...they’d look into "your personal lives, your families"
November 18, 2014 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Ben Smith of Buzzfeed reports: Uber Executive Suggests Digging Up Dirt On Journalists
A senior executive at Uber suggested that the company should consider hiring a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on its critics in the media - and specifically to spread details of the personal life of a female journalist who has criticized the company.

The executive, Emil Michael, made the comments in a conversation he later said he believed was off the record. In a statement through Uber Monday evening, he said he regretted them and that they didn't reflect his or the company's views.

His remarks came as Uber seeks to improve its relationship with the media and the image of its management team, who have been cast as insensitive and hyper-aggressive even as the company's business and cultural reach have boomed.

[...]

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.
Lacy, responding to the Buzzfeed report for PandoDaily: The moment I learned just how far Uber will go to silence journalists and attack women
Today, in his horrifying scoop, Smith writes about the the lengths that at least one Uber executive, Emil Michael, was willing to go to discredit anyone– particularly a woman– who may try to question how Uber operates.

Ruining her life? Manufacturing lies? Going after her family? Apparently it’s all part of what Uber has described as its “political campaign” to build a $30 billion (and counting) tech company. A campaign that David Plouffe was hired to “run,” that’s looking more like a pathetic version of play acting House of Cards than a real campaign run by a real political professional. Because step one of an illegal smear campaign against a woman is: Don’t brag about it to a journalist at a party.

The woman in question? The woman that this Uber executive has vowed to go to nearly any lengths to ruin, to bully into silence? Me.

[...]

I begged no deity in particular that the escalation of dangerous, win-at-all-costs, no-matter-the-casualties warfare Uber has waged on anyone– drivers, riders, or journalists– who crosses them could just end here. That it could just end with a wild plan of lies and character assassination of me, personally. I could weather that.

Sadly, I don’t see any reason to think it will. Unless forces more powerful than me in the Valley– or even Washington DC– see this latest horror as a wakeup call and decide this is enough. That the First Amendment and rights of journalists do matter. That companies shouldn’t be allowed to go to illegal lengths to defame and silence reporters. That all these nice words about gender equality in tech aren’t just token board appointments every once in a while. That professional women in this industry actually deserve respect. That they shouldn’t be bullied with the same old easy slurs about bitchiness or sexual objectification. That deep scary misogyny in a culture isn’t something that you hire a campaign manager to “message out” of a founder, nor is it something you excuse as genius at work. That there is a line someone can cross, even amid an era where the Valley believes founders can never be fired.

Simply put: That this isn’t OK.
posted by tonycpsu (242 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 


It's weirdly relieving when the nation's elite let us know how they actually think
posted by glaucon at 11:51 AM on November 18, 2014 [28 favorites]


Also, has anybody heard any similarly shady stuff about Lyft? Just for rideshare-app-compare-and-contrast.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:52 AM on November 18, 2014


Also, his Klout score went down.
posted by glaucon at 11:53 AM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Why do you think Elliot Spitzer went down? Powerful enemies on Wall Street, playing the man and not the ball.

Didn't help that he exposed himself to that risk, but as the documentary "Client 9" suggests, journalists and lawyers targeting powerful interests will they themselves be targeted. In the US, its at least not by violence but by character assassination.

Now the old story of Gary Webb from the drug money for contras days is coming to life as a feature film. An old story, sadly, in a new setting.
posted by C.A.S. at 11:53 AM on November 18, 2014 [12 favorites]


I just realized Uber is short for Uber Alles. How did we not see this before?
posted by naju at 11:54 AM on November 18, 2014 [13 favorites]


Doesn't surprise me in the slightest. Uber's kind of completely squirrelly and shitty and seedy and other negative s-adjectives...
posted by ourt at 11:56 AM on November 18, 2014


Do you think I have time to run to the lobby and grab some popcorn before this comments section gets cooking?
posted by duffell at 11:56 AM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


Do you think I have time to run to the lobby and grab some popcorn

My new app Snackr will ping some sad prole in the theater to go fetch your popcorn for 1/4 minimum wage while you enjoy the trailers
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:58 AM on November 18, 2014 [93 favorites]


Waiting for "We'll Not Harass You" fee to get added to existing surge pricing and the safety fee.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:59 AM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


Oh FFS.
Every time the exciting new future of useful apps to make our lives easier ACTUALLY delivers something that makes my life easier, something completely unnecessary comes along and fucks it up. First I had to get rid of taskrabbit, now I have to get rid of Uber. Fucking fuck, I really liked the service Uber provided. The taxis around here are completely useless. And when I lived in a place where the taxis were actually functional, Uber just made them better. Now we're back to the old, useless system. This is why I don't trust technology.
posted by bleep at 12:01 PM on November 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


I WANT TO GIVE YOU MY MONEY, FUTURE.
posted by bleep at 12:01 PM on November 18, 2014 [14 favorites]


The "ethics in ride share journalism" jokes do kind of write themselves here, but is this really such a big deal?

Sure, it would be creepy if he actually took any steps to do this, but it sounds like he was just joking around at a dinner. And yeah, he has a beef with a journalist that happens to be female, but it seems like that rancor doesn't have anything to do with the fact that she's female.

But then again, I have a beef with people who get squicky about sexwork too, but I guess that's just my internalized misogyny.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:01 PM on November 18, 2014


I just realized Uber is short for Uber Alles

it's not.
posted by slater at 12:01 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


That there is a line someone can cross, even amid an era where the Valley believes founders can never be fired.

Founders are geniuses! Their lovable eccentricities just show how genius they are! They can never be fired! Unless they're women, then they can totally be fired.
posted by medusa at 12:02 PM on November 18, 2014 [13 favorites]


Every time the exciting new future of useful apps to make our lives easier ACTUALLY delivers something that makes my life easier, something completely unnecessary comes along and fucks it up. First I had to get rid of taskrabbit, now I have to get rid of Uber.

Wait, what happened with Taskrabbit?

Sure, it would be creepy if he actually took any steps to do this, but it sounds like he was just joking around at a dinner.

If this is his idea of what passes for "a joke" it's still bad.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:03 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


sparklemotion: he was just joking around at a dinner

On what basis do you believe he was "just joking around?"
posted by tonycpsu at 12:04 PM on November 18, 2014 [38 favorites]


A little digging brings up that Emil used to work at the pentagon for former Secretary of Defense and old Bush family operative Robert Gates. I guess old habits die hard - especially when no one gets punished for them...
posted by any major dude at 12:04 PM on November 18, 2014 [19 favorites]


Sure, it would be creepy if he actually took any steps to do this, but it sounds like he was just joking around at a dinner. And yeah, he has a beef with a journalist that happens to be female, but it seems like that rancor doesn't have anything to do with the fact that she's female.

Did you read Lacy's articles? It's abundantly clear his attitude towards women is at best extremely patronizing and objectifying, and that having to think about their safety is more a burden to him than anything else.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:05 PM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


Just further confirmation of how toxic the startup culture in the Valley has become. It's pretty much clear that these tech "geniuses" feel it's their divine right to generate profits and revenue and that anyone that gets in their way is a heretic and what do we do with heretic? Oh yeah we burn them.
posted by vuron at 12:06 PM on November 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


On what basis do you believe he was "just joking around?"

On the basis that I don't believe that anyone would be stupid enough to outline a "covert" spying plan in front of a journalist if they actually wanted to implement it.

I mean, this is totally something that Uber could be doing, or could really want to do. But if they were doing it, or did really want to do it, no one would know about it (unless one of the spies blew a whistle).
posted by sparklemotion at 12:08 PM on November 18, 2014


Also, has anybody heard any similarly shady stuff about Lyft? Just for rideshare-app-compare-and-contrast.

I'm sure there's plenty shady about Lyft as well, but as with Uber and all the other rideshare companies, the main reason to dislike it is there in the open: It makes money by undercutting workers as hard as possible.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:08 PM on November 18, 2014 [31 favorites]


Sure, it would be creepy if he actually took any steps to do this

except, from an article in the fpp -
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.
so, their whole "we regularly monitor and audit access" thing doesn't seem to be enough and here we have another (oh whatta ya know female) journalist who has actually had her privacy breached by uber to prove a point.
posted by nadawi at 12:09 PM on November 18, 2014 [35 favorites]


Sure, it would be creepy if he actually took any steps to do this, but it sounds like he was just joking around at a dinner. And yeah, he has a beef with a journalist that happens to be female, but it seems like that rancor doesn't have anything to do with the fact that she's female.

The more specific and precise and targeted one's "just joking around" is, the less "just joking around" it sounds like.
posted by Etrigan at 12:10 PM on November 18, 2014 [28 favorites]


sparklemotion: On the basis that I don't believe that anyone would be stupid enough to outline a "covert" spying plan in front of a journalist if they actually wanted to implement it.

First of all, you'll go bankrupt betting against human stupidity. Second, even assuming they had no plan to actually do it, merely asserting they were thinking about it could have a chilling effect on anyone who wanted to expose future wrongdoing against the company. I don't think "just joking around" is an acceptable excuse.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:12 PM on November 18, 2014 [28 favorites]


On the basis that I don't believe that anyone would be stupid enough to outline a "covert" spying plan in front of a journalist if they actually wanted to implement it.

If people didn't say dumb stuff to journalists, there would be no news. Dude was at bragging at at party; it's easy enough for me to believe that he was running his mouth without realising who was in the room or who the people in the room were friends with.
posted by Diablevert at 12:12 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


the purpose of saying all that in front of journalists in a, what you think is an, off the record conversation is to threaten them, not to joke with them.
posted by nadawi at 12:13 PM on November 18, 2014 [56 favorites]


he was just joking around at a dinner

I expect the enterprises I deal with that have access to sensitive data take to have a culture of keeping that data private very seriously. Hospital executives and medical leaders don't joke about using medical records to embarrass their critics. Librarians don't joke about using reading history to embarrass political opponents. Hell, even at Google or Microsoft, someone who suggested abusing specific private records to target opponents would get serious pushback.

At Uber, misusing private data is part of the culture at the highest levels of the company.
posted by grouse at 12:13 PM on November 18, 2014 [50 favorites]


They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.
I don't quite get this. Did he say that they could prove some unspecified "particular and very specific" claim about her personal life? Or was there some particular and very specific claim that he mentioned which Smith didn't repeat? If there was a particular claim was it something obviously made up as an example or some real actual dirt he had really dug up, to show that he could?
posted by edheil at 12:13 PM on November 18, 2014


Even if you could separate it from the threatening aspect (which is impossible), "joking" about doxxing and harassment creates and encourages the culture where doxxing and harassment is acceptable or even desired.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:14 PM on November 18, 2014 [15 favorites]


Let's be honest, even a "joking around" is sending a tacit message to all employees that women aren't particularly valued and the privacy of clients is to be willingly traded for the benefit of founders.

