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Uber Denies Access To Harvard Startup That Compared Ride-Hailing Prices (boston.com) 152

In April, a group of Harvard Business School students created an app called Urbanhail that allowed users to see side-by-side real-time pricing -- including surge rates -- for different ride-sharing apps including Uber. The app received a tremendous response from users. Shortly after that, the group received emails from several Uber representatives, asking them to remove Uber's data from the app citing terms and policies. "Uber's developer terms explicitly forbid using its data in any manner that is competitive to Uber," said Chris Messina, Lead at Uber Developer Experience. This has resulted in Urbanhail removing Uber's data from price-comparison-list. Urbanhail's Amber James didn't find Uber's stance on the matter. He said: They are absolutely a champion of competition when it's them against taxi companies or them against regulators. However, in its own ride-hailing niche of the transportation market, Uber's stance is ironically absolutely anti-competitive.
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Uber Denies Access To Harvard Startup That Compared Ride-Hailing Prices

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  • by zenlessyank ( 748553 ) on Monday June 06, 2016 @12:03PM (#52259743)
    Grease those pockets proper.
  • Not ironic. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Chmarr ( 18662 ) on Monday June 06, 2016 @12:06PM (#52259771)

    The word you're looking for is "hypocritically".

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Uber's behavior is certainly hypocritical, but it is likely legally unenforceable. Factual data cannot be copyrighted, and it is unlikely that it can be kept secret by TOS restrictions. Urbanhail should not just cave in because they received "a few emails".

      • by Chmarr ( 18662 )

        It _might_ be copyrightable because it's not, technically, "public data". But certainly Uber can deny you access to that data through the interfaces Uber provide. I.e., Uber cannot be compelled to provide you data, even if that data is public domain.

        • There are fair use exceptions., or Uber might be opened to an anti-trust counter-claim should they sue to enforce this particular TOS.
        • Uber cannot be compelled to provide you data

          Perhaps, but Urbanhail already has the data, so that is not an issue, unless Uber wants to block their access using technical (instead of legal) means.

          • Thy have historic data. That's fuck all use if their plan is to act as some sort of real-time price comparison thing.

            WMOMNBTC,IDNRTFA.

      • Uber's behavior is certainly hypocritical, but it is likely legally unenforceable. Factual data cannot be copyrighted, and it is unlikely that it can be kept secret by TOS restrictions. Urbanhail should not just cave in because they received "a few emails".

        Uber, as it turns out, really makes a lot of money selling data. In fact, this is what the real issue with Austin regulations was all about - Austin demanded free access to Uber ride data (the details). It's too much of a revenue generator for them to give away. Houston was anxious for the data, New York, too, and they both paid for the data from Uber. But when Austin decided they weren't going to pay for it, Uber decided to leave town.

        Data is that important to Uber. They will crush Urbanhail with their l

      • but it is likely legally unenforceable.

        Obtaining the data without permission could be seen as a violation of the CFAA. I doubt they want to risk criminal prosecution.

    • by rhazz ( 2853871 )
      This is only hypocritical if one can argue this is actually anti-competitive, which I haven't seen any supporting argument for. Uber is not stifling or restricting their competition by refusing to provide a free data service to some third party. My read of it is that this is a violation of the EULA to use their data services.

      Has Uber been anti-competitive? Absolutely. [theverge.com] But this ain't it.
      • This is only hypocritical if one can argue this is actually anti-competitive, which I haven't seen any supporting argument for.

        Competitive markets rely on informed participants. By withholding data, Uber's actions are clearly anti-competitive. But whether they are legally enforceable or not is not clear.

        My read of it is that this is a violation of the EULA to use their data services.

        A company cannot just stuff anything into an EULA, and expect to be able to enforce it. A contract cannot require someone to do something illegal, and it cannot impose conditions that are illegal.

        • by rhazz ( 2853871 )

          Competitive markets rely on informed participants. By withholding data, Uber's actions are clearly anti-competitive.

