Uber

Uber Technologies, Inc.
FormerlyUbercab (2009–2011)
TypePublic
NYSEUBER
Russell 1000 Index component
IndustryTransportation
FoundedMarch 2009; 12 years ago (2009-03)
FoundersGarrett Camp
Travis Kalanick
HeadquartersSan Francisco, California, U.S.
Area served
69 countries, over 900 metropolitan areas
Key people
Ronald Sugar (Chairman)
Dara Khosrowshahi (CEO)
Nelson Chai (CFO)
Sukumar Rathnam (CTO)
Tony West (CLO)
ProductsMobile app, website
ServicesVehicle for hire
Food delivery (Uber Eats)
Postmates
Package delivery
Courier
Freight transport
RevenueIncrease US$14.147 billion (2019)
Decrease US$−8.596 billion (2019)
Decrease US$−8.506 billion (2019)
Total assetsIncrease US$31.761 billion (2019)
Total equityIncrease US$14.872 billion (2019)
Number of employees
26,900 (2019)
SubsidiariesUber Eats
Careem
Postmates
Zomato (9.99%)
Websitewww.uber.com
Footnotes / references
[1][2][3][4]
Yellow Uber car in Moscow
An Uber driver in Bogotá, Colombia with the Uber app on a dashboard-mounted smartphone

Uber Technologies, Inc., commonly known as Uber, is an American technology company. Its services include ride-hailing, food delivery (Uber Eats), package delivery, couriers, freight transportation, and, through a partnership with Lime, electric bicycle and motorized scooter rental. The company is based in San Francisco and has operations in over 900 metropolitan areas worldwide.[2] It is one of the largest firms in the gig economy.

Uber is estimated to have over 93 million monthly active users worldwide.[5] In the United States, Uber has a 71% market share for ride-sharing[6] and a 22% market share for food delivery.[7] Uber has been so prominent in the sharing economy that changes in various industries as a result of Uber have been referred to as uberisation,[8][9][10] and many startups have described their offerings as "Uber for X".[11][12][13]

Like similar companies, Uber has been criticized for the treatment of drivers as independent contractors, disruption of taxicab businesses, and an increase in traffic congestion. The company has been criticized for various unethical practices and for ignoring local regulations, particularly under the leadership of former CEO Travis Kalanick.

Service overview

Uber does not provide transportation services, but instead determines the fees and terms on which independent drivers transport riders. The company takes a share of each fare.[14] Uber uses a dynamic pricing model. Fares fluctuate depending on the local supply and demand at time of service. Customers are quoted the fare in advance.[15][16]

Service is generally accessed via mobile app. Users set up a personal profile with a name, phone number, other information, and payment preference, which could be a credit card, e-commerce payment system or, in some cases, cash. After the service is complete, the customer may be given the option to provide a gratuity to the driver, which is also billed to the customer's payment method.

The status of drivers as independent contractors is an unresolved issue. Drivers provide a vehicle, which could be owned, rented, or leased. Drivers must meet requirements for age, health, car age and type, have a driver's license and a smartphone or tablet, and may be required to pass a background check. In many cities, vehicles must pass annual safety inspections and/or must have an emblem posted in the passenger window. Some cities also require drivers to have a business license.[17] There may be accommodations for hearing-impaired drivers.[18] Drivers may be notified before accepting a trip if it will be longer than 45 minutes. After each transaction, drivers and customers may rate each other and users with low ratings may be deactivated.[19]

Service options

UberX is the basic level of service. It includes a private ride in a car with driver for up to four passengers. Depending on the location, Uber offers other levels of service at different prices including: black luxury vehicles, newer or premium level vehicles, cars with leather seats, sport utility vehicles, minivan, vans, hatchbacks, electric cars, hybrid vehicles, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, actual taxicabs, lower-cost shared transport with other passengers going in the same general direction (suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic), child safety seats, pet shipping, guaranteed Spanish language-speaking drivers, additional assistance to senior citizens and passengers with a physical disability, and wheelchair accessible vans.[20]

Persons with a service animal may use any type of Uber service, as required by law.

Through a partnership with Lime, users are able to rent Jump electric bicycles and motorized scooters.[21][22][23]

Uber offers health professionals in the United States a HIPAA-compliant service for patients traveling to-and-from their appointments. Patients without smartphones can receive pickup information via text messaging or via the health professional's office.[24]

Uber Freight matches freight shippers with truckers in a similar fashion to the matching of passengers with drivers.[25][26]

In partnership with local operators, Uber offers boat transportation in certain locations at certain times of the year.[27][28][29][30]

History

Travis Kalanick, former CEO of Uber, in 2013

In 2009, Uber was founded as Ubercab by Garrett Camp, a computer programmer and the co-founder of StumbleUpon, and Travis Kalanick, who sold his Red Swoosh startup for $19 million in 2007.[31]

After Camp and his friends spent $800 hiring a private driver, he wanted to find a way to reduce the cost of direct transportation. He realized that sharing the cost with people could make it affordable, and his idea morphed into Uber. Kalanick joined Camp and gives him "full credit for the idea" of Uber.[32] The prototype was built by Camp and his friends, Oscar Salazar and Conrad Whelan, with Kalanick as the "mega advisor" to the company.[32]

In February 2010, Ryan Graves became the first Uber employee. Graves started out as general manager and was named CEO shortly after the launch.[32] In December 2010, Kalanick succeeded Graves as CEO.[32][33][34][35] Graves became chief operating officer (COO).[36] By 2019, Graves owned 31.9 million shares.[37]

Following a beta launch in May 2010, Uber's services and mobile app officially launched in San Francisco in 2011.[33][38] Originally, the application only allowed users to hail a black luxury car and the price was 1.5 times that of a taxi.[39][40] In 2011, the company changed its name from UberCab to Uber after complaints from San Francisco taxicab operators.[41][42]

The company's early hires included a nuclear physicist, a computational neuroscientist, and a machinery expert who worked on predicting demand for private hire car drivers.[31][43] In April 2012, Uber launched a service in Chicago where users were able to request a regular taxi or an Uber driver via its mobile app.[44][45]

In July 2012, the company introduced UberX, a cheaper option that allowed people to use non-luxury vehicles, including their personal vehicles, subject to a background check, insurance, registration, and vehicle standards.[46][42] By early 2013, the service was operating in 35 cities.[47][48][49]

In December 2013, USA Today named Uber its tech company of the year.[50]

In August 2014, Uber launched UberPOOL, a shared transport service in the San Francisco Bay Area.[51][52] The service soon launched in other cities worldwide.

In August 2014, Uber launched Uber Eats, a food delivery service.[53][54]

Uber logo used from February 2016 until September 2018

In August 2016, facing tough competition, Uber sold its operations in China to DiDi in exchange for an 18% stake in DiDi.[55] DiDi agreed to invest $1 billion in Uber.[56] Uber had started operations in China in 2014, under the name 优步 (Yōubù).[57]

In August 2017, Dara Khosrowshahi, the former CEO of Expedia Group, replaced Kalanick as CEO.[58][59] In July 2017, Uber received a five-star privacy rating from the Electronic Frontier Foundation,[60] but was harshly criticised by the group in September 2017 for a controversial policy of tracking customers' locations even after a ride ended, forcing the company to reverse its policy.[61]

In February 2018, Uber combined its operations in Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Kazakhstan with those of Yandex.Taxi and invested $225 million in the venture.[62] In March 2018, Uber merged its services in Southeast Asia with those of Grab in exchange for a 27.5% ownership stake in Grab.[63][64][65] Uber Rent, powered by Getaround, was a peer-to-peer carsharing service available to some users in San Francisco between May 2018 and November 2018.[66] In November 2018, Uber became a gold member of the Linux Foundation.[67][68]

On May 10, 2019, Uber became a public company via an initial public offering.[69] Following the IPO, Uber's shares dropped 11%, resulting in the biggest IPO first-day dollar loss in US history.[70] A month later both COO Barney Harford and CMO Rebecca Messina stepped down.[71][72] Uber posted a US$1 billion loss in the first quarter of 2019, and a US$5.2 billion loss of for the second quarter.[73][74]

In July 2019, the marketing department was reduced by a third, with the layoff of 400 people amidst continued losses.[75][76] Engineer hires were frozen.[77] In early September 2019, Uber laid off an additional 435 employees with 265 coming from the engineering team and another 170 from the product team.[78][79]

In January 2020, Uber acquired Careem for $3.1 billion.[80][81][82]

In the same month, Uber sold its Indian Uber Eats operations to Zomato, in exchange for 9.99% of Zomato.[83]

Also in January 2020, Uber tested a feature that enabled drivers at the Santa Barbara, Sacramento, and Palm Springs airports to set fares based on a multiple of Uber's rates for UberX and UberXL trips.[84]

On May 5, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Uber announced plans to layoff 3,700 employees, around 14% of its workforce.[85]

On May 18, 2020, 3,000 more job cuts and 45 office closures were announced.[86]

In July 2020, Uber in partnership with its majority-owned Cornershop, launched Uber grocery delivery service in Latin America, Canada, Miami, and Dallas.[87][88]

In June 2020, Uber announced that it would manage the on-demand high-occupancy vehicle fleet for Marin Transit, a public bus agency in Marin County, California. This partnership is Uber's first SaaS partnership.[89]

In November 2020, Uber announced that it had lost $5.8 billion.[90]

On December 1, 2020, Uber acquired Postmates for $2.65 billion.[91][92][93]

In early February 2021, Uber announced the purchase of Boston-based alcohol delivery service Drizly for $1.1 billion in cash and stock.[94]

Also in February 2021, Uber announced it would team up with Walgreens pharmacies to offer free rides to stores and clinics offering COVID-19 vaccines for those who live in underserved communities.[95]

Former operations

Self-driving cars

Uber autonomous vehicle Volvo XC90 in San Francisco

Advanced Technologies Group (Uber ATG) was developing self-driving cars. It was minority-owned by Softbank Vision Fund, Toyota, and Denso.[96]

In early 2015, the company hired approximately 50 people from the robotics department of Carnegie Mellon University.[97]

On September 14, 2016, Uber launched its first self-driving car services to select customers in Pittsburgh, using a fleet of Ford Fusion cars. Each vehicle was equipped with 20 cameras, seven lasers, Global Positioning System, lidar, and radar equipment.[98][99]

On December 14, 2016, Uber began operating self-driving Volvo XC90 SUVs in its hometown of San Francisco.[100] On December 21, 2016, the California Department of Motor Vehicles revoked the registration of the vehicles Uber was using for the test and forced the program to cease operations in California.[101] Two months later, Uber moved the program to Arizona, where the cars were able to pick up passengers, although, as a safety precaution, two Uber engineers were always in the front seats of each vehicle.[102] In March 2017, an Uber self-driving car was hit and flipped on its side by another vehicle that failed to yield.[103] In October 2017, Uber started using only one test driver.[104]

In November 2017, Uber announced a non-binding plan to buy up to 24,000 Volvo XC90 SUV vehicles designed to accept autonomous technology, including a different type of steering and braking mechanism and sensors.[105][106]

In March 2018, Uber paused self-driving vehicle testing after the death of Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona.[107] According to police, the woman was struck by an Uber vehicle while attempting to cross the street, while the onboard engineer was watching videos.[107] Uber settled with the victim's family.[108] Local authorities disagreed as to whether or not the car or Herzberg was at fault.[109] In December 2018, after receiving local approval in Pittsburgh[110][111] and Toronto,[112] Uber restarted testing, but only during daylight hours and at slower speeds. In March 2019, Uber was found not criminally liable by Yavapai County Attorney's Office for Herzberg's death.[113] The company changed its approach, inviting both Waymo and General Motors" Cruise self-driving vehicle unit to operate vehicles on Uber's ride-hailing network.[114] In February 2020, Uber regained its self-driving vehicle permit and announced plans to resume testing in San Francisco.[115]

In early 2019, Uber spent $20 million per month on research and development for autonomous vehicles;[116] however, a source said that expenses on the autonomous vehicle program have been as high as $200 million per quarter.[114]

In January 2021, Uber ATG was acquired by Aurora and Uber invested $400 million into Aurora.[117]

Autonomous trucks

After spending over $925 million to develop autonomous trucks, Uber cancelled its self-driving truck program in July 2018.[25] Uber acquired Otto for $625 million in 2016.[118][119] According to a February 2017 Waymo lawsuit, ex-Google employee Anthony Levandowski allegedly "downloaded 9.7 GB of Waymo's highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation" before resigning to found Otto, which was purchased by Uber.[120][121] A ruling in May 2017 required Uber to return documents to Waymo.[122] The trial began February 5, 2018.[123] A settlement was announced on February 8, 2018 in which Uber gave Waymo $244 million in Uber equity and agreed not to infringe on Waymo's intellectual property.[124]

Air services

In October 2019, in partnership with HeliFlight, Uber began offering a helicopter taxi service between Manhattan and John F. Kennedy International Airport.[125] Operated by HeliFlite, Uber Copter offered 8-minute helicopter flights between Manhattan and John F. Kennedy International Airport for approximately $200 per passenger.[126]

Uber's Elevate division was developing UberAir, which would provide short flights using VTOL aircraft.[127] In December 2020, Joby Aviation acquired Uber Elevate.[128]

Uber Works

In October 2019, Uber launched Uber Works to connect workers who wanted temporary jobs with businesses. The app was initially available only in Chicago and expanded to Miami in December 2019.[129][130] The service was shut down in May 2020.[86]

Criticism

Treatment of drivers

Classification as independent contractors

Unless otherwise required by law, drivers are generally independent contractors and not employees. This designation affects taxation, work hours, and overtime benefits. Lawsuits have been filed by drivers alleging that they are entitled to the rights and remedies of being considered "employees" under employment law.[131] However, drivers do receive certain flexibilities that are not common among employees.[132]

In O'Connor v. Uber Technologies, a lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on August 16, 2013, Uber drivers pleaded that according to the California Labor Code they should be classified as employees and receive reimbursement of business expenses such as gas and vehicle maintenance costs. In March 2019, Uber agreed to pay $20 million to settle the case.[133]

On October 28, 2016, in the case of Aslam v Uber BV, the Central London Employment tribunal ruled that Uber drivers are "workers", not self-employed, and are entitled to the minimum wage under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, paid holiday, and other entitlements.[134] Two Uber drivers had brought the test case to the employment tribunal with the assistance of the GMB Union, on behalf of a group of drivers in London.[135] Uber appealed to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom; in February 2021, the court ruled that drivers should be classified as workers and not self-employed.[136] Uber drivers won the right to minimum wage, holiday pay, and protection from discrimination in the ruling. After losing three previous court cases, the company had appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that its drivers were independent contractors.[137]

In March 2018, the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research of Switzerland ruled that drivers should be classified as employees.[138]

In April 2018, the Supreme Court of California ruled in Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court that Dynamex, a delivery company, misclassified its delivery drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.[139] This ultimately led to California passing Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) on September 11, 2019, with a test to determine if a tasker must be classified as an employee and receive minimum wage protections and unemployment benefits. In December 2019, Uber and Postmates sued California, claiming AB5 is unconstitutional.[140] In 2020, they spent tens of millions of dollars[141][142] campaigning in support of California's Proposition 22, which passed, granting them a special exception to Assembly Bill 5 by classifying their drivers as "independent contractors", exempting employers from providing benefits to certain drivers.[143]

In November 2019, the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development determined that drivers should be classified as employees and fined Uber $650 million for overdue unemployment and disability insurance taxes.[144]

Compliance with minimum wage laws

In some jurisdictions, drivers are guaranteed a minimum wage, such as in New York City, where drivers must earn $26.51/hour before expenses or $17.22/hour after expenses. Analyses have shown that absent such laws, many drivers earn less than the stated minimum wage.[145] A May 2018 report by the Economic Policy Institute found the average hourly wage for drivers to be $9.21.[146] Reports of poor wages have been published in Profil,[147] Trend,[148] and The Guardian.[149] A 2017 report claimed that only 4% of all Uber drivers were still working as such one year after starting, primarily due to low pay.[150]

However, a 2019 study found that "drivers earn more than twice the surplus they would in less-flexible arrangements."[151]

Safety concerns

Crimes have been committed by rideshare drivers[152] as well as by individuals posing as rideshare drivers who lure unsuspecting passengers to their vehicles by placing an emblem on their car or by claiming to be a passenger's expected driver.[153] The latter led to the murder of Samantha Josephson and the introduction of Sami’s Law. Lawsuits claim that rideshare companies did not take necessary measures to prevent sexual assault.[154][155] Rideshare companies have been fined by government agencies for violations in their background check processes.[156][157][158] The 2016 Kalamazoo shootings in February 2016, which left six people dead in Kalamazoo, Michigan, were committed by an Uber driver. Although Uber was criticized for its background check process, the driver did not have a criminal record, and the background check did not cause alarm.[159]

In November 2017, The Colorado Public Utilities Commission fined Uber $8.9 million after discovering that 57 drivers in the state had violations in their background checks, including a conviction felon that received permission to drive for Uber by using an alias. The fine amount equaled $2,500 per day that an unqualified driver worked.[160]

In September 2017, Uber's application for a new license in London was rejected by Transport for London (TfL) because of the company's approach and past conduct showed a lack of corporate responsibility related to driver background checks, obtaining medical certificates and reporting serious criminal offences.[161] In November 2019, Transport for London announced it would not renew Uber's license to operate in London on the grounds that Uber had failed to adequately address issues with checks on drivers, insurance, and safety.[162][163][164] Part of TfL's rationale for removing Uber's licence was evidence that Uber driver accounts had been used by unauthorized drivers.[165][166] In November 2019, Transport for London did not renew Uber's license to operate due in part to the ability of people to fake identities and use other drivers' accounts, circumventing the background check process.[167][168][169]

Because it increases the number of people riding in automobiles instead of safer forms of transportation, a study from the Becker Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago tied ridesharing to an increase in traffic fatalities, including pedestrian deaths.[170][171]

Ridesharing has also been criticized for encouraging or requiring phone use while driving. To accept a fare, drivers must tap their phone screen, usually within 15 seconds after receiving a notification, which is illegal in some jurisdictions since it could result in distracted driving.[172]

Ridesharing vehicles in many cities routinely obstruct bicycle lanes while picking up or dropping off passengers, a practice that endangers cyclists.[173][174][175]

It is unclear if rideshare vehicles are less or more safe than taxicabs. Major cities in the United States don't have much data on taxi-related incidents. However, in London, taxi drivers were responsible for 5 times the number of incidents of sexual assault as compared to Uber drivers.[176]

Dynamic pricing and price fixing allegations

Due to dynamic pricing models, prices for the same route may vary based on the supply and demand for rides at the time the ride is requested.[177] When rides are in high demand in a certain area and there are not enough drivers in such area, fares increase to get more drivers to that area.[178][179] In some cases, this resulted in extreme surcharges during emergencies such as Hurricane Sandy,[180] the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis,[181] and the 2017 London Bridge attack.[182]

In the United States, drivers do not have any control over the fares they charge; lawsuits allege that this is an illegal restraint on trade in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.[183][184]

Accessibility failures

Ridesharing has been criticized for providing inadequate accessibility measures for disabled people compared to the public transit it displaces.

In some areas, vehicle for hire companies are required by law to have a certain amount of wheelchair accessible vans (WAVs) in use. However, most drivers do not own a WAV, making it hard to comply with the laws.[185]

While companies have strict requirements to transport service animals, drivers have been criticized for refusal to transport service animals, which, in the United States, is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In one case, this resulted in a lawsuit, which was referred to arbitration.[186][187]

Antitrust price-fixing allegations

Uber has been the subject of several antitrust investigations. Antitrust law generally holds that price-setting activities are permissible within business firms, but bars them beyond firm boundaries. Uber does not provide services to consumers directly. Instead, the company connects riders and drivers, sets service terms, and collects fares. The antitrust law's firm exemption strictly applies to entities that a firm directly controls, such as employees. Uber has managed to avoid litigating any antitrust problems. It was able to compel the Meyer v. Uber Technologies, Inc. lawsuit to be moved into arbitration.[188]

In the 1951 antitrust case United States v. Richfield Oil Co., the court ruled for the government because Richfield Oil Co. exercised de facto control over "independent businessmen," in contravention of the antitrust laws, although they were not company employees. This has become the basis for delineation between the domains of labor and antitrust: if subordinate entities are "independent businessmen" and not employees, it is illegal to exercise control. The United States Supreme Court affirmed the same basic principle against coercion of non-employees by vertical supply contract in the 1964 case Simpson v. Union Oil Co. of California.

Microlabor online marketplaces like Uber, Lyft, Handy, Amazon Home Services, DoorDash, and Instacart have perfected a process where workers deal bilaterally with tasks offered by employers that assume no standard employer obligations, while the platform operates the labor market to its own benefit – what one antitrust expert called a "for-profit hiring hall."[189]

Because Uber drivers are not employees and Uber sets the terms on which they transact with customers, including prices, Uber has been alleged to be in violation of the ban on restraints of trade in the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. This issue has yet to be resolved at trial. Uber publicly stated that: "we believe the law is on our side and that"s why in four years no anti-trust agency has raised this as an issue and there has been no similar litigation like it in the U.S."[190]

Controversies

Principled confrontation

While Uber was led by Travis Kalanick, the company had an aggressive strategy for dealing with obstacles, including regulators. In 2014, Kalanick said "You have to have what I call principled confrontation."[191] Uber's strategy was generally to commence operations in a city without regard for local regulations. If faced with regulatory opposition, Uber called for public support for its service and mounted a political campaign, supported by lobbyists, to change regulations.[192][193][194][195] For example, in June 2014, Uber sent a notice to riders with the email address and phone number of a commissioner in Virginia who opposed the company and told riders to lobby the official, who received hundreds of complaints.[196][197] In November 2017, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi proclaimed an end to the "win at all costs" strategy and implemented new values for the company, including "we do the right thing".[198] Vice argued that Uber's response to California bill AB 5 in 2019 showed that "Uber's strategy to ignore or fight regulations remains the same as it's always been."[199]

Attacks on competitors

Uber issued an apology on January 24, 2014 after documents were leaked claiming that Uber employees in New York City deliberately ordered rides from Gett, a competitor, only to cancel them later. The purpose of the fake orders was to waste drivers' time and delay service to legitimate customers.[200]

Following Lyft's expansion into New York City in July 2014, Uber, with the assistance of TargetCW, sent emails offering a "huge commission opportunity" to several contractors based on the "personal hustle" of the participants. Those who responded to the solicitation were offered a meeting with Uber marketing managers who attempted to create a "street team" to gather intelligence about Lyft's launch plans and recruit their drivers. Recruits were given two Uber-branded iPhones (one a backup in case the person was identified by Lyft) and a series of valid credit card numbers to create dummy Lyft accounts. Participants were required to sign non-disclosure agreements.[201][202]

In August 2014, Lyft reported that 177 Uber employees had ordered and canceled approximately 5,560 Lyft rides since October 2013, and that it had found links to Uber recruiters by cross-referencing the phone numbers involved. The report identified one Lyft passenger who canceled 300 rides from May 26 to June 10, 2014, and who was identified as an Uber recruiter by seven different Lyft drivers. Uber did not apologize, but suggested that the recruitment attempts were independent parties trying to make money.[203][204]

Misleading drivers

In January 2017, Uber agreed to pay $20 million to the US government to resolve accusations by the Federal Trade Commission of having misled drivers about potential earnings.[205][206][207]

Alleged short-changing of drivers

In 2017, lawyers for drivers filed a class action lawsuit that alleged that Uber did not provide drivers with the 80% of collections they were entitled to.[208]

In May 2017, after the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in New York, Uber admitted to underpaying New York City drivers tens of millions of dollars over 2.5 years by calculating driver commissions on a net amount. Uber agreed to pay the amounts owed plus interest.[209]

Operating during a taxi strike

In late January 2017, Uber was targeted by GrabYourWallet for collecting fares during a New York City taxi strike in protest of Executive Order 13769.[210] Uber removed surge pricing from JFK airport, where refugees had been detained upon entry. Uber was targeted because Kalanick had joined the administration's Economic Advisory Council.[211] A social media campaign known as #deleteuber formed in protest, leading approximately 200,000 users to delete the app.[212] Statements were later e-mailed to former users who had deleted their accounts, asserting that the company would assist refugees, and that Kalanick's membership was not an endorsement of the administration.[213] On February 2, 2017, Kalanick resigned from the council.[214]

Evasion of law enforcement operations

Greyball

Starting in 2014, Uber used its Greyball software to avoid giving rides to certain individuals. By showing "ghost cars" driven by fake drivers to the targeted individuals in the Uber mobile app, and by giving real drivers a means to cancel rides requested by those individuals, Uber was able to avoid giving rides to known law enforcement officers in areas where its service was illegal. A New York Times report on March 3, 2017, made public Uber's use of Greyball, describing it as a way to evade city code enforcement officials in Portland, Oregon, Australia, South Korea, and China.[215] At first, in response to the report, Uber stated that Greyball was designed to deny rides to users who violate Uber's terms of service, including those involved in sting operations.[215][216] According to Uber, Greyball can "hide the standard city app view for individual riders, enabling Uber to show that same rider a different version". Uber reportedly used Greyball to identify government officials by noting whether a user frequently opens the app near government offices, using users' social media profiles to identify law enforcement personnel, and noticing credit cards associated with the Uber account.[215]

On March 6, 2017, the City of Portland, Oregon announced an investigation into whether Uber had obstructed the enforcement of city regulations.[217] The investigation by the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) found that: "Uber used Greyball software to intentionally evade PBOT's officers from December 5 to December 19, 2014 and deny 29 separate ride requests by PBOT enforcement officers."[218] Following the release of the audit, Portland's commissioner of police suggested that the city subpoena Uber to force the company to turn over information on how Uber used software to evade regulatory officials.[219] On March 8, 2017, Uber admitted that it had used Greyball to thwart government regulators and pledged to stop using the service for that purpose.[220][221] In May 2017, the United States Department of Justice opened a criminal investigation into Uber's use of Greyball to avoid local law enforcement operations.[222]

Ripley

After a police raid on Uber's Brussels office, a January 2018 report by Bloomberg News stated that "Uber routinely used Ripley to thwart police raids in foreign countries."[223] It offered a "panic button" system, initially called "unexpected visitor protocol", then "Ripley". It locked, powered off and changed passwords on staff computers when raided. Uber allegedly used this button at least 24 times, from spring 2015 until late 2016.[224][225]

Sexual harassment allegations and management shakeup (2017)

On February 20, 2017, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler stated that she was subjected to sexual harassment by a manager and subsequently threatened with termination by another manager if she continued to report the incident. Kalanick was alleged to have been aware of the complaint[226][227][228][229]

Fowler likened Uber's culture to A Game of Thrones, in which Uber employees agressively vied for power and aggression and betrayal was common.[230][231][232]

Uber hired former attorney general Eric Holder to investigate the claims and Arianna Huffington, a member of Uber's board of directors, also oversaw the investigation.[233][234][235]

On February 27, 2017, Amit Singhal, Uber's Senior Vice President of Engineering, was forced to resign after he failed to disclose a sexual harassment claim against him that occurred while he served as Vice President of Google Search.[236][237][238][239][240]

In June 2017, Uber fired over 20 employees as a result of the investigation.[241][242] Kalanick took an indefinite leave of absence. Under pressure from investors, he resigned as CEO a week later.[243][244][245][246]

In 2019, Kalanick resigned from the board of directors of the company and sold his shares.[247]

Scandals and departure of Emil Michael

At a private dinner in November 2014, senior vice president Emil Michael suggested that Uber hire a team of opposition researchers and journalists, with a million-dollar budget, to "dig up dirt" on the personal lives and backgrounds of media figures who reported negatively about Uber.[248] Specifically, he targeted Sarah Lacy, editor of PandoDaily, who, in an article published in October 2014, accused Uber of sexism and misogyny in its advertising.[249][250][251] Michael issued a public apology[252] and apologized to Lacy in a personal email, claiming that Uber would never actually undertake the plan.[253][254] After additional scandals involving Michael, including an escort-karaoke bar scandal in Seoul and the questioning of the medical records of a rape victim in India, he left the company in June 2017 when Kalanick, who reportedly was protecting Michael, resigned.[255]

Settlement with victims

In August 2018, Uber agreed to pay a total of $7 million to 480 workers to settle claims of gender discrimination, harassment, and hostile work environment.[256]

God view and privacy concerns

On November 19, 2014, then U.S. Senator Al Franken, Chairman of the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, sent a letter to Kalanick regarding privacy.[257][258][259] Concerns were raised about internal misuse of the company's data, in particular, the ability of Uber staff to track the movements of its customers, known as "God View". In 2011, a venture capitalist disclosed that Uber staff members were using the function to track journalists and politicians as well as using the feature recreationally. Staff members viewed being tracked by Uber as a positive reflection on the subject's character.[260] An Uber job interviewee said that he was given unrestricted access to Uber's customer tracking function as part of the interview process.[261]

Delayed disclosure of data breaches

On February 27, 2015, Uber admitted that it had suffered a data breach more than nine months prior. Names and license plate information from approximately 50,000 drivers were inadvertently disclosed.[262] Uber discovered this leak in September 2014, but waited more than five months to notify the affected individuals.[263]

An announcement in November 2017 revealed that in 2016, a separate data breach had disclosed the personal information of 600,000 drivers and 57 million customers. This data included names, email addresses, phone numbers, and drivers' license information. Hackers used employees' usernames and passwords that had been compromised in previous breaches (a "credential stuffing" method) to gain access to a private GitHub repository used by Uber's developers. The hackers located credentials for the company's Amazon Web Services datastore in the repository files, and were able to obtain access to the account records of users and drivers, as well as other data contained in over 100 Amazon S3 buckets. Uber paid a $100,000 ransom to the hackers on the promise they would delete the stolen data.[264][265] Uber was subsequently criticized for concealing this data breach.[266] Khosrowshahi publicly apologized.[267][268] In September 2018, in the largest multi-state settlement of a data breach, Uber paid $148 million to the Federal Trade Commission, admitted that its claim that internal access to consumers' personal information was closely monitored on an ongoing basis was false, and stated that it had failed to live up to its promise to provide reasonable security for consumer data.[269][270][271] Also in November 2018, Uber's British divisions were fined £385,000 (reduced to £308,000) by the Information Commissioner's Office.[272]

In 2020, the US Department of Justice announced criminal charges against former Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan for obstruction of justice. The criminal complaint said Sullivan arranged, with Kalanick's knowledge, to pay a ransom for the 2016 breach as a "bug bounty" to conceal its true nature, and for the hackers to falsify non-disclosure agreements to say they had not obtained any data.[273]

Use of offshore companies to minimize tax liability

In November 2017, the Paradise Papers, a set of confidential electronic documents relating to offshore investment, revealed that Uber is one of many corporations that used an offshore company to minimize taxes.[274][275]

Data

Customer service

Economist John A. List analyzed company data to explore the effect of customer problems and company response on future customer orders. For example, Uber's algorithms might inform the rider that a trip will take 9 minutes, while it actually takes 23 minutes. The analysis found that people with a bad experience later spent up to 10% less with Uber. List then observed how different company responses to the experience affected future use. Options include a "sincere apology", an admission that the company had failed, a commitment to "ensure that this will not happen again" and a discount on their next ride. Apology was ineffective in retaining customers. A US$5 discount voucher did reduce losses. Repeated bad experiences followed by apologies further alienated customers.[276]

Male vs. female driver earnings

Data analysis found that male drivers earn about 7% more than women; men were found to drive on average 2.5% faster, enabling them to serve more customers. Women passengers gave tips averaging 4%, while men gave 5%; but women drivers received more tips—so long as they were below 65 years of age.[276]

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