According to leaked documents, Uber tried to persuade officials to drop their investigations and used a “kill switch” to stop law enforcement. It also considered using violence against its drivers in order to gain sympathy with the public as it aggressively expanded into global market, according to an analysis of a batch of confidential documents.
According to The Guardian, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists ICIJ uncovered the “ethically questionable” practices that fueled the transformation of ride-hailing companies by scouring more than 124,000 documents.
The files were first leaked by the British newspaper, which then shared them with the ICIJ (a non-profit global network comprised of investigative journalists).
Jill Hazelbaker, Uber spokesperson, acknowledged that there were “mistakes” in the past. She also stated that Dara Khosrowshahi (hired in 2017) was “asked with changing every aspect of Uber’s operations.”
“When we say Uber today is a different company, we mean that literally: 90% of current Uber employees joined following Dara’s CEO appointment,” Ms Hazelbaker stated.
Uber was founded in 2009 to circumvent taxi regulations and provide inexpensive transportation using a ride-sharing platform, according to the report of the consortium, the “Uber Files”.
This report shows the incredible lengths the company went to establish itself in almost 30 countries and become one of Silicon Valley’s most well-known exports.
The papers reveal that lobbyists for the company, including ex-aides to President Barack Obama, tried to persuade officials to abandon their investigation into the company, to rewrite labour laws and taxi laws, and to relax background checks on drivers.
Access to Uber servers is cut off by a ‘Kill Switch’
Uber used “stealth tech” to avoid government investigations, according to the investigation.
For example, the company used a “kill switch” that blocked access to Uber servers. This prevented authorities from grabbing evidence during raids taking place in at least six different countries.
Uber Files reported that Travis Kalanick, former CEO of Uber, issued a directive during a raid in Amsterdam: “Please hit kill switch ASAP… Access must be stopped in AMS (Amsterdam ).”).
According to the consortium, Mr Kalanick saw violence threatened against Uber drivers in France by angry taxi drivers as a way of gaining public support. Kalanick sent colleagues a text message saying, “Violence guarantees(s) success.”
Company reduces tax bill through sending profits through tax havens
Devon Spurgeon, a spokesperson for Mr Kalanick, stated that he never suggested that Uber should profit from violence to protect driver safety.
Tech giant Google was also able cut its tax bill by millions by sending profits through Bermuda, other tax havens. The company then “sought out to divert attention from its tax liabilities” by helping authorities to collect taxes from its drivers, the reporting team stated.
Guardian journalists claim that Emmanuel Macron, the French president, was then French’s economy minister and went to “extraordinary lengths to help Uber disrupt France’s closed-shop taxi industry.
The Elysee stated that Mr Macron’s ministerial duties at that time “naturally led to him meeting and interacting with many companies involved in the sharp shifts which emerged during those years in service sector”.