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London Kicks Uber Out Over Concerns About Safety & Sneaky Software

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After years of offering rides in London, Uber is being told to exit the British metropolis after the city’s transport regulator denied Uber’s license renewal over concerns about public safety and the company’s use of sneaky software to avoid detection by the authorities.

As of Sept. 30, Uber will no longer have the authority to operate in London, following a Transport for London (TfL) determination that Uber London Limited is “not fit and proper” to hold a private hire operator license.

TfL regulates London’s taxi and private hire trades with an eye on ensuring passenger safety. Private hire operators — like Uber — must demonstrate an ability to meet the agency’s regulations in order to receive a license.

Uber’s license is set to expire on Sept. 30; it was seeking a five-year renewal.

“Not Fit and Proper”

According to TfL, Uber’s “approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications.”

Specifically, those issues related to Uber’s approach to reporting serious criminal offenses, obtaining medical certificates, and ensuring driver background checks are obtained.

Additionally, TfL took Uber to task over its use of “Greyball,” a software tool used to sidestep law enforcement officers in cities where the service wasn’t yet authorized to operate.

Greyball Again

With Greyball, Uber used geolocation, phone model, credit card information, user behavior (including social media profiles), and other pieces of data to create a shadow app.

When a profile fit that of a law enforcement officer, Uber would send that profile to the shadow app. Here users would see “ghost” cars that couldn’t respond to requests for rides, and that obscured the locations of real cars.

Uber acknowledged the tool’s existence in March and promised to stop using the software.

TfL says that it wasn’t satisfied with Uber’s approach to explaining the use of the software in London.

Uber’s use of Greyball has caused the company to come under increased scrutiny in recent months.

Just last week, the city of Portland, OR, concluded that Uber used Greyball to evade detection by more than a dozen local government officials before the company had proper permits to operate in the city.

Also stateside, in May, sources revealed that the Justice Department had opened a criminal investigation against Uber over the use of Greyball. Regulators in California are also reportedly undertaking their own investigation into Greyball.

An Appeal

Under the Private Hire Vehicles Act, companies denied a license to operate in London have 21 days to appeal the decision. The company would be able to continue operating until the appeal is resolved.

Tom Elvidge, general manager for Uber London, tells The Verge that the company plans to immediately challenge the decision.

The company claims TfL is attempting to restrict consumer choice, and if that decision stands, more than 40,000 drivers would be out of work affecting more than 3.5 million London residents who use the company’s app.

Uber also addressed TfL’s findings, noting that all drivers are “licensed by TfL and have been through the same enhanced DBS background checks” as traditional cab drivers.

Additionally, the company says it has “followed TfL rules on reporting serious incidents and [has] a dedicated team who work closely with the Metropolitan police.”

As for Greyball, the company says it has “already told TfL, an independent review has found that ‘greyball’ has never been used or considered in the UK for the purposes cited by TfL.”

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