A confidential file leak reveals the inside story of how tech giant Uber flouted the law, lied to the police, used violence against drivers and covertly lobbied during its aggressive global expansion, according to TheGuardian.
< p>< /p>
The unprecedented leak of more than 124,000 documents known as Uber files exposes the ethically dubious practices that helped build the company into one of Silicon Valley's most famous exports.
The leak covers the five-year period that Uber ran it co-founder Travis Kalanick, who tried to roll out a taxi hailing service to cities around the world, even if it meant violating taxi laws and regulations.
Data show that during a tough global backlash, Uber tried to garner support, quietly wooing premiers -ministers, presidents, billionaires, oligarchs and media tycoons.
The leaked reports show Uber executives at the same time had no illusions about the company breaking the law, with one executive joking that they had become “pirates” and another admitting, “We're just fucking illegal.”
On July 11, Mark McGann, Uber's former chief lobbyist for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, identified himself as the source of the data breach. “My duty is to speak up and help governments and parliamentarians correct some fundamental mistakes,” he said. – Morally, I had no choice in this matter.”
The file cache, which covers the period from 2013 to 2017, includes more than 83,000 emails, iMessages and WhatsApp messages, including often explicit and unvarnished messages between Kalanick and his senior management team.
In one conversation, Kalanick dismissed other executives' concerns that sending Uber drivers to protest in France puts them at risk of violence from angry adversaries in the taxi industry.“I think it's worth it,” he retorted. – Violence guarantees success.”
In a statement, Kalanick's spokesman said he “never suggested Uber use violence at the expense of driver safety” and any suggestion that he was involved in such activity would be utterly false.
The leak also contains correspondence between Kalanick and Emmanuel Macron, who secretly helped the company in France when he was economy minister, allowing Uber to contact him and his employees often and directly.
Macron, the French president, seems to have gone went to great lengths to help Uber, even telling the company that he had struck a secret “deal” with its opponents in the French cabinet.
Privately, Uber executives expressed thinly concealed contempt for other elected officials who were less receptive to the company's business model.
After German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who was mayor of Hamburg at the time, took a stand against Uber lobbyists and insisted on paying drivers the minimum wage, an executive told colleagues he was “a real comedian.”
When then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, an Uber supporter at the time, was late for a meeting with company officials at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Kalanick wrote to his colleague: “My people informed him that every minute he was late meant that he will spend one minute less with me.”
After meeting with Kalanick, Biden appeared to change his scripted Davos speech to mention a CEO whose company will give millions of workers “the freedom to work the hours they want, manage their lives however they want.”
The Guardian conducted a global investigation into the Uber file leak, sharing the data with media around the world through the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). More than 180 journalists from 40 outlets including Le Monde, Washington Post and BBC will publish a series of reports on the tech giant in the coming days.
In a statement in response to the leak, Uber acknowledged “mistakes and miscalculations” but said, that the company has been transformed since 2017 under the leadership of its current chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi.
“We have not and will not condone past behavior that is clearly inconsistent with our current values,” the statement said. – Instead, we are asking the public to judge us by what we have done in the past five years and what we will do in the coming years.”
A spokesperson for Kalanick said that Uber's expansion initiatives were “led by more than 100 leaders in dozens of countries around the world and were constantly under the direct supervision and full approval of Uber's trusted legal, policy and compliance teams.”
” Embrace chaos”
The leaked documents shed light on the methods Uber used to build its empire. Uber, one of the world's largest work platforms, is now a $43 billion company with about 19 million trips a day.
The files cover Uber's operations in 40 countries during the period the company became a global giant , aggressively hosting its taxi service in many of the cities it still operates in.
From Moscow to Johannesburg, funded by unprecedented venture capital, Uber has heavily subsidized rides, enticing drivers and passengers to use the app with incentives and pricing models that have not been sustainable.
Uber is disrupting established taxi markets and putting pressure governments to rewrite laws to help pave the way for the app-based model of work that has since spread around the world.
In an effort to quell the backlash against the company and push for changes to taxi and labor laws, Uber planned to spend an extraordinary $90 million in lobbying and public relations in 2016, according to one document.
His strategy often involved In addition to meeting with Biden in Davos, Uber executives met face-to-face with Macron, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and George Osborne, then Chancellor of Great Britain. A note from the meeting depicts Osborne as a “resolute defender”.
In a statement, Osborne said that government policy at the time was to meet with global technology firms and “persuade them to invest in the UK and create jobs here.”
While a Davos meeting with Osborne was announced, data shows that six UK Conservative cabinet ministers had meetings with Uber that were not made public. It is not clear if meetings were to be announced, exposing confusion over how lobbying rules are applied in the UK.
Documents indicate that Uber was adept at finding informal avenues to power, exerting influence through friends or intermediaries, or look for meetings with politicians that were not attended by aides and officials.
He enlisted the support of powerful figures in places like Russia, Italy and Germany, offering them valuable financial stakes in a startup and turning them into “strategic investors.
And in an attempt to shape the political debate, it has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to renowned scientists to conduct research that supports the company's claims about the benefits of its economic model.
