As digital technologies continue to permeate our physical world lives, platforms such as Uber, Airbnb and Facebook will increasingly be called upon to take on regulatory roles that government used to perform.
It was an extraordinary decision for Transport for London (TfL) to announce on Friday that it would not be renewing Uber’s private hire operator licence, effectively banning the service after 30 September. But the ruling was an indictment of Uber the company rather than the broader ride-hailing concept or labour model, and judges the embattled platform on a tumultuous past rather than its promise of new beginnings.
The discussion is not about a misfit between innovative business models and antiquated regulations. It has little connection to other familiar points of gig economy contention, such as whether Uber’s drivers are independent contractors or employees. Rather, like many cities around the world, London has already expanded its regulatory structure to accommodate ride-hailing services, adopting a now-familiar approach that delegates some responsibilities – setting fares, conducting criminal background checks, collecting data about drivers and rides and managing certain safety affairs – to the platform. TfL contends that Uber is not paying adequate attention to these responsibilities. As well as other shortcomings, the regulator calls out Uber’s controversial Greyball technology, a system designed to identify and thwart regulatory “sting operations”, although Uber denies that this has been used in London.
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