Uber has been told to pay a $78 million fine and pass over information on sexual assault cases or risk being banned from the US state of California.
The California regulator this week issued a court order to fine Uber for failing to provide specific data on sexual assault and harassment cases involving its drivers and riders in the state, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has been pushing for this information since Uber released a report late last year revealing there had been about 6,000 reports of sexual assault and harassment in the US in 2017 and 2018.
But Uber has refused to do so, it says because of concerns for the privacy of the victims, and CPUC has now fined the tech giant $9,900 ($US7,500) for each time it has failed to answer a question about these cases, totalling $78 million ($US59 million).
The order states that if Uber fails to pay this fine and hand over the information, it will be forced to stop operations in California.
About a fifth of the sexual assaults and harassment reports involving Uber were recorded in California.
After the release of these figures in December last year, the CPUC pushed to further investigate these cases, and asked Uber to describe each claim made from 2017 to 2019, including the names and contact information for witnesses, victims and Uber employees who received the reports.
The authorities said that Uber could work to “develop a code or numbering system as a substitute for the actual names and other personally identifiable information requested”, and this information could be filed under seal in order to protect confidentiality.
But Uber has continued to refuse to do so, saying it wants to protect the victims’ privacy, and that the CPUC “has been insistent in its demands that we release the full names and contact information of sexual assault survivors without their consent. We oppose this shocking violation of privacy, alongside many victims’ rights advocates”.
“Now, a year later, the CPUC has changed its tune: we can provide anonymised information – yet we are also subject to a $59 million fine for not complying with the very order the CPUC has fundamentally altered,” the company said.
“These punitive and confusing actions will do nothing to improve public safety and will only create a chilling effect as other companies consider releasing their own reports. Transparency should be encouraged, not punished.”
The CPUC has said that Uber’s licence in California “should be suspended if Uber fails to pay the $US59,085,000 penalty by the deadline set forth”.
This suspension would remain in place until Uber agrees to pay the fine, along with any interest that has accumulated.
CPUC administrative law judge Robert Mason labelled Uber’s argument for not releasing the information “premature” as it would be filed under seal, and that Uber had committed “multiple continuous offenses” by resisting the agency’s previous rulings on the matter.
At the start of the year, a judge denied Uber’s attempt to block the release of the information, labelling the ridesharing giant’s attempts as “specious legal roadblocks” intended to “frustrate the Commission’s ability to gather information” about the safety of the company.
It comes after Uber was successful in a vote in California to exempt gig economy companies from having to treat drivers as an employee, meaning it can retain its current model and not have to provide its drivers and riders with any of the benefits associated with being an employee.
Uber also recently sold its self-driving unit to a rival startup, with the company looking to cut costs and focus on the core elements of its business in ridesharing and food delivery.