Alexandru's story: “You never know when they are going to deactivate you or suspend you. And nobody dares to ask why"
This is a real life testimony of a UK private hire driver who was employed by Uber. It explores the issues that gig economy workers face as a result of algorithmic management used by their employers.
Please note the views expressed in the video are the interviewee's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of PI.
In his interview, Alexandru told us that he started to work for Uber in 2018. Despite being aware of negative experiences of others, he felt that everything was running smoothly, and for a while, Uber met his expectations.
However, in 2021, he received a notice from Uber that they had noticed fraudulent activity associated with his account. He went on social media and noticed that a lot of drivers were getting similar alerts. He therefore assumed it was an error with the App and decided to ignore it.
But when he received a second warning his attitude changed. He knew that if he received a third warning his account would get suspended. The email suggested that his account had been suspected of fraudulent activity, but he didn’t understand why. By then, he had completed 6000 trips and had a 4.99 (out of 5) rating. He was therefore confident the mistake must have probably been on Uber’s side and decided to call Uber.
"The worst thing for me was being treated like I was guilty” says Alexandru. Uber’s representative kept asking him what he had done wrong and insisted that fraudulent activity is detected by their system automatically based on what he does. In other words, Uber suggested that the algorithm couldn’t be wrong. The person on the phone gave him examples which usually lead to suspicions of fraudulent activity, but none of those were things that Alexandru had done.
Eventually his support agent from Uber told him that he will be able to find out what happened only if he were to be actually suspended. Alexandru had no desire to wait until he was suspended to find out what he had been accused of. While speaking to Uber’s representative on the phone, Alexandru felt that the representative was reading a script and did not engage in the conversation.
After this call with Uber, Alexandru drove one of his last customers with Uber. She was a very old woman who was leaving a family reunion. The ride had been booked by her daughter, but she had made a mistake and entered incorrect postcode when ordering the taxi. As a result, Alexandru drove her to the wrong address. The old woman begged him not to leave her there and to take her to her actual address. However, Alexandru was worried that if he did that, he would deviate from the original route, and this could be a breach of Uber’s policy. He feared that this could lead to his full suspension. He tried contacting the customer’s daughter to see if she could change the postcode in the App, but she did not pick up.
Following these issues, he eventually decided to stop working for Uber and contacted the App Drivers and Couriers Union. He felt that he did not want to work for a company which could suspend him at any time. For him, this situation is too precarious, and he prefers focusing on finding other sources of income.
According to Alexandru, Uber calls its workers ‘partners’. However, he feels the term was disingenuous. “I am married, my wife is a partner. I negotiate with her. Sometimes she wants to go to a club and I want to go to a football game. It’s a negotiation. Sometimes she has to give up, sometimes I do what she wants. We are partners. This is what partners do. With Uber it’s not like this. They say ‘from now on, you do this’ and we have to say ‘yes, sir’. That’s not partnership.”
Alexandru sees the lack of transparency as the key problem with Uber. “You never know when they are going to deactivate you or to suspend you. Nobody dares to ask why. You speak to Uber representatives who do not know the details of your case and they tell you they cannot escalate to the specialised team unless you have actually been suspended.”
Alexandru thinks that workers, gig economy or not, generally don’t know their rights and may not know who to reach out to for protection. Big companies are able to use this to their benefit.
Since we interviewed Alexandru, we have learned that Uber has been in touch with him and has sent him an apology for wrongly accusing him of fraudulent activity.
We have also reached out to Uber for comment in relation to the interviews that we have conducted. Uber emphasised that it is always the specialist teams of human reviewers who make final decisions about drivers' accounts. In addition Uber stated that drivers have the right to contact Ubers Data Protection Officer for any issue they may have with the processing of their personal data. They can do so via the published contact details. You can read the full response from Uber here.
*This research is a result of a collaboration between Privacy International, Worker Info Exchange and App Drivers and Couriers Union.