Despite a well-funded and persistent lobbying operation, Uber's efforts have had mixed results. In some places, Uber was able to convince governments to rewrite laws, with long-term consequences. But elsewhere, the company has faced blockades from an entrenched taxi industry, dominance from local taxi-hailing rivals, or opposition from left-wing politicians who simply refuse to budge.
Faced with opposition, Uber tried to use him to their advantage, seizing on him to fuel tales that his technology is destroying obsolete transportation systems and urging governments to reform their laws.
When Uber launched in India, Kalanick's top Asia executive urged managers to focus on spurring growth even as “the fires start to flare up.” “Know that this is a normal part of the Uber business,” he said. – Embrace chaos. It means you're doing something meaningful.”
Kalanik appeared to live up to that ideal in January 2016, when Uber's attempts to turn markets in Europe led to angry protests in Belgium, Spain, Italy and France from taxi drivers who feared for their livelihood.
Amid taxi strikes and riots in Paris, Kalanick ordered French leaders to retaliate, calling on Uber drivers to stage a counter-protest with massive civil disobedience.
Warning that this could expose Uber drivers to the risk of attacks from “far-right thugs” who infiltrated taxi protests and were “preparing to fight,” Kalanick appeared to be urging his team to move forward no matter what. “I think it's worth it,” he said. – Violence guarantees success. And these guys need to resist, no? I agree, we need to think about the right place and time.”
The decision to send Uber drivers to potentially unstable protests, despite the risks, was in line with what a former senior executive told the Guardian that it was a strategy in the form of “ weapons” from drivers and using violence against them to “keep up the controversy”.
This was a scenario that, according to leaked emails, was repeated in Italy, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
When masked men who were reported to be irate taxi drivers attacked Uber drivers with brass knuckles and a hammer in Amsterdam in March 2015, Uber employees tried to use this to their advantage to extract concessions from the Dutch government.
< p>Driver victims were asked to file a police report, which was forwarded to De Telegraaf, a leading Dutch daily newspaper. They “will be published without our fingerprints on the front page tomorrow,” wrote one of the managers. “We keep the topic of violence going for a few days before we come up with a solution,” – he wrote.
A representative of Kalanick questioned the authenticity of some of the documents. She said that Kalanick “never suggested that Uber use violence at the expense of driver safety” and any suggestion that he was involved in such activities would be “completely false.”
An Uber spokesperson also acknowledged the company's past mistakes in its treatment of drivers, but said no one, including Kalanick, wanted violence against Uber drivers. “Our former CEO said something almost a decade ago that we certainly won't put up with today,” he said. – But there's one thing we know for sure and firmly believe is that no one at Uber has ever been happy with driver abuse.”
Uber drivers have undoubtedly been the target of vicious assaults and sometimes murders by angry taxi drivers. And in some countries, taxi calling apps have run into established and monopolized taxi fleets with close relationships with city governments. Uber often characterized its opponents in the regulated taxi markets as “cartel” operators.
In private, however, Uber executives and employees appeared to have little doubt about the often fraudulent nature of their own activities.
In internal emails, employees cited Uber's “illegal status” or other forms of active non-compliance in countries including Turkey, South Africa, Spain, Czech Republic, Sweden, France, Germany, and Russia.
One senior executive wrote in an email: “We are illegal in many countries, we should avoid antagonistic statements.” Commenting on the tactics the company was willing to use to “avoid coercion,” another executive wrote, “We are officially pirates.”
Nairi Khurdajian, Uber's head of global communications, put it even more bluntly in 2014 in in a message to a colleague when the company was trying to shut down a company in Thailand and India: “Sometimes we get in trouble because we're just fucking illegal.”
A spokesman for Kalanick accused reporters of “imposing a false agenda” about that he “led illegal or improper activities.”
An Uber spokesperson said that when Uber started, “sharing regulations didn't exist anywhere in the world” and transportation laws were outdated for the smartphone age.
Around the world, police, transportation officials and regulators have sought to shut down Uber. In some cities, officials downloaded the app and ran rides to crack down on unlicensed taxi rides, fine Uber drivers and confiscate their cars. Uber offices in dozens of countries have been repeatedly raided by the authorities.
Against this background, Uber has developed sophisticated methods to thwart law enforcement. One of them was known inside Uber as the “switch”. When the Uber office was ransacked, company executives frantically sent out instructions to IT staff to cut off access to the company's key data systems to prevent authorities from gathering evidence.
The leaked files suggest that the technique, signed by Uber's lawyers, was used at least 12 times in raids in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, India, Hungary and Romania. blackouts” are common business practice and are not intended to obstruct justice. She said protocols that did not delete data were reviewed and approved by Uber's legal department, and Uber's former CEO was never charged with obstruction of justice or a related offence.
An Uber spokesperson said its kill software “should never have been used to prevent legitimate regulatory action” and the company stopped using the system in 2017 when Khosrowshahi replaced Kalanick as CEO.
To others the executive who, according to the leaked files, was involved in the emergency shutdown protocols was Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Cauty, who ran Uber's operations in Western Europe. He now runs Uber Eats and is part of the company's 11-member leadership team.
Gore-Koti said in a statement that he regrets “some of the tactics that were used to reform regulation for car sharing in the early days.” In retrospect, he said: “I was young and inexperienced and too often followed the directions of bosses with questionable ethics.”
Politicians now also face questions about whether they followed the directions of Uber executives.