Uber sued by drivers over automated robo-firing

Former Uber drivers have accused the taxi app firm of using automated “robo-firing” algorithms to dismiss them.

British drivers want courts in the Netherlands – where Uber’s data is based – to overrule the algorithm that they say caused them to be fired.

Experts say the legal challenge is the first of its kind to test the protections of GDPR Article 22.

Uber told the BBC that drivers’ accounts were only deactivated following manual review by humans.

“Uber provides requested personal data and information that individuals are entitled to,” said a spokeswoman for Uber.

“We will give explanations when we cannot provide certain data, such as when it doesn’t exist or disclosing it would infringe on the rights of another person under GDPR.”

The European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in 2018, imposes obligations on companies who collect people’s personal information, no matter where they are located in the world, if that data is related to EU consumers.

“As part of our regular processes, the drivers in this case were only deactivated after manual reviews by our specialist team,” the spokeswoman added.

The App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU), which is bringing the legal challenge, says that since 2018, it has seen well over 1,000 individual cases where drivers have allegedly been wrongly accused of fraudulent activity and immediately had their accounts terminated without a right of appeal.

“For any private hire operator in London, if they fire someone, there is a requirement where they have to report the driver to Transport for London (TfL),” James Farrar, the ADCU’s general secretary told the BBC.

“This is putting drivers in a Kafkaesque situation where they may be called in by TfL, they’re given 14 days to explain the situation and why they should keep their licence. Our drivers are in a terrible position because they don’t know what the issue is, Uber hasn’t told them.”

Mr Farrar further claims that when TfL asked for additional details, Uber told TfL that it could not provide them, because it would compromise Uber’s security.

ADCU adds that none of the drivers represented by it in this lawsuit have been reported to the police by Uber after having their accounts terminated.

A former Uber driver with ADCU, who has asked not to be named, told the BBC that he had been driving with Uber for about two years and had a customer rating of 4.94 when he was suddenly terminated from the app.

“The day it happened, I went to work and on my app, it said I wasn’t allowed to log in. The app said to call customer support,” he said.

“I rang customer support and I was told that my account was deactivated because I had been engaging in fraudulent activities.”

He said that he contacted Uber more than 50 times over a year and a half via the phone and email, but claims he was never told what he had done that was “fraudulent”.

When he called customer support, he was told that a “specialised team” was dealing with the issue, and that they would call him back. They never called, he says.

“I was pleading with them in my emails repeatedly. I even asked if I could have a face-to-face meeting with the specialised team. I was willing to travel to another country to meet them,” he said.

“I have a family to feed. I’m not a fraudster or a criminal.”

After being terminated, the driver was reported to TfL by Uber. But the taxi app firm did not report him to the police.

TfL wrote to the driver to ask him to answer the allegations in writing. When the driver explained, TfL dropped the matter and did not revoke his licence.

Anton Ekker is a privacy lawyer based in Amsterdam who is representing the British former Uber drivers.

“We know for sure that Uber is using algorithms for decisions about fraud and deactivation of drivers. This is happening everywhere,” he said.

On Uber’s claims that its termination decisions are made by humans, Mr Ekker said: “If it is automated decision-making, then the GDPR says they must have legal grounds to use such technology, and they must give drivers the possibility to object to an automated decision, which they clearly did not do.”

Mr Ekker added that on Twitter he had seen thousands of complaints from Uber drivers all over the world, saying they had been automatically terminated for committing fraud without an explanation.

His intention is to seek a ruling from the Dutch courts, which, if successful, would then make it possible to bring a class action lawsuit against Uber.

According to Prof Lilian Edwards, chair of Law, Innovation and Society at Newcastle University, ADCU’s legal challenge could set a precedent with the European Court of Justice.

“This is probably the biggest case we’ve had so far on Article 22 of the GDPR that’s ever gotten to the courts,” she told the BBC.

In 2017, Prof Edwards, together with Dr Michael Veale of University College London, published an academic paper exploring the challenges relating to transparency and fairness when it comes to the use of computer algorithms to make decisions that affect people’s lives.

“Article 22 is really important because this is the provision that arguably gives you the right to an explanation about why an automated decision was made about you,” she explained.

“There’s been huge debate for years about whether the law could give people some rights over it, and this is a way for us to get some control over it and to be able to challenge it if it’s wrong.

“So this is really big news,” she says.

Toddler in pushchair killed in crash in Ruislip

A toddler in a pushchair has been killed and a man in his 30s has been critically injured in a crash in north-west London.

Another pedestrian was also struck by the driver of a car in Eastcote Road, Ruislip, on Sunday afternoon, the Metropolitan Police said.

A man in his 40 has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving.

He is also suspected of driving while unfit through drugs.

Det Sgt Sarah Donegan said: “Our thoughts are with the child’s parents at what must be an unimaginably difficult time.

“We have launched an investigation to establish the circumstances of what happened and I am asking anyone who was in the vicinity at that time who may have seen something, or has dashcam footage or CCTV, to come forward and help us with our investigation.”

