We Need to Talk About Uber: A Timeline of the Company’s Growing List of Problems

In a piece for the Financial Times titled “Fire Travis Kalanick,” Kadhim Shubber wrote of the founder of Uber:

“One day we will look back at what will hopefully be the smouldering wreckage of Kalanick’s career and ask how a person so lacking in basic human and corporate ethics was allowed to run a company for so long.”

Founded in 2009, Uber was able to portray itself as an underdog “disruptor” into 2012, galvanizing support to beat back city lawmakers in Boston and Washington, D.C. who sought to impose regulations.

But then their practice of surge pricing during crises came under fire when ride prices doubled in New York City after Hurricane Sandy devastated the metropolis in 2012. When surge pricing reached nearly eight times the fare during a snowstorm in 2013, riders got angry.

At first, few reporters took to criticizing the company. When they did, Uber’s public relations machine responded by trashing those reporters in other outlets. When reports of assaults and misconduct by Uber drivers started to roll in, the company responded by claiming they were not responsible for the incidents because the drivers are “independent contractors.”

And since 2013, the missteps and scandals have only continued to pile up. Here is a not comprehensive timeline of all of the trouble Uber has gotten into to date:

January 2014: Pando reported that an Uber driver suspended after assaulting a passenger in San Francisco had a criminal record, including a felony conviction involving prison time. Uber has no explanation for why the driver cleared the background checks that California mandated they run. That same month, outlets nationwide report on the company getting hit with its first wrongful death suit stemming from a driver killing a 6-year-old girl in a San Francisco crash on New Year’s Eve. That driver also had a criminal record that included a conviction for reckless driving.

February 2014: In a GQ profile, Kalanick refers to Uber as “Boober” because of how it has increased his ability to get dates and reiterates his position that a female passenger who said she was assaulted by a driver was lying, among a host of unsavory comments.

May 2014: Uber lashes out at upstart car rental company Breeze by deactivating the accounts of drivers who rent from them. Though already famous for its defiance of regulations and concerted efforts to dismantle them, Uber claims the deactivation is “because of regulatory ambiguity” with the rental cars, but a driver speculates to Pando that the real motivation is to push drivers to Uber’s “preferred financing program” that helps drivers get loans to buy new cars to drive for Uber. The driver refers to the program as “subprime auto loans,” recalling the subprime mortgage scheme that contributed to the 2008 financial collapse.

June 2014: An Uber driver in Los Angeles is arrested for kidnapping and attempting to rape a female passenger.

August 2014: Casey Newton at The Verge obtains internal documents revealing Uber’s coordinated effort to sabotage competitor Lyft. CNN also reports on it, with information provided by Lyft. Meanwhile, Uber calls on their riders to oppose a bill in California that aims to make sure all drivers are adequately insured. Pando reports on a spike in crime against drivers, noting that a Google search for “Uber driver robbed” turns up more than 380,000 results.

September 2014: A venture capitalist discovers Uber is tracking him — after the company shares his location with an audience at a launch event in Chicago. Uber is banned from operating in Germany. Drivers who signed up to work for Uber’s high-end service lash out after the company orders them to take riders using the more economical version. The Guardian reports that Uber sponsors a trade show that aims to militarize the police.

October 2014: Uber deletes a blogpost promoting a “Who said women don’t know how to drive?” campaign that pairs riders in France with “Hot Chick” drivers after BuzzFeed inquires about it. Meanwhile a driver in San Francisco is accused of smashing a rider’s phone, and then confronts the rider in the comments section of an article about the incident.

November 2014: BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith reports on a dinner where a senior executive suggested Uber should dig up dirt on the personal lives of reporters who write critically about the company, specifically naming Pando’s Sarah Lacy. “Nobody would know it was us,” the executive says. A spokeswoman tells Smith Uber “has clear policies against executives looking at journalists’ travel logs, a rich source of personal information in Uber’s posession.” “Any such activity would be clear violations of our privacy and data access policies,” the spokeswoman tells Smith. “Access to and use of data is permitted only for legitimate business purposes. These policies apply to all employees. We regularly monitor and audit that access.” But the general manager of Uber NYC accessed the account of BuzzFeed News reporter Johana Bhuiyan “to make points in the course of a discussion of Uber policies. At no point in the email exchanges did she give him permission to do so.” The executive in Smith’s story calls Lacy and asks to speak off the record; she refuses. Smith’s report lands Uber on the front pages of the Washington Post, USA Today and the New York Times. Bhuiyan writes another story after she obtains internal documents showing Uber hired opposition researchers to “weaponize facts” in their fight against the taxi industry. Slate‘s Alison Griswold writes that the general manager who accessed Bhuiyan’s account was disciplined, though Uber won’t tell her what the “disciplinary actions” taken against him were.

Sarah Lacy (Photo: Big Omaha/Malone & Company)

December 2014: BuzzFeed reports that Uber advised drivers to get insurance that left them without coverage and meant some of them were breaking the law. The Washington Post reports on security concerns about Uber’s data, noting the company gave a prospective employee access to users’ accounts, enabling him to look up “records of people he knew — including a family member of a prominent politician.” The state of California sues Uber for unlawful business practices, based on Pando‘s reporting. An Uber driver in Boston is arraigned on charges of raping a passenger. An Uber driver in India is arrested on rape charges, and local media reports he had a criminal record that included a previous rape charge.

January 2015: The Center for Economic and Policy Research releases a report on the company’s self-generated statistics and what’s wrong with them. That same month, the Financial Times reports on Uber blocking drivers’ efforts to unionize, prompting a class action lawsuit. Pando publishes an open letter from a Miami driver to Kalanick accusing him of “subprime leases” and conning drivers. Fast Company reports on Uber agreeing to share trip data in Boston but not New York, “following a series of debacles that appeared to reveal a cavalier attitude toward user privacy.” Eric Posner critiques Uber’s surge pricing for Slate. China bans Uber. The Guardian reports the rape victim in India plans to sue Uber in U.S. court.

