Updated July 11, 2022 at 12:00 p.m. EDT|Published July 10, 2022 at 12:00 p.m. EDT
This story has been updated to reflect that the source of the Uber Files trove, former company lobbyist Mark MacGann, has publicly identified himself. The Washington Post and other project partners previously had agreed to keep his identity confidential.
Five years into Uber’s war to supplant the taxi industry, executives at the ride-hailing app were in danger of losing a crown jewel in their global conquest: Paris.
The San Francisco start-up was flush at the start of 2016, valued by investors at more than $50 billion, and was racing to expand into Africa, India and Asia. But Uber’s first international outpost — the French capital —had become the center of a bloody battle over the company’s ambition, a trove of documents from inside the corporation shows.
In the previous year, more than 80 Uber drivers had been physically attacked across Europe, and dozens of their cars destroyed, in clashes with taxi drivers who werefearful of losing their livelihoods as Uber’s low fares upended their industry. When protests against the company erupted in Paris, managers began working from an unmarked office and for safety reasons were ordered not to wear Uber-branded clothing in public, the documents show.
In a series of text messages on Jan. 29, 2016, Uber’s then-chief executive, Travis Kalanick, pushed his top lieutenants to mount a counterprotest. Kalanick wanted a peaceful sit-in or march in the city’s center. “Civil disobedience” “15,000 drivers” “50,000 riders,” he wrote in a burst of unpolished, often abbreviated messages. One executive in response raised concern “about taxi violence against” Uber drivers, and another said the company could “look at effective civil disobedience and at the same time keep folks safe.”
Kalanick shot back, saying that if the crowd was big enough, Uber drivers would be safe. And if clashes did occur, he appeared to suggest, that could benefit Uber, too:
The text exchange is among more than 124,000 company documents that a former top Uber lobbyist, Mark MacGann, provided to the Guardian. The publication shared the emails, instant messages, company presentations and other records with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a nonprofit newsroom in Washington that helped lead this project, and more than 40 other news organizations, including The Washington Post. The documents provide a vivid, insider account of how from 2013 to 2017, Uber used bare-knuckle tactics to expand rapidly around the globe as it became one of the most-used transportation companies on the planet. MacGann was Uber’s head of public policy in Europe, the Middle East and Africa from 2014 to 2016.
The company launched operations on four continents in rapid succession, often without seeking licenses to operate as a taxi and livery service, casting itself as merely a technology platform that connected willing passengers and drivers. To try to rewrite laws to recognize its position, Uber exported sophisticated American lobbying methods, the documents show, and it leveragedviolence against its drivers in its efforts to win sympathy from regulators and the public.
In some instances, when drivers were attacked, Uber executives pivoted quickly to capitalize, the documents show. If a driver had been stabbed or beaten, or bricks had been thrown at his car, company officials behind the scenes provided details to the media if they thought the violence would result in negative attention for the taxi industry, the communications show. Uber would simultaneously activate its lobbyists, using attacks on drivers to secure meetings with politicians and push for regulatory changes, the documents show.
In the case of the demonstration in Paris, Kalanick and Uber managers helped arrange for a public show of support for the company at a time when taxi drivers were already clashing with police over Uber’s growing presence in the country. The night after the counterprotest in the city’s center, police said they intervened to prevent serious injuries as some 50 taxi drivers clashed with Uber drivers on the outskirts of Paris.
Two former Uber executives said that company officials saw potential utility in the violent clashes and sought to capitalize on such incidents for public relations and political benefit. One of the executives, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal company matters, said that it would have been foolish not to do so. “Why can’t we be as fierce competitors as they are, so long as we are doing it in a reasonably legal way?” the person asked.
The other former executive, MacGann, said the episode fit a pattern. “It was considered as beneficial to weaponize Uber drivers in this way, to get them to stand up for what they wanted — and of course, that served Uber’s purposes,” MacGann said.
