Uber fined for failing to explain AI firing of drivers

6 Oct 2023

Image: © Sundry Photography/Stock.adobe.com

The District Court of Amsterdam has ordered Uber to provide transparency into the ‘robo-firing’ that led to the dismissal of two drivers from the UK and Portugal.

A Dutch court ruled yesterday (5 October) that Uber has failed to comply with an earlier EU ruling on algorithmic transparency requirements in a legal challenge brought by two former drivers of the ride-hailing app who were fired by an AI-powered system rather than humans. The court found that Uber explained sufficiently the decision behind firing a third driver.

Uber is now facing a fine of nearly €600,000  which is now due to the drivers for its failure to comply with what has been described as a case of “robo-firing”. The figure was reached by adding €4,000 accruing for each additional day of non-compliance since the last ruling in April.

The latest ruling made by the District Court of Amsterdam orders Uber to explain the automated decision that led to the dismissal of the drivers, who are from the UK and Portugal.

The case was brought by Worker Info Exchange (WIE) in support of the App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU).

“Whether it is the UK supreme court for worker rights or the Netherlands court of appeal for data protection rights, Uber habitually flouts the law and defies the orders of even the most senior courts,” said James Farrar, director of WIE.

“Uber drivers and couriers are exhausted by years of merciless algorithmic exploitation at work and grinding litigation to achieve some semblance of justice while government and local regulators sit back and do nothing to enforce the rules.”

European GDPR gives employees the right to not be subjected to automated decisions solely based on automated processing when the decision will have significant impact, and to obtain information on said algorithmic decision-making.

In the ruling yesterday, originally in Dutch, Judge R A Dudok van Heel said that it may be a case of Uber “deliberately trying to withhold certain information” because it does not want to give an “insight into its business and revenue model”.

“The high and uncapped periodic penalty payments are not considered disproportionate … these penalty payments can provide sufficient incentive for Uber to comply with the order.”

Anton Ekker, a lawyer representing the drivers, said that they have been fighting for their right to information on automated deactivations for “several years now”.

“The Amsterdam Court of Appeal confirmed this right in its principled judgment of 4 April 2023. It is highly objectionable that Uber has so far refused to comply with the court’s order,” he said. “However, it is my belief that the principle of transparency will ultimately prevail.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic