Uber protests legal battle in Taiwan, as government ponders app removal

The Taiwanese government may ask Google and Apple to remove the ride-hailing service from the nation's app stores, adding one more dilemma to Uber's list of challenges around the world.

Toby Melville/Reuters/ Illustratio­n
A photo illustration shows the Uber app logo displayed on a mobile telephone, as it is held up for a posed photograph in central London, Britain on October 28, 2016.

Taiwan plans to ask Apple and Google to remove the ride sharing app from the nation's app stores in an attempt to curb the company’s influence on the island, Reuters reports, the latest development in Uber's continuing legal troubles around the world.

In Taiwan, Uber operates as an internet-based technology platform rather than a transportation company. The Taiwanese government argues that this is a misrepresentation of the company, and has ordered it to pay back taxes. 

"Uber has not done what it says it will do, so we are looking at another way by requesting its apps be removed from Apple and Google (app stores)," Liang Guo-guo, a spokesman for Taiwan's Directorate General of Highways, told Reuters.

The action would remove all Uber-associated apps – including UberEATS, which was launched just days ago in Taiwan. However, the government has not said how it will prevent downloading from other sources, or what to do about phones that have already downloaded the apps.

Uber, however, maintains that it is working with authorities to comply with regulations, and has urged the government to reconsider.

"These developments directly threaten the interests of over a million Taiwanese citizens, especially the mothers, fathers, retirees, professionals, and the otherwise unemployed who have come to rely on the economic opportunities Uber has created," Uber said in a letter signed by Mike Brown, the regional general manager of Uber Asia Pacific.

Uber started operating in Taiwan in 2013, after President Tsai Ing-wen's "Asian Silicon Valley" initiative, pushing for Taiwan to become a bigger center for high-tech business. However, as the app has grown in popularity, it has been staunchly opposed by local taxi drivers, similar to conflicts it has faced in cities from the United States to Hong Kong.

Now in over 60 countries around the globe, "Uber moved faster than any other company going international" in order to secure the markets from local companies mimicking their business model, Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital, a company investor and board member, told Reuters in 2015.

But foreign markets, particularly those in Asian countries, have delivered new challenges in addition to the lawsuits the ride-sharing company is entrenched with at home. Uber only became legal in China this summer after facing a litany of legal problems, and has had to stop some services in Hong Kong.

Uber has tried to adapt to different societies' transportation needs by adapting its business model to fit each one, Reuters reported last year. In Singapore, for example, where cars are limited, it rents approved cars out to its drivers. 

"Uber is smart to have this flexibility in different markets and not have the same features everywhere," Jan Dawson, an Uber analyst with Jackdaw Research, told Reuters. "The downside is that it is very costly."

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