          The data is already available via their app. There is no obligation on a player in the market to have to inform the other players using a real-time data service that they made available specifically for their own benefit. Just because a company refuses to provide an optional service to make competition easier doesn't make them anti-competitive in the normal use of the term. I think it's quite a stretch to apply that here.

          A company cannot just stuff anything into an EULA, and expect to be able to enforce it.

          This is not "anything". It's pretty specific, and apparently they can enforce it quite

    • by plopez ( 54068 )

      Nope. That's just business. No businessman ever wants a "level playing field" or a "Free Market". They want a skewed playing field and a captured market. Why would thy want anything else. Competition just hurts them. The only way to have anything approaching a a Free Market is through careful regulation. e.g. by breaking up monopolies or restricting unfair competition.

  • Ironic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dog-Cow ( 21281 ) on Monday June 06, 2016 @12:07PM (#52259773)

    I find Uber's behavior to be totally expected, and not ironic in the least. Hypocritical, perhaps. Ironic? Not even a little bit.

    • I find that anyone's surprised to be totally stunning. What part of the word Uber doesn't the author understand?

      • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )
        I find it surprising that anyone is surprised, and even more surprising that UrbanHail thinks they have any rights to Uber's data.
        • It's a bit Catch 22 with a dash of unforeseen irony.

          Uber figures out how to collapse the moderately monopolistic taxi/limo biz.

          Uberhail figures they'd snack on that.

          Paradoxical? No, just the insistence of capitalism.

          • No, just the insistence of capitalism

            Which lowers the cost through competition, to the point of ... equilibrium between supply and demand. (Efficiency).

            IMHO it would be fairly easy to build in a couple layers to separate Uber Pricing from Urbanhail statistics. If Urbanhail avoids using the Uber API for gathering data (perhaps another party [independent] has that information) Urbanhail could then use that source for their info. Not sure how Uber could keep them from publishing already public information (facts).

            • It's easier inside the API, than outside the API, of course. This thwarts many potential business models.

              • API makes it easier ... yes. I never said anything about "easier". I said it would be "fairly easy", meaning once you had access to the data, it is all that is needed.

                • Aye, thar's the rub!

                  Someone clever will figure a method to find the data in an automated if perhaps convoluted way.

                  Profit!

    • But all those guy on slashdot and other forum railing against "ordinary" taxi anti competitiveness system... Well how is that crow tasting ?
  • > competition when it's them against taxi companies

    Doesn't he mean "against other companies".
    A taxi company with an app is still a taxi company.

    • Agreed. Uber is not ride sharing. Except UberPool, you do not share a ride with anyone. Uber X is a taxi service.

    • What would be the difference between McDonalds and a company which connects hamburger-makers with hamburger-eaters by letting any regular joe list himself as making hamburgers that day, so long as a portion of the transaction went to the hamburger app?

      • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

        What's the difference between sand an app that shows pictures of sand?

        Your question makes as much sense as mine. i.e. none.

        • Wrong. Putting the fact that he's a pretentious knobache aside, his sentence parses and yours doesn't.

      • Two major differences in your scenario. McDonald's has W2 employees, your hypothetical has contractors. Taxi companies, including Uber, use contractors.

        Each McDonald's has a food safety permit, and in many states each employee does as well. If they used contractors, the contractors would by law be required to have a permit for commercial food preparation in all states. Much as traditional taxi drivers have the appropriate permits. Uber drivers of course do NOT have proper commercial driver's licenses, in

        • So, taxis aren't Ubers, just like McDonalds aren't apps to link you up to some dude's backyard cookout.

          • What's the difference between:

            a) A service that connects you to a driver, who is an independent contractor.

            b) A service that connects you to a driver, who is an independent contractor.

            Choice (a) is a taxi. Choice (b) is Uber. They do precisely the same thing, because Uber is a taxi company, plain and simple. The ONLY difference between Uber and most taxi companies is:

            a) A service that connects you to a driver, who is an independent contractor, and who is licensed by the city and sate as required by law.

            a) A

            • Choice (a) is a taxi.

