How The Uber Files Revealed Their Dodgy Path To Success

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There was a reason Uber became so successful so quickly, and it wasn’t exactly legal. We know that now because ofThe Uber files’, which have put a spotlight on the company’s dodgy tactics and revealed some questionable conversations between executives.

Over the past few years it became completely normal to hear, “hey, let’s get an Uber.” But how exactly did Uber become such a dominant player in the rideshare industry? Well, by breaking the law, apparently.

What Are The Uber Files?

On Monday morning, The Guardian broke the news of what they called “the Uber files”. Over 100,000 confidential documents were leaked to The Guardian, including over 80,000 emails, iMessages and WhatsApp messages. They were dated from 2013 to 2017 when Uber was run by co-founder Travis Kalanick, and have put a spotlight on some of the questionable tactics and political lobbying that Uber used to take over the ride-sharing industry.

A lot of these messages were between Kalanick and Uber executives, and they’re pretty ruthless. One executive wrote that they have “officially become pirates”. Another bluntly said “sometimes we have problems because, well, we’re just fucking illegal”.

How Did Uber Pull This Off?

The documents reveal that Uber knew what they wanted and how to do it. They’d barge into new markets, undercutting the established taxis and cabs through their app-based gig-economy model of work. But they knew that this system wasn’t legal under the existing laws and regulations in the countries they wanted to launch.

Their solution was to change these regulations. The leaked documents show that they frequently went over the heads of city mayors and transport authorities, and straight to the big dogs. The list includes Joe Biden, who was the US Vice President at the time, French President Emmanuel Macron, Irish PM Enda Kenny, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and UK chancellor-at-the-time George Osborne.

When Uber’s rapid growth sparked protests from taxi drivers in Europe, Kalanick told French executives to encourage a counter-protest from Uber drivers. When he was warned that that might put Uber drivers at risk, he responded with “I think it’s worth it. Violence guarantee[s] success”.

This was part of a larger strategy that one executive told The Guardian of “weaponising” drivers and exploiting violence against them “to keep the controversy burning”. There was also evidence of a ‘kill switch’ used at least twelve times when an Uber office was raided. This cut off access to the company’s main data systems and prevented authorities from gathering information.

The bottom line is that Uber had the money to pull this off, which is part of a larger conversation that’s been coined ‘the millennial lifestyle subsidy’.

What Is The Millennial Lifestyle Subsidy?

This refers to that period of time in the 2010s when a lot of the young to early adult lifestyle habits were basically being funded by venture capitalists. Companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Doordash saw a golden age of growth as a new generation of adults got used to a certain lifestyle at a subsidised cost.

Investors wanted to be in on the action, flooding these companies with cash that allowed for these low costs. But once reality hit, employees either faced layoffs or reduced pay, or consumers had to pay more. 

It seems like experts are saying goodbye to this millennial lifestyle subsidy as we continue to call out companies for unfair wages or ridiculous prices, and in Uber’s case, illegal tactics.