Uber Misleads Riders Down Under

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Croikey mate!

Australian Uber has been lying to you. More like Outback fake-house, amiright?

Users of the app were faced with misleading statements about cancellation fees, when there wouldn’t have been any under the company’s official policy, coercing them into sticking with a requested ride. Plus, the estimated comparison taxi fares provided by Uber within the app were artificially inflated to appear more expensive than Uber’s offer. The company has since resolved both issues, but only after The Australian government began investigating.

Uber BV, a subsidiary of Uber Technologies based out of the Netherlands that runs the ride-share app in Australia, has agreed to pay a A$26 million ($18.69 million in USD) fine to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), after admitting its wrongdoing. The settlement follows an investigation that Uber said was ongoing for two years, in a statement on the company website.

The false warnings about cancellation fees were in place between at least 2017 and September 2021, according to a statement by the ACCC. Uber policy states that app users have a 1-5 minute cancellation window (depending on if they’re opting for a shared, economy, or premium ride) after their request has been accepted to cancel without penalty. However, more than 2 million Australian ride requesters were faced with a warning stating, “you may be charged a small fee since your driver is already on the way,” regardless of whether or not they attempted to cancel within the free window, said the ACCC statement.

(Note: this isn’t the first time Uber has been sued over its business practices.)

“Uber admits it misled Australian users for a number of years, and may have caused some of them to decide not to cancel their ride after receiving the cancellation warning, even though they were entitled to cancel free of charge under Uber’s own policy,” ACCC chair, Gina Cass-Gottlieb said in the watchdog group’s statement.

And, for a two year period between June 2018 and August 2020, the app also showed an estimated “Uber taxi” option and fare which was consistently and falsely advertising taxi costs as higher than they actually would’ve been—making Uber seem like the more cost-effective option. The taxi price estimates, which were only available in Sydney, were calculated using an algorithm purposely meant to favor Uber, according to the ACCC.

“Uber admits its conduct misled users about the likely cost of the taxi option, and that it did not monitor the algorithm used to generate these estimates to ensure it was accurate,” Cass-Gottlieb also stated.

Although the company has fessed up to the wrongdoing, Uber also claimed that, basically, nothing they did actually hurt anyone. “Notwithstanding the cancellation warning, almost all riders chose to cancel their trip in any event,” the ride-share giant said in its statement.

Uber did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment, but did further say in their statement, “As always, we will continue to listen to feedback from driver-partners and riders to make sure that the service we are offering continues to meet their needs .”

Australian Federal Court will announce when Uber has to pay the multi-million penalty in a later decision.

A Yellow Cab feature, similar to the “Uber taxi” option is set to lanch on the Uber app in New York City sometime this spring. Hopefully, the company won’t repeat the same mistakes stateside.

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