Cabify’s advertising campaign against the Decree Law raises concerns about how platform-controlled data can be a “danger to democracy”, according to Leïla Chaibi MEP
The Gig Economy Project, led by Ben Wray, was initiated by BRAVE NEW EUROPE enabling us to provide analysis, updates, ideas, and reports from all across Europe on the Gig Economy. If you have information or ideas to share, please contact Ben on GEP@Braveneweurope.com.
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Spanish private hire platform Cabify has published what it claims to be passenger data of Catalan politicians in an advertisement attempting to undermine the Catalan Parliament’s Decree Law regulating Cabify, Uber and other private hire platforms.
The Law was passed in July and will enter into force on 1 October. It effectively limits private hire platforms (VTCs) in Catalonia to limousines and passenger vans, and was met by howls of opposition from private hire platforms, claiming it will cost the north-eastern region thousands of jobs.
Cabify’s advertisement (pictured above), which has been published in newspapers, on public transport and on buildings, states: “The same politicians who do not want you to use VTC have made 5,437* trips on Cabify”. The asterix, in smaller lettering, clarifies that these trips are “from/to the Ministry of Transport in 2022”.
Thus, in reality these trips could have been made by many different people, including Cabify lobbyists, and not necessarily by the Transport Minister at all, who would generally use an official government car.
Nonetheless, a Cabify spokesperson defended the advert, stating: ”The platform records thousands of trips to the Ministry in this modality, which shows that it is used regularly to go to or return from this location, a clear contradiction.”
The Ministry of Transport has refused to comment, according to El Diario.
Jessica Pidoux, director of PersonalData.io, an organisation which works for the protection of personal data rights, told the Gig Economy Project that Cabify’s advert was revealing as to “how data power relations work in society”.
“It shows who has our data (only the company) and who can regulate the data economy,” she said. “It is proof of how platforms divide society as only the platform has a view on behaviour – who does what – and can use that information to influence others.
“This advert clearly seeks confrontation between civil society, politics and economic stakeholders, but it also shows how we are at the same level when it comes to data; citizens and politicians are tracked and influenced through the data that is ours. We need to recover that data to balance this data power.”
One Twitter user asked the Spanish Data Protection Agency if it is “legal for Cabify to use the data for purposes other than those exclusively derived from the provision of the service?”
Therefore, it’s possible that the article could breach Article 13 of GDPR, which states: “Where personal data relating to a data subject are collected from the data subject, the controller shall, at the time when personal data are obtained, provide the data subject with…The purposes of the processing for which the personal data are intended as well as the legal basis for the processing.”
Leïla Chaibi, France Insoumise MEP who leads the work of the Left in the European Parliament on platform workers’ rights, described Cabify’s actions as “an alarming practice which demonstrates once again that these platforms are a danger to democracy.”
Lucia Vasco, economist and author of ‘will an algorithm replace you?’, said the advert was a “veiled threat”.
“Deep down what it drops is a message like we know what you are doing , and that They can expose you at any time,” she added. “A kind of reminder that we are under surveillance and that political representatives are not independent to decide what they consider, but rather they must bow to what the big technology companies that manage the privacy of those who make decisions want.”
READ MORE: Taxistas beat Uber in battle for Barcelona
The advert is part of a broader campaign by the company to discredit the law, focusing its ire on the Catalan Minister for Transport, Raquel Sánchez. Last week, posters appeared in Sánchez’s home city of Gavá, where she was once mayor, stating: “R. Sánchez, your Cabify is waiting for you in Madrid”. The sub-text below stated: “Although you do not want your neighbours from Gavà to travel by VTC, don’t worry: you can continue traveling through other cities”.
Bolt, the Estonian VTC platform, has also responded to the new law in controversial style, by adding artificial extensions onto their cars so they reach the stipulated length in the Decree to be applicable to operate in Catalonia under the new law. The extensions read at the back: “It is not a bumper, it is the new regulation that requires a VTC of 4.90 meters”.
Jaume Collboni, president of Partido Socialista Catalunya in Barcelona, which supported the new law in the Catalan Parliament, responded to Bolt’s move by stating: “In Barcelona, no traps or occurrences. We will ensure that it complies with the spirit of the law and clearly differentiates the role of taxis and VTCs.”
The length of the vehicle is not the only new requirement on VTCs in Catalonia. They must also have a ‘zero’ or ‘Eco’ label to signify that they are electric or hybrid vehicles, insurance covering up to €50 million in liability, a VTC license for two years minimum and they must continue to pre-book 15 minutes in advance. Sanctions for breaking these rules range from €201 to €6,000.
Analysis by El Diario estimated that two-thirds of VTCs currently operational in Barcelona will no longer be valid by 1 October, with just 1,500 able to continue working with their current permits.
The private hire employers’ association, Unauto-VTC, claimed that the law “puts a noose around the neck of the sector in Catalonia”, but it was defended by Laia Bonet, the President of the Metropolitan Taxi Institute and a Barcelona councillor for mobility in the PSC, who said that it “ends the permanent confusion between taxi and VTC.”
“We do not want to reproduce in Barcelona the wild liberalism and unfair competition that has been installed in cities like Madrid,” she added. “The taxi is a public service for mobility in the city and the VTCs have to offer another service”.
The taxi union Elité Taxi Barcelona was instrumental in pushing for the Decree Law and its community manager Carlos Rodríguez told GEP that Bolt’s artificial extension had not “fulfilled any quality control” and “endangers the rest of the mobility actors in the city”. As for Cabify, the vice-President of the Taxi Project said they were “aware that on many occasions they violate the rights of users in terms of data protection” and had previously filed complaints to consumer authorities in three autonomous communities, including Catalonia, but only the Community of Madrid had responded saying it had opened a file to investigate the company.*
The Catalan decree law has been by far the most stringent applied so far by Spain’s ‘autonomous communities’, which have until the end of September to introduce regulation to replace the Àbalos Decree. The law, which was passed by the Spanish Congrees in 2018, gave private hire platforms a four-year moratorium, after which they would have to cease operating unless Spain’s regional governments introduced new legislation.
The Community of Madrid, governed by the right-wing PP, has introduced a law which has been widely seen as the most favourable to VTCs, and sparked anger from taxi drivers. It was announced last week that a coalition of opposition parties are tabling a legal challenge to the Madrid VTC law, claiming that it breaches the autonomy of local municipalities.
*This paragraph was added in after original publication of the article
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