Sun. Aug 14th, 2022

Thousands leaked confidential files reveal a wealth of sketchy and illegal behavior by Uber. The Uber files, originally shared with The Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, show a company that knowingly broke laws, went to great lengths to avoid justice, secretly lobbied governments, helped received from top politicians and exploited violence against drivers to get things going.

The damning leak of more than 124,000 documents, now known as the Uber Files, spans a five-year period between 2013 and 2017. It spans Uber’s operations in 40 countries when Uber was led by co-founder Travis Kalanick, who was a aggressive approach to bring taxi service to cities around the world, even if doing so would violate local laws and taxi regulations.

The documents, which contain 83,000 emails and 1,000 other files, including conversations, reveal for the first time Uber’s $90 million-a-year lobbying and public relations campaigns to gain the support of world leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron, to disrupt European taxi industry.

In a statement, Uber spokesperson Jill Hazelbaker acknowledged the many mistakes Uber made under Kalanick’s leadership, but that his replacement, Dara Khosrowshahi, “was tasked with transforming every aspect of the way Uber works” and “the rigorous controls and compliance necessary to operate as a public company.”

“We have and will not apologize for past behavior that is clearly inconsistent with our current values. Instead, we’re asking the public to judge us on what we’ve done in the past five years and what we’ll be doing in the coming years,” she said.

Over the past five years, the company has continued to spend millions on lobbying and marketing campaigns so that it can continue to treat its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. The company also recently knocked down a shareholder proposal to gain transparency about Uber’s lobbying efforts.

Contrary to Hazelbaker’s statement that Uber is a company that has been reformed since 2017 — when Kalanick stepped down as CEO amid a storm of concerns about Uber’s workplace culture, including allegations of sexual harassment, racial discrimination and bullying — Uber will continue to operate its services as is, even when local laws require drivers to be treated as employees. And despite violent protests and attacks on drivers dating back well after 2017, Uber has continued to operate in countries and cities where local regulators say drivers must be licensed to operate a taxi service.

Let’s see what’s in the Uber files.

‘Emmanuel’ and ‘Travis’ based on first name

Paris was the first European city to launch Uber, and the city fought hard against the new technology company. French taxi drivers staged protests that often turned violent. But Macron, who had just been appointed economy minister in 2014, thought Uber would help create new jobs and economic growth. After meeting with the company’s lobbyists in October, Macron became a champion of Uber’s interests within the government, one who would work to rewrite laws in favor of Uber, the files show.

Mark MacGann, an Uber lobbyist, described the meeting as “spectacular. Like I’ve never seen before,” and said, “There’s still a lot of work to do, but we’re going to dance soon.”

Macron and Kalanick, who were soon by first name, according to the files met at least four times, including in Paris and at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“The openness and welcome we receive is unusual in government-industry relations,” Uber wrote to Macron, noting it was “extremely grateful” for his kind treatment.

That year, Macron teamed up with Uber to rewrite French laws for its services. Uber had launched UberPop, a service that allowed unlicensed drivers to offer rides at a discounted price. The service was initially banned by the government, but as Uber does, it kept the service running while challenging the law.

“Uber will outline a regulatory framework for ridesharing,” Kalanick emailed Macron. “We will connect our respective teams to start working on a feasible proposal that could become the formal framework in France.”

As protests by taxi drivers turned violent in June 2015, Macron texted Kalanick that he would “assemble everyone next week to prepare for reform and correct the law,” the files said. On the same day, Uber suspended UberPop in France. Later that year, Macron signed a decree relaxing the licensing requirements for Uber drivers.

A spokesman for Macron said in an email to the BBC: “His positions naturally led him to meet and communicate with many companies involved in the sharp shift that occurred in those years in the service sector, which had to be addressed. facilitated by administrative and regulatory hurdles.”

Aside from Macron, the files also reveal how Neelie Kroes, an ex-EU digital commissioner and one of Brussels’ top officials, spoke to Uber about joining the company before her term expired. Kroes also apparently secretly lobbied for the company, which may be violating EU ethical rules.

‘Violence guarantees success’

The leaked files reveal a cache of incredibly candid and direct conversations between Kalanick and other top officials exposing a number of unethical practices and disregard for officials who have not committed to helping Uber. Perhaps the most shocking are those who seem to exploit violence against drivers.

In one conversation, Uber executives warned against sending drivers to a protest in France, which could lead to violence from angry taxi drivers.

“I think it’s worth it,” Kalanick wrote. “Violence guarantee[s] good luck.”

In a statement, Kalanick’s spokesperson said he “never suggested that Uber should use force at the expense of driver safety… Any allegation Mr Kalanick directed was involved in or involved in any of the this activity is completely false.”

A former senior executive told the Guardian that Uber’s decision to send drivers to potentially dangerous protests, knowing the risks, was in line with the company’s strategy of “arming” drivers and using the violence to “burn the controversy”. to keep’.

The leaked emails suggest that such a strategy was repeated in Belgium, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands. For example, when masked men, allegedly angry taxi drivers, attacked Uber drivers with brass knuckles and a hammer in Amsterdam in March 2015, Uber used the violence to get concessions from the Dutch government, the files show.

Uber encouraged victims of drivers to report the incident to the police, which was shared with leading Dutch daily De Telegraaf.

†[They] will be published tomorrow without our fingerprint on the front page,” wrote one manager. “We’ll keep the violence story going for a few days before we offer the solution.”

Hazelbaker acknowledged that the company had assaulted drivers in the past, but that didn’t mean anyone wanted violence against them.

“There’s a lot that our former CEO said nearly a decade ago that we certainly wouldn’t approve today,” she said. “But one thing we do know and feel strongly about is that no one at Uber has ever been happy with violence against a driver.”

The ‘kill switch’

Despite Uber’s public mask of innocence and attempts to define angry taxi drivers and regulated taxi markets as “cartels,” the company appears to have known it was operating illegally in many cities.

Internal emails reveal staff referring to the “other than legal status” of Uber and other forms of operational services against regulations in countries such as the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey and Russia.

A senior executive wrote in an email: “We are not legal in many countries, we must avoid making hostile statements.” Another executive wrote, “We’ve officially become pirates,” in response to Uber’s strategies to “prevent enforcement.”

A message to a colleague in 2014 by Nairi Hourdaijan, Uber’s head of global communications, went so far as to say, “Sometimes we have problems because, well, we’re just fucking illegal.”

Regulators, police and transportation officials around the world worked hard to curb Uber. Some officials would download the app and greet rides so they could perform sting operations on unlicensed taxi rides and fine Uber or impound drivers’ cars. Offices in dozens of countries were raided by authorities.

That’s where the “kill switch” came in. If law enforcement were allowed access to the company’s computers, Uber would activate a “kill switch” that would restrict agents’ access to sensitive company data such as driver lists, which Uber believed would hurt its growth.

The files show that Kalanick has asked staffers to hit the “ASAP” kill switch in Amsterdam at least once, according to an email from his account. They also reveal that this technique, which was reviewed and approved by Uber’s lawyers and regulatory departments, was used at least 12 times during raids in Belgium, France, India, Hungary, the Netherlands and Romania.

Kalanick’s spokesperson said in a statement that such protocols are common business practice that protect intellectual property and customer privacy, and are not designed to obstruct justice. She also noted that Kalanick “has never been charged in any jurisdiction with obstruction of justice or any related crime.”

(Kalanick has sued in the past over allegations that he paid hackers $100,000 to cover up a heist that stole personal information from approximately 57 million Uber users and drivers in 2016.)

This story is evolving. Come back for updates.

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