Technology

Uber secretly lobbied prominent politicians, leaked files show

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Ride-hailing app Uber secretly lobbied prominent politicians in countries across the world — including the current leaders of the United States, France and Germany — to achieve its regulatory and political goals, according to leaked internal company files released over the weekend. 

The “Uber Files” — which include emails, text messages and other documents from 2013 to 2017 obtained by The Guardian and shared with dozens of other media outlets — detail an extensive lobbying network that included many former aides to top political figures in the U.S. and other countries as Uber sought to expand its operations across the globe.

In many regions, governments tightly regulated taxi licenses, making Uber’s expansion plans a major disruptor to traditional industry rules. 

The reports reveal how Uber broke through those obstacles by leveraging its lobbyists to win over figures such as President Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the company’s goals when the men were in lower political offices. 

In all, the leaked documents revealed more than 100 meetings with public officials from 18 countries and European Union institutions. An advisory firm further helped Uber compile lists of more than 1,850 “stakeholders” to influence in 29 countries, according to the documents.

The documents also revealed how Uber capitalized on violence against drivers to its political advantage. 

Lobbyist Mark MacGann, who was central to Uber’s expansion efforts across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, came forward publicly as the source of the documents in an interview with The Guardian published on Monday. 

“We understand that Mark has personal regrets about his years of steadfast loyalty to our previous leadership, but he is in no position to speak credibly about Uber today,” Uber said in a statement, adding that the investigation was published only after MacGann received a check from Uber as part of a lawsuit.

MacGann told the outlet he decided to leak the documents because he believes the ride-hailing company skirted laws during its expansion and misled people about the benefits to drivers while lobbying for loosened regulations.

“There has been no shortage of reporting on Uber’s mistakes prior to 2017,” Uber Senior Vice President of Marketing and Public Affairs Jill Hazelbaker said in a statement responding to reports about the leaked communications. 

She noted that the company has since hired a new CEO, who Hazelbaker said rewrote the company’s values, prioritized safety and made Uber a “different company.”

“We have not and will not make excuses for past behavior that is clearly not in line with our present values,” Hazelbaker said. “Instead, we ask the public to judge us by what we’ve done over the last five years and what we will do in the years to come.”

Many of the reports in part focus on the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where Uber executives schmoozed and lobbied world leaders and oligarchs.

Biden, then vice president, showed up late for his meeting with Travis Kalanick, Uber’s co-founder and then-CEO, at the forum, according to the investigation. 

But Biden was so impressed with Kalanick’s pitch of how Uber was transforming cities and the workforce that he appeared to amend his speech delivered later that day on digital advances.

“Ride-sharing companies employ tens of thousands of new people,” Biden said during his speech. “I met with the CEO today of one of those companies, saying he’s going to add 2 million new jobs this year, allowing them freedom to work as many hours as they wish, manage their own lives as they wish.”

Uber executives in Davos also met with then-Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-British Chancellor George Osborne, according to the investigation.

The investigation found that although the Osborne meeting was made public, Uber held meetings with six British Tory Cabinet ministers that were not disclosed. The Guardian reported that it is unclear if lobbying rules would require such declarations.

The files also painted Macron, the French president who was then serving as finance minister, as a close Uber ally. 

The investigation revealed more than a dozen undisclosed communications between Uber and Macron or his aides between September 2014 and February 2016, including four reported meetings between Macron and the company.

French lawmakers in 2014 had passed a law banning one of Uber’s low-cost services. The documents show a series of communications the following October, when authorities in the French city of Marseille appeared to ban the company’s UberX service.

MacGann, the source of the leak, sent a text to Macron, the documents show.

“Could you ask your cabinet to help us to understand what is going on?” MacGann wrote.

“I’ll look into this personally,” Macron wrote back. “Send me all the facts and we’ll decide by tonight. Let’s stay calm at this stage, I trust you.”

The suspension order was revised hours later, according to the reports.

Kalanick, Uber’s founder, also met with Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, in 2016.

“Right now you are seen as aggressive,” Rutte told Kalanick, according to meeting notes published as part of the investigation. 

Rutte advised Kalanick to “change the way people look at the company” by stressing the benefits of Uber. 

“This will make you seem cuddly,” he told Kalanick, according to the notes.

–Updated at 2:52 p.m.

Tags Biden Emmanuel Macron Emmanuel Macron Jill Hazelbaker Joe Biden Olaf Scholz Olaf Scholz Travis Kalanick Travis Kalanick Uber

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