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December 20, 2017

Uber is transport, not digital services company, says EU ruling

Uber's business role is not limited to managing the IT services that connect driver and passenger.

By Sabrina Dougall

Uber is officially a transport firm and not an information society service, a European court has ruled.

Though it has an electronic platform, the app provides end-users with means of travel and is not predominantly a digital service. The ruling of Uber as a public transport service under Spanish law means it can be regulated as a transport provider at national level in every European country.

The dispute first arose in August 2015 over whether the cab-hailing company should comply with public transport rules in Barcelona. At the time, the ride booking service called itself an “intelligent telephone and technological platform” which managed the IT services that connected driver and passenger. But the European Court of Justice has now decided the global software company is indeed a transport service in Spain.Uber

An Uber spokesperson said: “This ruling will not change things in most EU countries where we already operate under transportation law.

“However, millions of Europeans are still prevented from using apps like ours. As our new CEO has said, it is appropriate to regulate services such as Uber and so we will continue the dialogue with cities across Europe. This is the approach we’ll take to ensure everyone can get a reliable ride at the tap of a button.”

Court documents noted that the dispute is “a highly politicised issue” but the legal question at hand is only whether Uber should come under EU law.

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Concurrently, Uber faced legal challenges over the employee status of its drivers. The firm has said its drivers are self-employed and so it is not obliged to pay sickness or holiday pay. On its website, the cab firm says it has “over 16,000 employees” and “2 million drivers”.

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On November 10, the ride-hailing firm lost its appeal against an employee tribunal ruling in which two London drivers won the right to minimum wage. The case is likely to set a precedent for the controversial gig economy sector. Uber said it has invested in “access to illness and injury cover” for its drivers.

At the end of November, Uber revealed that the personal information of 57 million customers, including email addresses and phone numbers, were available to third parties without the users’ knowledge or permission. At the time, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi branded the data leak “a security incident” and said “we will learn from our mistakes”.

A Lebanese Uber driver was arrested on Tuesday in connection with the murder of a 30-year-old British diplomat. The company said it is “horrified by this senseless act of violence” and is cooperating with the investigation.

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