Uber has lost an appeal over whether a billboard about driver background checks was misleading.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) appeal board upheld an earlier ASA decision that the ride-sharing service's billboard was likely to mislead consumers.
The billboard in question showed a woman standing in a room full of shelves and documents with the accompanying text: "Background checks on every driver. We get Becky's life story before you do."
The ASA's complaints board earlier determined the billboard created "misleading impression for the consumer about the level of detail of Uber's background checks".
Uber appealed, arguing that while its background checks were different to those required for traditional small passenger drivers, the Uber App provided broader safety features.
"The statement was both puffery and light-hearted comedic hyperbole as it is not possible that Uber could literally know the complete life story of each driver partner nor would consumers assume they would," Uber said.
The complainant, Arden Macdonald, said the advertisement misrepresented the background checks of Uber drivers by implying they were more in-depth than they were.
Macdonald said this followed Uber's 2016 decision to remove the requirements for Uber drivers to acquire a passenger endorsement licence from the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA).
In the appeal, Uber reiterated that the billboard was factually accurate and that all its drivers required thorough background checks.
"Prior to becoming a driver partner, each person must undergo a criminal conviction history check, conducted by the Ministry of Justice, and have a driving demerit points and suspension history check conducted via the New Zealand Transport Agency," Uber told the appeal board.
It added that while its background checks may not be exactly the same as passenger
endorsement background checks, its service provided at least equal safety outcomes.
Macdonald countered that Uber's claims about how the background checks were carried out "is something they have never backed up with a shred of evidence".
The majority of the ASA's appeal board found Uber's billboard implied a comprehensive background check which was not supported by the evidence it provided.
"While it took into account all driver partners had to get a criminal traffic background and driving history check, the factual claim coupled with the hyperbolic statement: 'We get Becky's life story before you do' created an overall misleading impression," the decision said.
The appeal board added that the billboard had "not been prepared with a sense of social responsibility to consumers" required by the ASA's standard of ethics.
A minority of the board disagreed, finding the billboard was factually correct and was a "clear comedic hyperbole and most consumers would be aware it was a reference to the conversational nature of small passenger service drivers which was intended to be humorous".
However, the appeal was dismissed in accordance with the majority view.
A spokesman for Uber told the Herald the company respected the ASA but was disappointed with the decision.
"Every UberX driver-partner in New Zealand has to pass a comprehensive background check before they can start driving on the app, which covers a criminal history check through the Ministry of Justice and a driving history check from the NZTA," he said.
"The safety of those using the Uber app is our number one priority," he said.