"Just joking around" is the go to sexist defense because it's almost always followed with the implicit or even explicit "can't you take a fucking joke, you humorless bitch". It's toxic in any organization and should be stamped on early and often because it's basically an excuse for acting like a stereotypical douchebro to any group you want to.
posted by vuron at 12:14 PM on November 18, 2014 [62 favorites]


The sharing Scientology economy!
posted by klangklangston at 12:14 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


The executive, Emil Michael, made the comments in a conversation he later said he believed was off the record. In a statement through Uber Monday evening, he said he regretted them and that they didn't reflect his or the company's views.

That shit I said totallydoesn't reflect my views. I just talk sometimes, for, like, no reason.

Also, the gamergate riffs are tired, stale, overdone. Stop.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:15 PM on November 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


The more specific and precise and targeted one's "just joking around" is, the less "just joking around" it sounds like.
"For example, if we were really serious, we might want to gather detailed information about that one time you stopped in the tenderloin for 13 minutes at 3am after a night out clubbing, then went back to your apartment. Haha!"
posted by verb at 12:16 PM on November 18, 2014 [9 favorites]


Hm. Pando Daily vs Über. Like Megashark vs. Crocosaurus, I'm not sure who to root for here.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:17 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


edheil - i read that part as he mentioned a specific thing that wasn't repeated and i got no indication that smith thought it was a made up thing.
posted by nadawi at 12:17 PM on November 18, 2014


I expect the enterprises I deal with that have access to sensitive data take to have a culture of keeping that data private very seriously.

If they were going to use Uber data in this scheme, why would they need "a team of opposition researchers"?
posted by sparklemotion at 12:17 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Uber and Lyft and Sidecar have all exploited a hole in the promise of convenience and cost that taxi services promise, but often fail to deliver. They have also exploited the lightweight meme "sharing economy" to set up businesses that enable people who can't make rent or tuition payments to use what free time they have left to "share" their automobiles and make some extra cash.

In the offing, the usually corrupt municipal players (in San Francisco, Mayor Ed (the Puppet) Lee, among other legislators) have let these "sharing" start ups go about their business without any need to qualify themselves per the same regulative burdens that taxis are exposed to.

As a result, all these "sharing Uber-Lyft-Sidecar drivers are putting hard working taxi drivers out of work, as well as placing riders in situations where they are less safe than those taking taxis/SuperShuttle/etc. because the start ups are able to operate with impunity.

In the Bay Area, the idea that start up enterprise somehow deserves more of a break than other businesses is sickening. the hubris shown by this Uber executive is just one ofo thousands of examples of how so many people in start up culture think they are somehow special, and exempt from the everyday rules of human decency and regulated enterprise.

Who drives this trend? The monied one percent of investors who play in the start up game; well-connected players who have an inside track to legislators at all levels - so, nothing new here - i.e. we see the same sociopathic uncouthness among the new start up leaders that we have gotten used to seeing from past industrial enterprise leaders.

How many analysts have taken the tiem to look at the negative multipliers of a company like Uber? How many people do they put out of work? How many more unsafe cars/drivers are put in to play? And so on.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:20 PM on November 18, 2014 [28 favorites]


because you can learn things about people outside of their uber use, and you can use uber customer info alongside the other stuff...?
posted by nadawi at 12:20 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


To be fair, he thought it was "off the record" so I feel really, really, really bad for him that his actual comments were published.

If only some 200 year old piece of paper didn't exist to stop people from publishing unfavorable things about people who desperately need to increase their net worth.
posted by glaucon at 12:20 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


If they were going to use Uber data in this scheme, why would they need "a team of opposition researchers"?

Presumably to look for public statements that would be in direct opposition to the data that they already had? Like in the most basic and time honored sense of this sort of thing, if Victim A claims to be happily married but their records show that Victim A spends a lot of time traveling to a residence that is not theirs or their partners, then presumably there is blackmail material there.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:21 PM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


Fuck Uber. Not giving people like them your money is literally the least you can do.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:21 PM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


App idea: DirtDiggr
posted by miyabo at 12:23 PM on November 18, 2014


I just realized Uber is short for Uber Alles. How did we not see this before?

There should be an Official Internet Prize for Godwin-ing a thread about taxicabs. Until then, congratulations!
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:23 PM on November 18, 2014 [13 favorites]


I think the Opposition Researchers and "particular and very specific claim about her personal life." add up to

1) Sexual rumor of some kind, very frequently used to slander women who "misbehave"--ie who did she sleep with, or what her proclivities are.

2) Possibly something to do with sobriety/addiction. I know Paul Carr (*spits*) credits her with helping him get on the wagon and staying there, so maybe there was a relapse this asshole and his friends like to crow about.

3) Any other random tidbit this guy thinks is red enough meat.

It's totally about "You know the rumor about Sara Lacey? The one everybody talks about but nobody has ever written about? Because it's way sleazy? We've got the dirt."
posted by turntraitor at 12:24 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


If they were going to use Uber data in this scheme, why would they need "a team of opposition researchers"?

If they were going to ---hahah, this is hilarious --- engage in a campaign of character assasination to silence their critics, why would they limit themselves to exploiting only their own data? It's a rich starting point, sure, but once you have your personal Turd Blossoms on the case, why stop there?

NB: I'm not saying that this was necessarily some thought out action plan that the company was steps away from actually implementing. It sounds more to me like he was running his mouth. But such rants are revealing, no?
posted by Diablevert at 12:25 PM on November 18, 2014


If they were going to use Uber data in this scheme, why would they need "a team of opposition researchers"?

Why does it even matter? Either way, they're using sensitive personal data for malicious purposes. Whether they want to keep it internal or ask some hired thugs to join in is besides the point.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:26 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


It never ceases to impress me how Uber could take a generally shitty, annoying service like Taxis and actually make it more awful and exploitative. Sure takes some skill. Or is it just a thing about driving cars?
posted by Jimbob at 12:27 PM on November 18, 2014 [6 favorites]


Did he say that they could prove some unspecified "particular and very specific" claim about her personal life?

Anything is possible when they can use the data to make something like this all about you and your early morning or late night travel habits.
posted by jsavimbi at 12:28 PM on November 18, 2014 [10 favorites]


Either way, they're using sensitive personal data for malicious purposes

I missed the part of the article where there was any indication that they were actually doing this.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:28 PM on November 18, 2014


They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.

Yeah, I took this as confirmation that there was no joking around about it - they presumably aired some of this woman's personal business as a demonstration of what they could do. It reads to me like this claim was revealed to the people in attendance, but that they're refraining from reporting the claim itself.
posted by dialetheia at 12:29 PM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


you missed the part where another dude from uber used customer data to score points in an argument with a journalist or you don't think that's malicious?
posted by nadawi at 12:30 PM on November 18, 2014 [11 favorites]


I don't see how anyone can defend an exec of a multi-billion dollar company with troves of hyper-personal data at its disposal suggesting - even "jokingly" - that it would be a great idea to spend $1,000,000.00 to essentially doxx a journalist who doesn't like their company. It is shitty behavior and speaks loads about their corporate culture.

Don't forget that the CEO calls it "boober".
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:34 PM on November 18, 2014 [14 favorites]


you missed the part where another dude from uber used customer data to score points in an argument with a journalist or you don't think that's malicious?

I did see this:
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.
But aside from the fact that this appears to be a violation of stated policy (and we have no idea what the fallout to this manager was) I am failing to find malice.

It would have been nice if BF could have followed up with questions about that incident (or even better, if Uber would make a statement clarifying what exactly happened there, because it does seem shady as fuck and the kind of thing that should not be able to happen)
posted by sparklemotion at 12:34 PM on November 18, 2014


"For example, if we were really serious, we might want to gather detailed information about that one time you stopped in the tenderloin for 13 minutes at 3am after a night out clubbing, then went back to your apartment. Haha!"

If you think they don't know where and when pot dealers are doing business, and use that knowledge operationally, you haven't been paying attention. Big Data was invented to find out how consumers use products, and it's very, very, very good at correlating data. That they can use their wonderful Hadoop infrastructure to silence or ruin critics is just the system working as designed.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:35 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


There should be an Official Internet Prize for Godwin-ing a thread about taxicabs. Until then, congratulations!

I have heard that Uber tends to run on time.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 12:36 PM on November 18, 2014 [17 favorites]


sparklemotion: I am failing to find malice.

So you're not acknowledging that, even assuming arguendo that this was some kind of joke, the effect would be taken as a serious threat to journalists?
posted by tonycpsu at 12:37 PM on November 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


It never ceases to impress me how Uber could take a generally shitty, annoying service like Taxis and actually make it more awful and exploitative.

Dibs on the idea: an internet show called Über about a gang of ubers who work for Über and everyone is a GIGANTIC burning asshole in—ha ha—oh so hilarious ways. Who knows, maybe Danny DeVito would be up for a cameo.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:39 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


> If you think they don't know where and when pot dealers are doing business, and use that knowledge operationally, you haven't been paying attention.

How on earth would they use that knowledge operationally? Would they just tell drivers to be near areas where people are likely to want a lift because they have just finished buying pot?

I mean, I am sure that they are doing something with all that data, but I'm also sure they're not doing everything imaginable with that data, because there are only so many hours in the day, and I can think of fifteen things that are more interesting than where the pot dealers are in town.
posted by savetheclocktower at 12:40 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Gang Starts A Ride Share Company
posted by poffin boffin at 12:41 PM on November 18, 2014 [33 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that Amazon, Google, and Facebook can all probably use big data to determine when people are visiting known drug suppliers as well slap*happy but I haven't heard a from Bezos and Brin and Zuckerberg about using big data to silence critics. Yeah they could almost certainly do that with the data they collect but to date they seem to be staying on the right side of morality. I mean I have some doubts about their general tendencies but this Uber guy seems like he has nothing remotely keeping him from being a blackmailing douchebro and really is that the sort of people we want to be rewarding in organizations or buying services from?
posted by vuron at 12:41 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Anything is possible when they can use the data to make something like this all about you and your early morning or late night travel habits.

I'm surprised they published that:
In times of yore you would have woken up in a panic, scrambling in the dark trying to find your fur coat or velvet smoking jacket or whatever it is you cool kids wear. Then that long walk home in the pre-morning dawn. But that was then.The world has changed, and gone are the days of the Walk of Shame. We live in Uber’s world now.

One of the neat things we can do with our data is discover rider patterns: are there weekend riders that only use Uber post-party? What about the workday commuters who use us every morning? It was while playing around with this idea of (blind!) rider segmentation that we came up with the Ride of Glory (RoG). A RoGer is anyone who took a ride between 10pm and 4am on a Friday or Saturday night, and then took a second ride from within 1/10th of a mile of the previous nights’ drop-off point 4-6 hours later (enough for a quick night’s sleep).
posted by cjelli at 12:41 PM on November 18, 2014


But aside from the fact that this appears to be a violation of stated policy (and we have no idea what the fallout to this manager was) I am failing to find malice.

Then you're being willfully blind to the implied threat that they can and will use their information for any purpose at any time without any consequences. In isolation, each incident can be shrugged away as harmless. In the aggregate, they have now demonstrated the desire and capability to do what they threaten. Why on earth wouldn't they follow through on their threats?

