This became the focus for a fascinating piece on BBC Newsnight, which not only interrogated the global giant’s business model but looked at the wider roles and responsibilities of tech businesses in the age of digital disruption.
If you saw the interview with Uber’s UK General Manager, Jo Bertram, you will have seen that she came in for some tough questioning from Newsnight’s Evan Davies. Many of these questions related to the corporation’s ability to ensure drivers are paid the minimum wage and whether the platform was taking measures to avoid drivers overworking – the suggestion being that a driver working a 70 or 80 hour week may represent a danger to passengers and other road users due to fatigue.
Since its inception in 2009, Uber’s stance has been a clear and robust one. The platform is designed to be one of opportunity: a tool that offers unrivalled flexibility and doesn’t tie drivers into the set shifts and holiday restrictions associated with typical employment. It does not claim to be an employer of taxi drivers or a governing body; merely a network that connects vehicle supply with demand.
I have to say that the concept of motorists “getting work at the touch of a button” is a compelling one, and as the CEO of a tech firm that believes in the positive potential of digital disruption I find it hard to argue with innovation at the heart of Uber. Now estimated to be the fastest growing business in the history of the planet with 25,000 drivers registered since 2013 in Greater London alone, Uber is less taxi app and more global juggernaut.
Indeed, Uber is not alone in delivering opportunity and income to the masses. In the property rental market AirBnB has taken huge strides in allowing people to monetise their space, while the finance and retail sectors also feature networks designed to facilitate a whole economic ecosystem.
With great power comes great responsibility
The important question that faces regulatory bodies not just in the UK and Europe but across the world is, at what point do tech firms and digital platforms become accountable for opening Pandora’s Box?
How much is AirBnB responsible for antisocial or messy lodgers? How should Facebook or Twitter handle trolling and to what extent does Uber have to take on the role of an employer, regardless of how flexible and liberating they wish their platform to be?
This is undoubtedly a fine line to tread. After all, the last thing a newly logged on Uber driver wants after leaving full-time employment is to be hit with a whole raft of regulations and restrictions. Yet, their customers expect them to be competent and taking the necessary safety precautions when they step into the passenger seat.
In Uber’s defence, they do take steps to notify drivers if they are working excessive hours, have demonstrated erratic behaviours or posed safety concerns. Their passengers’ ability to rate drivers also offers a “real-time feedback on driver performance that no other company has”.
But, as Evan Davies suggests, should users of the Uber app not hold the corporation to higher account than this? And does more need to be done to preserve a healthy balance of power between labour and consumer?
At The Law Superstore this sense of responsibility is an issue we take very seriously. As we have shaped the nature of our comparison website over the last two years, it has remained important to us to create a platform that is both intensely client focused yet works for the legal profession, enabling legal service providers to access a sustainable, progressive future.
Innovation today is taking place at greater speed and on a greater scale than ever before, meaning that businesses and individuals have less time to perform their own due diligence and decide whether a “new tech” is something they wish to adopt or not.
We have spoken to many firms to ask them what they would like to see from our website. And we have taken the time to better understand the reasons why they might feel some trepidation at the arrival of a new business development tool.
The result is a comparison website that we believe will enhance legal service provider’s existing practices and complement their existing marketing and business development activities. As our legal Partners, they will benefit from the growth of our platform as much as the clients who will be empowered to find and access legal services in one place, 24/7.
For more information about The Law Superstore, visit www.thelawsuperstore.co.uk/partners or call 0344 576 1670.