Uber was at the center of a scandal on Sunday after a massive investigation by journalists who accused it of “breaking the law” in the past and using violent methods to impose itself on the market, despite the reservations of politicians and taxi companies.
“We have not justified and do not seek to justify behavior that is inconsistent with our current principles as a company,” Jill Hazelbaker, Uber’s vice president of marketing and public relations, said in a statement.
“We ask the public to judge us by what we have done in the last five years and by what we will do in the next,” he added.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper obtained from an anonymous source and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its 42 media partners some 124,000 documents dating from 2013 to 2017, including SMSes and emails from Uber executives as well as presentations , notes and invoices.
Yesterday Sunday many media around the world (among them the Washington Post, Le Monde and the BBC) published their first articles on the scandal based on the Uber Files.
In them they present some of Uber’s practices during the years of the company’s rapid expansion, but also during a period when it was at the center of many controversies, mainly with taxi companies in various cities, from Paris to Johannesburg.
“The company broke the law, misled police and regulators, exploited violence against its drivers and secretly lobbied governments around the world,” the Guardian article says in its introduction.
The articles mostly refer to messages from Travis Kalanick, then the head of the San Francisco-based company, when executives expressed concern about the risks Uber drivers who encouraged to participate in a demonstration in Paris might face.
“I think it’s very worth it,” the company’s co-founder told them. “Violence guarantees success.”
According to the Guardian, Uber adopted similar tactics in several European countries (Belgium, Holland, Spain, Italy…), mobilizing its drivers and pushing them to complain to the police when they were victims of attacks, with the aim of the company taking advantage of the coverage of the media to extract concessions from the authorities.
“Kalanick has never suggested that Uber exploits violence at the expense of driver safety,” Devon Spurgeon, a spokesman for the former CEO, said in a statement released by ICIJ.
Kalanick was forced to step down as CEO in June 2017 following accusations that he encouraged controversial and violent practices by company executives amid sexism and workplace harassment.
When he announced his resignation from Uber’s board at the end of 2019, he said he was “proud of what the company has achieved”.
His representative yesterday rejected all the newspaper’s accusations, including that of obstruction of justice.
According to the papers, Uber had adopted a variety of strategies to avoid law enforcement efforts, including a “safety switch” that would immediately cut off an office’s access to Internet databases in the event of an investigation.
“Out of the law”
The Guardian cites various excerpts of conversations between executives in which they comment that there is no legal framework for Uber’s operations.
“Sometimes we get in trouble because we’re completely outside the law,” Uber communications director Nairi Khourdazian wrote to her colleagues in 2014, when the company’s existence was threatened in Thailand and India.
Uber initially had to fight to be accepted by consumers. The company flirted with consumers and drivers and found allies in power, such as Emmanuel Macron during his time as economy minister (2014-16), who is said to have subtly helped the company.
At the same time, Uber offered its shares to political figures in Russia and Germany and paid researchers “hundreds of thousands of dollars to publish research on the benefits of its economic model,” the British newspaper reported.
In its announcement yesterday, Uber recalls that the media had adequately covered the company’s “mistakes” before 2017.
“Today Uber (…) is an integral part of the daily lives of 100 million people,” Hazelbecker emphasized. “We have moved from an era of confrontation to an era of cooperation.”