Police back Uber’s bid to keep London licence because taxi firm shares data about its 3.5m passengers and 45,000 drivers with intelligence officers

  •  The ride hailing app reportedly shares intelligence with British police
  • Shared information allegedly includes details about riders, drivers and journeys
  • This cooperation is a key point for Uber who are attempting to renew their licence with Transport for London after it was retracted due to ‘safety risks’ 

Uber will be allowed to keep its license to operate in the UK because it shares information with the police on drivers, passengers and journeys, it has emerged. 

A court has been told the ride hailing app shares 2,000 pieces of ‘vital’ information with senior officers in London alone. 

This intelligence is reportedly used to tackle drug dealing, human trafficking and child sexual exploitation, as perpetrators have been known to use minicabs to aid these crimes in the past. 

The revelations were made in court documents where Uber is trying to win back their private hite vehicle licence after Transport for London retracted it last year, citing ‘safety concerns’ 

But the revelations, reported in The Times, have concerned drivers and passengers who are concerned about their privacy when using Uber’s services. 

It is the latest development in a long running battle for Uber to renew its operting licence in the UK after Transport for London (TfL) refused to renew the company’s private hire vehicle (PHV) licence in November.

They claimed safety failures on the ride hailing app put passengers at risk, including allowing unauthorised drivers to work without adequate secruity checks. 

The company was awarded a five-year licence in 2012, but in September 2017 TfL refused to renew it – and the ride hailing app had to go to court where a judge handed it a 15-month licence in June 2018.

It was then given a further two-month licence in September 2019, after which TfL rejected Uber’s application for a new licence, citing ‘several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk’.

The UK is Uber’s largest European market since it launched in London in 2012, with 45,000 drivers and 3.5 million people using the service in London

Uber has made efforts to improve their service, including on document verification and governance. 

Magistrates must decide whether Uber is a ‘fit and proper’ operator, and the company have been presenting their arguments as to why they should be granted a licence.

Yesterday the court heard Uber ‘covered up’ the scale of a flaw in its app allowing dismissed drivers to pick up passengers nearly 15,000 times.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court previously heard Uber had a vulnerability in its systems which allowed unauthorised people to upload their photographs to legitimate driver accounts by manipulating GPS settings, enabling them to pick up passengers.

Some 14,788 trips were taken using bogus identities, but the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) said Uber did not tell TfL the full scale of the problem in a report submitted in 2019.

The Times have seen a skeleton argument lodged at Westminster magistrates’ court, in which Uber claims its support from police showed it fit the requirements for a new licence. 

The paperwork suggests that the taxi app shares information and intelligence with multiple bodies, including the national counterterrorism policing network, the National Crime Agency, the slavery unit of The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and British Transport Police. 

The UK is Uber’s largest European market since it launched in London in 2012, with 45,000 drivers and 3.5 million people using the service in London. 

Concerns have been expressed about this information sharing and the impact it has on the privacy of drivers. 

James Farrar, general secretary of the App Drivers and Couriers Union, told The Times they were  ‘deeply concerned’ about the ‘police mass surveillance and intelligence gathering on the Uber platform’.

He added: ‘With Uber’s licence hanging by a thread, the rideshare giant is particularly vulnerable to undue pressure from police and regulatory authorities to compromise the personal data protection rights of their drivers, couriers and passengers.’ 

Uber have been contacted for a comment.  

Uber ‘received 3,000 reports of sexual assaults on US rides in 2018’

Ride-hailing firm Uber Technologies Inc said it received over 3,000 reports of sexual assault related to its 1.3 billion rides in the United States last year, in a report aimed at ensuring drivers and the public it was serious about safety.

The figure – which averages eight a day – represents a 16 per cent fall in the rate of incidents from the previous year in the five most serious categories of sexual assault reported, Uber said on Thursday in its first biennial U.S. Safety Report.

The firm also said reports of assaults on passengers overlooked risks for drivers as riders accounted for roughly half of the accused.

The 84-page report comes almost two weeks after Uber said it would appeal the loss of its license to carry passengers in London over a ‘pattern of failures’ on safety and security.

Uber, which in the past has faced criticism over safety on its platform and has been repeatedly hit with lawsuits over driver misconduct, last year committed to releasing a safety report in a sign of a cultural turnaround under its new CEO. 

 

A number of tables (above) were included in the report which detailed the number of assaults during its 1.3 billion rides in the United States last year

The firm, which operates in 70 countries, said the report showed its commitment to transparency to improve accountability and safety industry-wide. It said it would use what it learned producing the report for its ‘next steps’ in other places.

‘I suspect many people will be surprised at how rare these incidents are; others will understandably think they’re still too common. Some people will appreciate how much we’ve done on safety; others will say we have more work to do. They will all be right,’ tweeted Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi.

In the report, Uber said 99.9 per cent of its 2.3 billion U.S. trips in 2017 and 2018 ended without safety incidents.

It said it received 235 reports of ‘non-consensual sexual penetration’ last year and 280 of ‘attempted non-consensual sexual penetration’ – nearly all filed by women. The remaining assault reports included incidents of unwanted kissing or touching of body parts.

It also detailed 10 fatal physical assaults in 2017 and nine in 2018 – eight victims were riders, seven were drivers using Uber’s app, and four were third parties such as bystanders.

At an event on Wednesday, Khosrowshahi said he prioritized improving Uber’s culture and safety when assuming his role in 2017. 

At the time, Uber was dealing with regulatory fallout and public backlash over its business practices, forcing former CEO and founder Travis Kalanick to step down.

 

‘We had to change the culture internally and we simply got to do the right thing,’ Khosrowshahi said, adding that Uber was not hiding anything by publishing internal information.

The report was released after Transport for London (TfL) revoked the cab-hailing app’s right to work in London after finding that at least 14,000 trips were made with drivers who were different to the ones shown on the app.

A change in the company’s systems allowed unauthorized drivers to upload their photographs to legitimate Uber driver accounts, the transport body said. At least one driver picking up fares had previously had their licence revoked.

The company has 21 days to mount an appeal and can continue to operate during that time. It will have to convince a court it is ‘fit and proper’ by the time of the appeal. 

It was reported in June 2018 that more than 2,500 Uber drivers in London had been investigated for sexual assault, stalking and dangerous driving – however it was not clear which time frame this related to.

Rival Lyft Inc in a statement said it was committed to releasing its own safety report and sharing information on unsafe drivers. It did not state a release date for its report.

The report also detailed 10 fatal physical assaults in 2017 and nine in 2018 – eight victims were riders, seven were drivers using Uber’s app, and four were third parties such as bystanders

Uber said it puts drivers through a vigorous background check before accepting them onto its platform. In its report, it said one million drivers failed to pass the screening test in 2017 and 2018 and more than 40,000 were removed from the app after extra screening layers.

Regulators have long said Uber’s screening process was insufficient and inferior to those in place for taxi drivers, with several U.S. cities attempting to compel Uber to mandate fingerprinting of its drivers.

New York City is currently the only U.S. city where drivers have to provide fingerprints and undergo the same licensing requirements as regular taxi drivers.

The New York City Transport and Limousine Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Uber’s safety report. In the past, it said fingerprinting was the only way to ensure proper safety.

An Uber spokeswoman on Thursday said the firm’s screening process was robust and rigorous, and was more reliable than the sometimes incomplete database for fingerprints.

Source: Reuters   

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