Uber Files: Investigation Exposes Ride-Sharing Giant’s Secret Political Influence, Driver Exploitation
More than 124,000 leaked documents known as “Uber Files” show how the ride-sharing giant used questionable practices to force it into cities around the world, often with the help of high-level officials and in violation of current laws and regulations. Confidential records cover Uber’s deals in 40 countries between 2013 and 2017 — when co-founder Travis Kalanick still runs the show — and revealed “how the company broke the law, deceived police and regulators, exploited violence against drivers and secretly lobbied governments around the world,” the Guardian reported on Sunday, as various news outlets involved in the global investigation — led by Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists — began publishing their findings.
On Monday, Mark MacGann, Uber’s former top European lobbyist, came in as the source of the leak. “We’re really selling people a lie” and “I’m partially responsible,” he told Guardian. “I regret being part of a group of people who are massaging facts to gain the trust of drivers, consumers and the political elite” and “it is my duty” to now “speak up and help governments and parliamentarians to correct some major mistakes. ”
A major finding was the so -called “kill switch” method Uber used to evade law enforcement during raids on their offices in at least six countries. The protocol, which has been reported to have been deployed at least 12 times, has cut off access to Uber servers to prevent authorities from obtaining evidence. “Please hit the kill switch ASAP,” Kalanick emailed a subordinate minutes after authorities raided Uber’s Amsterdam office in April 2015, according to Washington Post. “Please turn off access now,” Zac de Kievit, was European legal director for Uber, said in an email last year, about a raid in Paris. (A spokesman for Kalanick said in a statement that “fail-safe protocols” are “a common business practice” approved by Uber’s legal, policy, and compliance teams and are not designed to obstruct justice Uber said that “such software should never be used to obstruct legitimate regulatory actions” and stopped using the system in 2017, when the current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi replaced Kalanick.)
The reports also show how Uber looked to politicians and other high -level officials to help it enter global markets. “Right now you are seen as aggressive,” the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, Kalanick told in 2016, in each of the conference notes reported by the ICIJ, advising the co-founder to “change the way people view the company” by emphasizing the positives, which “would you look cuddly. ” Another ally in Europe is the president of France Emmanuel Macron, whose support for Uber’s expansion in France as economy minister seems broader than previously known. Macron maintained frequent contact with Uber executives, and at one point told the company he had negotiated a “secret deal” with Uber’s opponents in the French cabinet, according to Guardian. (Clearly the political collapse, with the French opposition calling for a parliamentary inquiry into Macron’s role in Uber’s expansion in France following the leak.) Russian oligarchs tied to Putin are also among others yet powerful numbers that Uber has courted to try to advance its global strategy.
The other “strategic investors” Uber sought, outlets reported on Monday, were owners of publications in Europe — including popular tabloids such as the UK’s Daily Mail and of Germany Picture– and India. Getting Picture publisher Axel Springer (which has since gotten Politico and Insider) to invest in Uber — as it did in 2016 — is seen internally as a way to gain “their support and influence in Germany and Brussels,” as one executive wrote of Uber in a reported email in 2015. In the same thread, Uber’s vice-president for communications Rachel Whetstone Springer mentioned being “pretty close” to the taxi industry “so anything we can do to get them to work will be great.”
One particularly damaging revelation involves Kalanick’s apparent use of violence against Uber drivers. When clashes erupted in Paris between furious taxi drivers and Uber in January 2016, Kalanick urged executives to respond with “civil disobedience,” a counterprotest involving “15,000 drivers” and “50,000 riders. ” Whetstone warned Kalanick that MacGann was “concerned about taxi violence” against Uber drivers. Kalanick reportedly replied, in a series of messages, “If we have 50,000 riders, they can do nothing and they can’t do anything” and “I think it’s worth it.[s] success. ”
Uber responded to the leak by acknowledging its pitfalls while highlighting the improvements it has made since Kalanick resigned, severing his last relationship with the company in 2019, in 2017. “We are not and will not make reasons for past behavior that are clearly not in line with our current values, ”the company said in a statement. “Instead, we ask the public to judge us on what we have done over the past five years and what we will do in the coming years.”
The global investigation into classified Uber records is an impressive collaboration involving more than 180 journalists from 29 countries. Among the more than 40 media organizations participating in the joint effort is the BBC, the Post (which said more than 50 of its publishers were involved in the project), and The World. The deluge of revelations that began on Sunday is expected to continue in the coming days and weeks, as outlets release reviews.