Unwanted smartphone notifications are always a problem in the app, but not often these messages are as nakedly political as the latest batch that Uber sent in California.
Uber is one of several gig economy firms currently running a $ 186 million campaign against a California state law requiring them to classify their workers as employees (with all the perks and rights that come with it). To avoid this, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and others have released a ballot called Proposition 22 or Prop 22 that would exempt them from the law and are asking their users to vote for them.
Uber appears to be true to its reputation and take a particularly aggressive stance. Earlier this month, users in California had to “confirm” that they had seen a message before calling a ride advising them of wait times and prices that would go up if Prop 22 failed. Now, Ubers App is sending push notifications to users in California saying “Prop 22 Will Save Lives”.
On social media, many Uber users complained about the notifications, pointing out that they appear to be violating Apple’s App Store rules. The iPhone manufacturer’s app developer agreement (Section 4.5.3) prohibits sending “unsolicited messages to customers, including […] Push Notifications “(although Apple itself seems to break this rule at will). We reached out to the iPhone manufacturer to see if Uber’s notifications are kosher as per App Store guidelines and will update this story as we hear more.
Thanks to @Uber for the unwanted political push notification! @ Apple Dev. The agreement clearly states: “4.5.3 Do not use Apple Services to spam, phish, or send unsolicited messages to customers, including … push notifications, etc., or you will be removed from the developer program removed. ” pic.twitter.com/Bu8Li32hev
– Jan Hemstad (@janhemstad) October 14, 2020
Hey @Uber, can you stop sending political push notifications on my phone? We understand – you don’t want to pay your employees a livable wage or give them health insurance. You made that clear. pic.twitter.com/WT2Dp4lSA8
– James (@james_leedom) October 14, 2020
Uber just sent me a push notification saying that if I voted no on Prop 22, I would kill people. Who approved this @Uber?
– Sam Wronski (@ runewake2) October 14, 2020
The vote on Prop 22 will appear in the general election on November 3rd and is likely to have a huge impact on the future of gig economy work in the US.
Companies like Uber have argued since their inception that workers benefit from freelance contractor status, which gives them the option of flexible hours. However, this undeniably also benefits companies tremendously and enables them to cut costs in often loss-making companies. You get an immediate supply of labor, but you don’t have to worry about things like health insurance and paid time off that many full-time workers are entitled to. However, research has shown that most gig economy workers are already full-time employees. According to a study, almost three quarters work more than 30 hours a week.
Prop 22 does not directly deny the need for these workers to have access to greater benefits. Indeed, as reported by The New York Times, The ballot would “provide some wage guarantees and a pool of money that certain workers could use for health care expenses and sick leave”. But many think that these guarantees are not enough. A study that Uber and Lyft have denied found that Prop 22 only guarantees workers $ 5.64 per hour after cost and downtime are factored in.
Uber and other gig companies formulate the new law as an existential threat to their businesses. From this point of view, it is worthwhile to send a push notification – no matter how annoying – if it convinces only a few voters. We asked Uber for a comment on this story and will update it as we hear anything.