Uber drivers in Europe are suing for access to more of the personal data the company collects on them, as permitted by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), including information on “profiling and automated decision-making.”
The union representing the drivers said they’re seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the algorithms that underpin Uber’s “automated decision-making” system. This level of transparency, the union said, is needed to establish the level of “management control” Uber exerts on its drivers, allow them to calculate their true wages and benchmark themselves against other drivers, and help them build “collective bargaining power.”
The action, which has been filed in the District Court of Amsterdam, where Uber’s European HQ is located, was initiated by four U.K.-based drivers with the backing of the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU), a trade union for drivers and couriers who work for app-based companies like Uber in the U.K.
The group alleges that Uber withholds key information from drivers, particularly metrics it uses to monitor their performance, such as late arrivals, canceled rides, inappropriate behavior, and attitude issues. This secret performance-related profile data, the plaintiffs argue, is what enables Uber to exert “management control” over drivers.
Uber has faced legal battles around the world for classifying drivers as self-employed independent contractors. As it happens, the company is due back in the U.K. Supreme Court this week to appeal a landmark 2016 ruling that declared Uber drivers should effectively be classed as employees, meaning they would receive paid holidays, rest breaks, the national minimum wage, and more.
A pivotal argument in many of these cases is the lack of control drivers have over their own “businesses” — drivers can’t set or negotiate prices with riders and are tethered to Uber’s terms and conditions. Demonstrating the level of “management control” Uber has over its drivers will help create a clearer picture of the “employment relationship.” In other words, if drivers really are in charge of their own livelihoods, Uber should have minimal control over their affairs. More than that, if courts increasingly agree Uber drivers should be classed as workers, the company should arguably be more transparent about the information it uses to assess drivers and whether such policies are being applied evenly and fairly across the board.
Uber’s data could hold answers to a number of ongoing questions. For example, Uber drivers’ accounts are automatically deactivated when their rating falls below 4.4 (out of 5), so gaining access to profile data around ethnicity could help establish whether drivers from certain backgrounds are more likely to be rated down by passengers. The Amsterdam court filing notes:
To determine whether there is discrimination or unequal treatment, drivers need access to the calculation of their rating in the Uber Driver App, the variance over time, and the variance with respect to others.
This isn’t just about the four drivers in question — the broader aim is to build a comprehensive “data trust” to help drivers and other workers in the information economy attain more collective bargaining power. To achieve this, the ADCU said it’s working with a nonprofit called Worker Info Exchange (WIE). “The drivers will ask the court to order Uber to respect their right to port personal data directly from Uber to their union’s fledgling data trust,” a statement reads.
An Uber spokesperson told VentureBeat the company “works hard” to comply with GDPR data requests but can’t always provide requested information.
“We will give explanations when we cannot provide certain data, such as when it doesn’t exist or disclosing it would infringe on the rights of another person under GDPR,” the spokesperson said. “Under the law, individuals have the right to escalate their concerns by contacting Uber’s Data Protection Officer or their national data protection authority for additional review.”
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