Uber has had its share of controversies over the past year. (via medium.com)
While Uber was led by Travis Kalanick, the company had an aggressive strategy for dealing with obstacles, including regulators. In 2014, Kalanick said "You have to have what I call principled confrontation."
Uber's strategy was generally to commence operations in a city without regard for local regulations. If faced with regulatory opposition, Uber called for public support for its service and mounted a political campaign, supported by lobbyists, to change regulations.
Attacks on competitors
Uber issued an apology on January 24, 2014 after documents were leaked claiming that Uber employees in New York City deliberately ordered rides from Gett, a competitor, only to cancel them later. The purpose of the fake orders was to waste drivers' time and delay service to legitimate customers.
In Jan 2017, Uber agreed to pay $20 million to the US government to resolve accusations by the Federal Trade Commission of having misled drivers about potential earnings.
Alleged short-changing of drivers
In 2017, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of thousands of Uber drivers, alleging that Uber’s “upfront prices” policy did not provide drivers with the 80% of fares they were entitled to.
In May 2017, after the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in New York, Uber admitted to underpaying New York City drivers tens of millions of dollars over 2.5 years by calculating driver commissions on a net amount. Uber agreed to pay the amounts owed plus interest.
Operating during a taxi strike
In late January 2017, Uber was targeted by GrabYourWallet for collecting fares during a New York City taxi strike in protest of Executive Order 13769. Uber removed surge pricing from JFK airport, where refugees had been detained upon entry. Uber was targeted because Kalanick had joined the administration's Economic Advisory Council.
A social media campaign known as #DeleteUber formed in protest, leading approximately 200,000 users to delete the app. Statements were later e-mailed to former users who had deleted their accounts, asserting that the company would assist refugees, and that Kalanick's membership was not an endorsement of the administration.
Evasion of law enforcement operations
Greyball: Starting in 2014, Uber used its Greyball software to avoid giving rides to certain individuals. By showing "ghost cars" driven by fake drivers to the targeted individuals in the Uber mobile app, and by giving real drivers a means to cancel rides requested by those individuals, Uber was able to avoid giving rides to known law enforcement officers in areas where its service was illegal.
Ripley: After a police raid on Uber's Brussels office, a January 2018 report by Bloomberg News stated that "Uber routinely used Ripley to thwart police raids in foreign countries." It offered a "panic button" system, initially called "unexpected visitor protocol", then "Ripley". It locked, powered off and changed passwords on staff computers when raided. Uber allegedly used this button at least 24 times, from spring 2015 until late 2016.
Sexual harassment allegations and management shakeup (2017)
On Feb 20, 2017, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler stated that she was subjected to sexual harassment by a manager and subsequently threatened with termination by another manager if she continued to report the incident. Kalanick was alleged to have been aware of the complaint.
Uber hired former attorney general Eric Holder to investigate the claims and Arianna Huffington, a member of Uber's board of directors, also oversaw the investigation.
On Feb 27, 2017, Amit Singhal, Uber's Senior Vice President of Engineering, was forced to resign after he failed to disclose a sexual harassment claim against him that occurred while he served as Vice President of Google Search.
In Jun 2017, Uber fired over 20 employees as a result of the investigation. Kalanick took an indefinite leave of absence. Under pressure from investors, he resigned as CEO a week later.
In 2019, Kalanick resigned from the board of directors of the company and sold his shares.
God view and privacy concerns
On Nov 19, 2014, then U.S. Senator Al Franken, Chairman of the United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, sent a letter to Kalanick regarding privacy.
Concerns were raised about internal misuse of the company's data, in particular, the ability of Uber staff to track the movements of its customers, known as "God View". In 2011, a venture capitalist disclosed that Uber staff members were using the function to track journalists and politicians as well as using the feature recreationally. Staff members viewed being tracked by Uber as a positive reflection on the subject's character.
An Uber job interviewee said that he was given unrestricted access to Uber's customer tracking function as part of the interview process.
Delayed disclosure of data breaches
On Feb 27, 2015, Uber admitted that it had suffered a data breach more than nine months prior. Names and license plate information from approximately 50,000 drivers were inadvertently disclosed. Uber discovered this leak in September 2014, but waited more than five months to notify the affected individuals.
Use of offshore companies to minimize tax liability
In Nov 2017, the Paradise Papers, a set of confidential electronic documents relating to offshore investment, revealed that Uber is one of many corporations that used an offshore company to minimize taxes.
Discrimination against a blind customer
In Apr 2021, an arbitrator ruled against Uber in a case involving Lisa Irving, a blind American customer with a guide dog who was denied rides on 14 separate occasions. Uber was ordered to pay US$1.1 million, reflecting $324,000 in damages and more than $800,000 in attorney fees and court costs.
Court of Amsterdam case on 'robo-firings'
In Apr 2021, the court of Amsterdam ruled that Uber has to reinstate six drivers that were allegedly terminated based solely on algorithms and pay them a compensation fee. The practice of firing employees via automated means is against Article 22 of GDPR, which relates to automated decisions causing "legal or significant impact".
Uber challenged the ruling, claiming it was not aware of the case and that the judgement was brought by default without the company ever being notified. A court representative said the decision would be upheld and the case is now closed.