Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Uber, a company without a moral compass

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Uber has an interesting business model: use only independent contractors so as to avoid the costs of having employees—thus externalizing costs such as health insurance. For Uber, health insurance costs are picked up by their “independent contractors” and the taxpayer (through the Obamacare subsidies). And Uber is certainly trying to say that any damage done by drivers is not Uber’s fault, so if your driver attacks you, sue the driver, not Uber.

And Uber is offering car loans to its drivers in an interesting variant of the company-store way of trapping employees through debt: the loans are for cars that will have a short lifespan due to how they’re driven, and in the meantime Uber is working to cut driver’s wages, thus binding the chain tighter.

And now Uber has the brilliant idea of engaging investigators to look into the private lives of journalists who report negative information about Uber with the idea of smearing the journalists, getting them fired, ruining their reputations.

Doesn’t anyone see what’s wrong with that picture? Here are some of the articles—read for yourself what a truly sleazy company with no notions of morality will do:

Uber Executive Suggests Digging Up Dirt On Journalists – Ben Smith in BuzzFeedNews, who broke the story. From his article:

Over dinner, he outlined the notion of spending “a million dollars” to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.

Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.” She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed News reported that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service. “I don’t know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn’t respect us or prioritize our safety,” she wrote.

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 woman 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.

Michael at no point suggested that Uber has actually hired opposition researchers, or that it plans to. He cast it as something that would make sense, that the company would be justified in doing.

Later in the article:

The spokeswoman, Nairi Hourdajian, said the company does not do “oppo research” of any sort on journalists, and has never considered doing it. She also said Uber does not consider Lacy’s personal life fair game, or believe that she is responsible for women being sexually assaulted.

Hourdajian also said that 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,” Hourdajian said in an email. “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.”

In fact, 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.

At the Waverly Inn dinner, it was suggested that a plan like the one Michael floated could become a problem for Uber.

Michael responded: “Nobody would know it was us.”

The moment I learned just how far Uber will go to silence journalists and attack women – by Sarah Lacy in PandoDaily. She is the person named as the target of the Uber smear campaign. (She also points out that the Uber CEO has said that he now gets so much ass that he calls the company “Boober.” Classy guy, eh?)

Uber exec suggests muzzling reporters over negative coverage – Brian Fung in the Washington Post

The Smartest Bro in the Room – Ellen Cushing in San Francisco Magazine. A more general picture of the company.

The executive who voiced the idea for the campaign has apologized, but quite obviously only because he was exposed for pushing the idea. It’s quite clear that he has had no serious change of heart, and I would bet that the initiative proceeds, but more quietly.

These guys are sociopaths.

UPDATE: Another good article, this one by Matt Yglesias: “Uber has an asshole problem.”

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 11:02 am

Posted in Business, Media

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