Uber leaks disclose how it spread ‘illegal’ ride-sharing globally

A trove of internal Uber documents was revealed to The Guardian and communicated with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

As a result, dozens of other news outlets would outline its plans for global expansion — even if the company had to flex some rules. The leak, collectively anointed the Uber Files, consists of over 124,000 documents between 2013 and 2017.

Uber has since answered the leak in a post on its website, stating it “advanced from the age of confrontation to one of collaboration” after CEO Dara Khosrowshahi carried over following founder Travis Kalanick’s resignation in 2017.

According to The Guardian, the leak also “illustrates how Uber tried to shore up support by secretly courting prime ministers, oligarchs, presidents, billionaires, and media barons.” In addition to presentations, memos, notebooks, and other telling documents, the leak holds “emails, iMessages and WhatsApp exchanges between the Silicon Valley colossus’s most senior executives.”

Uber’s alleged help of a “kill switch” to close off the company’s computer systems “to stop authorities from successfully analyzing the company’s business practices. It disrupted the global taxi industry,” with another documenting how the company “leveraged violent attacks” on drivers to further its agenda. The report comprises citations from a “Dawn Raid Manual” the company put together that had a bullet point noting to “never leave the Regulators alone.”

A report by the BBC concentrates on French President Emmanuel Macron describing Uber’s CEO as he could reform rules in the company’s favor. It also demonstrates how ex-EU commissioner Neelie Kroes was negotiating to merge its advisory board before stranding her last European post and informally lobbying on the organization’s behalf during a “cooling-off” period before she joined.

As Uber began proposing its ride-sharing services around the world, The Guardian reports executives “were under no fantasies about the company’s law-breaking, with one supervisor joking they had become ‘pirates.'” In a 2014 letter to a colleague, Uber’s former head of global transmissions, Nairi Hourdajian, reportedly commented: “Sometimes we have issues because, well, we’re just fucking illegal.”

“We have not and will not make justifications for past behavior that is not in line with our present values,” Jill Hazelbaker, Uber’s SVP of marketing and public affairs, writes in Uber’s response. “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 coming years.”

A spokesperson for Travis Kalanick, Devon Spurgeon, delivered a lengthy set of denials published by the ICIJ, stating “Mr. Kalanick never authorized or directed any illegal conduct in Uber’s growth efforts in Russia and had minimal involvement in those expansion strategies.

And Mr. Kalanick never indicated that Uber should take advantage of violence at the expense of driver safety … In pushing its false agenda that Mr. Kalanick directed illegal or improper conduct, the ICIJ claims to have compositions that Mr. Kalanick was on or even authored, some of which are almost a decade old.”

Uber Technologies, Inc. is an American mobility service provider allowing users to book a car and a driver to transport them in a way similar to a taxi. It is based in San Francisco, performing in about 72 nations and 10,500 cities in 2021. Its services contain ride-hailing, food delivery (Uber Eats and Postmates), package delivery, electric bicycle, couriers, freight transportation, motorized scooter rental through a partnership with Lime, and ferry transport in collaboration with local operators.

Uber does not possess any vehicles; instead, it gets a commission from each booking. Fares are noted to the customer in advance but use a dynamic pricing model based on the local supply and need at the time of the booking.

Uber offers many different types of ride options. UberX is the most popular and the standard service of the company. UberXL, Uber Comfort, and Uber Black are other options the company offers. UberXLs are usually SUV-sided vehicles and can accommodate up to 6 people. Uber’s premium service is Uber Black. Uber Black drivers have to be highly rated and drive more luxurious cars than UberX and UberXL. Uber Comfort guarantees a newer vehicle with more leg room. The different types of options give customers more flexibility when choosing a ride.

In the fourth quarter of 2021, Uber had 118 million monthly active users worldwide and generated an average of 19 million daily trips. In the United States, as of January 2022, Uber had a 71% market share for ride-sharing and a 27% market share for food delivery. Uber has been so prominent in the sharing economy that the commoditization of service industries using computing platforms has been referred to as uberisation. Several startups have described their offerings as “Uber for X.” Uber had posted hundreds of millions or billions of dollars in losses each year since 2014 except for 2018 when it exited the markets in Russia, China, and Southeast Asia in exchange for stakes in rival businesses.

Like similar companies, Uber has been criticized for treating its drivers as gig workers and independent contractors, disrupting taxicab businesses, and increasing traffic congestion. In addition, the company has been charged with unethical practices and ignoring local regulations. As a result, the legality of Uber has been questioned and subsequently banned in multiple countries.