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Uber Files: Massive Leaks Revealed How Top Politicians Helped Uber

Uber Files: Massive leak reveals how top politicians secretly helped Uber

Since its inception in 2009, Uber has had a contentious past, ranging from violent fights among drivers to secret software reportedly designed to circumvent law enforcement.

Now, a leak of over 124,000 documents known as the Uber files reveals the extent to which the company, led by co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick, used that chaos to expand across 40 countries.

The ‘Uber Files,’ a collection of documents and letters, have revealed how the ride-hailing behemoth exploited regulatory gaps in key worldwide areas to expand its presence. The data contain 124,000 internal emails, text messages, and documents from Uber.

The Guardian got the files and shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and a global newsroom consortium. The disclosed records span the years 2013 through 2017. The Indian Express obtained access to the materials.

About Uber

In 2009, Travis Kalanick and Garret Camp started Ubercabs in San Francisco, which later changed its name to Uber Technologies, Inc. It is an American mobility service provider that lets customers use the Uber App to reserve cabs for transportation.

Through collaborations with other local business owners, it has introduced a number of services over the years, including food delivery, package delivery, couriers, freight transportation, electric bicycles, and motorized scooters.

Since 2013, Uber has experienced unheard-of expansion internationally, becoming the most well-liked ride-hailing service. Uber generated about 19 million trips per day and had 118 million monthly active users worldwide in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Uber has been under scrutiny for how it treats its taxi drivers, how it affects the taxi industry, and how it causes more traffic. It has also come under fire for the steep discounts and low prices it advertises on its ride-sharing app, undercutting taxi drivers and pushing its partners to accept lower pay.

Unsurprisingly, since 2014, Uber has reported losses of millions of dollars. In return for shares in competing companies, it left the markets in Russia, China, and Southeast Asia in 2018.

Uber’s Business Model

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Between cabs and passengers, Uber serves as the middleman. Although it does not own any vehicles, it collaborates with taxi owners and makes money from each booking. The local supply and demand at the moment of the booking are the foundation of Uber’s dynamic pricing strategy. The consumer is given a quote for this fare in advance.

Entrance to the German market

Olaf Scholz, who is now the German Chancellor, was the mayor of Hamburg in 2014 and fought Uber lobbyists to open the German market to the company.

Taking Joe Biden as a resource

At the World Economic Forum, Joe Biden, who was the US Vice-President at the time, and Kalanick had a meeting planned. As a result of the conversation, he modified a line from his original speech at Davos in which he mentioned a CEO whose business would allow millions of employees the freedom to work as many hours as they desired and govern their lives as they saw fit.

The Uber Files

‘The Uber Files’ exposed how the corporation enlisted the support of international leaders to influence legislation and evade taxes. According to the investigation, the corporation engaged in potentially unlawful and unethical behaviour.

The study is based on 124,000 records containing sensitive messages, emails, invoices, briefing notes, presentations, and other documents exchanged by top Uber executives, government bureaucrats, and world leaders from roughly 30 nations.

According to the records, firm managers used the often violent pushback from the taxi industry against drivers to gather support and elude regulatory authorities early in the company’s history.

Meanwhile, Uber has rejected all of the charges levelled against it, including obstructing justice, claiming that the company has improved since the departure of previous CEO Travis Kalanick, who was accused of creating a poisonous workplace atmosphere.

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Thousands of leaked documents revealed how Uber courted senior politicians and how far it went to escape prosecution.

Mark MacGann, 52, a career lobbyist who worked for Uber from 2014 to 2016, has identified himself as the whistleblower who provided The Guardian with the 124,000 business records that comprise The Uber Files.

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MacGann came out as the whistleblower on Monday, a day after the investigative report revealed specifics about how Uber established a large influence to acquire global dominance. He gave the British publication The Guardian hundreds of incriminating papers about Uber.

Between 2014 and 2016, MacGann headed Uber’s lobbying activities in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. According to the reports, he told the UK-based newspaper that he chose to speak out because he believed Uber violated the law in dozens of countries and deceived consumers about the company’s economic strategy.

They go into depth about the substantial assistance Uber received from leaders such as Emmanuel Macron and former EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

They also show how the former cab company owner personally approved the use of a “kill switch” to prevent computers from being accessed by raiding police.

