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Uber still dragging its feet on algorithmic transparency, Dutch court finds

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Uber has been found to have failed to comply with European Union algorithmic transparency requirements in a legal challenge brought by two drivers whose accounts were terminated by the ride-hailing giant, including with the use of automated account flags.

Uber also failed to convince the court to cap daily fines of €4k being imposed for ongoing non-compliance — which now exceed over half a million euros (€584,000).

The Amsterdam District Court found in favor of two of the drivers who are litigating over data access over what they couch as ‘robo-firings’. But the appeals court decided Uber had provided sufficient information to a third driver regarding the reasons why its algorithm flagged the account for potential fraud.

The drivers are suing Uber to obtain information they argue they are legally required to regarding significant automated decisions taken about them.

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides both for a right for individuals not to be subject to solely automated decisions with a legal or significant impact and to receive information about such algorithmic decision-making, including receiving “meaningful information” about the logic involved; its significance; and envisaged consequences of such processing for the data subject.

The nub of the issue relates not to fraud and/or risk reviews purportedly carried out on flagged driver accounts by (human) Uber staff — but to the automated account flags themselves which triggered these reviews.

Back in April an appeals court in the Netherlands also found largely in favor of platform workers litigating against Uber and another ride-hailing platform, Ola, over data access rights related to alleged robo-firing — ruling the platforms cannot rely on trade secrets exemptions to deny drivers access to data about these sorts of AI-powered decisions.

Per the latest ruling, Uber sought to rehash a commercial secrets argument to argue against disclosing more data to drivers about the reasons why its AIs flagged their accounts. It also generally argues that its anti-fraud systems would not function if full details were provided to drivers about how they work.

In the case of two of the drivers who prevailed against Uber’s arguments the company was found not to have provided any information at all about the “exclusively” automated flags that triggered account reviews. Hence the finding of an ongoing breach of EU algorithmic transparency rules.

The judge further speculated Uber may be “deliberately” trying to withhold certain information because it does not want to give an insight into its business and revenue model.

In the case of the other driver, for whom the Court found — conversely — that Uber had provided “clear and, for the time being, sufficient information”, per the ruling, the company explained that the decision-making process which triggered the flag began with an automated rule that looked at (i) the number of cancelled rides for which this driver received a cancellation fee; (ii) the number of rides performed; and (iii) the ratio of the driver’s number of cancelled and performed rides in a given period.

“It was further explained that because [this driver] performed a disproportionate number of rides within a short period of time for which he received a cancellation fee the automated rule signalled potential cancellation fee fraud,” the court also wrote in the ruling [which is translated into English using machine translation]. 

The driver had sought more information from Uber, arguing the data it provided was still unclear or too brief and was not meaningful because he does not know where the line sits for Uber to label a driver as a fraudster.

However, in this case, the interim relief judge agreed with Uber that the ride-hailing giant did not have to provide this additional information because that would make “fraud with impunity to just below that ratio childishly easy”, as Uber put it.

The wider question of whether Uber was right to classify this driver (or the other two) as a fraudster has not been assessed at this point in the litigation.

The long-running litigation in the Netherlands looks to be working towards establishing where the line might lie in terms of how much information platforms that deploy algorithmic management on workers must provide them with on request under EU data protection rules vs how much ‘blackboxing’ of their AIs they can claim is necessary to fuzz details so that anti-fraud systems can’t be gamed via driver reverse engineering.

Reached for a response to the ruling, an Uber spokesperson sent TechCrunch this statement:

The ruling related to three drivers who lost access to their accounts a number of years ago due to very specific circumstances. At the time when these drivers’ accounts were flagged, they were reviewed by our Trust and Safety Teams, who are specially trained to spot the types of behaviour that could potentially impact rider safety. The Court confirmed that the review process was carried out by our human teams, which is standard practice when our systems spot potentially fraudulent behaviour.

The drivers in the legal challenge are being supposed by the data access rights advocacy organization, Worker Info Exchange (WIE), and by the App Drivers & Couriers union.

In a statement, Anton Ekker of Ekker law which is representing the drivers, said: “Drivers have been fighting for their right to information on automated deactivations for several years now. The Amsterdam Court of Appeal confirmed this right in its principled judgment of 4 April 2023. It is highly objectionable that Uber has so far refused to comply with the Court’s order. However, it is my belief that the principle of transparency will ultimately prevail.”

