Ola is facing a drivers’ legal challenge over data access rights and algorithmic management

Two ride-hailing drivers are taking India-based Ola to court in the Netherlands in another test case targeted at algorithmic management of gig workers.

The case, which is being supported by the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) and others, is similar to one filed by drivers against Uber in July, also in a Netherlands court.

The drivers in both cases are asking for their personal data to be ported to their union’s data trust so it can be used for collective bargaining purposes. They say the companies haven’t provided all the requested data — and Uber, for example, has sought to suggest EU privacy rights prevent it from handing over more information.

Both cases reference European data access rights under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — including protections for individuals who are subject to significant legal or equivalent effects as a result of wholly automated processing.

In the Ola challenge, the ADCU says the drivers received only partial data in response to requests for their information under GDPR — such as not receiving date-stamped GPS data.

Another complaint is the lack of ratings data at the trip level, which they say Ola blocked — meaning they have no way to challenge unfair or discriminatory ratings.

The drivers argue “huge gaps” in the data provided reduces their ability to meaningfully analyse their own performance.

They also allege that Ola’s data protection policy suggests a high degree of driver surveillance and performance management at the same time as the company denies basic worker rights — as drivers are classified as self-employed.

“Ola give tantalising detail on level of surveillance and control over workers. Fraud probability scores for drivers for example. Admit that performance factors go into dispatch decision,” an ADCU spokesperson told us.

Gig platforms in Europe have faced a number of legal challenges over the classification of workers as they have scaled in the region. These latest cases are interesting in how the plaintiffs are going after the platforms’ algorithmic management as a means of illustrating the degree of worker control.

In a press release announcing the suit, the ADCU points to a safety feature Ola introduced in London earlier this year known as “Guardian,” which the company says uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze “millions of data points” “n real time to automatically detect irregular trip activity” — saying Ola has “provided no information on the driver personal data processed in such risk profiling despite disclosing that it calculates a ‘fraud probability score’ for each driver.”

The plaintiffs argue transparency over such systems is essential — pointing to the potential for them to impact driver earnings. One of the drivers bringing the case reports having his pay docked after Ola’s algorithm deemed the trips “invalid” (incorrectly, as he tells it).

When the driver tried to appeal, Ola told him the process is automated and has no manual intervention — asserting that the deductions were correct and could not be reversed.

Yet Article 22 of the GDPR affords EU data subjects the right to contest automated decision making with significant legal or similar effects on them — including the right to human review of a decision. So it’s another interesting test of the extent of legal protections provided by the regulation.

Commenting on the suit in a statement, Yaseen Aslam, president of ADCU said: “Ola could choose to use its technology for good to ensure drivers are well paid, protected and treated with dignity at work. Instead Ola has taken advantage of its position of platform power to exploit and impoverish its workforce. It’s time for drivers to take back control and build collective power. The first step is to demand access to their own data at work.”

We’ve reached out to Ola for comment on the challenge.

The plaintiffs say they will ask the district court in Amsterdam to make an order that Ola immediately comply with EU data protection law and be fined €2,000 for each day it does not do so.

They note that action has been taken in the Netherlands because Ola Netherlands BV, the corporate entity that controls the platform and driver data, is based in Amsterdam.

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