Uber will allow passengers and drivers in Brazil and Mexico to record audio of their rides as it attempts to improve its safety record and image, and eventually it hopes to launch the feature into other markets including the United States.
The ride-hailing company plans to pilot the feature in cities in both countries in December, although it has no timeline for possible expansion in the US and other markets.
The feature will allow customers to opt into recording all or select trips. Recordings will be stored on the rider or driver’s phone and encrypted to protect privacy, and users will not be able to listen to them. They can later share a recording with Uber, which will have an encryption key, if they want to report a problem.
Whether the recording feature will deter violent behavior to help riders and drivers is unknown. But Uber stands to benefit because the recordings could help the company mitigate losses and rein in liability for incidents that flare up between drivers and passengers.
For example, if a shouting match erupts between a driver and passenger, and both accuse the other of being verbally abusive, the recording could help Uber determine where fault lies after the incident, mitigating any kind of loss or claim that could be made against the driver, said Thom Rickert, the vice-president and emerging risk specialist at Trident Public Risk Solutions.
“It probably is not going to prevent something from happening,” Rickert said. “It will probably just help you analyze what can we do to change outcomes the next time.”
Uber says the new feature will promote accountability and help its safety team take decisive action when needed.
The recording feature also raises privacy concerns that drivers or passengers could have their conversations recorded without their knowledge or consent.
“It’s a digital recording. It’s going to exist on a server somewhere,” Rickert said. “Yes, it can be encrypted. Yes, it can be hacked … so that is a privacy concern for the individual that has lost control over that recording.”
Uber has struggled with safety issues and faced accusations that some of its drivers have assaulted and raped passengers. It also has been hit with litigation alleging that its hiring process and background checks are inadequate. Uber does not conduct fingerprint-based background checks, which traditional taxi companies generally perform before hiring drivers.
The San Francisco-based company’s drivers also have been victims of attacks. In both Brazil and Mexico, Uber allows riders to pay with cash, which increases the risk of incidents. In Brazil, drivers have been robbed and have suffered fatal attacks while using the Uber platform, the company said in a federal filing.
Uber plans to release a safety report this year, which provides data on reports of sexual assaults and other safety incidents that occurred in the US.
The company has been adding safety features to its app over the past year, including one that helps riders ensure they’re getting into the right vehicle and another that enables users to call 911 from within the app and automatically share the vehicle’s location with first responders.
Food delivery bike couriers are being underpaid by up to $322 a week compared with minimum rates of pay and superannuation in the transport award, according to new union statistics.
The Young Workers Centre – an initiative of the Victoria Trades Hall Council – conducted a survey of more than 240 riders, revealing most are engaged on a “take-it-or-leave-it” basis and almost all are paid per delivery, with no minimum rates of pay.
Bike couriers at companies such as Deliveroo are employed as independent contractors, meaning they are not paid the award minimum rate of $25.81 per hour they would be entitled to if classed as employees.
According to the centre, a typical courier working 24 hours a week including six hours at the higher weekend rate would receive $681 under the award and $65 in super.
Although pay was as high as $18.50 an hour with a $2.50 delivery commission when delivery apps entered the market in late 2015, the Transport Workers’ Union argues that through a series of unilateral pay cuts conditions have ratcheted down to flat rates of $10 a delivery, or as low as $5.90 for some deliveries under new dynamic pricing systems.
A typical courier paid $10 per delivery might make 53 deliveries, for a weekly pay packet of $530, about $151 under the award, the rider snapshot said.
Under an alternative dynamic pay method of $3.50 per pickup, $1.80 per delivery and a variable fee based on time and distance, a courier might earn as little as $424 a week, some $322 less than the award rate when superannuation is factored in.
Unions have been rocked by the Fair Work Ombudsman’s claim in June that ridesharing company Uber does not directly employ its drivers, fearing that it will solidify the existing practice in the gig economy to classify workers as independent contractors.
In 2018 the ombudsman took court action against food delivery company Foodora, alleging that bike couriers are employees, which the administrators of the now-collapsed Foodora Australia admitted is “more likely than not” to be true.
