Sound too good to be true? You decide. But Uber now operates in 50 countries.

In any case, Newport’s Orange Cab and Warwick’s Airport Taxi have filed a Superior Court lawsuit against Uber alleging that the newcomer operates illegally.

We will watch the progress of that lawsuit with great interest.

Those of us who put out newspapers are no strangers to the impact of technology on long-standing business enterprises. Once, of course, newspapers were the dominant journalistic force—and source—in America. Radio and television eventually came along. Technology, though, has changed things forever. Online journalism has altered what was once a morning and/or evening news cycle to a 24-hour news cycle. Blogs blurt out “news” whenever the blogger so chooses. E-mail never sleeps. If you own a smart phone, you can be, at least in theory, as powerful as The New York Times when it comes to breaking news.

Caveat emptor.

Meanwhile, daily and weekly newspapers continue to publish, both in print and online. Daily newspapers, especially, now typically have far fewer pages in print than in days gone by. And far fewer advertisements as well.

It remains to be seen whether the process of hailing—or calling for— a cab will go the way of the paper route. And unlike using the services of an unregistered driver, there is nothing unauthorized about getting one’s news online. Where the buyer is increasingly going with the more streamlined benefits of technology, it may be hard to stop the driving force of the ubiquitous Uber driver: convenience and availability.

Ah, technology.

Return to top