A large leak of documents has shed light on Uber’s early years. In the media, it was called Uber File and consists of approx. 124,000 internal company documents, including more than 83,000 emails and text messages exchanged between former CEO Travis Kalanick and other executives. The files date from between 2013 and 2017. The latter marks the year since Kalanick stepped down as CEO of Uber amid mounting controversy.
In collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), The Guardian shared Uber files with 180 journalists in 40 publications in 29 countries. The documents show that the company was doing what many of its own executives believed was “fucking illegal.”
In 2016, as reported, Kalanick ordered French employees to encourage local Uber drivers to counter-protest the taxi strikes that were ongoing in Paris at the time. When one executive warned Kalanick that “extreme right thugs” were part of the protest, the former CEO pressed on. “I think it’s worth it,” he said. “Violence guarantees success. And these guys must be resisted, no?”
One former senior executive told The Guardian that Kalanick’s response was in line with a strategy of “weaponizing” drivers, a practice the company has reverted to in other countries.
Another selection of documents describes in detail how the company resisted inspections by regulatory authorities. In at least 12 cases, Uber ordered employees at local offices in six countries, including France, the Netherlands, and India, to apply the “switch,” an internal tool the company developed to protect its data.
“Please hit the kill the switch ASAP,” Kalanick wrote in one email that published by The Washington Post. “Access should be shut down at AMS,” he added, referring to the company’s Amsterdam office. In two cases involving Uber’s Montreal office, authorities entered the building only to see all the computers and tablets in front of them restarting simultaneously. The company commented to The Post that “such software should never have been used to thwart legitimate regulatory actions” and that Uber stopped using such a system in 2017.
“We have not and will not make excuses for past behavior that is clearly not in line with our present values,” said Jill Hazelbaker, Uber’s Senior Vice President of Marketing and Public Affairs, in a statement released by the company after the Guardian’s publication. “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.”
In a statement released by ICIJ, a spokesman for Travis Kalanick said any suggestion that the former executive “directed, participated in or was involved” in “illegal or improper conduct” was “completely false.”