Uber claims that because of the changes it has undergone, its “previous behavior was inconsistent with current values.”

The Uber Files contain about 124,000 documents spanning 2013 to 2017, including 83,000 emails and 1000 other files, including discussions.

After being leaked to The Guardian, they were given to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and several media outlets, including BBC Panorama. They disclose, for the first time, how a $90-million-a-year lobbying and public relations operation enlisted the support of favorable politicians to help it destroy Europe’s taxi sector.

While French taxi drivers conducted often violent public protests against Uber, Macron, now president, was on first-name terms with Uber’s controversial CEO, Travis Kalanick, and promised him that he would modify regulations to benefit the company.

Uber’s harsh business practices were well known, but the files provide a unique inside look at the extent company took to achieve its aims.

They indicate how former EU digital commissioner Neelie Kroes, one of Brussels’ top officials, was in talks to join Uber before her term expired – and then surreptitiously pushed for the company, potentially in violation of EU ethics standards.

Uber was not only one of the world’s fastest-growing companies at the time; it was also one of the most contentious, plagued by court cases, sexual harassment allegations, and data breach scandals.

Shareholders eventually had enough, and Travis Kalanick was forced out in 2017.

Dara Khosrowshahi, his replacement, has been “tasked with altering every area of how Uber functions” and has “built the rigorous controls and compliance necessary to operate as a public company,” according to Uber.

‘Spectacular’ Macron help

uber files

Uber’s first European launch took place in Paris when it was met with significant opposition from the taxi industry, resulting in violent public protests.

In August 2014, an ambitious former banker named Emmanuel Macron was appointed Economy Minister. He saw Uber as a source of growth and much-needed new jobs, and he was eager to assist.

That October, he met with Kalanick and other executives and lobbyists, kicking off a long – but little-publicized – stint as a government advocate for the controversial firm’s interests.

Uber lobbyist Mark MacGann called the experience “wonderful.” as I’ve never witnessed before, Files are displayed. He said, “We’ll dance shortly.

The data show that “Emmanuel” and “Travis” became fast friends and met at least four times – in Paris and at the World Economic Forum conference in Davos, Switzerland. Only the Davos meeting had previously been publicized.

Uber once wrote to Macron, stating it was “very appreciative.”

“In the history of government-industry ties, we have never experienced such warmth and welcome.”

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The 2014 launch of UberPop, a service that allowed unlicensed drivers to offer trips at substantially lower pricing, infuriated French taxi drivers in particular.

Courts and parliament both prohibited it, but Uber continued to operate while it battled the legislation. Macron did not believe UberPop had a future, but he promised to collaborate with the firm to revise France’s regulations controlling its other services.

“Uber will provide a framework for a regulatory system governing ridesharing. We will link our separate teams to begin developing a viable plan that might become the formal framework in France “Travis Kalanick’s email to Macron is as follows.

The protests turned violent on June 25, 2015, and a week after, Macron texted Kalanick with an apparent offer of assistance. Next week, everyone will come together to prepare the change and amend the law.

On the same day, Uber notified the termination of UberPop in France.

Months later, Macron approved legislation lowering license requirements for Uber drivers.

Until now, the depth of the now-President of France’s ties with the contentious worldwide corporation that was operating in contravention of French law was unknown.

In an email, a Macron representative explained that the president’s duties “naturally led him to meet and communicate with numerous enterprises engaged in the sharp transition that came out over those years in the service sector, which had to be helped by removing administrative and regulatory impediments.

Uber claims that the “suspension of UberPop was in no way followed by more advantageous rules” and that France adopted “stricter regulations” as a result of a new law that became effective in 2018 that were “in no way advantageous to Uber.”

Former regulator turned lobbyist

The documents also show that Uber’s contact with one of Europe’s top officials, European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes, started far earlier and went much further than previously known, putting her in apparent violation of regulations controlling commissioners’ conduct.

She was in talks to join Uber’s advisory board before she departed her final European role in November 2014, according to the documents.

According to EU rules, commissioners must observe a “cooling-off” period, followed by an 18-month period during which new jobs must be approved by the commission.

Kroes managed digital and competition policy as a commissioner and was a high-profile scourge of big tech, leading to large fines for Microsoft and Intel.

But, of all the organizations she could have worked for after leaving, Uber was the most contentious.

The UberPop ridesharing business has also caused legal and political problems in its own country of the Netherlands.

In October 2014, Uber drivers were arrested, and in December, a judge in the Hague outlawed UberPop, threatening fines of up to 100,000 euros ($NZ165,000). Dutch police raided Uber’s Amsterdam office in March 2015.

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According to emails, Kroes called ministers and other government officials to convince them to back down during the raid. Kroes called a Dutch minister again a week later, according to the Uber Files, and “harassed” the head of the Dutch civil service, according to an email.

Her reputation and our capacity to negotiate solutions in the Netherlands and globally would suffer from any casual banter within or outside the office, according to an internal document that forbade discussing their friendship outside of work.

According to the documents, the business wanted Kroes to relay communications to the office of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

We’ll have a backchannel going with Neelie and the PM’s Chief of Staff to extract maximum advantage through “giving” them the notion of a “win,” according to an email from October 2015.

She asked the commission’s ad hoc ethical committee for permission to join Uber’s advisory board before the 18-month period expired, and she appealed to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

That request was denied, but documents reveal that Kroes continued to assist the company on an informal basis until her employment was announced, just after the cooling-off period had elapsed.

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This highlights Kroes’ “obvious violation” of the laws, according to Alberto Alemanno, Jean Monnet Professor of European Union law at HEC Paris.

You’re demonstrating that you’re engaging in prohibited behaviour, he observed. “Because even if she didn’t explicitly seek permission, you might claim that there was a grey region, a grey zone. However, it is no longer present.”

After learning of Kroes’ association with Uber, he stated, “It makes me feel that our system is probably not fit for purpose because this problem could have been avoided.”

Kroes denied having any “formal or informal role at Uber” before the cooling-off period expired in May 2016.

As an EU commissioner, she stated she interacted with a variety of technology companies, “always driven by what I feel will benefit the public interest.”

Uber claims that Kroes left the advisory board in 2018, and as a result, new guidelines “strengthening control” of “lobbying and external engagements with lawmakers” in Europe were put in place by the firm.

The Uber Kill Switch

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The Uber Files also revealed that Uber employs an internal strategy known as the “kill switch” to avoid government raids. During any raid, at any office, the IT staff was instructed to disable all access to the company’s key data system. This action prohibited authorities from collecting evidence against the corporation.

Uber used the ‘Kill Switch’ technique in India since it was having regulatory concerns with the Reserve Bank of India and governmental bodies such as the Service Tax authorities, Consumer Courts, and Income Tax.

The records show 13 occurrences of the ‘Kill Switch’ being utilized in Amsterdam, Montreal, Hong Kong, Budapest, Lyon, and Paris between 2014 and 2016. The reference to India appears in secret emails dated February 10, 2015, two months after the New Delhi rape event and the ensuing seven-month suspension of its service.

If the cops came knocking, Uber had a backup plan: the “kill switch,” which prevented visiting law enforcement from accessing the company’s systems.

This would limit officials’ access to key company data, such as driver lists, which the corporation considered would be detrimental to its growth.

The files validate previous news stories regarding the kill switch and show that Kalanick used it at least once.

“Please press the kill button as soon as possible. In AMS [Amsterdam], access must be restricted “According to an email from his account.

In addition to Canada, Belgium, India, Romania, and Hungary, the death switch was utilized at least three times in France.

Since the new CEO took over in 2017, Uber claims it has had no “‘kill switch’ meant to prevent regulatory inquiries anywhere in the world.”

Kalanick’s spokeswoman stated that he never authorized any acts or programs that would impede justice in any country and that any charge leveled against him was absolutely incorrect.

Uber’s reaction

Uber apologized for “mistakes and missteps” in the past in response to The Guardian’s revelation, but stated it had been reformed since 2017. Dara Khosrowshahi is the current CEO of the firm.

However, Kalanick’s spokeswoman refuted the leaks and stated that he never urged that Uber use violence “at the price of driver safety.”

Conclusion

As more information is made public over the next few days, the expose’s specifics will only deepen. What can be inferred from all of this is that numerous apps, including Uber, promised innovation.

Instead, they presented ineptly covered examples of fraud and corruption. One can only hope that those tech entrepreneurs who shamelessly break and bend the law face harsh punishment. It might serve as a deterrence against future scams.

Edited by Prakriti Arora

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