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Uber admits misleading Australian riders, agrees to pay $19 million

Uber agreed to pay a $19 million fine for misleading riders by falsely warning they could be charged a cancellation fee and for inflating estimates of comparable taxi rides, the ride share company and Australia’s consumer watchdog said Tuesday.

Uber B.V., a Netherlands subsidiary of the San Francisco-based Uber Technologies Inc., admitted breaching Australian Consumer Law by making false or misleading statements in its app, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said in a statement.

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The first offense stems from a free cancellation policy that allows a customer to cancel a booking at no cost up to five minutes after a driver has accepted the trip.

Between at least December 2017 and September 2021, more than 2 million Australian customers who attempted to cancel within that five-minute window were warned: “You may be charged a small fee since your driver is already on the way.”

The cancellation message has since changed to: “You won’t be charged a cancelation fee.”

“Uber admits it misled Australian users for a number of years and may have caused some of them to decide not to cancel their ride after receiving the cancellation warning,” Commission Chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb said.

Uber said in a statement almost all riders chose to cancel their trips despite the warnings.

The second offense related to estimated taxi fares provided by the app to Sydney customers between June 2018 and August 2020 when the taxi ride option was abandoned.

The algorithm used to calculate the fare ranges inflated the taxi estimates. The actual taxi fare was almost always cheaper than Uber’s lowest estimate.

Uber had not ensured the algorithm was accurate, the commission said.

Uber apologized for the taxi fare estimate “being higher than it should have.”

Uber said it cooperated with the commission and made changes to its platform based on concerns raised by investigators.

“We are committed to continually raising the bar — for ourselves, our industry and most importantly for the people who use our services,” Uber said.

Uber and the commission agreed to jointly ask the Federal Court to order the $19 million fine.

The maximum fine Uber could have faced is difficult to calculate because the penalties rose sharply during the time in question.

The maximum financial penalties under Consumer Law had been $793,000 per breach.

They are now $7.2 million, three times the value of the benefit received or 10 percent of annual turnover.

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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