In a statement commenting on the ruling, James Farrar, director of WIE, added: “Whether it is the UK Supreme Court for worker rights or the Netherlands Court of Appeal for data protection rights, Uber habitually flouts the law and defies the orders of even the most senior courts. Uber drivers and couriers are exhausted by years of merciless algorithmic exploitation at work and grinding litigation to achieve some semblance of justice while government and local regulators sit back and do nothing to enforce the rules. Instead, the UK government is busy dismantling the few protections workers do have against automated decision making in the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill currently before Parliament. Similarly, the proposed EU Platform Work Directive will be a pointless paper tiger unless governments get serious about enforcing the rules.”

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SpaceX Rocket Suffers Engine Failure In Starlink Mission, Elon Musk Shares What’ll Happen Next

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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket suffered a rare failure on Friday. The launcher lifted off with 20 Starlink satellites at 8:06 am IST from California but failed to deploy them in the intended orbit.

According to SpaceX, the second stage of Falcon 9 did not complete its second burn necessary for reaching the desired orbit. The booster did its job and safely landed on the droneship in the Pacific Ocean. It was SpaceX‘s 70th mission this year.

Currently, the satellites are in a lower orbit than planned.

“SpaceX has made contact with 5 of the satellites so far and is attempting to have them raise orbit using their ion thrusters,” the company said in a statement on X.

ALSO SEE: Japan’s First Private Rocket Launch Ends In Massive Explosion, Video Goes Viral

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that it might not work “but it’s worth the shot. He also said that the satellites might fall toward Earth and burn up in the atmosphere if their thrusters are overpowered by the atmospheric drag.

In another post, Musk revealed that the upper stage engine exploded for unknown reasons while trying to raise the orbit. “Team is reviewing data tonight to understand root cause,” he said.

Notably, the reputed rocket by SpaceX has suffered only one full in-flight failure during a mission to the International Space Station in 2015.

ALSO SEE: Chinese Rocket Launches Accidentally, Crashes With Massive Explosion Seconds Later

(Image: SpaceX)





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China Plans To Destroy An Asteroid For Planetary Defense Mission By 2030: Report

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After the impeccable success of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, China is now planning to deflect an asteroid later this decade. According to The Planetary Society, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) is preparing its first planetary defense test which is expected to launch by 2030.

Scientists have proposed the near-Earth asteroid 2015 XF261 as a candidate for the mission which will include two probes. One will ram into the space rock to deflect it and the second will conduct impact assessment.

The asteroid 2015 XF261 measures about 100 feet or 30 metres in diameter and it made a close flyby of our planet earlier this month. According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the asteroid was about 50 million kilometres from our planet on July 9 and was travelling at a speed of around 42,000 kilometres per hour.

ALSO SEE: NASA Drills Freaky Scenario Where Elusive Asteroid Heads Towards Earth

Apart from China, Japan is also eyeing a ‘kinetic impact’ test mission to deflect an asteroid. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reportedly has plans to repurpose its Hayabusa2 spacecraft to collide with 1998 KY26. The probe which launched in 2014 is expected to rendezvous with the space rock in 2031 and potentially change its orbit.

The said missions by the two nations are driven by the success of NASA’s DART mission launched in 2021 which proved that smacking an asteroid can deflect them. It collided with Dimorphos which circles a larger rock Didymos in September 2022 and changed its orbit by about 32 minutes.

These missions are of immense importance as they enable technologies that could save Earth from a planet-killing asteroid. While predicting an impending asteroid armageddon is predictable, it is also the gravest threat that humanity faces.

ALSO SEE: Collision Of NASA’s DART With Asteroid Dimorphos Changed Its Shape; Finding Excites Scientists



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Uzbekistan mobile bank TBC raises $38.2M to expand its financial products

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Uzbekistan’s only mobile-exclusive bank, TBC Bank Uzbekistan, owned by London Stock Exchange-listed TBC Bank Group, has raised $38.2 million in a fresh equity investment. It plans to expand its local presence in the country and introduce new financial products as well.

