California regulators reportedly issued a $59 million fine against Uber, and also threatened to suspend their license to operate in the state over the company’s refusal to hand over data on sexual assault on the platform.
According to the ruling issued by an administrative law judge of the California Public Utilities Commission, Uber has 30 days to come into compliance with a January 2020 order. It requests the date, time, and location of each reported assault, a description of the circumstances surrounding the incident, and names and contact information for both assault witnesses and “each person to whom the assault was reported.” The judge arrived at the $59 million figure by levying a $7,500 fine for every specific time that Uber refused to answer each question during the process.
The order comes a year after the ridesharing company released a report on the prevalence of sexual assault on its app, which disclosed there had been roughly 6,000 cases of reported sexual assault between 2017 and 2018. Of the 3,045 reported sexual assault cases in 2018 (up from 2,936 in 2017), Uber reportedly said 235 were rapes and the remainder were varying levels of assault. A vast majority involved unwanted kissing or groping.
The CPUC reportedly wanted to know more shortly after the report was released, especially because Uber admitted in the fine print that the report did not “assess or take any position on whether any of the reported incidents actually occurred.” The CPUC has regulatory authority over transportation companies in the state and regularly investigates complaints against them. So it asked Uber a handful of questions about who authored the report, and also asked Uber for specific details on each incident of assault, but Uber never answered the questions.
Uber has objected to releasing that data, saying it would compromise the anonymity of assault victims, in defiance of established guidelines by support groups for survivors of sexual assault and the will of victims themselves. The CPUC, for its part, has said it would keep the information under seal, and argues the data serves the public interest by ensuring the services are being conducted in a safe manner and broadening public understanding of the ride-hailing business model. The commission also said Uber could protect victims’ anonymity by providing a code or alternate signifier in place of the victim’s name.
In a statement quoted by the Washington Post, Uber spokesman Andrew Hasbun refuted this and said that since the gig economy company released its safety report in 2019, “the CPUC has been insistent in its demands that we release the full names and contact information of sexual assault survivors without their consent. We opposed this shocking violation of privacy, alongside many victims’ rights advocates.”
According to the ruling, Uber has 30 days to file an appeal to the decision. If the company doesn’t pay up and answer the outstanding questions, CPUC could suspend the company’s license to operate in the state. Lyft, for its part, said it would release its own sexual assault report, but has not yet done so or specified plans to follow through.
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