Uber’s a game-changer for millions of people, providing full-time income (or at least some extra cash) for drivers worldwide, and a (generally) safe, quickly-accessed ride between two points for passengers.
But the ride-share startup doesn’t do itself any favors when it comes to its own public image. Racism, sexism, and all stripes of gross behavior are a quick Google search away (or a conversation with anyone in Silicon Valley) when the topic of Uber comes up.
Over the past weekend, former Uber engineer Sarah Fowler became the company’s loudest whistleblower yet, by exposing the sexism she faced at the startup, bringing more scrutiny to a problem that’s now fully-metastasized inside Uber HQ. But you know what they say: The past doesn’t repeat itselfit rhymes. And this ain’t Uber’s first rodeo with PR trouble of their own making.
Here are 12 of the most damning examples of Uber-bad behavior that came before Fowler:
1. Uber defends driver accused of assault, and blames the media (Sept. 2013)
Washington D.C. resident Bridget Todd took to Twitter, and accused her Uber driver of choking her. No charges were made by either party, but Valleywag published the tweets before Todd made her account private.
Uber responded to the criticism, not with an apology, but rather, with a statement from the driver sent to Business Insider.
Again, without an apology, CEO and Cofounder Travis Kalanick sent an email to Uber’s press team, where he accused the medianot his contractorsof bad behavior. As Valleywag wrote,
In the email, Kalanick blamed the media for thinking that Uber is “somehow liable for these incidentsthat aren’t even real in the first place.” Kalanick also stressed that Uber needs to “make sure these writers don’t come away thinking we are responsible even when these things do go bad.”
2. ‘Boob-er’ (Feb. 2014)
A lot of incredible (read: disgusting) examples of Kalanick’s attitude toward women emerged from a February 2014 profile in GQ. One of the more notorious lines was Kalanick’s causal use of the phrase “Boob-er.”
Yes: “Boob-er.” As in, “women on demand.”
Observe (emphasis ours):
Not to make assumptions, but Kalanick probably wasn’t the first kid in his class to lose his virginity. But the way he talks nowwhich is largehe’s surely making up for lost time. When I tease him about his skyrocketing desirability, he deflects with a wisecrack about women on demand: Yeah, we call that Boob-er.
3. Kalanick blames the media, again (Feb. 2014)
In that same GQ profile of Kalanick, they gave him the opportunity to apologize for his handling of Todd’s case. And of course, he did…not:
When asked about it now, he repeats flatly that the incident just didn’t happen and passes on the chance to walk back his remarks.
4. Uber CEO would rather be partying than lobbying (Feb. 2014)
Let’s say you’re an investor in Uber. Or even, maybe, a driver who depends on it for a living. At the time of the GQ profile, Uber was illegal in Miami, and so, Kalanick made trips to meet with city officials.
And unfortunately for Kalanick, that meant…less time in the club, getting lit:
Without getting too far into the weeds, it’s currently against the law for a black car to be dispatched in under an hour. This surely protects limo drivers, who’ve invested in medallions. But it’s also crazy. Says Kalanick: I’m spending a lot of time with city officials in Miami when I would much rather be at the Shore Club. Or the SLS.
5. #winning = money (Feb. 2014)
Last one, from the GQ profilewhich was obviously chock full of gemsinsight into the mind of Kalanick, where “winning” or (groan) “hashtag winning” means lowering costs. Which isn’t a bad thing! Sounding like an insufferable ass, however, is:
Well-being of employees and the customers? Tbd.
“If you can get a Prius for cheaper than a taxi, you just changed 100,000 people’s lives in a city. If you can get it reliably? Holy shit. Kalanick pauses to sum up the experience, then says unabashedly: That’s hashtag winning.
6. Sexy girl ad campaign in France (Oct. 2014)
Then there was that time Uber had a promotion in Lyon, France that was in partnership with an app called “Avions de chasse,” a French colloquialism for sexy girls,” according to BuzzFeed.
The app itself sends photos of attractive women to users. For Uber, they were offering its users an opportunity to be driven by “sexy girls” for up to 20 minutes.
Shortly following the report from BuzzFeed, Uberremoved the ad campaign from its website. No apology.
