Ride hailing service Uber may be beloved by customers in U.S. cities, but it’s proven a tough sell in Asia. South Korean prosecutors have charged the company’s chief, Travis Kalanick, with operating an unlicensed taxi service, a crime that carries a two-year prison sentence. In India, the app has been protested after a passenger accused a New Delhi-based driver of rape in December. The charge led hundreds of members of India’s Common Man Party to organize a candlelight vigil outside of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home in solidarity with the alleged victim.
Now, that woman has filed suit against the San Francisco-based company in U.S. federal court, alleging Uber had “advanced knowledge of the unfitness” of driver Shiv Kumar Nadav, but allowed the veteran to sign up anyway under a false name and address. The suit also claims that Uber did not have a tracking system at its Delhi office when the incident occurred. Douglas Wigdor, the plaintiff’s lawyer, previously represented a New York hotel maid who accused then-IMF Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault.
Uber was already on thin ice in India after taxi drivers, frustrated by the wage disruption that the service is causing, accused the company of illegal currency trading. Yadav told police after his arrest that he had raped several women in his time as a driver, trapping them outside of malls in Gurgaon, a manufacturing center outside of Delhi. Word of the arrest prompted a flood of accusations against Yadav to surface, some dating back as far as 2003.
It’s not the first time that India and Silicon Valley have found themselves at loggerheads. Earlier this week, India’s Supreme Court asked search giants Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft to block advertisements for tests that reveal a child’s sex before birth. India also has one of the highest rates of Facebook censorship in the world, according to reports conducted by the social networking company. Political liberty watchdog Freedom House considers India’s internet “partly free.”
Globally, this episode may be little more than a speed bump for Uber. The startup has rapid expanded to 54 countries, scored a $40 billion valuation in December after a new round of venture capital funding, and tops IPO wish lists for investors in 2015, despite the controversies abroad and stateside. Back in the U.S., Uber’s privacy practices have been put under increasing scrutiny, particularly after a senior executive suggested the company hire researchers to survey its critics in the media late last year.
Uber has always prided itself as a disruptive force in transportation. Now, the service faces a disruption of its own. Uber officials say they’ll stay off the roads in Delhi for the foreseeable future, while the company begins more stringent background checks on drivers and incorporates an emergency call button into the app. Indigenous competitors, like Ola and TaxiForSure, have rushed to fill the ride-hailing void, and have taken innovative steps to adapt their product to current circumstances, bringing female cabbies and autorickshaws into the service. Uber is better staffed and capitalized than its insurgents. But even for a giant, it will be tough to play catch up.