Leaked Uber documents detail the alleged drastic measures taken by the company to grow from 2013 to 2017
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Leaked Uber documents detail the alleged drastic measures taken by the company to grow from 2013 to 2017

An article recently published by The Guardian details a trove of 124,000 confidential documents – called the Uber files – that reveal how in its efforts to expand into new areas, Uber attempted to lobby politicians, knowingly broke laws, and utilized a “kill switch” during raids to keep police from viewing company data. In a follow up article, the whistleblower responsible for the leak, Mark MacGann, acknowledges his role and takes personal responsibility for his conduct during the time he worked at Uber.

MacGann, Uber’s former chief lobbyist in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, led the company’s efforts to win the favor of local governments so that Uber could expand into these markets. The documents featured in the Uber files span the efforts of the company from 2013 to 2017 and cover 40 countries. The information provided includes emails, iMessages, and WhatsApp exchanges between senior executives at Uber, as well as invoices, briefing papers, presentations, notebooks, and memos.

Deciding to speak out partially motivated by remorse, MacGann acknowledges that as part of Uber’s executive team at the time, he is not without blame for the conduct described by the documents. He says he decided to speak out because MacGann believes that Uber knowingly mislead people about the benefits provided to drivers of the company’s gig-economy business model. The company also disregarded laws in dozens of countries in order to overtake local taxi services.

Make no mistake, the leaked messages show that executives at Uber were well aware of the company’s flaunting of the law. The article quotes one executive as joking that the company had become “pirates” and that another acknowledged, “We’re just fucking illegal.”

During this time period, Uber was still being run by co-founder Travis Kalanick, who’s leadership was focused on growing the company at seemingly any cost. Kalanick is said to have dismissed concerns from other senior executives that sending Uber drivers to a taxi industry protest in France, would put them at risk of violence from the opposition. “I think it’s worth it,” Kalnick is reported to have said.

At the time, Uber was illegal, including the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey, Sweden, India, Thailand, and South Africa. Regulatory agencies, transport officials, and police across the globe attempted to come down on Uber. In certain cases, local officials would hail rides in an effort to block unlicensed taxi trips. When they were able, authorities would fine drivers and their impound cars.

Uber even developed a “kill switch” in order to hinder law enforcement. To prevent authorities from gathering evidence when a local Uber office was raided, executives would instruct IT staff to cut off access to the company’s primary data systems. Files suggest this technique was deployed in Belgium, France, Hungary, Romania, India, and the Netherlands at least a dozen times.

While Uber maintains that the company is a different organization today, with Kalanick’s time at the helm in the rearview mirror, it is hard to ignore the allegations detailed in these articles. The harsh reality is that the company used its incredible resources to influence politicians, change local laws, and undercut local taxi and cab markets with unsustainable pricing.

Uber now clocks roughly 19 million journeys a day and is one of the world’s largest platforms for both riders and drivers. The foundation was laid on a disregard for long established taxi and labor laws, courting favor with local officials, and funding research in the company’s favor. Is it really any surprise that rider safety still seems to take a back seat to profits?