7. ‘God View’ (Oct. 2014 – onward)
The idea of Uber having an internal tool used to stalk users first surfaced via Kashmir Hill of Forbes in Oct. 2014.
The GPS party trick would be an illegal sharing of location information, with Uber breaching its contract with users like Sims. Uber still regularly trots out “God View” at launch parties, but a source familiar with the matter said ‘Creepy Stalker View’ is not a regular offering.
It continued to be brought up as Uber’s Senior VP of Business Emil Michael (see below) brought up the idea of digging up dirt on journalists the next month.
In November, BuzzFeed news reporter Johana Bhuiyanclaimed she’d been tracked going to a meeting with General Manager of Uber New York Josh Mohrer in an Uber. As Bhuiyan wrote, Mohrer allegedly said, “I was tracking you,” and pointed to his phone.
Uber paid a $20,000 fine after an investigation from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
8. The not-at-all-secret-plan to dig up dirt on journalists (Nov. 2014)
Uber, one of the most valuable startups in the world, has a lot of cash on hand. Back in November 2014, Emil Michael, senior vice president of business, suggested the company should invest their money in discrediting the media.
Michael, over a dinner in New York where BuzzFeed Editor-In-Chief Ben Smith was in attendance, specifically named Sarah Lacy, editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, who had recently accused Uber of sexism and misogyny.
“Over dinner, [Michael] 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,” Smith wrote on BuzzFeed.
Michael apologized for his actions in a statement to BuzzFeed at the time but has seemingly not been reprimanded any further. An opportunity to take a stand for respect once again lost.
9. Jokes about hiring a racist blogger (Jan. 2015)
Kalanick is active on Twitterlike so many people on Twitter, perhaps to a fault. On Jan. 1, 2015, Charles C. Johnson tweeted:
To which Kalanick replied,
What that means is Kalanick, jokingly or not, just endorsed a man who, as Pando noted, threatened to publicly name the alleged victim in Rolling Stone‘sUniversity of Virginia rape story and referred to the case of Eric Garner as a “fake chokehold story.”
The exchange has since been deleted. The internet never forgets.
10. Lawsuit of employees stalking exes and Beyonc (Dec. 2016)
Ward Spangenberg, a former forensic investigator for Uber, sued the company for wrongful termination, age discrimination and defamation, according to court documents first reported by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
The lawsuit also brought back “God View,” alleging that sensitive information collected by Uber was widely available to employees, who then used it to “track high profile politicians, celebrities and even personal acquaintances of Uber employees, including ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, and ex-spouses.”
An Uber spokesperson said that Spangenberg’s claims are “absolutely untrue.” The company, the spokesperson said, built a system of administrative controls that limits who can see user data.
11. #DeleteUber (Jan. 2017)
A movement with the hashtag #DeleteUber began earlier this year in connection with two main issues both of which involved the company’s connection to President Donald Trump.
First, Kalanick agreed to be a part of Trump’s business advisory council.
Second, Uber turned off surge pricing shortly after a taxi strike in opposition of Trump’s travel ban.
More than 200,000 people deleted their Uber accounts, according to the New York Times. It caused so much of a stir that Uber admitted to having to build a better system to improve the process. Before, deleting your Uber account was not automated.
Kalanick later stepped down from the council. He also agreed, as of last week, to meet with diversity advocate Rev. Jesse Jackson to discuss initiatives. Given Fowler’s remarks and all the examples above, they’ll clearly have a lot to talk about.
12. Kalanick hasn’t tried
At the top, Kalanick is seemingly reactionary rather than proactive in all of these situations. The worst part about it all: a guest post in Fortune by Chris Sacca, an investor in Uber and friend of Kalanick, shows that if Kalanick wanted to change, he could.
But that day in Truckee, I was reminded of how tireless and obsessive Travis can be when it comes to achieving goals he sets out for himself.
He doesnt sleep. He doesnt lose focus. He will even forget to eat. He executes again and again, inspiring those around him to have the same passion for the end game as he does. So, if Travis decides he wants to provide a cleaner, safer, easier experience than the current taxi system, he will make that work.