Uber fined $59M for failing to provide California with data about sexual assault cases


Uber refuses to turn over specific information about sexual assaults on its platform, citing privacy concerns.

James Martin/CNET

Uber was fined $59 million on Monday for failing to provide the California Public Utilities Commission with information on sexual assault cases and harassment claims among its drivers and riders. The ride-hailing company has 30 days to pay the fine and provide the information or it could lose its permit to operate in the state, according to the ruling.

Uber provides millions of rides per day, but some of those rides have reportedly ended in dangerous situations. Hundreds of passengers and drivers have come forward over the past few years alleging rape, kidnapping, forcible groping and assault during rides.

Uber was ordered last year by an administrative judge to provide specific information about assaults and harassment highlighted in a safety report it released in 2019 that included figures about cases that occurred during Uber trips in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Uber has refused to do so, citing privacy concerns.

Robert Mason, an administrative law judge with the CPUC, said in a 92-page ruling (PDF) 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.

“The CPUC has been insistent in its demands that we release the full names and contact information of sexual assault survivors without their consent,” an Uber spokesperson said. “We opposed this shocking violation of privacy, alongside many victims’ rights advocates.

“Now, a year later, the CPUC has changed its tune: 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.”

Uber released an 84-page report in December 2019 that said it had received reports of 464 rapes in 2017 and 2018 combined. 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 assault ranging from unwanted kissing to attempted rape. The CPUC wants the specific information so it can investigate the crimes.

Mason’s order concluded 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.”

“Uber’s authority to operate as a [transportation network company] and as a [charter-party carrier] should be suspended if Uber fails to pay the $59,085,000.00 penalty by the deadline set forth,” the order said.

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