Would you rely on the decency and basic human kindness of a George W. Bush-Era Pentagon policy wonk to protect you from his pursuit of billionaire's fortune?
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:44 PM on November 18, 2014 [21 favorites]


I missed the part of the article where there was any indication that they were actually doing this.

I honestly can't tell if you're being obtuse on purpose or not. Whether it's a hypothetical or not (I was speaking to both, as I assume grouse was), it doesn't matter. They're telling you they can do it. At that point, it doesn't matter if they're actually doing it, it's still a threat.

But aside from the fact that this appears to be a violation of stated policy (and we have no idea what the fallout to this manager was) I am failing to find malice.

Are you ignoring all of the creepy anti-woman stuff coming from both Michael and Uber, or do you just not believe it, or what? Because this is starting to come across as one of those "oh, he's not that bad, she's just overreacting" conversations, where just because someone's not actually being attacked at this very moment it doesn't matter if someone is talking about how they could attack her.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:44 PM on November 18, 2014 [22 favorites]


So you're not acknowledging that, even assuming arguendo that this was some kind of joke, the effect would be taken as a serious threat to journalists?

No, I am saying that this statement: they're using sensitive personal data for malicious purposes isn't supported by the facts stated in the linked articles.

The "serious threat" thing? I can see it I guess, I just find it doubtful (for reasons stated above). I mean, journalists are at risk for this kind of thing all the time, from organizations with even more sensitive data and more money/influence than Uber. Is this egoist running his mouth really going to be able to scare people into silence?
posted by sparklemotion at 12:45 PM on November 18, 2014


Did you read Lacy's articles? It's abundantly clear his attitude towards women is at best extremely patronizing and objectifying, and that having to think about their safety is more a burden to him than anything else.

I get the sense that this Emil Michael is so clueless about how he comes across that he doesn't realize that... yathink?... maybe it's not a good idea if your taxi company has a reputation as a rape factory on wheels.
posted by jonp72 at 12:47 PM on November 18, 2014


"Also, the gamergate riffs are tired, stale, overdone. Stop."

Actually, it's about ethics in Metafilter comments.

"No, I am saying that this statement: they're using sensitive personal data for malicious purposes isn't supported by the facts stated in the linked articles."

So, what exactly is your disagreement? They're using personal data and implying that it would be used to silence critical journalists. That's a malicious purpose. Is your argument that they haven't done this yet or that the information wasn't sensitive?
posted by klangklangston at 12:48 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Note: David Plouffe works for Uber.
posted by rhizome at 12:50 PM on November 18, 2014


MSpaintDiagramr
posted by Artw at 12:51 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


You don't have to pull the trigger on a gun for it to count as assault with a deadly weapon. You just have to point it in the wrong direction and make the other person believe you might use it.

I believe the same principle applies here.
posted by Zalzidrax at 12:51 PM on November 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


There should be an Official Internet Prize for Godwin-ing a thread about taxicabs.
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| |    `--`    | |    A Thread 
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| | GODWINNING | |      Taxicabs
| |   AWARD    | |
| |*__________*| |
|/______________\|
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:51 PM on November 18, 2014 [76 favorites]


Is this egoist running his mouth really going to be able to scare people into silence?

"this asshole's plan to blackmail female journalists into silence failed" is not really a good reason to not care about an asshole's plan to blackmail female journalists into silence.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:52 PM on November 18, 2014 [44 favorites]


Obvious jokes don't count as Godwins.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:54 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Who knows, maybe Danny DeVito would be up for a cameo.

He could play an uber staffer who is a kind and decent human being. As the show progresses he bonds with the drivers, gradually opens up and reveals he is really a raging asshole inside.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:54 PM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Are you giving a press conference on your criminal conspiracy????
posted by Artw at 12:55 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


"it's a dumb threat" is the same idea behind "anita is still breathing so the death threats weren't credible."
posted by nadawi at 12:56 PM on November 18, 2014 [33 favorites]


I mean, journalists are at risk for this kind of thing all the time, from organizations with even more sensitive data and more money/influence than Uber. Is this egoist running his mouth really going to be able to scare people into silence?

Not to malign Buzzfeed's role as a journalistic powerhouse, but isn't it somewhat telling that more renowned sources have NOT so far been willing to cover this? I'm not saying the NYT has been scared into silence or anything, but, you know. I kind of wonder if BF journalists are going to stop being invited to boyzone jam sessions where rich dudes say horrific things about their business models and uppity women scribbling yellow journalism.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:58 PM on November 18, 2014


will no one rid me of this turbulent priest lol
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:59 PM on November 18, 2014 [28 favorites]


If the 2012 elections taught us anything it's that word always gets out.

(Hopefully this will not be remembered for the 2016 elections)
posted by Artw at 1:01 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


a fiendish thingy: Not to malign Buzzfeed's role as a journalistic powerhouse, but isn't it somewhat telling that more renowned sources have NOT so far been willing to cover this?

1. Ben Smith just posted this story at 9pm last night.
2. The story is actually starting to appear on mainstream outlets.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:04 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Wow, how did this guy make it through the morning without getting fired? By not dropping this guy like the radioactive hot potato that he is, Uber is making a really strong argument that all the executives are rotten through and through. And that's without knowing about that terrible GQ profile which I'm just reading about now. This should be career destroying for everyone associated with management.
posted by Llama-Lime at 1:05 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Ben Smith just posted this story at 9pm last night.

Which either means that the event ended at 8:45 last night and he wrote the copy in 15 minutes, or that he was the first reporter from that event to think it was worth writing about.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:07 PM on November 18, 2014


I know there's lots of Uber-hate in these parts, and this story is a bummer... but have you been in a cab lately? Or talked to Uber/Lyft/etc drivers? I've had several that moved from cab to Uber and had nothing but praise.

Big Taxi, such as it is, seems far more exploitative of its labor, while also offering a worse product at a higher price.

There are too many assholes in upper management in every company to avoid them all.
posted by booooooze at 1:08 PM on November 18, 2014 [8 favorites]


Not to malign Buzzfeed's role as a journalistic powerhouse, but isn't it somewhat telling that more renowned sources have NOT so far been willing to cover this?

An article about this was posted to the front page of the Times site half an hour ago. Byline is Mike Isaac. I've also seen coverage in several other publications --- think I first came across a link on the financial times' site.
posted by Diablevert at 1:08 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


As a result, all these "sharing Uber-Lyft-Sidecar drivers are putting hard working taxi drivers out of work, as well as placing riders in situations where they are less safe than those taking taxis/SuperShuttle/etc.

I've defended Uber and Lyft on both of these issues many times ("hard-working taxi drivers" don't fucking get me anywhere I need to go) and even in a qualified way on their labor model and I would have continued doing so except that Uber has made it more and more apparent that they are run by total assholes. Good work Travis!
posted by atoxyl at 1:09 PM on November 18, 2014 [9 favorites]


and specifically to spread details of the personal life of a female journalist who has criticized the company

But really, it's just about ethics in transportation journalism.
posted by Gelatin at 1:09 PM on November 18, 2014


while also offering a worse product at a higher price.

Not in NYC. Cabs are hands-down cheaper than Uber during peak hours.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:10 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Which either means that the event ended at 8:45 last night and he wrote the copy in 15 minutes, or that he was the first reporter from that event to think it was worth writing about.

it's my impression that ben smith is the only one who wasn't told it was off the record. no one wrote about it until he did because of that.
posted by nadawi at 1:11 PM on November 18, 2014


a fiendish thingy: Which either means that the event ended at 8:45 last night and he wrote the copy in 15 minutes, or that he was the first reporter from that event to think it was worth writing about.

What on earth is your point?
posted by tonycpsu at 1:11 PM on November 18, 2014 [8 favorites]


There are too many assholes in upper management in every company to avoid them all.

Uber has several competitors that do similar things though I don't know how they can be so confident.
posted by atoxyl at 1:17 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wow, how did this guy make it through the morning without getting fired?

For what, doing his job?
posted by rhizome at 1:18 PM on November 18, 2014


Has anybody else had an Uber driver offer to sell them weed?
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 1:24 PM on November 18, 2014



Has anybody else had an Uber driver offer to sell them weed?


No, but I'm not sure why not. Seems like a natural side business.
posted by josher71 at 1:26 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


What on earth is your point?

The claim has been made that these comments were not a form of intimidation, a form of "you're with me or you're against me."

He made these comments to a room full of journalists, while implying that he wanted to pay a LOT of money to journalists willing to help do his dirt-digging: "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."

My point is that this is a classic form of intimidation. Carrot, stick. I'll make you rich (which journalism will never do) if you dig up dirt on your rivals so I can punish them for not liking me. If you side with them, maybe I'll do the same to you. It isn't terribly subtle, or accidental. Why invite a bunch of journalists to your fancy PR event and make them promise (with one accidental exception) that everything would be off the record?
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:27 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Has anybody else had a weed dealer offer to give them a lift?
posted by notyou at 1:27 PM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


I know there's lots of Uber-hate in these parts, and this story is a bummer... but have you been in a cab lately?

Yeah. We use an app called Flywheel, which is basically just a way to digitally hail a regular cab. It can tell you where the nearest cab is, gives you the option to "hail" one slightly farther away if you want (because say it's a company you prefer), which company the taxi is, and who the driver is. And because your card info is already stored, no cash necessary. When our favorite non-profit car service is booked, or can't come get us for longer than we want to wait, we use Flywheel. All the drivers we've talked to say they love it.

Anyway, even if I didn't like Uber's "disruptive" bullshit, I'd really not like them for this whole threatening journalists, "boober," and using the "sexy sexy lady drivers!" campaign in France because fuck you, this is not a frat house. Gross.
posted by rtha at 1:29 PM on November 18, 2014 [20 favorites]


Baltimore taxis are a whole different animal. I hope to never take one again. I'll use a better service than Uber, but the cabs can go to hell.
posted by josher71 at 1:32 PM on November 18, 2014


a fiendish thingy: My point is that this is a classic form of intimidation.

OK, I got a totally different impression from your first couple of comments, so thanks for the clarification.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:33 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


this is not a frat house.

It just so happens Travis Kalanick was Theta Xi at UCLA.
posted by rhizome at 1:34 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's not clear how many journalists were at the dinner --- Smith himself was not; his article says "a buzzfeed editor" attended. The other attendees mentioned include Ed Norton, Arianna Huffington, and some government lobbyist types, and one journalist, Michael Wolff, a Vanity Fair contributor. "Influential" and well heeled crowd, to be sure, but it's not clear that they were all or even mostly journalists. I mean, the details aren't 100% clear, but I don't think it's a case of the Uber execs assembling 100 hacks in a room and making them an offer they couldn't refuse. More like, "hey, the Uber guys are hosting a dinner for some muckety-mucks, you should come along and schmooze." I bet the lag between the event --- Friday night --- and the article today was a case of the buzzfeed editor coming back and spilling all to Smith and buzzfeed spending three days playing CYA --- contacting other sources, getting statements from Uber --- before running the piece.
posted by Diablevert at 1:36 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


rhizome: It just so happens Travis Kalanick was Theta Xi at UCLA.

