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California fines Uber $59 million, threatens license over refusal to hand over sexual assault data

SAN FRANCISCO — California regulators issued a $ 59 million fine and threatened to suspend Uber’s license to operate in the state over the ride-hailing giant’s refusal to hand over data on sexual assault on the platform, according to a ruling issued Monday.

The order comes a year after Uber released a landmark report on the prevalence of sexual assault on its app, which disclosed there had been roughly 6,000 cases of reported sexual assault between 2017 and 2018.

According to the ruling issued by an administrative law judge of the California Public Utilities Commission, Uber has 30 days to come into compliance with a January 2020 order. It requests the date, time and location of each reported assault, a description of the circumstances surrounding the incident, and names and contact information for both assault witnesses and “each person to whom the assault was reported.”

Uber has said it objects to releasing that data on grounds it would compromise the anonymity of assault victims, in defiance of established guidelines by support groups for survivors of sexual assault and the will of victims themselves. The CPUC has pledged it would keep the information under seal, and argues the data serves the public interest by ensuring the services are being conducted in a safe manner and broadening public understanding of the ride-hailing business model.

The commission said Uber could protect victims’ anonymity by providing a code or alternate signifier in place of the victim’s name.

Since Uber released its safety report in 2019, “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 spokesman Andrew Hasbun said in a statement. “We opposed this shocking violation of privacy, alongside many victims’ rights advocates.”

He added that “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.”

Hasbun said the contradictory actions may prompt other companies to avoid releasing such reports and won’t improve public safety.

A CPUC spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Uber rival Lyft pledged to release its own sexual assault report but has not yet done so or specified plans to follow through. Lyft declined to comment

Uber has 30 days to file an appeal to the decision, according to the ruling.

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