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: California fines Uber $59 million for stonewalling questions about sexual assaults

A California judge fined Uber Technologies Inc. $59 million on Monday, and threatened to suspend its permit to operate in the state if the ride-hailing giant doesn't pay the penalty and answer regulators' questions within 30 days. Read More...

A California judge fined Uber Technologies Inc. $59 million on Monday, and threatened to suspend its permit to operate in the state if the ride-hailing giant doesn’t pay the penalty and answer regulators’ questions within 30 days.

Last December, an administrative law judge ordered Uber UBER, -2.22% to answer the California Public Utility Commission’s questions related to a long-awaited safety report, which listed, among other things, thousands of sexual assaults during rides from 2017-’19. The CPUC, which regulates ride-hailing in California, wanted more information about how the report was compiled, and specific details about the assaults so they could be investigated by the state.

Uber refused to comply, claiming it would infringe on victims’ privacy, even after a judge earlier this year said the company could turn over information under seal to protect confidentiality. The judge Monday agreed that Uber can use signifiers other than names to protect victims’ anonymity.

“The CPUC has been insistent in its demands that we release the full names and contact information of sexual assault survivors without their consent,” Uber said in a statement emailed to MarketWatch. “We opposed this shocking violation of privacy, alongside many victims’ rights advocates. Now, a year later, the CPUC has changed its tune: we can provide anonymized information — yet we are also subject to a $59 million fine for not complying with the very order the CPUC has fundamentally altered.”

An Uber spokesperson said the company is figuring out its next steps.

In Monday’s 92-page ruling, CPUC Administrative Law Judge Robert Mason said Uber’s arguments have been “factually and legally insufficient” and that the CPUC is legally entitled to the information.

“Uber is wrong when it argues that compliance [with the previous rulings] will violate a sexual assault victim’s privacy that California law is designed to protect,” Mason said. “Rather than casting itself in the role of a victim of regulatory overreach, it is Uber who is playing the part of the obstructionist who has prevented the commission from carrying out its regulatory, investigative and enforcement duties.”

The $59 million figure was based on a fine of $7,500 per violation, for every day Uber has failed to comply.

“Uber is a billion-dollar business that can easily afford to pay … even during a pandemic where ridership has undoubtedly declined,” the order said.

Uber has a history of playing fast and loose with local laws and regulations, though current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has taken steps to rein in the company’s behavior.

The judge’s order also noted that Uber’s track record of protecting confidential driver and passenger information has been “less than stellar,” citing 2016 data breaches that accessed data on 57 million Uber users and drivers.

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