TBC Bank Group has led the latest funding in TBC Bank Uzbekistan by infusing $23 million, while shareholders European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) have participated in the round by investing $7.6 million each.

After serving customers in Georgia, TBC Bank Group decided to expand outside that country’s borders in 2019 and found Uzbekistan as its first international market. The bank started its Uzbekistan operations in 2020 through a separate entity, TBC Group Uzbekistan, which launched the mobile-only bank after its debut, with no physical branches in the country. The plan was to leverage Uzbekistan’s increasing digitization effort and foresee business growth in the country, which has the biggest population after Russia and Ukraine in the region — the second-largest among all the Commonwealth of Independent States countries — and has upright economic and socio-demographics.

“Before TBC came in, there were no banking apps in Uzbekistan … Fast-forward four years, most of the banks have got a mobile app, but TBC is far ahead of the field,” said Oliver Hughes, head of international business at TBC Group, in an exclusive interview.

According to official data, Uzbekistan has a 70% smartphone penetration rate and a 77% internet penetration rate; 59% of its population of 37 million is under 30 years old, making it a viable market for a mobile-specific business.

TBC Bank Uzbekistan offers a mobile app through which customers can open bank accounts and access services, including cash loans and deposits. This omits the requirement of physically going to a bank branch to access banking.

Hughes told TechCrunch that a couple of years ago, customers in Uzbekistan typically had to visit their bank and stand in a queue to get any of their banking work done.

Alongside the mobile-only bank, TBC Group Uzbekistan owns Payme, the digital payments app for individual users and small businesses, as well as the Sharia-compliant credit business called Payme Nasiya. To broaden its coverage, it looks to integrate some experiences from these two businesses within the bank or sync them with the bank’s operations.

For instance, through its app, TBC Group Uzbekistan will offer tips, recommendations and user-generated content on local events, entertainment, concerts and travel to provide complementary services that are not strictly financially related. Some of these features will first arrive on the Payme app but will be available to the TBC Bank Uzbekistan customers over time.

Similarly, Payme Nasiya currently serves Uzbek customers with its point-of-sale and installment loans. To expand the credit business, it will introduce e-commerce and offline buy now, pay later. This is expected to attract more local businesses and eventually help the mobile bank gain more customers.

In addition to the new financial products in the pipeline, TBC Group Uzbekistan plans to bring AI experiences to its mobile bank. Hughes told TechCrunch the group has built a large language model predominantly using its customer dataset and is working on a voice assistant to deliver banking and financial services through a chatbot integrated within its app.

In the fall, TBC Bank Uzbekistan will use the fresh funding to add credit cards and an insurance product next year, Hughes said.

The bank’s roadmap includes additional services such as current accounts, as well as accounting, offline payments, e-commerce payments and lending specifically for small and medium enterprise customers, Hughes added.

“This investment will allow us to further capitalize on the immense opportunities in Uzbekistan, a fast-growing country with a population of over 37 million people where TBC UZ continues to leverage its growth momentum,” said Vakhtang Butskhrikidze, CEO of TBC Bank Group, in a prepared statement.

At the end of 2022, TBC Bank Uzbekistan broke even, and 2023 was the bank’s first full year of profit. As of March 2024, the bank had a user base of 4.8 million unique registered users. It also recorded monthly active users of 1.2 million in the first quarter of 2024.

Overall, TBC Group Uzbekistan, with a registered user base of 15 million users, reached profitability two years after launch and recorded 85% year-on-year revenue growth in the first quarter of this year. The company achieved gross loans of $296 million and deposits of $216 million through all three of its subsidiaries. Its net profit hit $23 million for the financial year 2023, most of which came from Payme. However, TBC did not disclose the mobile bank’s revenues or profits.

“TBC UZ’s impressive growth trajectory and innovative approach align with our mission to support sustainable economic development in the region,” said Andi Aranitasi, head of Uzbekistan, EBRD.

Hughes said that by the end of 2025, TBC Group Uzbekistan is projected to generate $75 million in net profit, most of which would come from TBC Bank Uzbekistan.

“We are encouraged with the progress TBC UZ has made so far and remain confident in its potential to contribute to economic growth and financial inclusion in Uzbekistan,” said Neil McKain, country manager, Uzbekistan, IFC.



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