comscore Uber used violence against drivers, law breaking to grow globally

Uber Files: Company used law breaking, violence against drivers, political lobbying for growth

The report shows that Uber deployed the kill switch to access to company's servers and prevent authorities from seizing documents during raids on Uber offices in at least six countries.


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Thousands of leaked confidential documents has shed light on the internal workings of Uber in its early day. The trove of leaked documents dubbed as ‘The Uber Files’ consists of a total of 124,000 internal company documents, including more than 83,000 emails and text messages exchanged between the company cofounder Travis Kalanick and other executives, dating between 2013 and 2017. These documents were originally shared with The Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and they show how the San Francisco headquartered company used law breaking, violence against drivers and extensive political lobbying for fueling its growth in markets across the globe. Also Read - Uber to soon shut down its free loyalty program: Report

The documents also reveal how the company was willing to things, many of which its own executive described as “f***ing illegal” and “sh**storm”, for entering new markets. In other documents, the documents show how the company’s then leadership deployed a mechanism called a ‘kill switch’ in a bid to prevent law enforcement agencies from getting access to the company’s internal documents while investigating the company. The report shows that the company deployed the kill switch to access to company’s servers and prevent authorities from seizing documents during raids on Uber offices in at least six countries. Also Read - Microsoft lays off employees from customer-focused R&D projects: Report

“We have not and will not make excuses for past behavior that is clearly not in line with our present values. 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 years to come,” Jill Hazelbaker, Uber’s SVP of Marketing and Public Affairs said in a statement. Also Read - How to book Uber ride on WhatsApp: Step-by-Step Guide

Here are some of the key revelations from the Uber Files…

The Kill Switch

The leaked documents, as mentioned before, reveal how the company used stealth technology called a ‘kill switch’ to thwart government raids and cut access to company’s servers in a bid to prevent law enforcement agencies from seizing any documents. The leaked documents show that Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick personally ordered use of the mechanism when the police raided the company’s headquarters in Amsterdam back in 2015.

“Please hit the kill switch ASAP,” Kalanick ordered. “Access must be shut down in AMS [Amsterdam],” the documents show.

Prior to that in 2014, an Uber attorney Zac de Kievit, asked his colleagues to “Please kill access now” when the French Police raided the company’s office in Paris.

Furthermore, the documents reveal that in a span of nearly a year, Uber used the kill switch to block police from accessing its systems during office raids in various countries across the globe including France, Romania, Netherlands, Belgium, India and Hungary.

The Uber Files reveal that Uber policy chief Plouffe participated in discussions about at least two of the raids as they took place. In March 2015, he asked for information as police raided the Paris office for at least the second time.
“Police still there. Big force (around 25),” then-lobbyist MacGann said in an email forwarded to Plouffe. “Police trying to get into laptops.”

Notably, kill switch was not the only mechanism that the company deployed in a bid to dodge local law-enforcement authorities. The Uber Files also reveal that Uber identified government officials who the company thought were ordering its cabs to gather evidence. It would show them a fake version of the app with fake cars that never arrived. The company deployed this technique in Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Russia, and Bulgaria among other.

Additionally, the company deployed geofences near police stations in Denmark that would prevent the app from being used in the blacked out locations unless specifically cleared by an employee.

Justifying Violence

The leaked documents also show that how the company under the leadership of its co-founder used violence against drivers to further its agenda. When Uber tried to enter France, the local cabbies protested against the company. In an exchange, Uber executives warned Kalanick against sending drivers to a protest by cabbies in France cautioning that it lead to violence.

“I think it’s worth it,” Kalanick said in response to the mail by an Uber executive. “Violence guarantee[s] success. And these guys must be resisted, no?,” he added at the time.

In a response to the report, a spokesperson for the Uber co-founder has said that he “never suggested that Uber should take advantage of violence at the expense of driver safety.”

Kalanick resigned in 2017 following complaints of sexual harassment, racial discrimination, bullying and concerns about the company’s workplace culture.

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  • Published Date: July 11, 2022 2:15 PM IST

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