It’s like a five-year-old pretending to be Frank Underwood. Only one with billions of dollars of assets at his disposal.
I have been an unabashed Uber fan since my first time using the ride-sharing service. It was late 2013 and my friends and I used Uber promo codes to get around Nashville for an entire weekend. From then on, uberX has been my preferred method of transportation. It’s cheap, incredibly easy, and almost fun.
And because of my infatuation with Uber, I’ve been able to look past its faults. I’ve dismissed the concerns of drivers who say they can’t earn enough money. I’ve looked past Uber’s lapses in background checks. And I’ve even been willing to brush off the “God View” accusations because, hey, it’s Uber, and this is innovation!
But after the latest story about how an Uber executive threatened a journalist, contemplating performing “opposition research” to dig up dirt on reporters who criticize the ride-sharing giant, I’ve had enough. Uber has finally crossed the line, and I have deleted the app from my phone.
If you haven’t read BuzzFeed’s story that details a dinner party where Uber Senior VP of Business Emil Michael describes a (probably) hypothetical $1 million plan that would hire a team to do opposition research to publicly shame critical journalists, read it here. At the party, which was attended by BuzzFeed’s Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith, Arianna Huffington, Ed Norton, and others, Michael described using the team to combat negative press by looking into “your personal lives, your families,” to give the media a taste of its own medicine, BuzzFeed reports.
Michael failed to communicate that the dinner was off the record.
The focus of Uber’s revenge was on PandoDaily editor Sarah Lacy, who has accused Uber of sexism and wrote that she deleted the app from her phone after the company apparently had a deal that paired Uber riders with “hot chick” drivers, according to BuzzFeed. From BuzzFeed’s piece:
At the dinner, Michael expressed outrage at Lacy’s column and said that women are far more likely to get assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers. He said that he thought Lacy should be held “personally responsible” for any women who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted.
Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.
Fuck that. Even if there is no real intention to put together a plan like this (BuzzFeed writes that there was no indication that this has or will happen) the fact that executives at Uber talk like this—in front of other people (journalists, even!)—speaks to how no tactic is off the table when it comes to annihilating the competition, and that doesn’t stop at other ride-sharing companies.
Lacy has a beautifully written response to Michael and the BuzzFeed piece, and you should read it. In it, she describes a type of behavior at the top of Uber that mirrors the comments at that dinner party. She hits on how Uber drivers are treated as disposable commodities, the ineffective background checks, and the sexism Uber has shown. She’s seen the company’s PR team discredit female passengers who were attacked by saying they were drunk or dressed provocatively. And apparently, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick calls the company “boober” due to how much action he gets since founding it. From Lacy’s piece:
I first heard of this when Smith called me for comment over the weekend. I was out late at a work dinner in London and stepped out into the cold to take the call. A chill ran down my spine that had little to do with the weather, as he described the bizarre interaction. I immediately thought of my kids at home halfway around the world, just getting out of their baths and groggily pulling on their pajamas, and how the new line that this company was willing to cross would affect them.
Uber’s dangerous escalation of behavior has just had its whistleblower moment, and tellingly, the whistleblower wasn’t a staffer with a conscience, it was an executive boasting about the proposed plan. It’s gone so far, that there are those in the company who don’t even realize this is something you try to cover up. It’s like a five-year-old pretending to be Frank Underwood. Only one with billions of dollars of assets at his disposal.
Uber knows your name, your credit card information, and can keep track of your every twist and turn as you ride cheaply through the city. Personally, I don’t trust this company with my information and money, and I’m following Lacy’s lead and getting rid of the app. There are plenty of other transit options in Chicago, and I’ll be in a Lyft, Sidecar, or even a goddamn cab before I step inside another Uber.
Next year Uber is bringing 420 new jobs to Chicago and opening a new office in the West Loop. I wish those employees well. And I will continue to cover Uber responsibly and professionally. I just won’t be taking one to my next interview.
Image via Jim Dallke