              Taxis drive the company's car, receive company benefits, and are employees of the company. They follow the company's schedule, which the company determines based on predictive analysis of the taxi market, creating fixed shifts for their drivers. Drivers do not elect to come into work when they feel like it and go home when they're tired of working; drivers do not use the taxi for personal business.

              • Taxis drive the company's car, receive company benefits, and are employees of the company.

                Many (perhaps most) taxi drivers own the taxi they drive, or perhaps rent it from a third party. Most taxi drivers do not receive benefits from the taxi company. They don't get health insurance, pensions, or even vacation time, because ... they are not employees. They are mostly independent contractors.

                The reason most taxi drivers are recent immigrants, is because anyone can be a contractor, but you need a green card to be a W2 employee.

                Drivers do not elect to come into work when they feel like it and go home when they're tired of working; drivers do not use the taxi for personal business.

                In most cases, all of this is false.

              • You keep repeating what you first guessed the facts MIGHT be. You're not listening. Most taxi drivers are NOT employees. They are contractors. The company you call is a dispatch service. Drivers most often own the cars, except in New York where the $1 million medallion, and attached car, is most often owned by investors who lease it to the driver (not to the dispatch company).

                * In the very smallest cities the driver is often neither employee nor contractor, he is the whole company .

                • I've never seen that. Taxi cabs aren't some guy's Toyota with a Taxi sign; they always have custom paint jobs, branding painted right in, and integral electronics (the Taxi sign on top is wired in like police emergency lights, complete with a purpose-built instrument panel).

                  Look at Arrow Cab [sfbay.ca], the Yellow Cab Company [yellowcaboffairfax.com], Yellow Cab's Prius variant [hgmsites.net], Union Cab [nwlaborpress.org], Nellis Cab Company [nelliscab.com] (selling point: their Prius fleet), National Cab and Town Taxi [sfmta.com], and so forth. This is common across Canada, Singapore, and Japan as

              • by SirSlud ( 67381 )

                Sometimes it's impressive how many incorrect statements somebody can cram into 3 sentences.

            • Nice false premise you have there.

              Taxis can be hailed as they are driving past. No need for a service to connect you to the driver. In the case of Uber, you are pre-arranging a ride.

              • > Taxis can be hailed as they are driving past

                That depends. In New York, for example, there are three types of licenses, yellow, blue, and black. Yellow and blue cabs must be painted the designated colors. Black CAN be any other color, but are typically painted black. Black cars must be arranged ahead of time. Blues should be called, but often unlawfully pick up hails.

                • Taxis can be hailed as they are driving past

                  That depends. In New York, for example, there are three types of licenses, yellow, blue, and black.

                  I realize now that there is a terminology issue. I consider (wrongly) Taxis to only include your Yellow and blue cabs. I don't really consider the "Black" cabs to be taxis. Instead, I would use the term "private hire car".

                  Your use of "taxi" is very clever in this regard. But really, the question that should be posed is whether Uber is a hackney cab (can be hai

              • That depends on where you are. Where I live, trying to hail taxis generally doesn't work. The standard practice used to be to call a dispatcher to get a cab, and cabs typically have their dispatch phone numbers painted on them. Since then, the cab companies have also introduced apps.

                • That depends on where you are. Where I live, trying to hail taxis generally doesn't work.

                  While it may not work in practice, I expect that there is a class of taxis that can legally stop to pick up passengers without a prior arrangement and another class which requires a prior arrangement. Uber fits into the latter class.

        • food safety permit

          Having seen a McDonalds (and most Fast food) kitchen, I wouldn't call it "safe". The kitchen itself may be acceptable, but the weak spot is always the worker. There is NO permit for the cook with a dripping nose, or sneezing or coughing or jacking off in a hamburger ...

          But if if makes you feel good that there is a big fat "A" rating on the door, by all means feel good.

