Uber, one of the world’s hottest internet startups valued at $40 billion, has been banned in Delhi. This means that the company, which connects passengers to taxi drivers through a smartphone app, can no longer run operations in India’s capital. The move follows the arrest of a taxi driver who allegedly raped a young woman in his car on Friday night, after she had booked a ride using Uber. The incident, coming almost two years after the infamous December 16 gangrape-murder, has once again turned the focus on women’s safety in the capital.

Here’s the thing though: Uber has not been banned because a woman was raped in a cab provided by the service.

Instead, the reason, at least according to the quote offered by a Delhi Government official to the Economic Times, which broke the story, is much more technical: “In this rape case, the victim was provided an All India Permit Taxi which is not allowed to ferry customers point-to-point in the national capital.” Moreover, the Special Commissioner of the Delhi Transport department Satish Mathur told the paper that the company is not an “authorised radio cab service” and so has been operating illegally.

This, of course, is the same issue that has cropped up all over the world wherever Uber and other services offering ridesharing operate. These companies insist they are not taxi providers and are instead simply connecting those who want a taxi with an existing cab driver. Right there on the front page of its website is a disclaimer, under a section titled "Fine Print" saying “Uber is not a transportation provider.”

It is the same reason that Uber has found itself in trouble in Germany, where it was briefly banned for not following proper taxicab rules, and it is also why thousands of European cab drivers have protested against the rapid spread of the app. In Delhi's case, the government appears to have decided that Uber is indeed a "radio cab provider" and an illegal one at that, and so has prohibited any operations for the moment.

Information from internet

As such, the Delhi government's decision is incidental to the rape that has prompted outrage online. The official even said as much to Economic Times. "Right now, we have banned Uber as we came to know only after this incident about its services in Delhi," Mathur told the paper. "We too had to log on to the internet to know how the company works."

Aside from the fact that the authorities appear to have banned a company based on information they got off the internet (which may be understandable considering the difficulty the Delhi Police apparently had in trying to reach someone at Uber), the other relevant point is that this does almost nothing to address any sort of safety issue.

Fewer checks in India

Remember, Uber is a ridesharing app, so technically every one of its drivers is already qualified to ply a taxi. Banning the app simply takes away any reputational value added to their services through the Uber brand name. Any driver whose background was not properly looked into could still be out there plying his taxis through other services.

This is probably what the company was seeking to point out in its most recent statement about the incident from Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick: "We will work with the government to establish clear background checks currently absent in their commercial transportation licensing programs."

But that statement, of course, raises other questions about the way Uber operates. In the United States, the company charges customers an extra $1 for what it claims is a comprehensive background check process. In India, however, it seems to have limited this to ensuring that the driver has a permit from the government. It's well known that such permits are easy to come by in India with a little greasing of palms, an issue that is particularly relevant considering information that the alleged rapist taxi driver had submitted forged documents while enrolling with Uber.

Uber has expanded at a tremendous pace across the globe, and is now available in 51 countries according to its website. But this means it has entered markets where government regulations are a lot less rigorous compared to the United States, where it is headquartered. Especially because it sells itself as a safer, more convenient alternative to what's available, would Uber users in, say, South Africa or Nigeria or Thailand be comfortable with the fact that Uber's entire background check process in India was based only on an easily sidestepped government procedure?

Here are some reactions to the ban on Twitter.