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Updated: Uber driver accused of trying to kiss female passenger; Intermediary liability?


Update: Uber Delhi General Manager Gagan Bhatia told MediaNama that:

Our team immediately reached out to the rider via phone within a few minutes of receiving the feedback after the trip and deactivated the driver partner pending a full investigation. We also proactively reached out to the Gurgaon Police yesterday to alert them of this incident even before a FIR had been lodged by the rider. This was done to ensure they were made aware that we have received a complaint alleging inappropriate behavior and were provided with a dedicated point of contact at Uber to assist with any investigations.

He also mentioned that:

Over the last 36 hours we have worked closely with the Gurgaon Police to share all relevant information pertaining to the trip including vehicle and driver partner details, GPS trace, and feedback history, etc. In fact, our team also helped bring the driver partner to Sector 56 Police Station within an hour of the FIR being filed to ensure the investigating officers were able to speak with him immediately, record an official statement and expedite their investigation.

Earlier (June 2): Looks like online taxi booking service Uber is once again in the news for the wrong reasons. A Uber driver has allegedly misbehaved with a female passenger in Gurgaon, and apparently forcibly tried to kiss her. The passenger complained to Uber, to which the company replied to say that they’ve “a zero tolerance policy for this behaviour” and that they were “following up with Vinod (the driver) appropriately, and immediately.”

This is what Uber has told MediaNama:

Our team immediately reached out to the rider via phone within a few minutes of receiving the feedback. Multiple members of the Uber team have spoken with the driver. Uber has a zero tolerance policy towards inappropriate behaviour and immediate action has already been taken with the driver partner being deactivated while the matter is being thoroughly investigated. In order to protect the privacy of parties involved, we will continue to handle this matter directly with the concerned parties.

As discussed with the rider on the phone and email, our team is ready to assist further in any way we can to share information with authorities.

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We can also confirm that the driver partner does have a valid PSV badge and commercial license issued by the Delhi authorities.

It’s not clear if a FIR has been filed against the driver, or if the investigation is being conducted by the police or if it’s merely an internal investigation being done by Uber. It also needs to be pointed out that in February, Uber had hired First Advantage, a company which runs background checks, to bring in additional layers of screening over and above its standard transport licensing process which includes address verification, a local criminal court search, and a national criminal database search. And it’s not as if these incidents involving Uber drivers are restricted to India. Last month, a Uber driver was accused of sexual assault in Toronto, Canada, while similar incidents have been reported in Boston, US as well.

Turbulent ride

Since the December 2014 incident, Uber has had a turbulent ride in India. The Delhi transport department had banned Uber in December, and later brought them under the radio taxi license. Uber had resumed operations in Delhi in January, after applying for a radio taxi license, however it’s yet to actually receive the license. The Delhi government recently asked the Center to block the online taxi booking apps of both Uber and Ola in the city, till their radio taxi licenses are processed and cleared. In fact, last month, the DoT had apparently asked ISPs to block the websites of Ola, TaxiForSure and Uber in Delhi.

Over the past few months, the company has also introduced a number of safety and security features. In February, a SOS panic button, which will alert the local police in case of an emergency, was added to the Uber app. Plus, Uber tied-up with location-based mobile safety app Safetipin to enable Uber drivers to collect area data across Delhi to improve passenger safety. This pilot program is expected to go on till July. Earlier, the company had also introduced an improved ShareMyETA button that allows passengers to send their complete trip details (including live GPS tracking, driver photo, name and vehicle license number).

Aggregator responsibility & liability

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Since Uber is an aggregator (Intermediary), it is somewhat protected by Section 79 of the IT Act, 2008. It proffers safe harbor to Intermediaries, as long as they act on complaints and do not knowingly allow the usage of their platform to break the law. So, legally Uber seems to be on safe ground, however as we have pointed out earlier there is a need for better understanding of the responsibility, accountability and liability of platforms, marketplaces and aggregators. There’s no doubt that online aggregators and marketplaces are good for consumers and competition. But then who is accountable, when things get screwed up? And what about the liability of these platforms?

It’s worth noting that earlier this year Uber had asked a US district court to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the Delhi rape victim for negligence & fraud, saying that it should not be held legally responsible for its driver’s act.

Also Read: On the responsibility, accountability and liability of platforms, marketplaces and aggregators

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