Uber appears to be a company that just can’t get out of the way of controversy. The week actually started out good for the company with New York announcing that Uber drivers were clearly contractors rather than employees (unlike a California labor commission ruling that went the other way). However, on Wednesday afternoon an administrative judge in California declared that the company’s services should be suspended statewide for supposedly refusing to provide data that it’s required to provide under a 2013 law that helped “legalize” the service (that was already widely in use at the time).
Uber, for its part, insists that it delivered the necessary info and promises to appeal the ruling (which also includes a $7.3 million fine, which is pocket change for the company right now). It also appears to hint that the information that the Public Utilities Commission is seeking would actually violate the company’s privacy policies.
In a statement, an Uber spokeswoman called the decision “deeply disappointing.”
“We will appeal the decision as Uber has already provided substantial amounts of data to the California Public Utilities Commission, information we have provided elsewhere with no complaints,” spokeswoman Laura Zapata said. “Going further risks compromising the privacy of individual riders as well as driver-partners.”
The details seem to involve what kinds of data Uber was supposed to turn over, including specifics about requests from users with service animals or wheelchairs. Uber apparently didn’t have the ability to track that information in the past, though it does now. On the flip side, the California PUC argues that companies in the space were given a year to comply, and thus Uber had plenty of time to make sure it was compliant and failed to do so.
As part of the 2013 law that legalized ride-hailing in California, companies are required to prepare an annual report with data about rides provided through the app.
Uber’s 2014 report did not include hard numbers on customers who requested cars to accommodate service animals or wheelchairs, nor how often those requests were fulfilled, the judge said. The company also didn’t provide raw numbers on requests for rides tabulated by ZIP Code, and how many of those rides were fulfilled, instead providing “aggregates, averages and percentages,” and a heat map showing which ZIP Codes generally saw the most requests.
Uber also failed to submit complete information on drivers who have been suspended or committed a violation, the judge said. The company did not provide the “cause of the incident reported,” or the amount paid out by any insurance company other than Uber’s.
It would appear that the company and its lawyers are going to remain rather busy for the foreseeable future. It is, frankly, somewhat surprising that Uber didn’t do more to comply with these requests, even if it disagrees with need to hand over such information. Not fully complying was always going to end badly. There may be legitimate privacy arguments for Uber to make here, but it doesn’t seem like playing games with the CPUC is the best way to make that point.