And now he's using his company to destroy The Taxi. Funny, that.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:37 PM on November 18, 2014 [36 favorites]


It is absolutely stunning to me that there are people who think that there was no malice involved in discussing hypothetical plans to ruin a woman's life by leveraging money and data while simultaneously showing that said data can be accessed at a moment's notice.
posted by truex at 1:38 PM on November 18, 2014 [44 favorites]


I am finding a different way home tonight thanks to this FPP. Glad to be able to make the choice not to give any of my money to this. Ugh.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:48 PM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


if anyone is wanting to cancel their uber account, here are the steps.
posted by nadawi at 1:58 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


The fact that he casually accessed someone's ride data to prove a (scary, creepy) point made me pretty much literally sick to my stomach. That doesn't just reflect badly on Uber - it makes people nervous about ANY company where people have access to this sort of data. And I can attest that where I work, you would get fired within the day if it came out that you'd pulled this kind of stunt, no matter how high up you were. It's just completely anathema, one of the most unacceptable things you could do.

If you work at ANY company that uses ANY potentially sensitive user data to improve your service or monetize your product, you need to be upset about high-profile people treating user data this way. This makes life harder for all the rest of us just trying to deliver quality products without going bankrupt in the process. Not to mention if you use any product made by a company that meets that description...which, let's be real, describes each and every one of us.
posted by town of cats at 2:16 PM on November 18, 2014 [27 favorites]


I have heard that Uber tends to run on time.

I heard Michael is writing an autobiography called Mein Kab.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 2:22 PM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


I hate that my options are essentially:

A. pay the useless, slow, and rapey yellow cabs who have assaulted my friends, attempted to rob me, held my friends against their will, driven them out in to the middle of nowhere and refused to stop, etc.

B. Pay fucking assholes like this who at least provide good service and haven't provided a scary/bad/violent/awful experience for anyone i know offline.

It's damned if you do, and damned if you don't. Lyft has issues too, but i guess i'll be giving them my money for the time being since they're at least somewhat less evil than uber.

That cashier at the store totally wanted you to have a nice day as well!

Oh jeeze. A lot of the people i've talked to who really enjoy it are older and couldn't really get any other job, or have some disability that drummed them out of their previous line of work. In the second case especially, but also in both, they appreciated a number of elements like being able to take time off whenever they needed or their health required without worrying about being fired, and how it was a fairly decent amount of money for how accommodating it is.

A couple cab drivers i talked to who had switched over talked about how the local, awful as fuck yellow cab service was abusive and shitty to the drivers too, not just that they employed abusive shitty drivers and the office was staffed by apathetic buttheads which is how it seemed from a customer perspective.

Why not, you know, believe them that this is a less shitty alternative to a previous system that was incredibly shitty?
posted by emptythought at 2:28 PM on November 18, 2014 [12 favorites]


the office was staffed by apathetic buttheads

I called up to get a cab to the airport once and the guy just started howling with laughter, since apparently that wasn't something that they could accomplish that day
posted by thelonius at 2:31 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


The worst one i can think of is when one of my friends had a driven out to the middle of nowhere experience where they ended up RUNNING from the cab driver when he stopped for a moment, that after they called the police(who told them to report it to the cab company), they called the cab company and got clucked and tsked at and called "honey" repeatedly and essentially told they were probably making it up, and that this wasn't the kind of thing "they handled".

On the complaints line. You know, that number they put in the cabs under the cab id number to call if you have a problem?
posted by emptythought at 2:37 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Doesn't PandoDaily share investors with Lyft?
posted by Ideefixe at 2:44 PM on November 18, 2014


Yeah; Lacy mentions that in her piece.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:45 PM on November 18, 2014


Why not, you know, believe them that this is a less shitty alternative to a previous system that was incredibly shitty?

There was an article that someone posted on facebook (so of course I can't find it) a while back that talked about the "secret" rider program that Uber runs (ran?) as part of their QA, and part of that was asking drivers how they liked driving for Uber. Drivers who did not display the appropriate enthusiasm learned to display the proper enthusiasm or else, from what I remember. I will go try to google this thing up now.
posted by rtha at 2:49 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh ho! I missed this post from the Uber blog, back at the tail end of September:
As communities are heading back to school, we’d like to take a moment to celebrate the educators who are also our Uber partner drivers. Whether it’s an afternoon shift or a summertime gig, partnering with Uber provides teachers with the flexibility and opportunity they need to continue creating a foundation of excellence for students across the country.

Every day teachers are asked to do more with less, constantly faced with new challenges and limited resources. Uber opens the door for more possibilities and delivers a meaningful impact to the communities we serve.

Teachers are among the most dedicated, passionate and hardworking professionals – a few of the qualities that make the best Uber partner drivers. Throughout the year, we’ll continue to invest in providing opportunities for educators in cities around the world – recognizing the need for more income options on their own terms.
!
posted by Iridic at 3:06 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Okay, WTF Is The Matter with Uber?
Separate from the details of this incident, it's been quite a while since I've seen what is by any measure an amazingly successful startup manage to generate this much negative publicity based fairly narrowly on the behavior of its top executives.

To be clear, I'm speaking pretty narrowly about Internet era tech startups. And sure there's no end of examples of CEOs and other executives behaving badly in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. But what is so odd is that Uber, at the end of the day, is in a business where the basic project is about reliability and safety. And yet the guys running the company seem kind of reckless and even a bit nuts. Unlike the men and women you'd hope would be driving your Uber ride (and, in my experience, they often are those people), the guys running Uber seem like the result of some genetic experiment marrying up the 17th century Caribbean pirate with the 21st century North American Bro.

[...]

In most cases, the company's product or service is what matters and if that's good it doesn't really matter whether the company's executives are total freaks. And though I've always been troubled by the labor economics Uber is built on, there's no question that I know lots of people who swear by it. At a certain point though, it's hard for me to believe that all these stories won't take a toll.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:06 PM on November 18, 2014 [6 favorites]


A couple of weeks back, I wandered into a protest outside the Uber headquarters on Market Street here in San Francisco. About forty or more people waving signs and a guy with a bullhorn. The main claim on the signs was that Uber was exploiting the drivers by paying them a minimal cut of what the customer pays, an amount that does not go up as the fare skyrockets for premium times. I don't know the facts about this claim but two local TV news crews were there busy interviewing people. Living in San Francisco leaves a generally bad taste in my mouth in regards to any and all of these "disruptive" and/or Internet/tech companies. The quality of life here is going down rapidly, in my opinion, and the lip service given to the new economy by politicians and people in general is only making it worse. Assholiness seems to be the general tenor of our times now.
posted by njohnson23 at 3:08 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


No matter how much of an asshole the head of Uber is, they're still not as horrible a company as Yellow Cab is around here.
posted by octothorpe at 4:02 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


I heard Michael is writing an autobiography called Mein Kab.

Mein Kab, Ihre Daten.
posted by Celsius1414 at 4:08 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


There was an article that someone posted on facebook (so of course I can't find it) a while back that talked about the "secret" rider program that Uber runs (ran?) as part of their QA, and part of that was asking drivers how they liked driving for Uber. Drivers who did not display the appropriate enthusiasm learned to display the proper enthusiasm or else, from what I remember. I will go try to google this thing up now.

I've known and talked to Uber-ers off-duty and heard mixed things. I think it used to be somewhat better but the price war with Lyft et al. has really ramped up in the last year or so and fallen (surprise!) mostly on drivers.

Basically I will not miss at all the old taxi monopolies, I'm personally happy to accept the potential risk of casting a wider net for drivers if it results in a transportation service that's actually broadly useful, and I even think an independent work-whenever you want model has a lot of strong points too. I'll even say that although the Uber people got shit for saying driver health insurance is something for the ACA to sort out I really kinda think that's more the way it should be, flexible employment and a guaranteed safety net - the problem of course being that we might not actually end up having the latter. But at this point I think the Uber that actually exists is a shady company for multiple reasons.
posted by atoxyl at 4:15 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


>>A little digging brings up that Emil used to work at the pentagon for former Secretary of Defense and old Bush family operative Robert Gates. I guess old habits die hard - especially when no one gets punished for them...

With a resume like this, he might be a little difficult to fire -- he's probably their NSA liaison.

And no wonder he had Lacy's information at his fingertips.
posted by jamjam at 4:31 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I really, really want to love you, Uber. Why must you keep making it so hard?
posted by spilon at 4:34 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


The worst thing is that I'm not even sure this is the worst thing I learned about Uber this month.

Uber and Its Shady Partners Are Pushing Drivers into Subprime Loans
posted by MCMikeNamara at 4:49 PM on November 18, 2014 [8 favorites]


Their CEO issued a non-apology apology today, in tweet form.
posted by zixyer at 4:55 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Down with Cab Groupon
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:55 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Related: The Smartest Bro in the Room, a new profile of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. It was there that I learned that Travis was one of the folks involved with Scour, a late-90s search engine for Windows fileshares. Basically they crawled the Internet and found a bunch of people with unsecured Windows machines on the Internet and helped you download files from them.

I love the Uber product but am increasingly dismayed at Uber-the-company. I'm fine with them throwing sharp elbows at US taxi companies, because they are terrible and the beneficiaries of a corrupt system in every American city I know about. But then the company acts terribly in so many ways.
posted by Nelson at 4:59 PM on November 18, 2014 [9 favorites]


Uber and Its Shady Partners Are Pushing Drivers into Subprime Loans

this is pretty fucking evil.

like, james bond villain laser death ray levels of evil.
posted by emptythought at 5:01 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Their CEO issued a non-apology apology today, in tweet form.

I bet Uber has fired people for less before.
posted by rhizome at 5:09 PM on November 18, 2014


A couple of things I'd like to point out that are just breathtakingly stupid:
  • Is there any more guaranteed way of attracting negative press coverage than picking on reporters? The press love to write stories in which the press are the victims or the press are the heroes. Give them a chance to act heroic in the defense of someone else from the press who has been victimized and you can pretty much count on them going to town. Which is fine if that's what you want, but it doesn't sound like this guy's got a reason to want that and may have reasons not to.
  • As an upper level executive of a company like this, you should not have access to individual user data. For you, as a VP-level or above mananger, to spill details from individual user tells anybody who cares about such things that your company has shitty compartmentalization and no internal privacy controls. You shouldn't even want to have access to it -- nothing good is going to come of it. Don't get me wrong, it's not in the least surprising that a startup has shitty compartmentalization and no internal privacy controls. But maybe you don't want to jump up and down waving a red flag to highlight that.
  • In fact, unless you have found a way to make substantial money off of it, why are you keeping individually identifiable data a minute past the time limit needed to ensure billing, anyway? Congratulations, you've created an attractive nuisance. Get ready to spend a non-profitable amount of time and energy satisfying evidence requests from law enforcement, among other things. Hell, maybe you'll even get dragged into actions between private individuals -- it's gonna be hard to argue in court that your privacy policy forbids producing the records when you have execs who are on the record doxxing reporters for giggles.
Not that I think that Uber execs will be held accountable for any of this, but if you can't get worked up about the privacy implications, or the potential misogyny, or any of the other reasons already offered why you should think this story reflects badly on Uber management, it's still pretty hard to get past the arrogant idiocy of it.
posted by Nerd of the North at 5:12 PM on November 18, 2014 [28 favorites]


I think we need to improve public transportation.
posted by McMillan's Other Wife at 5:13 PM on November 18, 2014 [46 favorites]


I need some more time to articulate this but:

The essence of Uber is to be an extractive business model. That is, they make money by skimming value off the top of other people's work. They don't really own much beyond brand and IP, and the don't really create anything more than an app and a network effect. If Uber were to vanish in a puff of smoke tomorrow the world wouldn't look much different than it does today.

