ASA upholds complaint over Uber ad claiming extensive driver checks

Last year, Uber reduced the rate it paid drivers by around 20 percent and dropped the requirement for drivers to have a P endorsement license (passenger endorsement) from the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) in the hopes of making the ride share company more accessible.

The changes saw some drivers express concerns over their income while others raised concerns over the who would be allowed to join as a driver since there was no longer a need for a P endorsement.

Arguments have already been heard in courts with former driver Arden MacDonald taking Uber to the Disputed Tribunal and now, they’ve been heard by the ASA over a billboard.

The ASA has upheld a complaint against an Uber billboard after it was found to mislead the audience of the legitimacy of the ride share’s background checks on its drivers.

Appearing on the corner of Auckland’s Pitt Street and Hobson Street, the billboard featured a photo of a woman standing in a room full of documents alongside text reading “Background checks on every driver. We get Becky’s life story before you do”.

The complainant from A. MacDonald (thought to be former driver Arden MacDonald) argued the ad misrepresented Uber’s knowledge of its drivers’ backgrounds after it removed requirements for drivers to have a P endorsement to drive as a private driver under the Uber platform.

According to the complaint, it was an illegal move that took away the proper background check that’s required under New Zealand law.

“Uber’s background check is a simply Ministry of Justice check and driver history check which can only see convictions in New Zealand and does not take into account any overseas history, charges laid or pending against a person and falls short of any New Zealand requirements by a long way….” the complaint read.

MacDonald believed the ad breached Basic Principle Four and Rule two of the Code of Ethics.

Basic Principle four states “all advertisements should be prepared with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society”, while Rule two states ads should make a truthful presentation: “Advertisements should not contain any statement or visual presentation or create an overall impression which directly or by implication, omission, ambiguity or exaggerated claim is misleading or deceptive, is likely to deceive or mislead the consumer, makes false and misleading representation, abuses the trust of the consumer or exploits his/her lack of experience or knowledge. (Obvious hyperbole, identifiable as such, is not considered to be misleading).”

In its ruling, the Complaints Board agreed the ad breached both the principle and the rule, as it implies that Uber has an in-depth knowledge of the background of its rivers and the test “life story” implies it has extensive knowledge of its drivers generally.

The board noted the background checks are not as comprehensive as those required by the NZTA for taxi drivers and it was decided the advertisement would likely mislead or deceive consumers.

Uber’s response to the complaint was that the billboard is factually correct and the safety of its riders and drivers is of the utmost importance and as such, it requires a thorough background check on drivers.

The response also pointed out that the background check includes checking on drivers’ criminal history, which is conducted by the Ministry of Justice, and a drivers’ demerit points and suspension history, which conducted by the NZTA.

“The reference to Uber getting ‘Becky’s life story before you do’ is a light hearted play on the common scenario of riders hearing the driver’s life story during the trip. We do not consider that any reasonable consumer would expect Uber to know the entire life story of each driver. In our view, there is no risk of the billboard being misleading or breaching Rule two,” said Uber in its response.

In its appeal, Uber further explained that the purpose of the ad was to “correct the misconception… that Uber does not carry out backgrounds checks on its driver partners”. It also reiterated its safety measures to protect driver and riders.

“It is incorrect and inaccurate to refer to Uber’s background checks as illegal; the checks are undertaken by the NZTA and the Ministry of Justice respectively,” said Uber.

Despite the argument, the majority of the Appeal Board said the ad overrepresented the depth of the background checks and was likely to mislead consumers and was therefore not prepared with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers.

The Appeal Board dismissed the appeal and the complaint was upheld.

The full complaint, response and ruling can be read here.

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