SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – A leaked cache of confidential files from ride-sharing app Uber illustrates ethically dubious and potentially illegal tactics the company used to fuel its frenetic global expansion beginning nearly a decade ago, a joint media investigation showed Sunday (July 10).
Dubbed “the Uber files,” the investigation based on 124,000 records and involving dozens of news organisations, found that early in the San Francisco start-up’s history as it looked to conquer new markets, company officials leveraged sometimes violent backlash from the taxi industry against drivers to garner support and evaded regulatory authorities.
Uber in a statement Sunday acknowledged “mistakes,” but laid the blame on previous leadership under former chief executive Travis Kalanick, who was forced to resign in 2017 following revelations accusing him of brutal management practices and multiple episodes of sexual and psychological harassment at the company.
“We’ve moved from an era of confrontation to one of collaboration, demonstrating a willingness to come to the table and find common ground with former opponents, including labor unions and taxi companies,” it said.
The investigation found that as Uber’s subsidised drivers and discounted fares threatened the taxi industry, the company’s drivers faced violent retaliation, including protests in Paris in 2016.
“In some instances, when drivers were attacked, Uber executives pivoted quickly to capitalise” to seek public and regulatory support as it entered new markets, “often without seeking licenses to operate as a taxi and livery service,” reported the Washington Post, one of the media outlets involved in the probe.
Kalanick had called for a counter-protest in Paris and appeared to suggest violence would help the cause in a text to other officials saying, “Violence guarantee success.”
Kalanick denies the findings, with a spokesperson saying he “never suggested that Uber should take advantage of violence at the expense of driver safety” and that he “never authorised any actions or programs that would obstruct justice in any country.”
The investigation also accuses Uber of having worked to evade regulatory investigations by leveraging a technological edge, the Post wrote, describing an instance when Kalanick implemented a “kill switch” to remotely cut off access of devices in an Amsterdam office to Uber’s internal systems as regulators raided.
Another finding, according to the Post, indicated that between 2014 and 2016 Uber found an ally in France’s then-economy minister Emmanuel Macron, now the country’s president, who the company believed would encourage regulators “to be ‘less conservative’ in their interpretation of rules limiting the company’s operations.”