Drivers sue Uber over ‘automated robo-firing'

A group of Uber drivers have filed a legal case in Amsterdam accusing the taxi app firm of using automated "robo-firing" algorithms to dismiss them.

Four Uber drivers, three British and one Portuguese, filed the case at a district court. The drivers say automated firing is not allowed and according to European law, there must be human intervention before such an important decision is made.

Experts say the legal challenge is the first of its kind to test the protections of GDPR Article 22.

The European Union's (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in 2018, imposes obligations on companies who collect people's personal information, no matter where they are located in the world, if that data is related to EU consumers.

Under Article 22, individuals are protected from automated decisions with no human intervention, which can lead to negative outcomes, such as someone losing their job.

Uber told the BBC that drivers' accounts were only deactivated following manual review by humans.

"Uber provides requested personal data and information that individuals are entitled to," said a spokeswoman for Uber.

The drivers are being represented by Dutch legal firm Ekker, led by privacy attorney Anton Ekker.

"We know for sure that Uber is using algorithms for decisions about fraud and deactivation of drivers. This is happening everywhere," he said.

Mr Ekker added that he had seen thousands of complaints from Uber drivers all over the world, saying they had been automatically terminated for committing fraud without an explanation.

According to the App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU) there have been more than 1,000 individual cases since 2018 where drivers have been dismissed from the app without appeal.

James Farrar ADCU's general secretary told the BBC, said: "For any private hire operator in London, if they fire someone, there is a requirement where they have to report the driver to Transport for London (TfL)."

"This is putting drivers in a Kafkaesque situation where they may be called in by TfL, they're given 14 days to explain the situation and why they should keep their licence. Our drivers are in a terrible position because they don't know what the issue is, Uber hasn't told them."

Uber was originally seen as providing a cost-saving platform that matched car owners with empty seats to customers going to the same destination—true ride-sharing. The model then evolved, with dedicated drivers taking customers wherever they wanted.

Like similar companies, Uber has been criticised for treatment of drivers as independent contractors, disruption of the taxicab business, and an increase of traffic congestion.