February 2015: Uber drivers launch a campaign to add tipping to the app, which Kalanick opposes. The Verge reports that Uber’s preferred car loan provider is found to be illegally repossessing the cars of active military personnel.

March 2015: Slate‘s Alison Griswold reports on a trial to decide whether drivers should be contractors or employees, noting contractors are supposed to “serve multiple clients, have a high level of control over their work, and complete specific jobs over a limited period of time that fall outside the usual scope of their current employer’s business,” but Uber had threatened to suspend drivers who accept less than 90 percent of rides. That same month, UN Women breaks off a partnership with the company after one week because of public outcry over Uber’s safety track record with female passengers and drivers. Reuters reports on a class action lawsuit brought by drivers angry about a data breach that compromised their personal information.

(Rex Features via AP Images)

April 2015: Slate debunks Uber’s claims of job creation.

May 2015: Uber bails on Kansas after lawmakers press for background checks and insurance requirements.

June 2015: The California Labor Commission rules that an Uber driver is an employee, not an independent contractor.

August 2015: Paul Carr at Pando reports on a “trick” Uber drivers use to drive up surge pricing.

September 2015: A California judge grants Uber drivers class action status to sue to be designated employees, not independent contractors. Pando reports that Uber settled the wrongful death lawsuit from 2013, but wants its insurance company to pay.

January 2016: Uber cuts rates for drivers for the second time. A viral Medium post by a former driver accuses the company of ripping drivers off. Fortune reports that an Uber driver in Manhattan refuses to transport a woman in labor.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

February 2016: The suspect in a Michigan mass shooting was an Uber driver picking up fares between shootings.

March 2016: BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel reports on Uber’s internal data on sex assault complaints, and the general manager of Uber New York tracking a reporter’s account. Paul Carr at Pando reports that Uber’s scandals are negatively impacting their ability to recruit women.

April 2016: Uber pays $100 million to avoid having to treat drivers as employees instead of contractors.

May 2016: Forbes reports that another class action lawsuit is filed against Uber, just as the company settled a pair in Massachusetts and California. Politico writes about Uber getting criticized in New Jersey for “bring(ing) up the race card” while trying to convince lawmakers not to impose regulations.

January 2017: Uber pays $20 million to affected drivers around the country to settle FTC charges that it recruited prospective drivers with exaggerated earnings claims and ran a subprime-mortgage-style scheme for vehicle leases.

February 2017: Susan Fowler, a female engineer who left Uber after one year, writes a bombshell blogpost that prompts a sexual harassment investigation at the company. Recode highlights a specific incident recounted in Fowler’s blogpost, with interesting speculation as to why bad practices persist at the company. Mike Isaac at the New York Times writes a lengthy exposé on the company’s workplace culture, which the paper publishes in English and Spanish. Kalanick makes a show of talking to his female employees, but doesn’t listen to them when they say, “We have the data, we have the anecdotes, we have it happening in our own backyard. When are we going to get together and say that there is a systemic problem here — and stop using hypotheticals?” An opinion piece in the New York Daily News notes that statistics provided by Uber “show that women make up only 15% of engineering, product management and scientist jobs.” Bloomberg reports on a top executive leaving after a month due to undisclosed harassment complaints at his prior job. Kalanick himself comes under fire after a driver records a conversation with him. A massive #DeleteUber campaign takes hold online, resulting in 200,000 accounts being deleted.

March 2017: The Guardian reports on an Uber recruiting manager making excuses for the company by telling a female engineer, “Sexism is systemic in tech.” The president of the company quits after less than a year, providing a scathing statement: “It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride-sharing business.”

April 2017: Mike Isaac’s profile of Kalanick in the New York Times reveals a slew of bad behavior, including the use of “a fraud detection maneuver that violated Apple’s privacy guidelines,” Uber’s use of Unroll.me to collect data on Lyft users, the fact that human resources complaints, including a general manager throwing a coffee mug at a subordinate, “fell on deaf ears,” and that Kalanick and a partner in another start-up “took the tax dollars from employee paychecks — which are supposed to be withheld and sent to the Internal Revenue Service — and reinvested the money into the start-up, even as friends and advisers warned him the action was potentially illegal.” The Information reports that only 4 percent of drivers who signed up to work for the company remain a year later. Recode reports on a top female executive leaving the company because of a “lack of appetite for even more drama.”

May 2017: A federal inquiry into Uber is launched over the company’s use of a tool to evade law enforcement.

…which brings us to the present. Amid “a whirlwind of bad press,” Kalanick was criticized for using a lactation room to meditate. That bad press included the news that Uber fired a top engineer who was refusing to cooperate in an ongoing lawsuit, as well as 20 other employees stemming from one of the company’s two internal investigation into sexual harassment. According to Bloomberg‘s Eric Newcomer, 57 human-resources complaints are still under investigation. Recode reported that a top executive for the company had obtained the medical records of a woman who had been raped by a driver in India, and showed them to several people in the company, including Kalanick and the executive from Smith’s explosive BuzzFeed story, Emil Michael. That executive has also been fired, though Michael and Kalanick are still with the company. Recode also obtained an email from 2013 in which Kalanick gives his employees advice on having sex at a company retreat.

You could say Uber is having a bad month — but clearly, the company has had them before, and Kalanick has survived. It remains to be seen if anyone will heed Shubber’s advice.

 


from Longreads https://longreads.com/2017/06/10/we-need-to-talk-about-uber-a-timeline-of-the-companys-growing-list-of-problems/

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