Uber executives took control of the transportation industry as pirates with the help of high-ranking friends, according to leaked documents.
The trove of Uber documents leaked to the media provides an insight into the inner workings of the ride-sharing giant, which – according to the documents – tried in a sometimes brutal and nefarious way to become a global giant. Here’s what we know about the so-called Uber files. The gig giant was exposed – The British newspaper The Guardian obtained the Uber files and shared them with other publications in order to prepare a series of reports based on the leak. Its main partner is the American-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The files contain more than 124,000 documents, including 83,000 emails and text messages between 2013 and 2017. It was a period of rapid global expansion for the American giant, then led by co-founder Travis Kalanick. He stepped down as CEO in 2017 as investors expressed concerns about Uber’s corporate culture. Uber pioneered the business model of the gig economy, but many countries were not prepared for it from a regulatory perspective. While the company lured drivers with various incentives and cut costs by minimizing taxes, traditional taxi drivers protested what they saw as unfair competition. Pirates of ride-sharing – Uber executives were aware of their dubious legal status, and e-mails revealed that they tried to joke around the regulation. “We’ve officially become pirates,” one person wrote in a discussion about the company’s “enforcement avoidance” tactics. The light-hearted approach, based on the notion that an apology is better than a license, has resulted in what the company calls a “s*rpyramid,” including driver lawsuits, administrative proceedings, regulatory investigations and outright litigation. Kill switch – One way to apparently obstruct the investigations was to cut off access to the company’s American servers from the regional offices, which is referred to in Uber’s communications as a “kill switch”. This has been used in police raids in countries such as Belgium, France, the Netherlands, India, Hungary and Romania. The tax inspectors examined Uber drivers hundreds of times during the NAV raid held at the company’s office in Budapest.In a text message sent during a 2015 raid in Paris, Thibaud Simphal, then head of Uber France, told Mark MacGann, then the company’s chief European lobbyist, that he had used the technique so many times that “now the hardest part is continue to look surprised”. Other technical tricks were directed against authorities who ordered transport for a test purchase intended as a trap. In some countries, the app “sent” phantom cars that never arrived. In Denmark, Uber discussed creating a zone around certain areas, meaning that only pre-approved customers could call for a ride from those locations. Violence guarantees success – Uber managers did not shy away from using the possibility of violence against drivers to their own advantage, by gaining the sympathy of the public. In 2015, the company’s CEO in Belgium called the case when a protester threw a bag of flour at an Uber driver and passengers a “good story”. In a 2016 exchange, Kalanick brushed off concerns about the safety of Uber drivers in France while calling for counter-demonstrations to confront activist taxi drivers. When MacGann warned that far-right activists had infiltrated the rally and could turn violent, he said: “I think it’s worth it. Violence guarantees success.” Revolving Door Effect – While pursuing its nefarious expansion plans, Uber spared no expense in lobbying. In 2016 alone, its global budget allocated for this was $90 million, according to leaked information. The company has hired an “army” of what ICIJ calls “flagships” to advocate on its behalf, including several former officials from the Barack Obama administration. Neelie Kroes, the former vice-president of the European Commission, even tried to win an exemption from EU rules on enforcement agencies for Uber to be its lobbyist before the 18-month grace period expired. Although he failed to achieve this, all this time he appeared to be acting on behalf of the company, the ICIJ said. “Our relationship with NK is strictly confidential,” MacGann told colleagues, four months after Kroes resigned from the committee. The managers of Uber were worried that the EU politician could become a shining example of the “revolving door effect”, since it is a rule that a civil servant cannot abuse the benefits derived from his position after leaving his position, which is why he receives the so-called severance pay. Friends in high positions – The company managed to pinch many influential people around the world. In France, the fast-rising, business-oriented technocrat has become a good ally of Emmanuel Macron in the government, according to the documents. So much so that it may have played a role in solving the crisis in Marseille in 2015, where the police suspended Uber service in some districts due to mass protests. According to leaked information, Macron, who was economy minister at the time, promised MacGann that he would “personally look into this.” The ban was revised “under intense pressure from Uber,” an internal company update later said.As one example of such relationship building, in 2016, Kalanick rubbed shoulders with the crowd at the World Economic Forum in Davos, which included the then Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and George Osborne, the British Chancellor at the time. Among others, he met with the then US Vice President Joe Biden, who did not arrive on time. Kalanick texted a colleague that he told the vice president’s people that “every minute he’s late is one less minute he’s going to spend with me.” Biden was so impressed by the CEO’s pitch to digitally transform the transportation industry that he modified his speech to praise the Uber chief.And what Uber says – The company quickly sacrificed Kalanick, stating that “there was and will be no excuse for past behavior that is clearly inconsistent with our current values”. A representative of the former CEO denied the allegations. According to the statement, Kalanick “never authorized any actions or programs that obstructed justice” and “never suggested that Uber capitalize on violence at the expense of driver safety”.Hardware, software, tests, interesting and colorful news from the world of IT by clicking here!