Ride hailing apps Uber and Ola have been ordered by a Dutch court to provide their drivers with greater access to data held on them. The court also rejected both firms’ claims that drivers were abusing their data access rights by seeking to use it for collective bargaining purposes.
In a series of three lawsuits brought by a group of drivers from the UK and a driver from Portugal, Amsterdam’s District Court ruled that both Uber and Ola must disclose – to different extents – more of the data used to make decisions about drivers’ work and employment.
The group of drivers was led by James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, co-founders of the App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU), who recently secured a landmark victory in the UK Supreme Court that ruled Uber must classify its drivers as workers rather than self-employed, entitling them to better workplace conditions and protections for the first time.
Ola – which was found to be using an entirely automated system to make deductions from one driver’s earnings – must now give drivers access to anonymised performance ratings left by passengers, as well as any data used in the various profiling and surveillance systems it maintains on drivers.
While Uber will not have to provide as much information – largely because the court found there was enough human intervention to rule its decisions were not completely automated – it has been ordered to give two drivers accused of “fraudulent activity” access to the data it used to make the decisions.
In a separate ruling, Uber was also ordered to give all drivers access to anonymised ratings left by passengers so they can check data the firm holds on them. Previously, the company only provided drivers with an aggregate rating based on their last 500 trips, but it must now give a detailed breakdown of ratings for every trip.
However, the court also rejected most of the drivers’ requests for data, arguing they were not specific enough about what data they were seeking and that any disclosures needed to be balanced with passenger privacy.
In both cases, the decision to provide passenger feedback or ratings anonymously was made to respect their privacy rights.
In response to the ruling, an Uber spokesperson said: “This is a crucial decision. The court has confirmed Uber’s dispatch system does not equate to automated decision-making, and that we provided drivers with the data they are entitled to. The court also confirmed that Uber’s processes have meaningful human involvement.”
Computer Weekly approached Ola for comment but had received no response by the time of publication.
Using personal data for collective bargaining is not an abuse of rights
The court also rejected both companies’ assertions that drivers were abusing their digital rights of data access and portability by seeking to use the data to strengthen their collective bargaining power.
In Ola’s case, the firm argued that drivers “have no interest of their own… because this only serves the interests of ADCU or the general interests of drivers who use platform services” and they are therefore “abusing the law”.
“According to Ola, the [applicants] used the right of access and the right to data portability for a purpose other than that for which it was given, namely to set up a data trust and to gather information to improve the legal position of drivers vis-à-vis Ola and other platforms,” the court wrote in its judgment.
Uber made a similar argument that drivers were abusing their rights, contesting that they were “using the right of access for a purpose other than that for which it was given, namely to strengthen their evidence base in proceedings against Uber and their collective bargaining power by setting up a database with data from drivers.”
In both cases, the court found that “a data subject does not, in principle, have to motivate or substantiate why he is making a request for access under the GDPR” (General Data Protection Regulation).
“In exercising his right of access, the data subject does not have to show any particular interest or state the goal that he wants to achieve with the access. The mere fact that data about him is being processed is sufficient,” said the judgment.
“The fact that the applicants and the trade union to which they are affiliated also have different interests in obtaining personal data, namely to use it to obtain clarity about their employment law position or to gather evidence in legal proceedings against platforms, does not mean that the applicants abuse their rights,” it added.
Farrar, who is also director of Worker Info Exchange – the data trust the ADCU wants to administer on behalf of drivers – said the judgments were a giant leap forward for workers seeking to hold platforms accountable for opaque and unfair automated management practices.
“The court completely rejected Uber and Ola’s arguments against the rights of workers to collectively organise their data and establish a data trust with Worker Info Exchange as an abuse of data access rights,” he said.
Yaseen Aslam, App Drivers and Couriers Union
“Uber and Ola Cabs have been ordered to make transparent the basis for unfair dismissals, wage deductions and the use of surveillance systems such as Ola’s Guardian system and Uber’s Real Time ID system.”
ADCU president Aslam also welcomed the rulings as “a massive victory for our members who have been subject to unfair treatment by Uber and Ola using oppressive electronic surveillance systems”, adding that “workers are proving again to be resilient and creative in the mission to build collective power and reduce the asymmetry of power between themselves and global platforms like Uber and Ola”.
Worker Info Exchange is now encouraging gig workers to register with it to help request data from their employers, which they will receive directly before deciding whether they want to participate in the data trust.
ADCU and the Worker Info Exchange have suggested they may appeal some aspects of the judgment, which they said “unduly restrict the rights of drivers” by putting the burden of proof on them to show they have been subject to automated decision-making before they can demand transparency.
“The court agreed that Uber may blur data relating to trip start and end points in the interests of protecting passenger identification. Worker Info Exchange is concerned this may interfere with the right of workers to access employment rights to the extent they are frustrated in their ability to validate the fare basis and compare earnings and operating costs,” the groups said.
“Similarly, the court has required drivers to provide greater specificity on the personal data sought rather than placing the burden on firms like Uber and Ola to clearly explain what personal data is held and how it is processed.”
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