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Pro-ride sharing but anti-Uber

Stop what you’re doing and read this.

Uber

A big debate among the Pando staff for the past two years has been over just how morally bankrupt Uber is. Earlier this evening, a bombshell story by Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith proves the reality is way worse than anyone on our team could have expected.

And that’s saying something.

Back in 2012, Paul Carr first raised serious concerns about the company’s view that both riders and drivers are disposable commodities in an all-out Randian battle to maximize profits. He uninstalled the app when he wrote that piece, and he started a drumbeat of press around these concerns.

Then, in 2014, Carmel DeAmicis exposed that an Uber driver accused of assault had a criminal record that should have been uncovered by the background checks Uber claimed to do. She further documented a “blame the passenger” culture at the company when such complaints came up.

It started to snowball: An investigation at The Verge exposed cut throat competitive tactics that the company has taken against its primary competitor Lyft.

Then, a few weeks ago, I wrote a story about the outrageous sexism woven deeply into the culture of the company. We’ve seen it in the company’s PR team discrediting female passengers who accuse drivers of attacking them by whispering that they were “drunk” or “dressed provocatively.”

We’ve seen it in CEO Travis Kalanick’s comments that he calls the company “boober” because of all the tail he gets since running it.

And on October 22, we saw it again with an offensive campaign in Lyon that encouraged riders to get picked up by hot female drivers, essentially a scary invitation to objectify (or worse) any woman working for the company. That ad was taken down once exposed by Buzzfeed, but sources tell us no one was fired for taking that kind of “initiative.” We also heard that Kalanick’s misogyny is such a problem that recently hired political operative David Plouffe had made it a priority to work on the CEO’s behavior. As if that kind of misogyny– and encouragement of it in a corporate culture– is something that careful media training can repair rather than simply disguise.

I have known many of Uber’s key investors and founders personally for six to ten years. Over that time I’ve seen an ever-worsening frat culture where sexist jokes and a blind eye here-or-there have developed into a company where the worst kind of smearing and objectification of women is A-ok. It’s impossible to prove that Kalanick directly ordered things like slut-shaming female passengers or the creepy Lyon ad — and, to be clear, there’s no evidence he was personally involved in either of those scandals — but let’s be clear: The acceptance of this kind of behavior comes from the top.

When I saw the Lyon post, it was finally enough for me. As a woman and mother of two young kids, I no longer felt safe using Uber and deleted the app from my phone.

And yet, somehow, despite years now of Pando carefully chronicling this disturbing escalation of horrible behavior — which has been considered cute by many of the other tech blogs and excused away by the VCs profiting off Uber– the company still has the ability to shock and horrify me.

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.

By the way, as of this posting, the executive in question still works for Uber. As you know, I have been a proponent of so-called ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, and have supported their efforts to get cities to update their municipal codes to allow them to operate, even as they have flouted existing rules while waiting for that to happen. I continue to see enough good in the possibilities of such services to believe they should be allowed to operate, and I also believe they’ll come in whether we want them to or not so it’s better to get ahead of the issue and regulate them as needed rather than react to them.

That doesn’t mean that I think these services are unalloyed good – I’m not nearly naive enough to believe that any large corporate enterprise can be “good” in anything but a limited set of ways – nor does it mean that I’m rooting for either of these companies to be the market standards. There were and are plenty of things about their business model to give one pause, and that’s before the latest string of embarrassing and horrifying stories about Uber began hitting the wires. I hadn’t gotten around to installing one of these apps on my phone – I don’t really have much need for a vehicle for hire – and with Lyft’s departure I see no need to install one now. Given what we have learned about Uber, I could not in good conscience use them or recommend them. There are plenty of ways to get around Houston without your own car, including those stodgy old taxis, and they’re all preferable to the ungodly mess that is Uber. Frankly, the best thing that could happen at this point is for that business to collapse under the weight of its own arrogance and hubris, and have a better business, one that actually cares about its drivers and its riders, emerge to replace it. You brought this on yourself, Uber. May you serve as a lesson to others for a long time.

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2 Comments

  1. Andrea says:

    I still think it is wrong-wrong-wrong to use their language and call these services ride-sharing. If you pay for a ride in a car, even someone’s private car who is not normally a taxi driver, you are not sharing and they are not sharing. They adopted this language on purpose, but it doesn’t mean we have to use it.

  2. Amerloc says:

    What we need is an app that summons a GoogleCar to our current location and delivers us to our desired destination. What do we need drivers for in the first place? 🙂