More than 124,000 confidential documents related to Uber were leaked to The Guardian, and on Sunday, the media outlet — along with more than 180 journalists at 40 other publications — began publishing a series of reports that detail how the tech reportedly giant tricked cops, exploited drivers, lobbied governments, and said a lot of stuff that sounds like it could have come from the mouth of Kendall Roy.
Much of the material comes from approximately 2014-2016, and it’s worth acknowledging that company leadership has since changed. Notably, Travis Kalanick, the company’s co-founder, stepped down as chief executive in 2017. Also, a spokeswoman for Uber, Jill Hazelbaker, is quoted extensively in coverage of the leaks, attempting to provide context for the newly revealed information, though she also states, “We have not and will not make excuses for past behavior that is clearly not in line with our present values.”
Here’s just a taste of what we know right now about the documents known as The Uber Files. And we’ve got to say: There’s plenty of cause here for Uber to do some soul-searching, no matter what its “present values” may be.
“Violence guarantee success.”
The leaked documents paint a dark picture of what was happening in Uber’s C-suite as France responded angrily to the company’s presence in that country in January of 2016. On a single day in Paris that year, at least 2,000 taxi drivers took to the streets to voice their rage at Uber. Leaked texts from three days later reveal that at-the-time chief executive Travis Kalanick wanted one of his underlings to press for a counterprotest by Uber drivers.
Not only did Kalanick show apparent indifference toward the possibility that Uber drivers might be hurt by taxi drivers, he appeared to welcome it. “I think it’s worth it… Violence guarantee [sic] success,” he wrote in a text. And such violence wasn’t just an abstract idea. It was no secret that the previous year, Uber drivers and their cars had been attacked in France, including one with American musician Courtney Love riding in it.
Execs called themselves “pirates”
According to The Guardian, one Uber senior executive wrote in an email: “We are not legal in many countries, we should avoid making antagonistic statements.”
That’s because they had “forms of active non-compliance with regulations” in more than half a dozen countries including Turkey, South Africa, Spain, the Czech Republic, Sweden, France, Germany, and Russia. In a comment about the tactics Uber used to avoid regulations and enforcement, another executive wrote: “We have officially become pirates.”
Employees knew they were doing illegal work
In 2014, Thailand shut down Uber when Thai authorities discovered that its drivers didn’t have the registration and insurance needed to operate commercial vehicles, the New York Times reported. Also in 2014, India ordered Uber to shut down after a passenger accused a driver of rape. Nairi Hourdajian, then head of Uber’s global communications, wrote to a colleague at the time that “sometimes we have problems because, well, we’re just fucking illegal.”
Secret deals with Emmanuel Macron
Amid Uber’s controversial rise in France, the company had a key ally in government: future French President Emmanuel Macron, who was a newly minted minister of the economy at the time. According to reporters at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists who reviewed the files, it was after a meeting between Macron and Mark MacGann, the chief lobbyist for Uber in Europe at the time — described by MacGann as “spectacular” — that Macron pressed business regulators to go easy on Uber.
And in July of 2015, Kalanick himself reportedly asked whether Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s interior could be trusted while the government was considering easing regulations on Uber in the hopes that the company might shut down it’s controversial discount service UberPop. Macron told Kalanick that he had met earlier with officials including Cazeneuve, and that they had made a “deal.” Hours later, Uber shut down UberPop. But when the files leaked, Cazeneuve told French newspaper Le Monde that he knew of no such deal.
“Pyramid of shit”
Uber was a very fast-moving start-up. In its first five years, it was active in 31 countries and after just a few years it revolutionized the ride-hailing experience — but it hit a few bumps along the way.
Because it did not move slowly, one Uber exec called their initial approach “too brash,” according to leaked documents acquired by ICIJ. MacGann, the lobbyist for Europe, told an Uber consultant that there isn’t any guidance for the Polish launch. “Basically Uber launches, and then there is a regulatory and legal shitstorm,” MacGann said.
In a presentation, executives described this shitstorm as a “pyramid of shit” made up of “driver lawsuits,” “regulatory investigations,” “administrative procedures” and “direct litigation.”
Not everything in the document leak has yet been published, so this may just be the beginning of the story. Don’t be surprised if more ugliness from Uber’s past emerges in the days to come.