UBER Is All Over The Place in Today’s News: Never Anything Good

We have been covering UBER since they first sneaked into the taxi scene. Our other writers KC and the Hippie usually write about them; but they didn’t want to touch UBER when they read the headline on one of the stories:

An executive at the ride-sharing startup suggested that the company could access journalists’ personal information.

I just said: “screw them”.

I agreed with them to use the same Mercedes taxi photo they have: belongs to a cool driver and can be found along side the Negresco Hotel in Nice, France.

First the story about journalists:

Uber is in the news Tuesday morning after an executive made some boneheaded remarks in public.

Emil Michael, SVP of business at Uber, suggested that Uber could spend “a million dollars” to form a group of people that would research the “personal lives” and “families” of journalists who are critical of the company. 

Michael was speaking at a dinner in New York when he made the remarks. He thought he was off the record, but BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief Ben Smith wrote up the comments, saying that at no point was BuzzFeed told the comments were off the record. 

To be clear, this was all theoretical. Uber did not say it gathered the information. 

However, in Smith’s story, there was something that was more than just theoretical, and it’s a good reminder of the scary power Uber has over its users.

Here’s what Smith reported: “The general manager of Uber NYC accessed the profile of a 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.”

If that’s not clear, Smith is saying that Uber accessed the profile of a journalist to see where that journalist had traveled while using Uber. Uber did this without permission. For the thousands of people who use Uber, this should be the most alarming thing in Smith’s report. 

Uber knows where its users are going and when they are going there. That is powerful, potentially damaging data to control.

An Uber spokesperson told Smith this was against Uber’s policies: “Any such activity would be clear violations of our privacy and data access policies. 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.”

–This story first appeared on Business Insider.

Next story was “Why I Deleted My Uber App”

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.


If all this is not enough: Uber, Nevada Taxi Legal Battle Gets Complicated


“I think you’re jumping around to different jurisdictions trying to get a ruling,” a district judge said.

A legal battle between Nevada’s highly regulated taxi industry and ride-sharing company Uber has gotten complicated as two state judges laid claim to hearing the same case.

In court Monday, Clark County District Judge Douglas Herndon blamed the overlap on the state attorney general’s office.

“I think you’re jumping around to different jurisdictions trying to get a ruling,” he said.

The attorney general represents the Nevada Taxicab Authority and Nevada Transportation Authority. The state regulators want to put an end to Uber, which allows people using a smartphone app to hail a ride from one of its drivers in the driver’s personal car.

Uber attorneys, in filings Monday with Nevada’s Supreme Court, also accused the state of shopping for a courtroom.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Kimberly Arguello told Herndon her office may have handled the filings “inartfully.”

Hours after Uber launched its ride-sharing services Oct. 24 in Las Vegas, Reno and Carson City, the state hastily sought orders to halt the company’s business in all three cities.

Herndon said his office got a call from the attorney general’s office the next business day asking if the judge had granted the request to temporarily stop Uber in the Las Vegas area. He hadn’t and said he wouldn’t until he held a hearing.

Not long after, the attorney general filed its complaint and motions in Washoe County, Herndon said.

Herndon later denied the state’s request to halt Uber’s business.

That decision came days after a Carson City judge signed a temporary order. The judge there eventually deferred to Herndon to take the lead on the case in Clark County.

Washoe County District Court in Reno, which also issued a temporary order for the business to stop, continued to hear arguments in the case as recently as Friday. In that case, Judge Scott Freeman said his court should take the lead because his was the first to receive the state’s complaint.

Herndon said it’s not that he and others are trying to rid themselves of the matter. “We don’t really care who hears the case.”

It comes down to timing, he said.

Herndon said the state’s case was first filed with his courtroom, as he listed the chronology of events down to the minute. Freeman has said his court got it first.

In the meantime, Uber on Monday asked the state Supreme Court to stop the Washoe County case. The company expects a decision in several days.

The attorney general’s office sought to consolidate the case in Freeman’s courtroom and withdraw its request to halt Uber’s operations in Clark County. But Herndon said Monday he would wait to act until the high court rules.

The court confusion hasn’t stopped regulators from citing Uber drivers and impounding their cars.

And it hasn’t stopped Uber.

The company has continued to offer rides in Nevada since it launched late last month.

–Associated Press

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