      • by alexhs ( 877055 )

        What would be the difference between McDonalds and a company which connects hamburger-makers with hamburger-eaters by letting any regular joe list himself as making hamburgers that day, so long as a portion of the transaction went to the hamburger app?

        If that "connection" comes with the kind of strings attached with Über, then basically none [wikipedia.org] (as McDonalds is such a company).

        • You know what I meant. Now you've gone and introduced a whole new level of hell to the "are X employees of Y?" argument. Are McDonalds hamburger flippers employees of McDonalds inc, or are they contractors operating through the contracting agency of each franchise?

    • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Monday June 06, 2016 @12:29PM (#52259929)

      A taxi company with an app is still a taxi company.

      Indeed, many cab companies now have apps -- I've booked cab rides by app on 3 continents now. Same essential features as uber... book a ride online (set time, pickup / destination addresses); see confirmations, see if a cab has been dispatched to you, see where available cars are on the map... ; leave feedback on the driver...

      Its all really quite funny as uber's arguments about what make it 'uniquenly not a taxi' become even more strained and ridiculous then they already were.

  • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Monday June 06, 2016 @12:09PM (#52259793)

    Film at eleven!

    • If the young person's app become so popular that Uber loses business for not being part of the app, it'll be hypocrisy for Uber to ask to be reinstated.
  • Public Domain (Score:5, Interesting)

    by symes ( 835608 ) on Monday June 06, 2016 @12:16PM (#52259831) Journal

    Surely custome price data is in the public domain and so fair use applies?

    • Sure, the data might be public domain. But this does not require them to license their developer API to anyone and everyone, for any purpose. I'm not aware of any commercial enterprise that licenses their API for use by competitors.

      • In principle, UrbanHail seems to be not significantly different than travel metasearch sites like Hipmunk and Kayak, which search several provider sites (both airline/hotel websites as well as third-party agency sites like Priceline, Expedia, Vayama, etc) and then refer people to another site for the booking.

        • but those airlines agree to provide their search API to Kayak.

          • Re:Public Domain (Score:4, Insightful)

            by hawaiian717 ( 559933 ) on Monday June 06, 2016 @08:18PM (#52263501) Homepage

            True, but the way I see it, the airlines and third party booking sites feel it's worthwhile to have their options appear on metasearch sites. The point I was trying to make is that there are examples for allowing "competitors" to use their API. Also there's a history in the travel industry of having shared booking channels in the form of the GDS systems (Sabre, Apollo, Shares, etc).

            I suppose the difference is that there are a lot more competitors than in ridesharing, where Uber is clearly the dominant player. Since most people are aware of Uber, there is not much incentive for them to participate in third-party apps since if the choice is "use a third party app and always use the cheapest" or "just use Uber since the price is probably close enough not to matter", Uber prefers the latter.

            And back to the airline industry, Southwest does the same thing. You may notice their fares don't show up in metasearch or third party booking sites. They have established a reputation as "the low fare airline" so it's not to their benefit to make it easy to see how their fares compare to others.

      • But this does not require them to license their developer API to anyone and everyone, for any purpose.

        Agreed.

        I'm not aware of any commercial enterprise that licenses their API for use by competitors.

        This isn't a competitor, in the normal sense of the word. It's a price comparison service. The company advertises itself as the "Kayak" of ride services.

        While I absolutely agree that Uber may have no obligation to provide this, it seems like a really stupid business decision to do what they're doing. If they are offering better rates than most other services, this is a missed opportunity for business. If they are offering worse rates (or rates that vary and are sometimes more, sometimes less),

        • i assumed they were stalling for time as they try to get themselves embedded as the new regulated monopoly. since their regulation-smashing initiative has had mixed results at best, the finance world is going to get tired of propping up this fad pretty soon. i don't see any other way for them to hold on to even 10% of their current valuation.

