Leaks of tens of thousands of documents reveal that Uber “violated” laws, “deceived” police, “exploited” violence against drivers to its advantage and “secretly” put government leaders and politicians under pressure as it spread around the world, including Joe Biden and Olaf Schulz and Emmanuel Macron.
And the British newspaper Guardian said on Sunday that it had obtained about 124,000 documents, known as “Uber documents”, covering the period between 2013 and 2017.
The documents include more than 83,000 emails, iMessages and WhatsApp messages, including communications between its co-founder, Travis Kalanick, and his team of senior executives.
The leaked records reveal the ways in which the company became one of the most important companies in Silicon Valley and established itself to operate in cities around the world, even at the expense of laws and taxi regulations.
Using unprecedented capital funding, the Guardian says: “Uber has subsidized rides and enticed drivers and riders to use the service with incentives and pricing models, which will not be sustainable.”
“Companies have undermined established taxi markets and put pressure on governments to rewrite laws to help pave the way for an app-based economy model, which has since spread around the world.”
In an effort to stem the backlash against the company and change taxi and labor laws, Uber allocated $ 90 million in 2016 to fund lobbying and public relations activities, according to one document.
The data shows how the company “tried to gain support by courting prime ministers, presidents, billionaires, oligarchs and media barons,” according to the Guardian.
In a statement in response to the leaks, Uber acknowledged “mistakes and missteps” but said it had “changed since 2017 under the leadership of its current chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi”.
The statement added: “We have not, and will not, make excuses for past behavior that is clearly contrary to our current values. Instead, we ask the public to judge us on the basis of what we have done over the past five years. and what we will do in the years to come. “
The leaks indicate that Uber executives were not “ignorant” about the company’s violation of the law, and in one correspondence one CEO jokes that they have become “crackers” and another says: “We are just illegal. ”
Flirting with state leaders … and Macron’s role
The documents revealed correspondence between Kalanick and Emmanuel Macron, when the latter was economy minister, and the Guardian said he had helped the company form a lobby in France, and even told the company that he was keeping a secret. agreement “with his opponents in the French government.
When a French police officer apparently banned an Uber service in Marseille in 2015, Mark McGahn, Uber’s chief lobbyist in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, turned to Macron at the time.
Macron responded with a text message saying, “I will personally look into this … At this point, let’s keep calm.”
The documents point to contempt for company officials for officials who opposed its expansion, such as Olaf Scholz, when he was mayor of Hamburg before becoming chancellor of Germany. An Uber driver describes him as a “real comedian”.
When US Vice President Joe Biden was late for a meeting with company officials at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Kalanick sent a text message to a colleague saying, “Every minute he is late, he will be short of a minute. meet.”
In addition to meeting with Biden in Davos, Uber executives met face-to-face with Macron, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-British Chancellor George Osborne.
Company officials also met with six British Conservative government ministers.
The documents suggest that Uber was “skilled” at finding informal ways to reach those in power, or to exercise its influence through friends or intermediaries.
It was able to secure the support of influential people in places like Russia, Italy and Germany by offering them valuable financial interests in the startup and turning them into “strategic investors”.
It has also paid prominent academics hundreds of thousands of dollars to deliver research that supports the company’s claims about the benefits of its economic model.
The Guardian report notes that during the company’s expansion in India, officials encouraged managers to focus on driving growth, even when “the fires start burning”. “I know this is a normal part of Uber’s business,” Kalanick said. “Embrace chaos. It means you are doing something meaningful.”
Kalanick applied that spirit in January 2016 when Uber’s efforts to turn markets in Europe into furious protests by taxi drivers in Belgium, Spain, Italy and France.
Amid taxi strikes and riots in Paris, Kalanick has ordered French CEOs to take revenge by encouraging Uber drivers to lead a counter-protest and mass civil disobedience.
In one letter, Kalanick expressed other drivers’ concerns that sending Uber drivers to a protest in France posed a risk of violence. “I think it’s worth it,” he said. “Violence guarantees success, and these guys have to fight back., Right?” .
Leaked emails indicate that “embracing chaos” has been repeated in Italy, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
And when Uber faced opposition from governments, they exploited it to their advantage. When the company’s executives were exposed to violence in Amsterdam in March 2015, Uber employees tried to encourage victims to file a police report in to serve, which changed the crisis in their favor to obtain concessions from the Dutch government.
In turn, Kalanick’s spokesman said he “never suggested that Uber use force at the expense of driver safety. Any suggestion that it be involved in such activities would be completely false.”
And when the authorities raided the company’s offices, “Uber” developed sophisticated methods to prevent legal action through what is known as a “key lock”, when the company’s office was raided, executives said. instructed the IT employees to access the key data systems The company, which prevents the authorities from gathering evidence.
This method has been used at least 12 times during raids in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, India, Hungary and Romania.
Kalanick’s spokesman said the “shut-off switch” was “ordinary business practice and not designed to impede justice. It has been investigated and approved by Uber’s legal department, and no charges have been brought against the former CEO for obstruction of justice or ‘. a related crime. “
An Uber spokesman said it “should never have been used to impede legal regulatory action” and that the company stopped using it in 2017, when Khosrowshahi replaced Kalanick at the helm.