A trove of internal Uber documents leaked to The Guardian and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), as well as dozens of other news outlets, outlines its strategies for global expansion — even if the company had to bend some rules. The leak, collectively dubbed the Uber Files, consists of over 124,000 documents spanning the period between 2013 and 2017.
Uber has since responded to the leak in a post on its website, stating it “moved from an era of confrontation to one of collaboration” after CEO Dara Khosrowshahi took over following founder Travis Kalanick’s resignation in 2017.
According to The Guardian, the leak also “shows how Uber tried to shore up support by discreetly courting prime ministers, presidents, billionaires, oligarchs and media barons.” In addition to memos, presentations, notebooks, and other telling documents, the leak includes “emails, iMessages and WhatsApp exchanges between the Silicon Valley giant’s most senior executives.”
One article from The Washington Post reveals Uber’s alleged use of a “kill switch” to shut off the company’s computer systems “to prevent authorities from successfully investigating the company’s business practices as it disrupted the global taxi industry,” with another detailing how the company “leveraged violent attacks” on drivers to further its agenda. The report includes citations from a “Dawn Raid Manual” the company put together that included a bullet point mentioning to “never leave the Regulators alone.”
A report by the BBC focuses on French president Emmanuel Macron telling Uber’s CEO he could reform laws in the company’s favor. It also shows how ex-EU commissioner Neelie Kroes was negotiating to join its advisory board before leaving her last European post and informally lobbying on the company’s behalf during a “cooling-off” period before she joined.
As Uber began offering its ride-sharing services around the world, The Guardian reports executives “were under no illusions about the company’s law-breaking, with one executive joking they had become ‘pirates.’” In a 2014 message to a colleague, Uber’s former head of global communications, Nairi Hourdajian, reportedly stated: “Sometimes we have problems because, well, we’re just fucking illegal.”
“We have not and will not make excuses for past behavior that is clearly not in line with our present values,” Jill Hazelbaker, Uber’s SVP of marketing and public affairs, writes in Uber’s response. “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.”
A spokesperson for Travis Kalanick, Devon Spurgeon, provided a lengthy set of denials published by the ICIJ, saying “Mr. Kalanick never authorized or directed any illegal conduct in Uber’s expansion efforts in Russia, and in fact had very limited involvement in those expansion plans. And Mr. Kalanick never suggested that Uber should take advantage of violence at the expense of driver safety … In pressing its false agenda that Mr. Kalanick directed illegal or improper conduct, the ICIJ claims to have documents that Mr. Kalanick was on or even authored, some of which are almost a decade old.”