However, Uber Eats and Deliveroo maintain their couriers are independent contractors. In an unfair dismissal case before the Fair Work Commission which began on Monday, the TWU is seeking to prove Uber Eats drivers are in fact employees.
The survey found that the average age of riders is 26, while three-quarters are temporary visa holders such as international students, or people on working holiday or bridging visas. Just one in 10 surveyed was an Australian citizen.
Only 2% of riders said they would not negotiate for a pay rise as they were happy with current pay rates, while 60% said it is “not possible to negotiate a pay rise”.
One-quarter of surveyed couriers had been in an accident, with one in eight sustaining injuries such as concussions, knee injuries, broken bones or dislocations.
On Wednesday the TWU will release a proposed charter of rights for delivery drivers including the minimum wage, paid wait times, penalty rates, an allowance for bad weather and fully-funded workers compensation.
The TWU national secretary, Michael Kaine, said Uber and Deliveroo “need to sign up to the charter of rights” to fix what the TWU alleges are the “appalling practices” of “ripping workers off … and throwing [them] on the scrap heap when they are injured or no longer useful”.
“Through the charter [riders] want an end to the ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ practice where they carry all the liability and Uber and Deliveroo accept none of the responsibility,” he said.
“Riders are taking this stand amidst the absence of any semblance of interest from the federal government which has outright refused to support them.”
VTHC secretary Luke Hilakari said the delivery riders snapshot “paints a picture of extreme worker exploitation in the food delivery industry”.
“The likes of Uber and Deliveroo need to accept that if they want to operate in the Australian market, they need to abide by Australian employment law.”
The case of an Uber Eats driver who was allegedly sacked for delivering food 10 minutes late has been likened to modern-day slavery by the Transport Workers’ Union.
The union on Monday launched a bid to appeal a previous Fair Work Commission decision that upheld the sacking of Adelaide-based driver Amita Gupta.
Gupta delivered food for Uber Eats for as many as 96 hours a week, the union says.
The appeal on behalf of Gupta was about ending “worker exploitation via an app”, TWU national secretary Michael Kaine told reporters on Monday.
“We are here with Amita and [her husband] Santosh who are bravely taking the next step in the fight against these tech giants, in this case Uber Eats,” Kaine said outside the Fair Work Commission.
“We are asking the full bench of the Fair Work Commission to blow the lid on exploitation in this sector.
“We will be asking the full bench … to hear this case on the grounds of public interest.”
Much of Monday’s hearing was taken up with legal wrangling over whether Gupta was an employee of Uber Eats or a contractor.
“If the Fair Work Commission decides Amita is an employee she gets all the rights other Australian employees get,” Kaine said.
“If they decide the other way she gets none.”
Lawyers for Uber Eats argued against allowing the appeal to proceed.
The commission previously rejected Gupta’s unfair dismissal claim, finding she was not an employee of Uber Eats.
That meant she was not protected by unfair dismissal laws.
Gupta was stood down in January after receiving a message that her access to the Uber app had been stopped.
“We do not believe it is in the public interest for these dystopian conditions to be allowed to endure and become the norm in Australia,” Kaine said.
The union is seeking to establish rights for gig economy workers after previous legal fights with Deliveroo and Foodora.
The Uber co-founder and former chief executive Travis Kalanick is cashing in more than half a billion dollars of his stake in the ride share app, months after the company went public.
After the end of the so-called “lockup period”, a 180-day restriction on inside and early investor sales, came to an end on Wednesday, Kalanick sold more than 20m shares, according to a financial filing submitted to the US Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday.
Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive of Uber, has attempted to limit the damage after calling the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi “a mistake” similar to a fatal accident that occurred during tests of his company’s self-driving car.
Khashoggi, a Saudi national resident in the US, and a severe critic of the Saudi regime who wrote for the Washington Post, was murdered in Istanbul last year after visiting the Saudi Arabian consulate there. His body was dismembered and disposed of.
It feels a bit Alice in Silicon Valleyland, but the good news for Uber this week was that it lost $1.2bn in the third quarter of 2019. While burning that kind of cash in 90 days would make even WeWork’s Adam Neumann blush, it is an improvement over the previous quarter’s jaw-dropping deficit of $5.24bn.