Uber drivers in the U.K. are demanding their data. Thanks to European laws, if a company or platform collects a person’s data, they have the right to request access to that information. Four Uber drivers now want to know exactly what the company collects about them to better understand the app’s dispatch and compensation system, reports the Economist (paywalled).
This could be a landmark legal maneuver. Though Europe’s GDPR protections have been in place for a little bit now, companies are still slow to comply with all of its requirements. While it’s true that any person in Europe can ask to see their digital data, whether or not the companies follow through remains to be seen. It’s also unclear how the continent plans on enforcing these data regulations if a data collector refuses to comply.
For the last two years, these drivers individually requested the company provide them with a comprehensive dossier of all the data it collected about them. Instead, writes the Economist, Uber gave them “a limited dataset containing the origin and destination points of the drivers’ trips and some location data.” The drivers reportedly asked for an explanation for the abridged data disclosure. According to the report, Uber says it did provide them with an explanation but wouldn’t divulge further details.
Now, the drivers are acting together with the help of British lawyer Ravi Naik. Naik has also been one of the legal minds trying to get Cambridge Analytica to disclose the vast personal data it collected. Naik reportedly sent a letter to Uber asking for more robust data disclosure; if the company once again refuses, he says he’ll appeal to a higher European court.
If this data comes to light, the drivers will likely learn a lot about how the company operates. Uber is very secretive about how its algorithms work. These computer programs, meanwhile, control drivers’ livelihoods. For instance, the app decides which driver picks up a passenger, as well as calculates what their payout will be. Understanding all of the data Uber takes into account could potentially make things a little less opaque.
The drivers are asking for the data collected about the times they log on and off the app, the location information the app gathered, the ratings they receive from passengers, as well as the other inputs the company uses that power its software-controlled dispatch system. Until now, Uber has never disclosed such specific information.
It will certainly be an uphill battle for Naik and the drivers. Uber will certainly hem and haw about releasing data it likely considers to be proprietary. The subcontractors, however, have European data law on their side, so this will certainly be a case to follow.
I reached out to Uber for comment and a spokesperson provided me with the following statement:
Our privacy team works hard to provide as much information as we can including explanations when we can’t provide certain data such as when the data doesn’t exist or disclosing it would infringe on the rights of another person under GDPR. Under the law, UK citizens also have the right to escalate their concerns by contacting Uber’s Data Protection Officer or the ICO for additional review.