Uber, the ride-sharing service, lobbied politicians to relax labor and taxi laws, duped police, and exploited violence against drivers to gain public sympathy so that they could expand globally from 2013 to 2017, reported The Guardian on Sunday based on leaked confidential files.
More than 124,000 leaked documents – now known as the Uber files – exposes the company’s unethical practices between 2013 and 2017, which were first leaked to The Guardian who later shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a non-profit network of investigative reporters.
It covers Uber’s operations across 40 countries when it was still run by its co-founder, Travis Kalanick, who aggressively made attempts to force the cab-hailing service into cities worldwide, even if that meant breaking local laws and taxi regulations.
According to The Guardian, the leak also “shows how Uber tried to shore up support by discreetly courting prime ministers, presidents, billionaires, oligarchs and media barons.” In addition to memos, presentations, notebooks, and other telling documents, the leak includes “emails, iMessages and WhatsApp exchanges between the Silicon Valley giant’s most senior executives.”
In one exchange, the Uber files show that Kalanick dismissed concerns from other executives that sending Uber drivers to a protest in France put them at risk of violence from angry opponents in the taxi industry. “I think it’s worth it. Violence guarantee[s] success,” he said.
In a statement, Kalanick’s spokesperson denied accusations by the ICIJ and said, Mr. Kalanick never authorized or directed any illegal conduct in Uber’s expansion efforts in Russia, and in fact had very limited involvement in those expansion plans. And Mr. Kalanick never suggested that Uber should take advantage of violence at the expense of driver safety … In pressing its false agenda that Mr. Kalanick directed illegal or improper conduct, the ICIJ claims to have documents that Mr. Kalanick was on or even authored, some of which are almost a decade old.”
Emmanuel Macron’s Role In Uber Global Push
The leaked documents reveal Uber’s $90 million-a-year lobbying and public relations campaigns to gain the support of Emmanuel Macron, who was then France’s Economy Minister in order to disrupt Europe’s taxi industry.
There was a total of four meetings between Kalanick and Macron and a secret “deal” was put in place between Uber executives and French politicians, reveal the text messages.
Macron would encourage regulators “to be ‘less conservative’ in their interpretation of rules limiting the company’s operations”. The now French President appears to have gone to extraordinary lengths to help Uber and is now an open supporter of the ride-sharing service company.
Besides France’s Macron, Uber executives also met then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, then-Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, then-Irish PM Enda Kenny, and then-Estonia President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, among other world leaders.
Uber’s ‘Kill Switch’, Stealth Tech Use
The investigation of the Uber files also revealed the company’s use of “stealth technology” to keep away government investigations, and cut its tax bill by millions of dollars by sending profits through Bermuda and other tax havens.
For example, Uber executives used a so-called “kill switch” that cut off access to the company’s main data systems preventing authorities from confiscating evidence during raids on offices in at least six countries.
One such instance was during a raid by authorities on Uber’s Amsterdam office when Kalanick implemented a “kill switch” to remotely cut off access of devices to Uber’s internal systems.
“Please hit the kill switch ASAP,” Kalanick ordered. “Access must be shut down in AMS [Amsterdam].”
The leaked files suggest that the “kill switch” technique, signed off by Uber’s lawyers, was deployed at least 12 times during raids in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, India, Hungary, and Romania.
Uber’s Response To Leaked Files
In a statement responding to the leak, Jill Hazelbaker, Uber’s Senior Vice-President of Public Affairs, acknowledged to making “mistakes and missteps” in the past and said it had been transformed since 2017 under the leadership of its current CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi.
“There has been no shortage of reporting on Uber’s mistakes prior to 2017. Thousands of stories have been published, multiple books have been written — there’s even been a TV series. We have not and will not make excuses for past behavior that is clearly not in line with our present values. Instead, we ask the public to judge us by what we’ve done over the last five years and what we will do in the years to come,” Hazelbaker said.
Khosrowshahi had been “tasked with transforming every aspect of how Uber operates. When we say Uber is a different company today, we mean it literally: 90% of current Uber employees joined after Dara became CEO,” he continued.