Leaked Uber Emails Reveal It Knowingly Broke Laws

A huge leak revealed shady dealings with politicians and complete disregard for driver safety.
An Uber car is waiting for customers on Grodzka Street in the center of Krakow. Krakow, one of Europe's top tourist destinations, listed UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is the second-largest city in Poland and the ancient capital of the historic Kingdom of Poland. On Sunday, May 29, 2022, in KrakPhoto by Artur Widak/NurPhoto

A new leak by The Guardian revealed how top Uber executives secretly lobbied and received help from politicians, openly discussed the dubious legal status of the company’s operations, and flippantly disregarded the safety of its drivers by sending them to a taxi industry protest, among other shady dealings. Originally reported by The Guardian on Sunday, the “Uber Files” consist of 124,000 documents containing 83,000 emails, iMessage, and Whatsapp communications. These range from 2013 to 2017 and expose chats between controversial Uber co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick, other Uber execs, and some of the world’s top leaders.

Among those are apparently text messages between Kalanick and now-French president Emmanuel Macron (who served as the country’s Minister of Economy at the time) revealing the great lengths Macron went to help Uber. In that period, the rideshare app was met with heavy resistance from local taxi industries and often went against laws and regulations. A point underscored by a separate, leaked message from one Uber exec who said, “We have officially become pirates.” A separate exchange from another exec plainly admitted: “We’re just fucking illegal.” Internal emails, meanwhile, frequently referred to the company’s own “other than legal status.”

The leaked documents also shed light on a “kill switch” protocol that Uber used when one of its offices would be raided by the authorities. As the name suggests, executives would quickly instruct IT staff to cut access to Uber’s main data systems, making it difficult for police to gather evidence. The technique was reportedly legally vetted by Uber’s legal department and was used “at least” a dozen times. Travis Kalanick’s spokesperson apparently reiterated the notion that this “kill switch” protocol did not actually delete any data and was technically not illegal.

In another instance, Kalanick displayed some fairly blatant disregard for employee safety. When other execs reportedly expressed safety concerns over sending Uber drivers to an angry taxi industry protest in France, Kalanick reportedly responded, “I think it’s worth it. Violence guarantee[s] success.”

In response to the leak, Uber did not deny the leaked documents’ legitimacy but instead came out with a statement claiming to be a different company today than it was prior to 2017. That year saw Uber undergo a significant management shakeup including the replacement of Kalanick with its current boss, Dara Khosrowshahi.

“Dara rewrote the company’s values, revamped the leadership team, made safety a top company priority, implemented best-in-class corporate governance, hired an independent board chair, and installed the rigorous controls and compliance necessary to operate as a public company.”

Uber then claimed that 90 percent of its current workforce joined the firm post-Khosrowshahi. Additionally, the company said that kill switches “should never have been used to thwart legitimate regulatory action” and claimed that they haven’t been used since 2017.

Got a tip or question for the author? You can reach him here: chris.tsui@thedrive.com