While it can be argued that Uber creates value through efficiency, I strongly feel that efficiency comes at a very steep price. Drivers are under compensated, worker protections are undermined and regulations are sidestepped. These things will have consequences.

I bring this up not to rehash the Uber business model debate, but to illustrate my utter lack of surprise around the behavior of its executives. Of course these guys are elitist, Randian corporate fascists willing to do anything to make a buck or feed their egos. They don't see the world as a place to be made better; the world is just something to extract value from - people are merely in the way.
posted by elwoodwiles at 5:25 PM on November 18, 2014 [11 favorites]


The hacker news discussion yesterday was a scream.
posted by bukvich at 5:28 PM on November 18, 2014


As an upper level executive of a company like this, you should not have access to individual user data. For you, as a VP-level or above mananger, to spill details from individual user tells anybody who cares about such things that your company has shitty compartmentalization and no internal privacy controls.

I'd think it's worse than that -- for an exec to casually do that at a party, it seems to me that someone would probably have had to build a tool to do it, in which case, it isn't a bug, it's a feature.
posted by weston at 5:37 PM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'd like to point out that Pando Daily has been involved in some unethical (lol) coverage before and on the whole is often a mouthpiece for particular VCs vs their competition. This doesn't of course excuse this bullshit, but it does explain the particular glee with which this jerkwad expounded upon his nefarious plan.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:44 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Their CEO issued a non-apology apology today, in tweet form.

That doesn't look like a non-apology apology to me, although it's not exactly a decisive demonstration that these remarks are unacceptable.
posted by grouse at 6:32 PM on November 18, 2014


The essence of Uber is to be an extractive business model. That is, they make money by skimming value off the top of other people's work. They don't really own much beyond brand and IP, and the don't really create anything more than an app and a network effect. If Uber were to vanish in a puff of smoke tomorrow the world wouldn't look much different than it does today.

I've argued several times that most of these services that essentially just connect someone who will perform labor with someone willing to pay for it probably don't really require such a heavyweight middleman. In a case like this it seems like the promise that drivers are *somehow* vetted probably counts for a fair amount - how much Uber and co. actually deliver on that promise I don't know - so somebody has to pay for that and the software. I can't say I really have a handle on what their essential operating costs are. I like the idea that there could be some sort of hybrid union/co-op/professional association for drivers to handle that stuff. Uber's size and cash give them a lot of dirty tricks to pull against anyone who might try to, you know, disrupt their model right now, though. And I do like the inclusive nature of the current services, which is not something unions and professional associations have always been known for.
posted by atoxyl at 6:53 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


No, it not a non-apology apology, to be fair. It's an actual apology in structure. It is, however, bullshit if Michael isn't fired.

There was an article that someone posted on facebook (so of course I can't find it) a while back that talked about the "secret" rider program that Uber runs (ran?) as part of their QA, and part of that was asking drivers how they liked driving for Uber. Drivers who did not display the appropriate enthusiasm learned to display the proper enthusiasm or else, from what I remember. I will go try to google this thing up now.

Ever work in a grocery store? Mystery Shoppers. I once had to explain why I greeted someone in a "mechanical" way. A co-worker got a stern talking to for telling a mystery shopper "Doing great! I get off in 10 minutes" in response to being asked how they were. Apparently in made the mystery shopper think work wasn't fun.
posted by spaltavian at 6:55 PM on November 18, 2014 [10 favorites]


There are plenty of good reasons to criticize Uber, but let's be more precise about it.

The essence of Uber is to be an extractive business model.

That is nonsense. Uber creates marketplace for finding a livery cab (Black Car) or a rideshare (UberX). Before Uber it was significantly less practical to hire a black car, you had to find some tiny little company and reserve hours in advance. Before UberX and Lyft there was no market for paid ridesharing, particularly given the regulatory problems of non-commercial drivers in private cars. Uber adds significant value in creating the marketplace for finding a driver. We can argue whether the fees they charge drivers are fair or whether the way they treat their drivers is ethical. But calling it "extractive" in comparison to some Evil Capitalist exploiting Noble Labor is missing the value Uber has generated in creating a market for that labor. (I'm assuming you don't mean "extractive" in the oil-drilling sense.)

Randian corporate fascists

As contemptible as both Randianism and fascism are, particularly the cartoon varieties generally imagined in such rhetorical flourishes, they are philosophies in opposition.
posted by Nelson at 6:59 PM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


That is nonsense. Uber creates marketplace for finding a livery cab (Black Car) or a rideshare (UberX).

They didn't create the marketplace, it has existed as long as there have been cars. In some urban areas "hacks" were/are quite common. Rideshares have also been around for a long, long time - usually through a network of churches and hostels. What Uber did was move a grey market activity into the mainstream - via an app. And it's the app they created, not the marketplace that the app hooks into. Did the app expand that marketplace? Absolutely. But to say Uber created the marketplace itself is more at risk of being "nonsense" than anything else.

they are philosophies in opposition.

Oh jeez, thanks for the philosophy lesson, but I think you know what I meant. While my rhetorical flourish was a bit over the top (I admit) it does illustrate how I view people who believe their money and status within a capitalist economy gives them the right to rule over others.
posted by elwoodwiles at 7:17 PM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


Kai Ryssdall referenced this Uber blog post (about using customer data to figure out who's going to and from one-night stands). Their data posts are both kind of creepy and also fascinating.
posted by rtha at 7:22 PM on November 18, 2014 [6 favorites]


I guess this is the Pig Data revolution we've all been hearing so much about.

(No offense meant to the Apache pig project, BTW.)
posted by tonycpsu at 7:27 PM on November 18, 2014


I'd forgotten about that robust church-and-hostel rideshare market in San Francisco before Uber came in and ruined everything with their fascist libertarianism. Back in the 00's I used to call Father Larry from Our Lady of the Perpetual Chariot at 1:30am, after a night of drinking at the bars. "Larry!", I'd shout into the payphone over the music at The Stud, "come pick me up!". He'd send someone right over who for $12 brought me safely home. Sometimes I called the hostel desk instead, particularly when I was looking for a hookup. "Extractive", if you know what I mean.
posted by Nelson at 7:51 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


This is the email I got from Uber when I requested to cancel my account:
Hi Tiara,

Thank you for taking the time to write in to us -- we're sad to see you go.

Please know that we have not, do not, and will not investigate journalists. These remarks do not reflect the views of the company and have no basis in the reality of our approach. Our executive has apologized for his comments.

If you'd still like to delete the account, I can go ahead and do that for you. The account information along with all associated data will be cleared out. Just keep in mind that the process is not reversible.

Let me know how you'd like to proceed and I'll be happy to help further.

Best,

Megan
Community Operations Manager
Uber Support
Suggestions on how to proceed?
posted by divabat at 7:53 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Nelson: There's also Homobiles, which is donation-based serves primarily the LGBTQ and sex worker community. I think I might rely on them a little more rather than Uber, but they do tend to need a fair bit of advance warning.
posted by divabat at 7:59 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


"No, it not a non-apology apology, to be fair. It's an actual apology in structure. It is, however, bullshit if Michael isn't fired."

People just pretty much call any apology a "non-apology apology" anymore if it doesn't abjectly beg for mercy. It's a little annoying. You're right about the bullshit though.
posted by klangklangston at 8:08 PM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Suggestions on how to proceed?

People are saying that they're not deleting your account if you say it's about Emil Michael's comments. Ask the support person to delete your account anyway and check tomorrow with a lost password request to see if it's still active.
posted by zixyer at 8:14 PM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


People are saying that they're not deleting your account if you say it's about Emil Michael's comments. Ask the support person to delete your account anyway and check tomorrow with a lost password request to see if it's still active.

Jeepers, that's a bit Hotel California.
posted by snap, crackle and pop at 8:28 PM on November 18, 2014 [11 favorites]


Does "Just keep in mind that the process is not reversible." imply that they won't let one rejoin in the future if things change?

Because that's making me MORE inclined to pull the "yes, delete my goddamn account" trigger.
posted by Lexica at 8:30 PM on November 18, 2014 [9 favorites]


You're killing me, Uber. You create an incredibly useful service that works well and that I would theoretically want to use... then you go out of your way to be skeezy for no actual business advantage I can ascertain. In fact, for an internet company, they seem to not understand how the internet works. This is the worst way to prevent unfavorable coverage of your company.
posted by the jam at 8:46 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


then you go out of your way to be skeezy

I'm sure this can be explained away with a logical fallacy, but I have a theory that the taxi industry is so corrupt that any organization that would unseat them has to be just as bad, it's just that the badness squirts out in unexpected ways.
posted by rhizome at 8:51 PM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Jeepers, that's a bit Hotel California.

Silicon Valley has been the way it is since the early '90s. It's not going to change, unless it's for the worse, and this makes me sob-wracked sad. It was a bunch of guys a crazy physicist lured out west, who established and abandoned one company after another. Intel's stuck around, while putting its knee on the throat of anything new.

India and China and Eastern Europe is too caught up in the race to be The Guy. It's gonna be South America or sub-Saharan Africa or Canada that takes the Jobs/Woz/Gates/Ellison torch and runs with it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:52 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'd forgotten about that robust church-and-hostel rideshare market in San Francisco before Uber came in and ruined everything with their fascist libertarianism.

Dude, calm the fuck down already. I was merely explaining that Hacks and Rideshares are not new concepts. Just because you never made contact with a community that managed to share resources before Uber came along doesn't make their service some kind of miracle invention.
posted by elwoodwiles at 8:56 PM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


So is a journalist ethically bound to keep a remark off the record if the remark is a threat against the journalist? This is not a rhetorical question.
posted by gingerest at 9:05 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


gingerest: Interesting question. I'd say that comments made "off the record" happen in an environment of mutual respect. What enforces the agreement is the concept that each person involved is willing to be open with the other with the purpose of building a relationship of trust. If one person in that agreement uses the agreement to make threats against the other, the agreement is void, ethically speaking.
posted by elwoodwiles at 9:14 PM on November 18, 2014 [8 favorites]


So is a journalist ethically bound to keep a remark off the record if the remark is a threat against the journalist? This is not a rhetorical question.

At time like this, I ask... WWHSTD? What would Hunter S Thompson do?

Get stomped by bikers, publish the book anyway, be criticized by the mainstream press for it. That's what he'd do.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:15 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'll leave the thread after this, because I don't want to get into a pissing match, but I'm reminded of a life I once lived.

When I needed to get to work, and couldn't afford a car of my own, I went to my church. We shared rides to work most days of the week. Some members were better off than others and more than willing to share their resources.

When I needed to travel, in my case to Chicago from little old Dayton, OH, I went to the local hostel. They had a sign-up sheet for shared rides to most major cities around me. It cost some gas money, but again, people were more than willing to share their resources.

When I needed to get home from the bar, well guess what? I had either friends I could call, or I could see if there was a hack available. The bartender usually had some numbers they could call and get me where I needed to go. And in the rare case I didn't make it home, I usually found my way to a friendly couch (or better.)

My point? Uber made a pre-existing economy more efficient, but they didn't invent anything. They just found a way to plug into a human behavior and the extract revenue. And I think this is a very important thing to understand.
posted by elwoodwiles at 9:28 PM on November 18, 2014 [7 favorites]




Confirmation bias: Tonight on my way home, an Uber driver tried to leap-frog me after I had started to switch lanes to pass someone. Then they tailgated me for two blocks, flashed their lights and turned off.
posted by klangklangston at 10:52 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the heads up on Flywheel. I'll use it around LA!
posted by persona au gratin at 2:33 AM on November 19, 2014


Another good thing about Flywheel: No surge pricing, unlike Uber.
posted by vickyverky at 3:10 AM on November 19, 2014


I'm sure this can be explained away with a logical fallacy, but I have a theory that the taxi industry is so corrupt that any organization that would unseat them has to be just as bad, it's just that the badness squirts out in unexpected ways.

I'm actually sort of willing to entertain this one. I remember the entire process of waste management being replaced by cleanscapes(who seem to have done a blackwater/Xe type nameswap to "recology") in my town being shady as fuck. Like, the whole process of the contracts and lots of shit like this even recently where someone gets run over by a garbage truck and... basically nothing happens.(that happened outside my moms place, she watched it, the lady basically exploded. dude never even got arrested)

And amusingly, it was a garbage company started by a tech dude who was supposed to be disrupting waste collection and all that.

As far as anyone could ever tell, and from everything i saw, read, and heard the new company was just as shady as what it replaced.
posted by emptythought at 3:18 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


From Nelson's link: They said God View, which shows the location of Uber vehicles and customers who have requested a car, was widely available to corporate employees.

Why? Why is this "widely" available to them? I mean, I know the answer is because they're not a transportation company, they're a data company and data is neat! but they really ought to wonder about the kind of corporate culture they've created where having access to and displaying you it to random people is normal and...neat! because it is not, it is fucked up.
posted by rtha at 5:48 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


I took a 15 mile trip, from my house to work yesterday.

$40.00 flat rate from the cab company. They took 45 minutes to pick me up. It was a dirty, old cab, the driver clearly had a hygiene problem and kept the radio up loud through the whole trip.

Through Uber it would have been $21.00 at the top end. They estimated a 4 minute pickup time.
The only reason I didn't use Uber was because I needed to pay in cash.

I think it's really great that people in this thread have the means to support a shitty service like cabs provide because principles.

Personally, though, I'd rather have the twenty bucks. Despite the "problematic" nature of uber as a company, they do provide a valuable service to people like me, at the low end of the economic scale.
posted by disclaimer at 7:17 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


In the aggregate, enough people would rather have the twenty bucks that I don't think this will affect Uber all that much at all. In theory, the magic of the free market would mean something like this would redound to their competitors' benefit, but that assumes enough people are aware of Uber's reputation, which is probably a bad assumption, and that there are enough competitors, which we know is a bad assumption.

So yeah, maybe the public outrage will get Uber's investors to put a muzzle on this asshole, but I wouldn't expect any measurable impact on their bottom line.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:30 AM on November 19, 2014


Is Lyft not in a position to really compete? I've never used either service.
posted by spaltavian at 7:33 AM on November 19, 2014


They are in some markets, not in others, but two competitors (counting legacy cab companies as one since they usually operate under licensing schemes that sort of aggregates them into one in terms of pricing etc.) != enough competitors.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:34 AM on November 19, 2014


Celebrity Uber investor Ashton Kutcher weighs in
What is so wrong about digging up dirt on shady journalist? @pando @TechCrunch @Uber
I've seen this sentiment from various sources, most notably the horrible people on Hacker News. Kara Swisher's response is rather on the nose
@aplusk @pando @TechCrunch @Uber what about a shady actor?
posted by Nelson at 7:59 AM on November 19, 2014 [9 favorites]


"Drivers are under compensated"

This is the first time I've heard this. Is this true?
posted by I-baLL at 8:04 AM on November 19, 2014


@aplusk @pando @TechCrunch @Uber what about a shady actor?

Darn that autocorrect.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:05 AM on November 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


ah ashton kutcher, the dude who went all racist to support a company he invests in and did that shitty "real men don't buy girls" campaign while simultaneously gallivanting all over town with 22 year old hostesses. he's the moral and ethical cheerleader the start up world deserves.
posted by nadawi at 8:15 AM on November 19, 2014


oh, ha, of course - ashton kutcher is one of ubers investors.
posted by nadawi at 8:18 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think it's really great that people in this thread have the means to support a shitty service like cabs provide because principles.

Oh spare me. I don't "support" a shitty service when I criticize an also shitty company.

I'm lucky to live in a place where I have options (including a private vehicle); the main problems I've had with traditional cab companies in SF are not shitty cars but shitty dispatch, and the app I mentioned upthread has pretty much taken care of that problem for times when a regular cab is the best or only option.
posted by rtha at 8:53 AM on November 19, 2014 [9 favorites]


San Francisco cabs have no dispatch. At best they may broadcast on their shitty radio that someone wants a ride. Maybe a car will come pick you up, if they feel like it, you really have no idea if or when. Because they've had no competition, SF cabs never saw any need to provide a dispatch service. And now that they have competition their response seems to be blocking roads rather than improving their service.

Curb (formerly Taxi Magic) is trying to add real dispatch of cabs in various markets. I've used it successfully in Portland, never tried it in SF. The SF version of Uber has a "Taxi" option, which I assume is just trolling since it's more expensive and worse service than the UberX option right next to it.

I like rhizome's theory that "the taxi industry is so corrupt that any organization that would unseat them has to be just as bad".
posted by Nelson at 9:06 AM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm beginning to think that the "Uber vs. Taxis" debate that always comes up whenever other issues are discussed—sub-prime loans, rider and driver safety, insurance and regulatory responsibility, &c—is an artifact of the cognitive dissonance involved with such a convenient and useful service being run by what appear to be comically-evil assholes.

(Not suggesting that "Uber vs. Taxis" isn't itself a valid debate.)
posted by truex at 9:58 AM on November 19, 2014


Uber is the Walmart of taxis. Just like Walmart, they aim to extract the maximum profit while paying their workers the lowest possible wage, meanwhile driving all existing competitors out of business. It is part of the corporate trend to convert every employee into an "independent contractor" with low wages and no benefits.

In fact the libertarian CEO stated that Obamacare played a crucial role in making Uber possible by providing free government health insurance for their underpaid drivers. Just like Walmart, Uber depends on corporate government welfare.
posted by JackFlash at 10:16 AM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]



There was an article that someone posted on facebook (so of course I can't find it) a while back that talked about the "secret" rider program that Uber runs (ran?) as part of their QA, and part of that was asking drivers how they liked driving for Uber. Drivers who did not display the appropriate enthusiasm learned to display the proper enthusiasm or else, from what I remember. I will go try to google this thing up now.

Yeah, this specific issue is not an example of Uber being particularly obnoxious. This expectation is such a commonplace, accepted thing for waitstaff, store clerks, etc., that I think to be appalled by it you must never have worked in a service industry.
posted by misha at 10:31 AM on November 19, 2014


weird that you cut out the thing rtha was responding to which was why not believe the drivers when they say it's better. rtha wasn't appalled that this sort of thing goes on, but rather pointing out that uber has made clear to their drivers to always act as if they're super impressed with their jobs, which makes believing them about how much they like uber more complicated.
posted by nadawi at 10:36 AM on November 19, 2014 [10 favorites]


Also, I, for one, would be totally willing to bite the bullet and say that that practice, across all service industries, is appalling, even separate from Uber's particular version of it.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:41 AM on November 19, 2014 [8 favorites]


Yeah, not appalled, not shocked, have worked plenty of service jobs in my life - including those with secret shoppers. nadawi explicated my point perfectly, but thank you for your charitable reading.

In other Uber news:
Uber is lobbying to change proposed legislation designed to increase the paltry number of wheelchair-accessible taxicabs in Washington, because the bill could “place excessive regulatory burdens on private vehicle-for-hire companies,” a spokesman for the tech company said.

[snip]

Uber wants to avoid any requirement to report the numbers of wheelchair-accessible trips requested and provided to passengers. Uber successfully has fought all past attempts to force the company to report trip data, claiming it is proprietary. In this case, Uber has requested the reporting requirement apply only to public for-hire vehicles: the District's approximately 7,000 metered taxicabs.
posted by rtha at 10:43 AM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I took Uber drivers at face value about their enthusiasm until I heard about the driver enthusiasm policing.

For what it's worth, I'm also appalled when other service workers are required to be anything other than courteous. I don't expect anyone to glow about making my smoothie or sandwich, doing the job effectively is enough, talk to me like a normal human being if you feel like it, anything else seems oppressive, uncanny, and patronizing.
posted by weston at 10:48 AM on November 19, 2014 [12 favorites]


John Hodgman is out. That is all.
posted by Etrigan at 10:48 AM on November 19, 2014 [6 favorites]


From the apology-shaped object: "But I will personally commit to our riders, partners and the public that we are up to the challenge."

What does that even mean? 'I will personally commit'. Well, yes, this is you saying it, and you are saying it in your own words, and you are CEO of the entire company, so the 'personally' is kind of obvious, but what does that actually mean? What are you going to do? What will happen if the company don't do it? What will you personally do if it doesn't? Were you not committed then before this happened? Or were you committed but not personally? How does that work, do you employ somebody to be committed on your behalf?

Blahblahblahblah content-free corporate bollocks.
posted by reynir at 10:59 AM on November 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


The observation about drivers not being able to speak honestly about how they feel about working for Uber is in Against Sharing by Avi Asher-Schapiro. I'm not much for Jacobin but it's a good article.

If you'll forgive my gauche self-link, I wrote up my own little piece about how Uber needs something like Google's "Don't be Evil". Uber needs corporate ethics.
posted by Nelson at 11:06 AM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


Nadawi, I wasn't responding to rtha, just backing up what spaltavian was saying about This Shitty Thing not being a Unique to Uber Shitty Thing, but a customer-oriented, service-job-related Universally Shitty Thing. No snark intended.
posted by misha at 11:13 AM on November 19, 2014


The purpose of the corporate trend toward "independent contractors" is to make each worker compete with others on wages. Instead of workers cooperating to get a larger share of the company profits, each independent contractor bids to undercut the other in a race to the bottom. Corporations love this "everyone for themselves" struggle. Uber benefits from millions of people unable to get a real job, willing to do anything to pick up a few bucks, each struggling againt the other for a tiny crumb from the pie.

Companies like Uber dream of the day when every worker is an "independent contractor", a labor source for whom they bear no responsibility, provide no benefits, no guaranteed hours, no guaranteed wages and complete uncertainty about whether or not they even get to work on any given day.

You may have seen those day laborers huddled around the entrance to Home Depot, hoping to pick up a few hours of work. That is the future these libertarian masters of the universe envision for all of us.
posted by JackFlash at 11:29 AM on November 19, 2014 [11 favorites]


What is so wrong about digging up dirt on shady journalist?

I guess this angle is starting to get some legs.

So we have Obama and his War on Journalists, and two months after his campaign manager starts working at Uber we see this. Uber's lame denials and whiny account-closing email responses are so much a part of a strategy.

Oh, and as I attempt to close my Uber account, they seem to be hiding anything related to canceling, so you have to search Google to find out how.
posted by rhizome at 11:33 AM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


ha ha ha ha Ashton Kutcher, an investor in Uber, has apparently just called Lacy "shady" ...

which I think is a conclusion Mefites reached in the thread about her newsmaking hissy fit over a venue putting a banner up, where her crony crowed about his badass history of internet fights.
posted by jayder at 11:55 AM on November 19, 2014


Lacy's reputation is irrelevant. A C-level executive threatened her to dig into her personal and family life to embarrass her because she wrote unflattering about them. That would be unacceptable even if this was the shadiest journalist this side of James O'Keefe. Kutcher's remarks amount to "she had it coming". That's idiotic.
posted by spaltavian at 12:09 PM on November 19, 2014 [9 favorites]


oh i guess i was confused, misha, because you quoted rtha and then said "you must never have worked in a service industry." also, still, i don't think anyone but you talked about being appalled by it.
posted by nadawi at 12:10 PM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


hissy fit? oh come the fuck on.
posted by nadawi at 12:11 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sarah Lacy and PandoDaily are indeed shady. PandoDaily has deep conflicts of interest in their reporting and a staff that has proven time and again not to report ethically. But I've seen no evidence that Lacy's reporting on Uber is tainted by her company's shadiness. That kind of criticism would be a fair response to Lacy, but that's not what Emil Michael proposed doing at Uber. Michael's idea was disgusting and personal.

But Michael's just a jackass running his mouth at a dinner party, easy to condemn and move on. I'm more worried about the casual access to Uber customers' travel records. That's a systemic and long-term risk. I'm reminded of the early days of Facebook, where any employee could pull up anyone's private data. With various creepy stories. Facebook fixed that long ago. Uber needs to as well.

The larger problem is that Uber keeps acting time and again in shitty, unethical, shady ways. At some point you have to see the pattern.
posted by Nelson at 12:17 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


But Michael's just a jackass running his mouth at a dinner party

I think that's a little too...I mean, he's not "just" a jackass - he's a senior veep, and he's a senior veep of a company that keeps a shitload of data about its customers, and he doesn't see anything wrong with running his mouth the way he ran it. Taken all together, it's not any less gross than the "God View" senior exec in NYC.

nadawi - we cleared it up over memail, so. yeah.
posted by rtha at 12:22 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sarah Lacy and PandoDaily are indeed shady.

Yes, they all suck. Big whoop. I don't need to take "pure as the driven snow vs evil incarnate" sides in order to think that if Uber doesn't want bad stuff written about them then they should stop doing bad stuff.
posted by rhizome at 12:22 PM on November 19, 2014 [9 favorites]


This expectation is such a commonplace, accepted thing for waitstaff, store clerks, etc., that I think to be appalled by it you must never have worked in a service industry.

Or, more likely, if you dislike the "secret shopper" bullshit, it's because you have worked in the service industry and you're drawing on personal experience.
posted by palomar at 12:23 PM on November 19, 2014 [7 favorites]


Companies like Uber dream of the day when every worker is an "independent contractor", a labor source for whom they bear no responsibility, provide no benefits, no guaranteed hours, no guaranteed wages and complete uncertainty about whether or not they even get to work on any given day.

Actually, Uber dreams of self-driving cars improving to the point where they can become Johnny Cab.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:43 PM on November 19, 2014


Another day, another PR disaster for Uber:

Heritage CEO throws wife under the Uber.

"My wife is a liberal Democrat. She is shocked that you can show up at a voting booth and not show your driver's license."

Unfortunately for his wife, she is the regional GM for Uber, best known for connecting young, oftentimes car-free urbanites with those offering rides. Thanks, hubby!
posted by markkraft at 1:11 PM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


Bay Area writer Ellen Cushing is evidently now the second woman journalist that Uber executives have tried to blackmail and intimidate.
posted by jonp72 at 1:41 PM on November 19, 2014 [10 favorites]


Companies like Uber dream of the day when every worker is an "independent contractor", a labor source for whom they bear no responsibility, provide no benefits, no guaranteed hours, no guaranteed wages and complete uncertainty about whether or not they even get to work on any given day.
While it's true that Uber don't really put a premium on your best interests or those of their drivers, this pretty much in no way distinguishes them from the taxi companies with whom they are competing.

Granted: taxi services work considerably differently from place to place, but in most places that I have lived cab drivers who are not owners are not employees of the cab company but independent contractors who pay the owners rent for the right to drive their vehicles. They are not, anywhere I have ever lived, enjoying any significant amount of employment security, getting benefits or guaranteed wages, or necessarily secure in their ability to get hours/days of work.

There's been a lot written here about ways in which Uber are sleazy, but in this, at least, they seem no sleazier than the services they are aiming to supplant.
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:40 PM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]




Wolff's piece is as about a nasty piece of writing as I've read in a while. Mainly he seems upset that Buzzfeed just wasn't nicer about the whole thing and may have taken advantage of someone who drank too much and thus didn't watch what he was saying.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:10 PM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


@daveweigel:
Shorter Michael Wolff: I invited a famous person to a party to impress rich people, but he did actual journalism and it made me look bad.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:55 AM on November 20, 2014 [16 favorites]


Going to Maine - Re/Code just wrote about Lyft (and well, eveyrone) looking at a journalist's (and well, everyone's) usage
posted by stevil at 10:20 AM on November 20, 2014


That's a helpful note. A friend also pointed me to this article, where a Lyft driver talks about feeling unsafe and making no money: Why Lyft and Uber Endanger Both Passengers and Drivers: A Former Lyft Driver Speaks Out (Of course, you can also find a lot of drivers giving testimonials about how much they love their respective service, so...)
posted by Going To Maine at 10:49 AM on November 20, 2014


Nelson: “But Michael's just a jackass running his mouth at a dinner party, easy to condemn and move on.”

This wasn't just a "dinner party;" it was a press junket, and it was intended to convince movers and shakers to support Uber publicly. Apparently the support Uber is hoping for is help in blackmailing and manipulating independent journalists. This is, in fact, more disturbing than if the meeting had been a public one.

I mean: it's like if word got out that I was talking about having my boss killed, and I defended myself by saying "that wasn't supposed to be public; that was a private conversation between myself and a hit man I happen to know."
posted by koeselitz at 2:05 PM on November 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


Nerd of the North: “While it's true that Uber don't really put a premium on your best interests or those of their drivers, this pretty much in no way distinguishes them from the taxi companies with whom they are competing... There's been a lot written here about ways in which Uber are sleazy, but in this, at least, they seem no sleazier than the services they are aiming to supplant.”

I know people say this a lot, but every single time they do it makes me twitch, because it absolutely does not matter what anyone else in the world does.

Do you know how we got to a world where workers are treated like absolute shit, where labor laws are never enforced, where companies wholeheartedly believe they can impose contractor status on people they employ? By saying: "Well, X company really isn't that much worse than anybody else..."

Holding employers accountable doesn't mean comparing them with other employers. It means holding them to the account of how an employer ought to act. And allowing more employers to enter the market at the same terrible standard that exists today is a recipe for a much worse tomorrow.
posted by koeselitz at 2:27 PM on November 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


When I wrote that thing about Michael just being a jackass, I hadn't understood this was at a press mixer event. (Albeit an off-the-record press mixer, what a bizarre thing. Related: never ever assume you are ever off-the-record, even when you have it in writing.) I've said all along that what Michael proposed was disgusting. But I could accept it as a stupid drunken one-off comment and not something they would actually do. Then again as jokes go it is in poor taste, and I take it as more evidence of an ethical problem of Uber's founding DNA.

I'm still more worried about their policies around data retention and access. I wrote support asking about that (as a casual user), here's the presumably canned reply I got
Uber has a strict policy prohibiting all employees at every level from accessing a rider or driver’s data. The only exception to this policy is for a limited set of legitimate business purposes. Our policy has been thoroughly communicated to all employees and contractors.

If you'd like to delete it, I can go ahead and do that for you. The account information along with all associated data will be cleared out. Just keep in mind that the process is not reversible.

Let me know how you'd like to proceed and I'll be happy to help further.
Note the linked policy does not enumerate the "limited set of legitimate business purposes", although it does provide a few examples. I wrote back letting them know they can "help me further" by explaining all the press stories of Uber executives looking at journalist's travel histories.

While I'm here.. there's a good Fred Wilson piece about Uber's ethical lapses. This piece follows something he wrote 10 days ago about reports of Uber trying to disrupt Lyft fundraising. Fred's pretty respected in the VC/entrepreneur community, his words carry more moral weight than most. As he says he's invested in competitors, so he's biased, but I think it's still valuable he takes such a public stand.
posted by Nelson at 2:34 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Nelson: “I'm still more worried about their policies around data retention and access.”

Yeah, I totally agree with you aside from this not being a throwaway thing. Honestly my issue is that these things seem related in some disturbing ways – specifically that Uber executives have apparently not been shy about using "God View" to track journalists on multiple occasions in the past. Combine that with this weird threatening stuff from Michael, and I can see why certain journalists are really freaked about this. And I agree that it extends beyond journalists – it's problematic for everyone else, too.
posted by koeselitz at 2:44 PM on November 20, 2014


I replied to their email with "Please clarify: does "please be aware that once it is deleted there is no way to undo this" mean that if I tried to open an Uber account in future, it would not be possible to do so?"

