Uber drivers in Europe are taking the company court in an attempt to gain access to more of the personal data Uber collects on them, as permitted by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), including information on “profiling and automated decision making” by the ride-hailing giant.
The union representing the drivers said that they’re seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the algorithms that underpin Uber’s “automated decision making” system. This level of transparency, it said, is crucial to establish the level of “management control” Uber exerts on its drivers; to help them 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, has been 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 such as Uber in the U.K.
At the crux of the complaint is that Uber allegedly withholds key information from drivers, particularly metrics that Uber uses to monitor the performance of drivers such as late arrivals, cancelled rides, inappropriate behavior, and attitude. And this secretive performance-related profile data, the plaintiffs argue, is what enables Uber to exert “management control” over drivers.
The degree to which Uber controls its drivers is particularly relevant given the various legal battles Uber has faced around the world around its continued attempts to classify drivers as self-employed independent contractors. As it happens, Uber 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 that they should receive paid holidays, rest breaks, the national minimum wage, and more.
A key argument that has proved pivotal in many of these cases relates to the lack of control drivers have over their own “businesses” — drivers can’t set or negotiate prices with riders, and they are ultimately 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” that exists between Uber and its drivers. In other words, if drivers really are in charge of their own livelihoods, then Uber should have minimal control over their affairs. But more than that, if courts around the world increasingly agree that Uber drivers should be classed as workers, then there is an argument that Uber should be more transparent with the information it uses to assess drivers, and whether such policies are being applied evenly and fairly across the board.
It’s worth noting here that there are a number of underlying issues at play here, to which Uber’s data could hold the answers. 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.
It’s also worth noting here that this isn’t just about the four drivers in question — there is a broader aim 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 that 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 said that it “works hard” to comply with GDPR data requests, but can’t always provide what is requested for various reasons.
“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.”