Leicester attacks: Boy, 10, had neck cut open

A man carried out a series of “calculated and deliberate” attacks, including stabbing a 10-year-old boy in the neck and driving a car into a five-year-old girl, a court has heard.

Carlos Vinodchandra Racitalal, 33, formerly of Finsbury Road, Leicester, is alleged to have attacked the boy while his mother was parking her car.

Mr Racitalal is accused of a series of attacks in the city between 2 and 18 January.

He denies four attempted murder counts.

Leicester Crown Court heard Mr Racitalal, who is also facing three counts of possession of a bladed article, approached the boy on 18 January.

“The defendant came along the pavement and put a hand on [the boy’s] shoulder and then drew a knife across [his] neck, cutting it open,” said Christopher Donnellan QC, prosecuting.

The boy sustained a 10cm (four inch) deep gash to his neck.

“[He] was millimetres away from ending [his] life,” Mr Donnellan said.

The defendant is also alleged to have driven a black Corsa into the back of a five-year-old child who was holding her grandfather’s hand in an Asda car park off Abbey Lane on 2 January.

“She was launched forward into another car and fell to the ground,” Mr Donnellan said.

“The defendant was driving. It wasn’t an accident. It was calculated and deliberate.”

The jury heard the little girl suffered injuries to her nose and chin.

“There were screams as [her grandfather] was frantic with distress and was in quite a state for some time because of what he had just seen,” Mr Donnellan told the court.

In another attack, a woman was walking home with her two children, aged six and three, on 14 January when she was stabbed in the back of her head.

“She saw someone there with a yellow-handled knife,” Mr Donnellan said. “That person didn’t say anything, didn’t ask her anything, didn’t grab anything, didn’t take anything.

“She didn’t see where he came from and didn’t see where he went.”

A further attack took place on 16 January on a man who was walking home after going shopping.

“The attack on him near his home by the defendant was brutal,” said Mr Donnellan.

“The defendant used a huge knife to attack [the victim], striking him around the head more than once, causing nasty wounds.

“Mercifully his wounds didn’t prove fatal.

“On each occasion the defendant was launching an unprovoked attack on a vulnerable child or adult. Each defenceless. Each taken by surprise,” the court was told.

“On each occasion he left the scene and didn’t do anything to check on his victims or help them.”

The court heard Mr Racitalal handed himself into a police station after CCTV of the attacks was released on social media, and he was arrested on 20 January.

The trial continues.

School meals: How many children can claim free meals?

The row over extending free school meals over the school holidays has continued into its second week.

The UK government has defended not extending the scheme over the half-term holiday. It says it is supporting families through extra money for universal credit and additional funding for councils.

But how many pupils can claim free school meals, and which parts of the country have the highest rates?

In England, children living in households on income-related benefits (such as universal credit) are eligible for free school meals, as long as their annual household income does not exceed £7,400 after tax, not including welfare payments.

This is the same in Wales and Scotland, however in Northern Ireland the cap is set at £14,000 a year.

If a child is eligible, their parent or guardian can claim at any age – from pre-school to further education.

In England and Scotland, all infant state school pupils (those in Reception and in Years 1 and 2) can get free school meals during term time – regardless of their household income.

As of January 2020, excluding year groups where eligibility is universal, 1.4m children qualify for free school meals in England – or 17.3% of the student population.

This is the highest proportion of children eligible in at least a decade.

In Scotland, the equivalent figure is 89,000 primary and secondary pupils – or about 17% of pupils.

In Wales, 20% of pupils are eligible for free school meals and in Northern Ireland it is 28% of pupils.

The proportion of children eligible varies considerably across the country, but generally matches recognised trends surrounding regional deprivation and wealth.

For example, almost a quarter of pupils in the north-east of England are eligible compared with about 13% of pupils in the south-east.

The highest proportion of students eligible for free school meals – about a third – in England are in:

Meanwhile, the lowest proportion of pupils eligible – fewer than one in 10 – are in:

Some groups are more likely to be eligible than others, including some ethnic minorities.

For example, more than 60% of Irish Traveller pupils taking their GCSEs are eligible for free school meals.

Roma/Gypsy, Bangladeshi and black pupils also have disproportionately high eligibility.

Meanwhile, white, Indian and Chinese pupils are far less likely to be eligible for free school meals.

According to the Department for Work and Pensions, an estimated 4.1m children live in relative poverty in Great Britain.

However, fewer than two million pupils across Scotland, Wales and England are eligible for free school meals.

But these two numbers are ultimately showing two different things.

Relative poverty is calculated by taking the median income – that’s the income where half of all households earn more and half earn less – and then looking at how many children live in households earning less than 60% of this.

Meanwhile, free school meal eligibility is a measurement of how many school-age children are living in households claiming some form of employment-related welfare benefit.

Some households in relative poverty might not meet the financial threshold to claim certain benefits.

Both relative poverty and free school meal eligibility are measurements of income rather than food insecurity – although the two are closely linked.

In the UK, there is no single measurement for hunger.

However, a report by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee from 2019 looked at different measurements in a report on food insecurity.

This included:

None of these measurements are perfect, but shine some light on the scale of the problem.

