When Transport for London (TfL) ruled it would not renew Uber’s operating licence in the capital in September, the decision shocked many – not least of which the tech firm itself, which first responded to the news with aggressive threats to take TfL to court.
But days later Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi adopted a more conciliatory tone in an ‘open letter’ to Londoners.
Saying that Uber would appeal the decision, Khosrowshahi noted the company would do so “with the knowledge that we must also change”.
“We will run our business with humility, integrity and passion,” the letter read, adding that Uber would work “to make things right”.
But even as Uber’s boss promised the company in talks with London Mayor Sadiq Khan that it would change its ways and address the problems TfL had highlighted over its abysmal safety and transparency record, Khosrowshahi was sitting on yet another dirty secret.
The news surfaced in November that Uber drivers and customers were victims of a massive data breach last year – affecting 57m people globally, and according to the company, 2.7m people in the UK alone.
Uber is legally obligated to report data breaches to both the victims and regulators, but it failed to do so – and kept it secret for over a year.
The astonishing cover-up was compounded by the fact that Uber paid the hackers who stole the data a $100,000 ransom to delete it.
The company now faces investigations in jurisdictions around the world, including in the UK, where Uber may be hit with fines of up to £500,000 from the Information Commissioner and potentially millions more under EU law.
In the wake of the data scandal, Labour MP Wes Streeting spoke in the Commons urging the government to maximise penalties against Uber and hold the company to account.
After all, Streeting highlighted, UK customers still do not have any iron-clad assurances over the safety of their personal information.
Unite London Cab Section rep Peter Rose said Uber’s latest shocking transgression adds to the mountain of evidence showing that the firm is not a ‘fit and proper’ private hire operator.
This isn’t only a subjective judgement but it is an actual legal requirement – when private hire operators and drivers apply for a license from local authorities they must pass what is called a ‘fit and proper’ test.
To be deemed ‘fit and proper’, drivers and operators must be of good character – and any evidence to the contrary would be grounds for revoking or refusing a licence.
“The data breach and cover-up are yet another violation – in a long line of them – which blatantly goes against that ‘fit and proper’ test,” Rose said. “On the basis of the data breach alone, the company was wilfully dishonest and withheld information from the public and authorities.
“A key component of being ‘fit and proper’ is trust – and Uber has violated this trust time and again.”
Streeting echoed Rose’s sentiments in his speech in the Commons last month as he outlined how Uber has broken the UK public’s trust.
“I am pro-tech, pro-competition and pro-innovation,” Streeting said. “But given Uber stands accused by the Metropolitan Police of failing to handle appropriately allegations of rape and sexual assault; given that Uber has to be dragged through the courts to provide its drivers with basic employment rights and to pay their fair share of VAT; and given that we now know that Uber plays fast and loose with the personal data of its 57m customers and drivers, isn’t it time that this government stopped cosying up to this grubby and unethical company and started standing up to the public interest?”
Rose agreed, highlighting that Uber is and continues to be immersed in “culture of lawlessness with their unrepentant refusal to abide by any standards whatsoever.”
He added too that local authorities that grant Uber an operating licence – the firm operates in about 60 local authorities in the UK – have a duty of care to local passengers.
“When it is beyond doubt that Uber is not fit and proper to be a private hire operator, granting licences is a dereliction of duty and makes councils complicit in Uber’s bad behaviour.
“We at Unite argue that local authorities should not only refuse Uber their operating licence but we’re saying they should out and out revoke them.
And despite Uber’s undeniable popularity, the public agrees – a YouGov poll showed a majority of Londoners backed TfL’s decision to withdraw Uber’s operating licence in London.
“There’s no doubt that Uber is popular, but it’s not the company itself, it’s the technology that people love, and there are many other apps out there,” Rose explained. “The public understand the need for standards – regulations keep passengers safe.”