Europe's top court has ruled that Uber is a transport company and not a technology company, in a landmark ruling.
The decision means that the startup should be regulated by individual countries rather than coming under EU-wide laws for digital services.
The result comes from a long-running case brought by Spanish cab drivers which reached the European Court of Justice.
In a statement the ECJ said:
"In today’s judgment, the Court declares that an intermediation service such as that at issue in the main proceedings, the purpose of which is to connect, by means of a smartphone application and for remuneration, non-professional drivers using their own vehicle with persons who wish to make urban journeys, must be regarded as being inherently linked to a transport service and, accordingly, must be classified as ‘a service in the field of transport’ within the meaning of EU law."
"Consequently, such a service must be excluded from the scope of the freedom to provide services in general as well as the directive on services in the internal market and the directive on electronic commerce."
Uber had argued that it was a digital service in the case, which had been expected to result in a ruling of it being a transport firm after an earlier non-binding decision.
It's the latest set back for the startup in what can be described as its annus horribilis, though Uber believes the result will have little impact.
In a statement it said:
"This ruling will not change things in most EU countries where we already operate under transportation law. However, millions of Europeans are still prevented from using apps like ours. As our new CEO has said, it is appropriate to regulate services such as Uber and so we will continue the dialogue with cities across Europe. This is the approach we’ll take to ensure everyone can get a reliable ride at the tap of a button.”
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