This is likely – especially since it is based on those claiming welfare.

We know that in Great Britain, the number of households with children claiming universal credit increased by about 45% between January and May 2020.

However, not all of the additional 500,000 households with children claiming the benefit will be eligible for free school meals, due to the £7,400 cap.

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Free meals: North Devon MP Selaine Saxby urged to quit

A Conservative MP is facing calls to stand down over her “mocking” message on Facebook to businesses offering free meals for children during half term.

Thousands of people have signed a petition calling for North Devon MP Selaine Saxby to quit.

Ms Saxby said she hoped that if local businesses were able to offer free food, then they would not be seeking further government help.

She later said her comments had been been taken “out of context”.

The government last week rejected a Labour motion to offer free school meals during holidays until Easter 2021.

Her Facebook post, which has since been deleted, said: “I am delighted our local businesses have bounced back so much after lockdown that they are able to give food away for free, and very much hope they will not be seeking any further government support.”

In a later Facebook post, she said: “The portrayal of my recent comments on social media, out of context, does not accurately convey my views. I, of course, deeply regret any offence which may have been caused.”

She went on to criticise the behaviour on social media of “a small but hostile element” towards her and her staff as “aggressive and personally abusive”.

Petition creator Paul Trueman, from Braunton in North Devon, said: “We all felt proud of every individual and business, big and small, who volunteered this week to help feed them [children].

“But when dozens of our local businesses, already hit hard by months of restrictions and closure, stepped up with offers to help feed hungry kids, we saw them mocked by our own MP here in North Devon, posting from her own Facebook account.”

Alex White, spokesman for the Liberal Democrats in the constituency, said: “Her position has become completely untenable.

“In some parts of North Devon, one in three children live in poverty – her comments are an insult not only to inspirational local eateries, but to parents and children across this constituency.”

Children of all ages living in households on income-related benefits may be eligible for free school meals.

In England, about 1.3 million children claimed free school meals in 2019 – about 15% of state-educated pupils.

Analysis by the Food Foundation estimates a further 900,000 children in England may have sought free school meals since the start of the pandemic.

Do more to criminalise buying sex, says Labour MP

A Labour MP is calling for government to do more to “criminalise buying sex”.

Dame Diana Johnson – who leads a group on tackling sexual exploitation – said men in the UK who paid for sex were “fuelling a brutal sex-trafficking trade that is destroying lives”.

She said “pimping websites” targeting vulnerable women should be banned, and more victim support should be provided.

The Home Office said its priority was to protect victims from harm and target those who exploit vulnerable people.

Dame Diana’s call comes as politicians from the UK and Romania hold an online summit to decide on action to tackle human trafficking between the two countries.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that three quarters of women trafficked to the UK come from Romania and the majority are sold into the sex trade.

In England and Wales, the acts of buying and selling sex are not illegal. However, many activities associated with prostitution are offences, such as links to exploitation.

Dame Diana, who is the MP for Hull North, said: “One of the obvious things to do is criminalise paying for sex while we decriminalise the victims and give them support.”

A specific area the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation wants action on is websites that traffickers use to target women to bring to the UK.

“They take the ‘lover boy’ approach where men befriend and become boyfriends of women and coerce them into trafficking,” said Dame Diana.

“[They allow] men to access women in the areas that they live in and serious organised crime groups that are running this trade can move women between hotel rooms and brothels all around the country.”

The Labour MP said Home Secretary Priti Patel could “bring forward legislation to criminalise the use of those websites and to close them down” straight away.

And she suggested looking at measures taken in Northern Ireland to offer more support to the victims caught up in this “trade in human misery and this abuse of women, who are being raped and sexually assaulted”.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the government was “committed to tackling the abhorrent crimes of human trafficking and modern slavery and giving victims the support they need to rebuild their lives”.

She added: “It is our priority to protect victims from harm and exploitation, and target those who exploit vulnerable people involved in prostitution.”

Ex-paratrooper attempts record jump from helicopter without parachute

A former paratrooper has attempted a new world record for jumping from an aircraft into water without a parachute.

John Bream, 34, nicknamed “the Flying Fish”, dropped about 130ft (40m) from a helicopter off Hayling Island on the Hampshire coast.

Support divers said he was briefly unconscious when he hit the water and was taken to hospital as a precaution.

He was raising money for mental health charities for services personnel.

The former member of the Parachute Regiment from Havant, Hampshire, fell about four seconds before hitting the Solent at about 80mph (130km/h).

Divers who reached Mr Bream after the jump said he had landed awkwardly and was briefly unconscious after hitting his head.

He was later seen walking and chatting with paramedics as he was being checked over.

Cash raised from Mr Bream’s attempt will be donated to the All Call Signs and the Support Our Paras charities.

Speaking in July, he said knowing veterans who had taken their own lives was “so painful”.

“The transition from the military is difficult but I want to show that we don’t need to live in the past and we all can still achieve brilliance,” he said.

A spokesperson for Guinness World Records said it was still awaiting evidence of Mr Bream’s attempt and could not verify it until then.

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