Uber still dragging its feet on algorithmic transparency, Dutch court finds


In this pan zoom image, an Uber logo is seen outside the company's headquarters in San Francisco, California on May 8, 2019. - One of the early promises of the ride-hailing era ushered in by Uber and Lyft was that the new entrants would complement public transit, reduce car ownership and help alleviate congestion. But a new study on San Francisco has found the opposite may be in fact be true: far from reducing traffic, the companies increased delays by 40 percent as commuters ditched buses or walking for mobile-app summoned rides. (Photo: JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Image Credits: JOSH EDELSON/AFP / Getty Images

Uber has been found to have failed to comply with European Union algorithmic transparency requirements in a legal challenge brought by two drivers whose accounts were terminated by the ride-hailing giant, including with the use of automated account flags.

Uber also failed to convince the court to cap daily fines of €4,000 being imposed for ongoing non-compliance — which now exceed over half a million euros (€584,000).

The Amsterdam District Court found in favor of two of the drivers who are litigating over data access over what they couch as ‘robo-firings’. But the appeals court decided Uber had provided sufficient information to a third driver regarding the reasons why its algorithm flagged the account for potential fraud.

The drivers are suing Uber to obtain information they argue they are legally required to regarding significant automated decisions taken about them.

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides both for a right for individuals not to be subject to solely automated decisions with a legal or significant impact and to receive information about such algorithmic decision-making, including receiving “meaningful information” about the logic involved; its significance; and envisaged consequences of such processing for the data subject.

The nub of the issue relates not to fraud and/or risk reviews purportedly carried out on flagged driver accounts by (human) Uber staff — but to the automated account flags themselves which triggered these reviews.

Back in April an appeals court in the Netherlands also found largely in favor of platform workers litigating against Uber and another ride-hailing platform, Ola, over data access rights related to alleged robo-firing — ruling the platforms cannot rely on trade secrets exemptions to deny drivers access to data about these sorts of AI-powered decisions.

Per the latest ruling, Uber sought to rehash a commercial secrets argument to argue against disclosing more data to drivers about the reasons why its AIs flagged their accounts. It also generally argues that its anti-fraud systems would not function if full details were provided to drivers about how they work.

In the case of two of the drivers who prevailed against Uber’s arguments the company was found not to have provided any information at all about the “exclusively” automated flags that triggered account reviews. Hence the finding of an ongoing breach of EU algorithmic transparency rules.

The judge further speculated Uber may be “deliberately” trying to withhold certain information because it does not want to give an insight into its business and revenue model.

In the case of the other driver, for whom the Court found — conversely — that Uber had provided “clear and, for the time being, sufficient information”, per the ruling, the company explained that the decision-making process which triggered the flag began with an automated rule that looked at (i) the number of cancelled rides for which this driver received a cancellation fee; (ii) the number of rides performed; and (iii) the ratio of the driver’s number of cancelled and performed rides in a given period.

“It was further explained that because [this driver] performed a disproportionate number of rides within a short period of time for which he received a cancellation fee the automated rule signalled potential cancellation fee fraud,” the court also wrote in the ruling [which is translated into English using machine translation]. 

The driver had sought more information from Uber, arguing the data it provided was still unclear or too brief and was not meaningful because he does not know where the line sits for Uber to label a driver as a fraudster.

However, in this case, the interim relief judge agreed with Uber that the ride-hailing giant did not have to provide this additional information because that would make “fraud with impunity to just below that ratio childishly easy”, as Uber put it.

The wider question of whether Uber was right to classify this driver (or the other two) as a fraudster has not been assessed at this point in the litigation.

The long-running litigation in the Netherlands looks to be working towards establishing where the line might lie in terms of how much information platforms that deploy algorithmic management on workers must provide them with on request under EU data protection rules vs how much ‘blackboxing’ of their AIs they can claim is necessary to fuzz details so that anti-fraud systems can’t be gamed via driver reverse engineering.

Reached for a response to the ruling, an Uber spokesperson sent TechCrunch this statement:

The ruling related to three drivers who lost access to their accounts a number of years ago due to very specific circumstances. At the time when these drivers’ accounts were flagged, they were reviewed by our Trust and Safety Teams, who are specially trained to spot the types of behaviour that could potentially impact rider safety. The Court confirmed that the review process was carried out by our human teams, which is standard practice when our systems spot potentially fraudulent behaviour.

The drivers in the legal challenge are being supposed by the data access rights advocacy organization, Worker Info Exchange (WIE), and by the App Drivers & Couriers union.

In a statement, Anton Ekker of Ekker law which is representing the drivers, said: “Drivers have been fighting for their right to information on automated deactivations for several years now. The Amsterdam Court of Appeal confirmed this right in its principled judgment of 4 April 2023. It is highly objectionable that Uber has so far refused to comply with the Court’s order. However, it is my belief that the principle of transparency will ultimately prevail.”

In a statement commenting on the ruling, James Farrar, director of WIE, added: “Whether it is the UK Supreme Court for worker rights or the Netherlands Court of Appeal for data protection rights, Uber habitually flouts the law and defies the orders of even the most senior courts. Uber drivers and couriers are exhausted by years of merciless algorithmic exploitation at work and grinding litigation to achieve some semblance of justice while government and local regulators sit back and do nothing to enforce the rules. Instead, the UK government is busy dismantling the few protections workers do have against automated decision making in the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill currently before Parliament. Similarly, the proposed EU Platform Work Directive will be a pointless paper tiger unless governments get serious about enforcing the rules.”

Drivers in Europe net big data rights win against Uber and Ola

Uber hit with default ‘robo-firing’ ruling after another EU labor rights GDPR challenge

More TechCrunch

Scale AI, a company that provides data-labeling services for training machine learning models, has raised a $1 billion Series F round from a slew of big-name institutional and corporate investors…

Data-labeling startup Scale AI raises $1B as valuation doubles to $13.8B

The new coalition, Tech Against Scams, will work together to find ways to fight back against the tools used by scammers and to better educate the public against financial scams.

Meta, Match, Coinbase and others team up to fight online fraud and crypto scams

It’s a wrap: European Union lawmakers have given the final approval to set up the bloc’s flagship, risk-based regulations for artificial intelligence.

EU Council gives final nod to set up risk-based regulations for AI

London-based fintech Vitesse has closed a $93 million Series C round of funding led by investment giant KKR.

Vitesse, a payments and treasury management platform for insurers, raises $93M to fuel US expansion

Zen Educate, an online marketplace that connects schools with teachers, has raised $37 million in a Series B round of funding. The raise comes amid a growing teacher shortage crisis…

Zen Educate raises $37M and acquires Aquinas Education as it tries to address the teacher shortage

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

A new self-driving truck — manufactured by Volvo and loaded with autonomous vehicle tech developed by Aurora Innovation — could be on public highways as early as this summer.  The…

Aurora and Volvo unveil self-driving truck designed for a driverless future

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €285M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft wants to make Windows an AI operating system, launches Copilot+ PCs

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons