Uber Files, a set of leaked cache of confidential documents, has revealed how the company courted top politicians, duped investigators and activated a so-called “kill switch” to cut access to servers. The information contained in the Uber Files has been culled from more than 124,000 records, including 83,000 emails and 1,000 other files involving conversations, during the time of its expansion from 2013 to 2017. The revelations about Uber’s ruthless business methods were shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and a number of media organisations.
Here are the 10 points on the big Uber controversy:
- Leaked communications reveal that founder Travis Kalanick – who helmed Uber when it was the world’s most valuable startup – personally directed the use of aggressive tactics during the company’s international expansion. “Violence guarantee(s) success,” Kalanick messaged other company leaders, according to Uber Files.
- Uber’s rapid expansion leaned on subsidised drivers and discounted fares that undercut the taxi industry, and “often without seeking licenses to operate as a taxi and livery service,” reported The Washington Post, one of the media outlets involved in the probe.
- According to another partner media outlet The Guardian, Uber adopted similar tactics in a number of European countries including Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy, mobilising drivers and encouraging them to complain to the police when they were victims of violence.
- A spokesperson for Kalanick strongly denied the findings as a “false agenda,” saying he “never suggested that Uber should take advantage of violence at the expense of driver safety.” Uber has, however, placed the blame on previously publicised “mistakes” made by leadership under Kalanick.
- The documents further reveal that from 2014 to 2016, Uber executives held more than 100 meetings with public officials from 17 countries as well as representatives of European Union institutions. They included 12 meetings with representatives of the European Commission that haven’t been publicly disclosed.
- The investigation also found that Uber worked to evade regulatory probes by leveraging a technological edge. The Washington Post described an instance when Kalanick implemented a “kill switch” to remotely cut off access of devices in an Amsterdam office to Uber’s internal systems during a raid by authorities.
- The files disclose that Uber lobbied governments to aid its expansion, finding in particular an ally in France’s Emmanuel Macron, who was economy minister from 2014 to 2016 and is now the country’s president.
- Uber executives also courted oligarchs tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin through former US and UK officials and struck special deals with them. Those oligarchs have since been sanctioned by Western governments in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
- The company had proposed global budget of $90 million in 2016 alone for lobbying and related activities, according to the leaked documents. That year, 10 Uber executives descended on the ski-resort town of Davos, Switzerland, to schmooze, party and strike deals with world leaders and oligarchs at the World Economic Forum.
- Uber is still dealing with the fallout from its tumultuous international rollout. Some Uber drivers, especially in developing countries like South Africa, still complain about gruelling hours and poor pay. In India, drivers pay Uber 20 per cent to 30 per cent of their fares in commissions, double the amount when the ride-hailing firm launched in the world’s largest democracy, according to gig economy advocacy group Fairwork India.