Over the weekend a massive swathe of internal Uber documents surfaced online, with a number of international publications receiving access and writing stories regarding the contents.
Dubbed The Uber Files by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), these documents allege that the company utilised several illegal lobbying tactics in order to ramp up the rollout of its ride sharing platform across the globe, along with detailing some practices that would make it extremely difficult for regulators to rein in any illicit activity by the company.
Compromising more than 124 000 internal documents, emails, text messages and memos, the Uber Files span a period of 2013 to 2017, which is when the company’s global rollout began in earnest.
Among the myriad details coming to light is the fact that Uber looked to lobby politicians and government officials in order to grease wheels and ease any potential hurdles to the platform launching in a new territory.
A report from The Guardian for example notes that, “Uber tried to shore up support by discreetly courting prime ministers, presidents, billionaires, oligarchs and media barons.”
Added to this is a flagrant disregard for the legality of the tactics, which was seemingly a part of the company culture at the time. This as one of the messages unearthed by The Guardian from an executive highlighted that, “We’re just [f*cking] illegal.”
Added to this is another concerning report from The Washington Post which notes that Uber had designed a kill switch that would ostensibly remove access to internal systems company wide.
It is allegedly a mechanism that CEO at the time Travis Kalanick utilised when the company’s European headquarters were being raided by officials in the Netherlands. “Please hit the kill switch ASAP,” he reportedly emailed an employee moments before the raid happened.
In response to these leaked documents, it looks like Uber is laying everything at the feet of the aforementioned Kalanick, who is being painted as the architect for the illegal lobbying and general culture of doing whatever it takes.
“There has been no shortage of reporting on Uber’s mistakes prior to 2017. Thousands of stories have been published, multiple books have been written—there’s even been a TV series. Five years ago, those mistakes culminated in one of the most infamous reckonings in the history of corporate America. That reckoning led to an enormous amount of public scrutiny, a number of high-profile lawsuits, multiple government investigations, and the termination of several senior executives,” the company wrote in an official response.
“It’s also exactly why Uber hired a new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, who was tasked with transforming every aspect of how Uber operates… Dara rewrote the company’s values, revamped the leadership team, made safety a top company priority, implemented best-in-class corporate governance, hired an independent board chair, and installed the rigorous controls and compliance necessary to operate as a public company,” it adds.
While the company does acknowledge its past discretions, it is asking for the true reflection of its values to be viewed under the lens of the past five years.
“We have not and will not make excuses for past behavior that is clearly not in line with our present values. Instead, we ask the public to judge us by what we’ve done over the last five years and what we will do in the years to come,” the response concluded.
Given that drivers are yet to be acknowledged as employees by Uber, we have our doubts that company culture and practices have done a complete 180 since 2017.
With the fallout from The Uber Files still being tallied, it remains to be seen what will happen to company employees and government officials mentioned in the 124k-plus documents.
To read the ICIJ report on The Uber Files, head here.