London (AP) – Emails and chats by shipping provider Uber in 2013-2017, which went public, provide deeper insight into the company’s aggressive business practices at the time. According to media reports based on internal communications on Monday, Uber tried to use clashes between taxi drivers and their chauffeurs for lobbying purposes and blocked computers remotely during official raids in European cities.
More than 124,000 documents such as emails and chat messages were leaked to the UK newspaper Guardian. The former Uber manager revealed himself as a source after publication. Mark McGann was a lobbyist for a car services broker in Europe. He chose to act as a whistleblower because he believed that Uber was deliberately breaking the law. “I am partially responsible,” he told the Guardian. It was he who tried to convince governments and the public about the benefits of the Uber model. Now he has remorse: “We actually sold people a lie.”
Aggressive international expansion in the first days
The documents date from a time when Uber led an aggressive international expansion under the leadership of co-founder and then-boss Travis Kalanick. In the beginning, the company, which was founded in 2008, also tried to partially introduce its American model in Europe, in which private individuals transport passengers in their own cars. Uber dropped the practice after regulators intervened, but tensions with the taxi industry and authorities have remained high over the years. Since Dara Khosrowshahi took the top position at Uber in 2017, the company has repeatedly distanced itself from its predecessor’s business practices.
The company said in a statement: “We do not accept and will not tolerate any past conduct that is clearly inconsistent with our current values. Instead, we are asking the public to evaluate what we have done in the last five years and what we will be doing in the years to come ”.
The documents document, among other things, how Uber organized a large counter-demonstration after protests against the company in France in 2016, with “15,000 drivers” and “50,000 customers,” Kalanick wrote in a chat message published by the Washington Post. So he downplayed the risk of possible aggressive behavior from the other side: “If we have 50,000 passengers, they won’t do anything and they can’t do anything.” At the same time, he seemed to be taking the risk: “I think it’s worth it. Violence guarantees success.”
Uber manager Jill Hazelbaker wrote to the Washington Post: “There are many things our then boss said almost a decade ago that we will not tolerate today.” But no one at Uber has ever been content with the violence against the driver. A spokesman for Kalanicka also said he never suggested that Uber use violence against drivers.
Reports: Documented controversial use of software tools
According to reports, the documents also testify to the controversial use of two software tools that have been known for years. With a name called Greyball, regulators have adjusted the display in the Uber app at the location so that no vehicles are displayed. Thanks to the “kill switch”, the computers were remotely turned off during a raid on Uber’s Amsterdam office, among others.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and over 180 media journalists including Le Monde, El País and the Washington Post were involved in evaluating these so-called Uber files. Reporters from the NDR, WDR and Süddeutsche Zeitung collaborated in Germany.