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Uber fined $14m for lying to get customers to ditch cabs

Australian app let you book actual taxis – at inflated prices

Australia's Federal Court has fined Uber AU$21 million ($14 million) for engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct.

Uber did so in two ways – one of which involved the offer it made in some parts of Australia to arrange rides in ye olde licensed taxis from within its app.

The court found that Uber's app and website displayed a likely price for taxi rides, but overestimated that fare.

"The actual price was likely to be less than the lower range of the estimate of that fare range," the judgement states. In other words, Uber misled users by suggesting a taxi would be more expensive than was actually the case. That would likely steer them to taking an Uber, even if it wouldn't really be the best option.

The other infraction concerns the fees that Uber charges when customers cancel a ride they've already booked.

Between 2017 and 2021, cancelling customers would receive a message warning they may be charged a cancellation fee – even during the period of time during which Uber also promised cancellation would be free.

More than two million people saw those messages, meaning Uber had more than two million opportunities to cajole people into riding rather than incurring a fee for no service.

The case was brought by Australia's Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), whose chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb expressed satisfaction at the court's decision.

"We took this important case because we understand that consumers rely on apps, like the Uber app, to provide accurate information to inform their purchasing decisions because they cannot independently check or monitor whether the information displayed is accurate," Ms Cass-Gottlieb said.

While the ACCC had a win in the case, the sparkling wine may not be flowing in the regulator's office. It sought a fine of AU$26 million, and Uber agreed to pay that sum.

"It is unnecessary and unhelpful to speculate about why the respondent may have agreed to a penalty that is higher than the court considers to be appropriate," wrote justice Michael O'Bryan. The ACCC has pointed out that the justice also observed "The conclusion reached in this case should not be understood as any reduction in the court's resolve to impose penalties that are appropriate to achieve the statutory objective of deterring contraventions of the Australian Consumer Law."

Instead, the lesser amount reflects "the statutory criteria and the applicable principles to the circumstances of this case."

The case is yet another example, as if any were needed, of scofflaw behavior by Uber, which entered markets around the world in full knowledge that licensed taxis had a government-decreed monopoly on personal transport services. It has since been penalized for overcharging disabled customers, deceptive advertising in France, and exposing customers' data in a massive leak that its CSO tried to cover up.

The above represents a small sample of the company's misdeeds. It still has to answer for a massive cloud fail in September 2022, and deceiving investigators as they tried to probe its affairs.

Hurrah for disruption! ®

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