The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has just ruled against the transport platform Uber for running an illegal company in France two years ago. As a result, France’s decision to impose fines on the company for illegal mishandlings was justified by the courts, adding to a succession of fraudulent and, sometimes questionable, actions by Uber.
The case relates to a dispute between the company and Uber that came to a head in 2016. It was during that time that a French court imposed a $900,000 fine on the company for ‘running an illegal and unsafe transport service’ alongside unlicensed drivers. According to Fortune, the court argued that Uber had broken the ‘Thevenoud Law (2014)’ which states that chauffeured online services must use a base rather than find customers on the road – this focused pressure on UberPop, a service that uses regular people rather than professional drivers. Uber counter argued the fine on a technicality whereby EU countries are expected to notify the European Commission of new laws that affect digital services, which France failed to do.
Launched in March 2009, the story behind Uber and its ascent to worldwide status hasn’t been an smooth journey. It began with Travis Kalanick establishing an application called UberCab in San Francisco. By December 2011, known by then only as Uber, the company began to expand from its home turf and look abroad to France before further European countries. It was in 2014 that Uber was valued at over $3.76 billion as it launched UberRush, UberPool and UberCargo and eventually UberEats. Then came the lawsuits, the competitive apps and countries imposing legislation which mean the platform could no longer operate. In 2017 the company was taken over by Dara Khosrowshahi, however this unravelled but more stories of previous bribery, theft and questions surrounding pricing was set to face a series of investigations by U.S officials and hinder the company further. All of this was happening whilst the general public around the world benefited from safer, efficient travel options with the app, at just a fraction of the cost of normal taxis.
However this was set to change quite rapidly too. Hungary, Taiwan, Denmark and Austin (Texas) were just some of the places to ban Uber from functioning within their respective areas. Their reasons vary, from legislation requiring taxi meters to fingerprint identification (neither of which Uber requires from its drivers) but the fate of the app remains undeterred in most restricted countries as a result of popular demand. London’s announcement to ban the app was met with vast challenge from users and drivers who claimed 40,000 jobs would be lost as a result. The thought of having to flag down a real taxi and pay with real cash apparently seemed all but too otherworldly for some Londoners. However the announcement also chimed with reports that Uber has in fact covered up a hack of 57 million users by paying off the hackers behind it.
It’s not really groundbreaking to imply such a global company is somehow playing dirty, but for the likes of Uber who tried to use a rape victim’s medical records to cast doubt on the Indian Uber trial, the inner workings of this company are all too much. The company has a long history of avoiding rules and skirting around regulations. And given a recent crash in Arizona by one of Uber’s driverless cars which killed a pedestrian, we still seem to be waiting on a wholesale improvement of company operating standards.
The most recent ruling by the European court sees Uber being addressed as a transport company rather than a digital service, revealing a weak point where related technology giants are not immune to traditional laws. According to reports, the company’s CEO recognises that ‘it is appropriate to regulate services such as Uber and so we will continue the dialogue with cities across Europe’, however it remains to be seen if that is any sort of benefit in justifying all of their decisions in recent years.