Been 28 hours and zero response back.
posted by Lexica at 3:44 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Lexica: I asked them about it and they said you can't undelete your account but you can start a new one.
posted by divabat at 6:22 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


koeslitz: ironically, that very sentiment is why I (and maybe some others, can't speak for them) speak up about taxi company corruption. I feel like a lot of the Uber-is-bad-because-taxis sentiment is an attempt by the taxi industry to deflect attention on their problems. They are unsafe, unreliable, don't treat employees right - but hey! Uber is SO MUCH WORSE because TECHNOLOGY!

and those of us who are aghast at Uber AND don't trust taxis with a 10ft pole are left with very few options.
posted by divabat at 6:26 PM on November 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


I hadn't understood this was at a press mixer event. (Albeit an off-the-record press mixer,

Yeah, I don't think it was necessarily officially off the record. Just doing the Tim Russert thing.
posted by rhizome at 9:28 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Nicole Campbell: What Was Said at the Uber Dinner. An account of the conversation in conflict with the Buzzfeed story.
posted by Nelson at 9:15 AM on November 21, 2014


...said by an acknowledged friend of the person involved, who also has a professional stake in this (staying in Uber's good graces means more access in the future.)

Why is it that it took three days for this account to come out?
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:57 AM on November 21, 2014


Especially since Emil has apologized for saying what Ben Smith reported him as saying. Every day now a different friend of Emil's tries to undermine the report and it doesn't seem convincing to me.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 10:01 AM on November 21, 2014 [9 favorites]


Christ. From the Campbell column:
I didn't know he was a reporter at the time but it was clear that he was trying to change the tenor of an otherwise enjoyable dinner.
Well, good heavens!
posted by spaltavian at 10:06 AM on November 21, 2014 [6 favorites]


I will say that the Gamergate dog whistle was a nice touch.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:22 AM on November 21, 2014


That Nicole Campbell article doesn't even make internal sense:
Emil then said that Sarah wouldn't like it if someone wrote false things about her or published an article that was factually wrong because we all have done things in our private lives we are not proud of.
Sarah "wouldn't like it if someone wrote false things about her" or "an article that was factually wrong" because people do things they're not proud of in private? What on earth do these things have to do with each other? What do things we do in private that we're not proud of have to do with anything at all here, unless there's a suggestion that such things will be discovered and brought out into the open to manipulate people?

She's pretty clearly twisting what happened to remove the explicit suggestion that people dig up dirt on journalists – given that that suggestion is still implicit, even in her telling of the story.
posted by koeselitz at 10:56 AM on November 21, 2014 [10 favorites]


Travis Kalanick (who was also at the dinner in question) compares Uber issues to Ferguson
posted by rhizome at 2:07 PM on November 21, 2014


Well that is probably a good way to change the topic of conversation from his earlier comments.

Oy.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:13 PM on November 21, 2014


He clearly doesn't understand how to put down a shovel, so why is he in charge of...anything?
posted by rtha at 2:29 PM on November 21, 2014


Because executives always fail up.
posted by rhizome at 2:39 PM on November 21, 2014


This is quite a telling gem from the Campbell article:

I heard a mention of a Sarah Lacy and overheard Emil say that he felt terrible that by writing an article, Sarah had actually suggested that people choose less safe alternatives based on a charge of sexism that was really a personal attack on the CEO with no basis in fact.

Classic identity collapse, "you speak against my company, you speak against me." In my experience, it's an article of faith that you don't take business personally, but here we see it exhibited without comment.
posted by rhizome at 3:16 PM on November 21, 2014


It's also a clever little ad for Uber, implying that you're more likely to be assaulted using their competitors.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:24 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


TPM (or at least a reader) on Understanding the economics of Uber. A lot of the discussion ties in with the issues of how Uber handles its press.
posted by immlass at 10:40 PM on November 23, 2014 [8 favorites]


Uber's CEO Tries to Apologize for His Executive's "Lack of Humanity"
The arc in this Twitter statement is admittedly a bit strange. Kalanick thinks Michael's comments were "terrible." He says those comments display a "lack of leadership, a lack of humanity, and a departure from our values and ideals." He says Uber should be focused on building a positive narrative to "inspire" riders and drivers, to show the "positive principles that are the core of Uber's culture." He promises to do "everything in my power" to earn trust from Uber's community. So as many Twitter users have already pointed out: Doesn't that start with firing Michael?

While Kalanick's tweets don't address Michael's employment specifically, they definitely imply that he'll be staying on. (I've emailed Uber to check, but no response yet). Kalanick is pulling from his own story here, admitting that he — so often a controversial figure — can learn from his mistakes, and so can Michael. Maybe the message Kalanick wants us to take away is that Uber believes in its employees and is willing to give second chances-so we should be too. Still, it's hard to see how a company with "positive principles" at its core can retain a senior executive who its own CEO has decried for "a lack of humanity."
posted by tonycpsu at 7:13 PM on November 25, 2014




Sweet fancy moses! That story could be its own FPP.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:30 PM on November 28, 2014


Yeah, I thought about that, but I didn't feel comfortable making two FPPs critical of Uber within a couple of weeks of each other, and I reckon even if someone else posted it, it had a high chance of getting the "this belongs in the open Uber thread" treatment.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:06 PM on November 28, 2014


Defiant Uber rideshare launches in Portland, with City Hall promising to 'throw the book' at drivers. This move is the most aggressive I've seen from Uber, they are quite deliberately violating Portland law, there's no ambiguity. Their response in this puff piece interview makes them sound like some sort of Sisters of Mercy,
saying they had no choice but to break the law to help their Vancouver customers get home, prevent DUIs, save the environment, and create jobs.

Speaking of jobs, that's a big new theme in their comms. Their blog post announcing new funding says "In 2015 alone, Uber will generate over 1mm jobs in cities around the world" without providing any sort of justification for that claim. That kind of thing gets reported uncritically.

I guess it's a step up from threatening to uncover personal dirt on reporters.
posted by Nelson at 8:12 AM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Portland's mayor responds to Uber declaring unilaterally that they're going to start operating in the city.

Though I much prefer Cabel Sasser's response ad.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:23 PM on December 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


So... anyone tried curb?
posted by Going To Maine at 5:41 PM on December 9, 2014


I tried Curb just before Thanksgiving, and wrote a comment on my experience in another Uber thread.
posted by weston at 5:54 PM on December 9, 2014


Curb is TaxiMagic rebranded. I used it in Portland a couple of months ago twice. It worked well once, not well the second time. The main problem is you end up in a taxi, and while the taxi fleet in Portland is better than many American cities it's still often a shitty car or driver. Also I didn't get the feeling the cab drivers were really committed to picking people up reliably. I'll give Curb credit though, they saw the opportunity in Portland this summer and went after it pretty strongly.
posted by Nelson at 5:56 PM on December 9, 2014


Why do we hate Uber so much?
And that, in the end, is the real reason so many people hate Uber: Because whatever we do, we can’t stop ourselves from making it bigger and more successful and more terrifying and more necessary. Uber makes everything so easy, which means it shows us who, and what, we really are. It shows us how, whatever objections we might say we hold, we don’t actually care very much at all. We have our beliefs, our morals, our instincts. We have our dislike of douchebags, our mistrust of bad behavior. We have all that. But in the end, it turns out that if something’s 10 percent cheaper and 5 percent faster, we’ll give it all up quicker than we can order a sandwich.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:39 PM on December 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


I just wish that there was an equivalent alternative to Uber. We used it to get to a party and back on Friday and it was just so quick and painless to use and there's really nothing else that comes close. Taxis are a joke, our Uber showed up in five minutes; taxis take an hour if they ever show up at all and public transit shuts down at midnight. I guess that we could try Lyft.
posted by octothorpe at 6:55 AM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I used Hailo in Toronto. They use licensed taxis but the user experience was just as good as Uber. Actually I may have been able to get rides faster due to a larger fleet? Not sure. The difference in cost to uberX was marginal.

Sadly, they pulled out of the market here, deciding they couldn't beat Uber. I remember my last Hailo ride. The cabbie reminded me that Hailo was shutting down in Toronto that afternoon. He lamented all the business he would lose. I asked if he thought of signing up for Uber. He said no, because the Uber people have "no respect." He'd rather have less business than deal with them.
posted by grouse at 8:10 AM on December 15, 2014


Lyft is the closest alternative. My SF friends speak well of FlyWheel. It dispatches to medallion cabs so you still have a shitty driver in a shitty car, but at least it may show up.

Uber's PR hits just keep coming.

They switched to surge pricing during the crisis in Sydney yesterday, charging 4X prices to people trying to get out of downtown. They later recanted and started offering refunds and free rides, but it was a nice reminder what a truly unfettered market looks like.

Also Emil Michael ended up in the SF Chronicle again. I think it's kind of a shitty article; some journalist with trawling through court documents and found a dispute the Uber VP had with his landlord. But the part where he casually mentions he's poker buddies with the Chief of Police and threatens his landlord is pretty choice, particularly since the chief says they're not friends. Anyway, that bit pushes the article into relevancy since it confirms the same sort of character that has Michael joking about researching reporter's private lives.

Has Uber announced the result of their investigation into their executives pulling up reporter's ride history records? Because I really want to know. They may be in legal jeopardy on that one, so I suspect it won't go quickly.
posted by Nelson at 8:57 AM on December 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Could it be possible that Uber will eventually stop surge pricing? Maybe as a failed libertarian experiment, profitable but utterly disastrous to any sense of goodwill for the company? I mean, that's what normal people trying to build a long-term, reputable, likeable business would do. I don't expect Uber to be ethical - that ship has sailed - but they should at least think about where they will be in 5, 10 years, and what people will continue to put up with as the competition grows fiercer.
posted by naju at 10:33 AM on December 15, 2014


Surge pricing is mostly inoffensive. It's disastrously so in situations where people are at physical risk if they can't get a car. But given that Uber's drivers are also at risk when they go into those crisis situations, I'd much rather Uber kept the surge pricing in crises but paid the extra themselves. If the surge fee is $100 because of personal risk, you pay $5 and Uber pays $95, or Uber pays all $100 because they are nice people, or they pay $50 and you buy $50 worth of credit for future Uber rides, or something. Heck, they could probably get insurance and use that to pay the extra costs.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:47 AM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Has Uber announced the result of their investigation into their executives pulling up reporter's ride history records?

Yes, and I mischaracterized the specific way Josh Mohrer (Uber's New York general manager) accessed a reporter's Uber records. Details in this article. Uber says it has “taken disciplinary actions” and nothing more.
posted by Nelson at 10:59 AM on December 15, 2014


But given that Uber's drivers are also at risk when they go into those crisis situations, I'd much rather Uber kept the surge pricing in crises but paid the extra themselves.

I'd much rather have that sort of thing be regulated by a duly appointed governmental body, but that doesn't seem to have stopped Uber anywhere anyway.
posted by Etrigan at 11:23 AM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Taxis are allegedly regulated by the PUC here in Pennsylvania but as far as anyone can tell, they've let the taxi companies do whatever the hell they wanted for generations.
posted by octothorpe at 12:55 PM on December 15, 2014


Hence my use of the word "be" there, rather than saying I'd rather have a regulatory body simply exist. I haven't heard of Uber or Lyft pushing for better regulation anywhere, except in the "drown it in a bathtub" sense of "better".
posted by Etrigan at 1:00 PM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]




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