Possible bribery in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea

Uber’s attorneys are investigating the possibility of improper payments in Asia, including what Bloomberg calls “suspicious activity” in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea.

In one incident in Jakarta, Indonesia, an Uber employee is said to have “decided to dole out multiple, small payments to police in order to continue operating there.” The company’s head of Indonesia approved the expense report — and was later placed on leave and left the company.

In another instance, Uber contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre, a government-backed entrepreneur hub. Soon thereafter, the Malaysian government passed laws favorable to Uber. Lawyers are assessing whether this was a quid-pro-quo or otherwise improper.

Tracked driver activity on Grab

Uber sought information about the drivers and activity of Grab, Uber’s major competitor in Southeast Asia. To do so, Uber’s Surfcam program connected to Grab servers to figure out how many drivers were connected and where they were.

Bloomberg describes legal concerns associated with Surfcam:

Surfcam raised alarms with at least one member of Uber’s legal team, who questioned whether it could be legally operated in Singapore because it may run afoul of Grab’s terms of service or the country’s strict computer-crime laws, a person familiar with the matter said.

Nonetheless, Bloomberg reports, the creator of Surfcam is still working for Uber, having moved from Singapore to Uber’s European headquarters in Amsterdam.

See also the “Hell” program whereby Uber tracked data from Lyft.

London Employment Tribunal determined that Uber drivers are employees

In response to a complaint from trade union GMB, the London Employment Tribunal determined that Uber drivers are employees.

Remarking “the lady doth protest too much, methinks” at Uber’s numerous contractual provisions insisting that drivers are not employees, the LET simultaneously looked at Uber’s various “unguarded moments” in which the company used terminology most consistent with employment status. Ultimately the LET said it is “unreal” to deny the “practical reality” that Uber provides transportation services, and in that context the LET found that the drivers must be employees.

The LET rejected as “ridiculous” the suggestion that Uber is “a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ‘platform.'” The LET rejected Uber’s claim of only providing driver with “leads.” For one, drivers have no opportunity to negotiate or bargain with passengers. The LET also examined the interaction between drivers and passengers, including when drivers learn the route and how payment occurs. The LET said all these factors indicate an employment relationship.

In a 13-item list, LET gathered factors indicating that drivers are employees, including those detailed above as well as Uber’s practice of interviewing and recruiting drivers, instructing drivers in various respects, setting routes, collects ratings and imposes penalties, handles complaints, and has the power to amend the contract provisions of the relationship.

Informed by the finding that drivers are employees, the LET went on to analyze their rights as employees and Uber’s violations of those rights.

London Employment Tribunal determined that Uber unlawfully denied basic workers’ rights

Having determined that Uber drivers are employees, the London Employment Tribunal further determined that Uber unlawfully denied drivers certain basic rights guaranteed to all employees.

Among other rights, GMB alleged that Uber drivers were entitled to holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage, and breaks.

GMB specifically challenged the amount that drivers are paid. After deducting costs and fees, GMB found that members could make as little as 5 GBP per hour, well below the national minimum wage of 7.20 GBP. They also challenged Uber’s practice of deducting sums from drivers’ pay including in response to customer complaints.

LET also found that, contrary to Uber’s insistence that Netherlands law governs the relationship between Uber and its London drivers, in fact British law governs because the relationship “relevant to the situation” was the UK.

Uber appealed the decision. A judgment of the appeal is expected in late 2017.

Portland “Regulation Evasion Audit” of Uber Greyball

In response to Uber’s Greyball blocking of government investigations, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) prepared a 56-page audit report. Their summary:

In using Greyball, Uber has sullied its own reputation and cast a cloud over the TNC industry generally. The use of Greyball has only strengthened PBOT’s resolve to operate a robust and effective system of protections for Portland’s TNC customers.

PBOT continued:

As the agency responsible for ensuring the safety of TNC customers and the integrity of the TNC market, PBOT views Uber’s failure to comply with deep concern. This failure calls into question
Uber’s commitment to comply in general with the City of Portland’s regulatory framework. It also
raises questions about Uber’s ability to be a trustworthy partner in PBOT’s efforts to ensure that Portland’s TNC customers receive safe and reliable service.

PBOT searched for evidence of Uber continuing to use Greyball, or of Lyft doing so. They found no such evidence, though they noted that “It is inherently difficult to prove a negative.”

London Police said Uber “aware of criminal activity and yet haven’t informed the police”

In an April 2017 letter, the London Metropolitan Police questioned why Uber had not notified the police about criminal offenses known to Uber. The Police reported Uber refusing to provide information within its custody unless the police submit a formal request, and also refusing to report crime to the police because such reports may breach rights of a passenger. The Police questioned Uber’s approach, saying that Uber is “allowing situations to develop” that affect public safety, and noting also that the extra steps Uber calls for can impede prompt prosecution and ultimately lead perpetrators to go free.

The letter’s conclusion:

The significant concern I am raising is that Uber have been made aware of criminal activity and yet haven’t informed the police. Uber are however proactive in reporting lower level document frauds to both the MPS and LTPH. My concern is twofold, firstly it seems they are deciding what to report (less serious matters / less damaging to reputation over serious offences) and secondly by not reporting to police promptly they are allowing situations to develop that clearly affect the safety and security of the public.

Claimed to be an “information society service”, but regulator said actually a transportation service

Seeking to avoid regulations from individual countries in Europe, Uber argued that it is an “information society service” that could only be regulated in accordance with Europe-wide procedures. In a May 2017 decision, the European Court of Justice said that Uber “falls within the field of transport” and therefore “Uber can … be required to obtain the necessary licenses and authorizations under law.”