Uber, Spain, and the unbearable lightness of the law


The latest episode in Uber’s legal battle to continue offering its taxi services in Spain following the December 9 ruling by a judge that it suspend its activities here highlights the absurd ways this country sometimes goes about things. Telefonica, the country’s leading telecommunications company, has now decided to block Uber’s web site, as well as the use of the app in its customers’ smartphones. But don’t worry about that: if you travel to Madrid, Barcelona or Valencia, you will still be perfectly able to order an Uber ride, like in most civilized countries in the world.

I should point out here that Uber has still not been officially notified by the judge in question of his decision, and so has continued operating normally. Now Telefonica, of its own volition, has decided to move against the company.

Needless to say, Telefonica’s block has proved easy to get round: simply by updating Uber’s app on Play Market, which works perfectly once updated, allowing you to use the cab service. The updated app is still not available from the App Store, but that is simply a reflection of Apple’s slowpoke approach to approving updates. If you want to access Uber’s website from your computer and you get your connection from Telefonica, all you have to do is replace Telefonica’s DNS with Google’s, for example (8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4) or with an OpenDNS (208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220). In fact, given the willingness of some operators in Spain to censor pages, anybody reading this in Spain would do well to use these DNS settings permanently.

As said, Uber is continuing to operate as normal in Barcelona, Madrid, and Valencia until such time it is formally notified of the court’s decision. It has even gone so far as to launch a number of special offers, as well as a fundraising campaign.

A decision on the legality of Uber and other similar services will not be reached simply by a court issuing precautionary measures and without formally notifying the company. We are seeing signs of a worrying trend whereby interested parties are able to use the courts for their own ends.

This is a situation brought about by technology that not only affects taxi drivers, but also the general public. For example, whose rights are being defended here? Those of taxi drivers? And if so, why does their supposed right to earn a living take precedence over mine to exercise free choice over how I travel around my city? What has happened here is that a taxi drivers’ association has managed to convince a judge to issue precautionary measures against Uber without even bothering to hear Uber’s side of the story, as though we were talking about something that was a risk to public safety.

Uber doesn’t need me to defend it: the company can afford the best legal services available. But as a Spaniard, I am concerned that a judge can impose extreme measures without any apparent justification. And I am equally concerned that the country’s leading provider of internet access has decided, on its own initiative, to try to prevent me from accessing the websites I choose.

Uber will only be illegal if and when a court has ruled so, and after a full hearing of all the arguments; and after all appealing procedures have been exhausted; but not as a result of some unreasonable precautionary measures handed down by a judge. It is deeply worrying that in a supposedly mature democracy something so obvious even needs to be said.


(En español, aquí)

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