Uber consistently circumvented regulations, thwarted police and secretly courted lawmakers to pave the way for its questionable practices as it expanded into new cities around the world, according to leaked documents obtained by The Guardian.
The ride-share service and Silicon Valley giant is under investigation for unethical practices after a plethora of explosive texts, emails, memos and other documents were provided to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The documents span the company’s operations from 2013 to 2017 under Travis Kalanick, its billionaire co-founder. As the company rapidly expanded into new cities around the world — and faced vast global backlash for defying regional laws — top executives privately acknowledged their practices and laughed them off in internal communications with Kalanick, according to The Guardian and ICIJ. One executive even referred to the group as “pirates” and said that “we’re just fucking illegal.”
During this period, Uber tried to recover its image by courting politicians, including President Emmanuel Macron of France. Texts show how Macron went out of his way to bolster Uber’s growth in France and allowed the company to maintain regular communication with his immediate staff.
He is just one of many government leaders, billionaires and media moguls the company secretly lobbied to cover up what the reports say were unlawful practices.
When one executive raised concerns about Uber drivers facing potential violence from angry competitors in the taxi industry, Kalanick reportedly said that “I think it’s worth it” and that “violence guarantees success.” A Kalanick spokesperson denied that he ever suggested exploiting violence against the app’s drivers.
Devon Spurgeon, the spokesperson for Kalanick, the former CEO, said the Consortium for Investigative Journalists was putting forward a “false agenda.”
“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,” she added. “Tellingly, the ICIJ flatly rejected requests to review any of those documents, which further exacerbates concerns about many of the source documents’ authenticity.”
When the company needed data to influence policymakers, according to The Guardian’s report, it also paid academics to publish research that would bolster its misleading economic claims about the company’s business model — which offered unsustainably low prices as it entered new cities to ensure winning out over local taxi competitors.
In response to the leak, Uber issued a statement acknowledging “mistakes and missteps,” but insisted that current leadership had transformed the company.
More than 180 journalists are investigating the “Uber Files” and will be publishing a series of reports dissecting over 124,000 documents in the coming weeks.