    • I rather doubt it. If they collected pricing data from historical rides, e.g. by surveying customers, that's not copyrightable. But I don't see that anyone has any right to examine before the fact, which in effect is the same as asking for the details of Uber's pricing algorithm.
      You can collect stats on where your company shows up in a Google search page, but you can't ask Google to reveal how they calculate your company's ranking.

    • I don't know if pricing data is public domain or fair use but it cannot be both. Fair use is a term applied to the lawful use of material that is otherwise protected by copyright.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Allowing customers to compare prices is a slippery slope. What we need is to hand all market control to a small number of really big companies like Uber, Apple and Comcast. That will guarantee low prices and great products and services without the danger of a free market hurting everyone.

  • "They are absolutely a champion of competition when it's them against taxi companies or them against regulators. However, in its own ride-hailing niche of the transportation market, Uber's stance is ironically absolutely anti-competitive."

    Allow me to be the first to say, "Duh!"

    Uber wants to have its cake and eat it, too. Nothing surprising about this at all.

    • Surprising, no...

      But could we, for once, have a company that operates with integrity? How refreshing would that be?

      Perhaps we shouldn't be so complacent and just allow companies to be like this... because our apathy just enables them to be like this...

      • It would be good, but it was never going to be Uber that had integrity since they'd be DOA. Their whole business model depends on the 'we're not a taxi company' deceit.

  • They push too hard too often. They have made themselves the last service I will try if I need a ride.
    • This is exactly how I feel too.

      I had the opportunity the other day to use a ride service and I chose to use a traditional taxi because I couldn't stand the idea of using Uber/Lyft

  • Here in the state of Ohio, a standard taxi rate is $4 for the hire plus $2 per mile. Any licensed taxi service has to abide by that rate. If I can't find out what my ride will cost before I book the trip, and without downloading an app on my phone, I'm not going to use their service. As an additional bonus, I can pay cash for a taxi.

    • If I can't find out what my ride will cost before I book the trip, and without downloading an app on my phone, I'm not going to use their service. As an additional bonus, I can pay cash for a taxi.

      1. You can find out what the Uber rates are from their website.
      2. If you want to pay cash, then taxis are the way to go.

    • by taustin ( 171655 )

      Not to mention not being properly insured. Pray you don't get his by a driver without insurance, when it's the other guy's fault.

  • Well, it's against their ToS. Sounds like someone didn't read the not-so-fine-print.

  • by monkeyxpress ( 4016725 ) on Monday June 06, 2016 @01:14PM (#52260261)

    This is going to sound controversial, but I think we are at the point where we would be best to let these mega-corps go crazy disrupting industries and livelihoods en-mass. Big money has won, and workers are just fighting a rear guard action attempting to slow down the destruction of the middle class.

    The reality though, is that none of this can sustain itself inside a democracy. Once enough of the middle class realize that even modest dreams (a home, stable income, time to pursue their own interest) are no longer attainable, there will be a political backlash. In my view, if that moment comes sooner, the backlash might be someone progressive, modifying the rules of capitalism to bring some sensibleness back to the setup. If the process is left too late, anger will build and I fear the backlash will be a coin-toss as to whether it is better or worse than what we have now.

    Free-marketers like Uber just cannot see that there is a bigger 'free market' than the economic system. It is called the will of the masses, and even without democracy, it has proven to be quite capable of disrupting the rules when its interests are not met.

  • A billion years ago, I worked as an intern for a research group called CSTaR. One of the things they came up with was one of the first shopping bots. It would poll a bunch of sites like CDNOW (yeah this is old, back before Amazon ruled the roost) and a few others, and would come up with the cheapest price. A few sites blocked the bot.

    Nothing new here, just interesting that Uber starting to do it now.

    • A few sites blocked the bot.

      I'd post those as the highest of the ones that did report, maybe with some random fudge factor on top.

      But then, I can be a vindictive bastard.

  • Uber drivers aren't employees. They are independent contractors.
    Uber isn't a taxi service. It's a ride sharing program.
    This program isn't abusing Uber's database. It's reposting public information.

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