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11 Jul, 2022
3 min time to read

Thousands of confidential Uber Files, originally leaked to The Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, reveal how the company broke laws, went to extreme lengths to avoid justice, secretly lobbied governments and received help from high-profile politicians.

The Uber Files, a leak of more than 124,000 documents, contains information about the company's operations between 2013 and 2017 in 40 countries, when Uber was still run by co-founder Travis Kalanick

The documents, which include 83,000 emails and 1,000 other files, including conversations, reveal for the first time Uber's $90 million-a-year lobbying and PR campaigns aimed at garnering support from world leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron.

French President Emmanuel Macron, while serving as economy minister (he held the post from 2012 to 2014), helped restore Uber's taxi service after it was suspended by police in downtown Marseille in 2015.

Paris was the first European city to launch Uber. Macron believed Uber would help create new jobs and economic growth, despite protests from taxi drivers. After meeting with the company's lobbyists, Macron became an advocate for Uber in the government, which worked to rewrite laws in favour of Uber. The company launched the UberPop service, which allowed unlicensed drivers to offer rides at reduced prices. The service was initially banned by the government, but the company continued to provide it.

In June 2015, amid protests by taxi drivers, Macron wrote a message to Kalanick saying he would "bring everyone together next week to prepare a reform and fix the law", according to the files. On the same day, Uber suspended UberPop in France. Later that year, Macron signed a decree relaxing licensing requirements for Uber drivers.

The company's treatment of its drivers has also attracted public attention. The files contain conversations between Kalanick and other senior officials, which include a number of unethical practices and neglect of drivers.

Kalanick wrote:

I think it’s worth it. Violence guarantees success.

One former top executive told the Guardian that Uber's decision to send drivers to potentially dangerous protests, knowing the risks, was in line with the company's strategy to "weaponise" drivers and use violence to "keep the controversy burning."

Leaked emails suggest this strategy was repeated in Belgium, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Uber spokesperson Jill Hazelbaker admitted that the company had mistreated drivers in the past, but that did not mean anyone wanted violence against them.

Our former CEO almost ten years ago said many things that we would definitely not approve of today. But one thing we know and feel strongly about is that no one at Uber has ever been happy to abuse a driver.

Uber also used a secret protocol known as the "kill switch". It allowed to block the company's data during police raids. The company activated this protocol at least 12 times during 2017, when authorities tried to crack down on the ride-hailing app, which was illegal in several countries at the time.

The practice, which was vetted and approved by Uber lawyers, reportedly involved top executives including Uber co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick and current Uber Eats chief Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty.

Uber stopped using the system when Dara Khosrowshahi became CEO in 2017.

In a statement, Uber spokesperson Jill Hazelbaker acknowledged numerous mistakes, but said CEO Dara Khosrowshahi had been "tasked with transforming every aspect of Uber" and had "established the rigorous controls and compliance required to operate as a public company".

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.