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Prosecutor: Uber drivers may not be as carefully vetted as company advertises

The San Francisco district attorney on Wednesday expanded an existing lawsuit against Uber that accuses the company of misleading customers about the extent of background checks conducted on potential drivers.

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    San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon speaks during a news conference at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco on Wednesday. The district attorney's office announced that it is expanding a consumer-protection lawsuit aimed at ridesharing company Uber's claims about driver background checks.
    Josh Edelson/AP
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Uber, the ride-sharing app that has become indispensable for many on-the-go users, faces an expansion of a consumer-protection lawsuit that may slow the roll of the quickly expanding company.

In December district attorneys from Los Angeles and San Francisco filed the original suit against the company because Uber drivers were working at airports without proper authorization and charging an extra $4 fee to passengers traveling there without any payment to the airport.

The new complaint, announced Wednesday, expands the lawsuit and targets Uber’s claim about having industry-leading background checks for its drivers. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón called the claim inaccurate because the lack of a fingerprinting process required by California taxi companies.

"I support technological innovation. Innovation, however, does not give companies a license to mislead consumers about issues affecting their safety," Mr. Gascón said in a statement.

The lawsuit claims that Uber failed to uncover the criminal records of 25 California drivers, which included registered sex offenders, identity thieves, burglars, a kidnapper, and a convicted murderer.

In a statement Wednesday, Uber countered by saying no background check system is perfect, but their system is just as stringent as taxi driver checks.

"We continue to work on improving safety for riders and drivers before, during and after the trip," Uber said.

The company added that last year it had rejected more than 600 people who had applied to become drivers in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco because they had been convicted of violent crimes or drunk driving.

The district attorneys settled a similar lawsuit with ride-share app Lyft last year. As part of the settlement, Lyft agreed to pay $250,000 and stop advertising that its background checks were among the best in the industry.

Ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft have encountered various political hurdles as they make an aggressive push for international expansion. Uber itself operates programs in 57 countries and has been valued at $40 billion.

Governments are faced with questions about how to regulate the companies amid pressure from taxi and limousine lobbying groups, who have faced loss revenue because of competition with the apps.

Rideshare companies have contended that they should not be subject to the same kind of regulations as other ride services because their drivers are technically independent contractors and not employees of the company.

Earlier this month Uber scored a major victory in the courts when it won the dismissal of a racketeering lawsuit brought by 15 Connecticut taxi and limousine companies seeking to stop Uber from expanding into the state.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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