Mark MacGann made the decision to speak out because he thought the Uber’s senior executives had intentionally broken the law in numerous nations which led to the creation of the now infamous files. So what exactly are the Uber files?
The Uber files is a global investigation into the 124,000 private records that were released to the Guardian by the tech company. The information demonstrates how Uber broke the law, misled the authorities, took advantage of violence against drivers, and discretely lobbied governments throughout the world.
The documents leaked include emails, iMessages, and WhatsApp conversations between the top executives of the Silicon Valley firm, as well as notes, presentations, notebooks, briefing materials, and invoices.
The records span the years 2013 to 2017, during which time Uber transformed from a scrappy startup to a worldwide powerhouse that entered cities all over the world with little regard for taxi rules. The records cover 40 countries.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) allowed the Guardian to distribute the information to 180 journalists from more than 40 media outlets in order to support a global inquiry.
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What do they reveal?
- The cache of more than 124,000 internal Uber files exposes the unethical tactics used by the company to impose its operations in new markets, frequently where they were prohibited by laws or regulations in place, before vehemently advocating for changes to those same laws or regulations to make room for it.
- In his role as minister of the economy, Emmanuel Macron went above and beyond to help Uber and its effort to undermine the closed-shop taxi business in France, even assuring the company that he had negotiated a “deal” with its rivals in the French cabinet.
- During raids on its operations in at least six different countries, senior Uber officials authorized the usage of a “kill switch” to prevent law enforcement and authorities from accessing confidential information.
- David Plouffe and Jim Messina, two of Barack Obama’s top campaign aides, talked about assisting Uber in gaining access to authorities, leaders, and ambassadors.
- Neelie Kroes, a former vice-president of the European Commission, worked covertly with Uber to contact a number of influential Dutch politicians, including the prime minister. Because of how delicately sensitive her connection with the corporation was, its chief European lobbyist issued a warning that it was “highly confidential and should not be discussed outside this group.”
- At least six members of the UK government, including the chancellor at the time, George Osborne, and the future health secretary, Matt Hancock, failed to disclose private meetings where Uber advocated on their behalf.
- The insider account of how Uber lobbied Boris Johnson through its links to the Conservative party in an effort to delay the implementation of new rules by Transport for London.
- During inquiries into whether Uber’s European operations were set up in a tax-avoidance manner, one of the company’s top executives resigned.
Who leaked the data?
Mark MacGann, a former chief lobbyist for Uber in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, said he made the decision to speak out because he thought the company’s senior executives had intentionally broken the law in numerous nations and “sold people a lie” about the benefits of the gig economy model for drivers.
The 52-year-old stated that he was a member of the leadership team at Uber at the time and that he bears some responsibility for the actions he describes. He claimed that regret was one of his driving forces.
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“I regret being part of a group of people which massaged the facts to earn the trust of drivers, of consumers and of political elites,” he said. “I should have shown more common sense and pushed harder to stop the craziness. It is my duty to speak up and help governments and parliamentarians right some fundamental wrongs. Morally, I had no choice in the matter.”
Why does the period covered by the leak matter?
The data covers a five-year period that was critical to Uber’s growth.
In 2010, when the Uber app was originally made available to the general public in San Francisco, only high-end black cars could be rented. The next year saw the launch of UberX, which allowed drivers to pick up customers in their own vehicles. The service immediately gained popularity, and by early 2013, it was available in more than 30 locations, largely in the US.
Around this time, Uber aimed to quickly grow internationally. The time period covered by the released data was one of frenzied growth as Uber subsidized travel in cities all over the world with its record venture capital investments. Uber had more than 600 sites as of June 2017, when its contentious co-founder Travis Kalanick resigned as CEO.
Dara Khosrowshahi, who succeeded Kalanick, went out to show the company’s stockholders that it could generate profitable growth. Five years later, Uber offers on-demand transportation in more than 10,000 cities and is now valued at $45 billion.
How have Uber and Travis Kalanick responded to the investigation?
Jill Hazelbaker, senior vice president of public affairs at Uber, issued a statement in which she said, “We have not and will not make excuses for past behaviour 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.”
She continued: “Uber is now one of the largest platforms for work in the world and an integral part of everyday life for over 100 million people. We’ve moved from an era of confrontation to one of collaboration, demonstrating a willingness to come to the table and find common ground with former opponents, including labour unions and taxi companies.
“We are now regulated in more than 10,000 cities around the world, working at all levels of government to improve the lives of those using our platform and the cities we serve.”
In a separate statement, Travis Kalanick’s spokesperson said he “never authorised any actions or programs that would obstruct justice in any country”, and he “never suggested that Uber should take advantage of violence at the expense of driver safety. Any accusation that Mr Kalanick directed, engaged in, or was involved in any of these activities is completely false.”
“The reality was that Uber’s expansion initiatives were led by over a hundred leaders in dozens of countries around the world and at all times under the direct oversight and with the full approval of Uber’s robust legal, policy, and compliance groups.”
The spokesperson added: “When Mr Kalanick co-founded Uber in 2009, he and the rest of the Uber team pioneered an industry that has now become a verb. To do this required a change of the status quo, as Uber became a serious competitor in an industry where competition had been historically outlawed.
“As a natural and foreseeable result, entrenched industry interests all over the world fought to prevent the much-needed development of the transportation industry.”