US fines Uber $59mn for failing to provide sexual assaults data

The Public Utilities Commission in California has fined ride-hailing major Uber $59 million for failing to answer questions about sexual assaults cases and harassment claims among its drivers and riders.

Uber has been given 30 days to pay the fine and provide the information or the company could lose its permit to operate in the state, according to the ruling, reports CNET.

Stressing that such disclosure would violate victims’ privacy, Uber said in a statement late on Monday that the company opposes “this shocking violation of privacy, alongside many victims’ rights advocates”.

Uber released a safety report in 2019 that included figures about cases that occurred during Uber trips in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The company did not divulge further details then, citing privacy concerns.

Robert Mason, an administrative law judge with the Public Utilities Commission in California, said in the ruling that Uber’s arguments about violating victims’ privacy were “premature” because the information would be provided to the commission under seal.

“Uber’s conduct has exacerbated its wrongdoing because its refusal to comply has become a series of offenses that have continued unabated for six months,” Mason wrote.

An Uber spokesperson defended the company’s position: “We can provide anonymized information — yet we are also subject to a $59 million fine for not complying with the very order the CPUC has fundamentally altered.

“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.”

According to Uber’s safety report, in 2018 alone, there were 235 rapes, which averages out to four per week.

Over the course of the two years, there were more than 5,500 other incidents of sexual assaults.

Mason’s ruling said that it was reasonable that Uber should work with the commission’s staff “to develop a code or numbering system as a substitute for the actual names and other personally identifiable information requested.”

The judge arrived at the $59 million figure by levying a $7,500 fine for every specific time that Uber refused to answer a question during the process.