In response to questions from The Post, Jill Hazelbaker, Uber’s senior vice president for marketing and public affairs, acknowledged past mistakes in the company’s treatment of drivers, especially under Kalanick, who was forced out as chief executive by investors in 2017. But she said no one, including Kalanick, wanted violence against Uber drivers.
“There is much our former CEO said nearly a decade ago that we would certainly not condone today,” she wrote. “But one thing we do know and feel strongly about is that no one at Uber has ever been happy about violence against a driver.”
Devon Spurgeon, a spokeswoman for Kalanick, said in a statement to The Post that any suggestion he acted inappropriately was false. “Mr. Kalanick never suggested that Uber should take advantage of violence at the expense of driver safety,” the statement read.
It said the company’s expansion initiatives were “led by over a hundred leaders in dozens of countries” and were carried out “with the full approval of Uber’s robust legal, policy, and compliance groups.” It continued: “Uber became a serious competitor in an industry where competition had been historically outlawed. As a natural and foreseeable result, entrenched industry interests all over the world fought to prevent the much-needed development of the transportation industry.”
The documents shed new light on how Uber’s arrival in Paris and around the world drove taxi drivers to desperation. Uber burned through investor money, suddenly and radically altering the ride-hailing market with artificially low fares when it entered a new foreign city, especially in Europe, where some of the most violent protests unfolded. In Madrid, the documents show, the company at one point was paying incentives of $17.50 an hour to each driver — accounting for almost two-thirds of their pay. In Hamburg, Uber drivers would have made $2.20 per hour under market conditions, minus a small commission, but the company paid each driver an additional $15 per hour — giving away rides almost for free.
Uber was spending heavily to influence the levers of power in countries it entered. Globally, the company’s budget for policy and communications work was $90 million in 2016, according to one draft budget document. Uber confirmed that the figure was accurate and that about 45 percent went topublic affairs work overseas. To press its case with foreign governments, the company was also spending heavily to hire big names such as David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser under President Barack Obama.
As it operated in some countries despite court orders to desist, Uber maintained a 24-hour, multicountry emergency-response system that was used to keep company information out of the hands of investigating authorities, the documents show. The “kill switch,” as the company’s chief executive and others called it, was used at least a dozen times to sever connections to Uber’s internal computer networks as investigators moved in, sometimes with employees using stall tactics to keep detectives away from screens until they went dark, records show.
Hazelbaker said Uber does not employ such tactics today. She said “mistakes” made under Kalanick led five years ago to “one of the most infamous reckonings in the history of corporate America. That reckoning led to an enormous amount of public scrutiny, a number of high-profile lawsuits, multiple government investigations, and the termination of several senior executives. It’s also exactly why Uber hired a new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, who was tasked with transforming every aspect of how Uber operates.”
“We have not and will not make excuses for past behavior that is clearly not in line with our present values. 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,” Hazelbaker said.
The statement provided by Kalanick’s spokeswoman said there are legitimate business purposes for companies operating overseas to use tools to restrict access to their computer networks, including protecting “intellectual property and the privacy of their customer,” as well as ensuring “due process rights are respected in the event of an extrajudicial raid.” It continued, “These fail-safe protocols do not delete any data or information and all decisions about their use involved, were vetted by, and were approved by Uber’s legal and regulatory departments.”
Plouffe said in a statement that Uber and governments had to find a way forward in a legal landscape that was at times unsettled. But Plouffe said that, internally, he sometimes protested the company tactics.
“During my time at Uber, there was a very public, global and sometimes fierce debate about how and whether ridesharing should be regulated,” Plouffe said. “Sometimes those debates and negotiations were straightforward, sometimes they were more challenging, and sometimes there were people within the company who wanted to go too far. I did my best to object when I thought lines would be crossed — sometimes with success, sometimes not.”
Today, Uber has abandoned its ambitions to dominate markets such as Germany and India. It is winding down its operations in Russia and has pulled out of China altogether. In some countries, Uber has begun to work with the taxi industry it couldn’t replace, allowing passengers to book cab rides on its app.
Nonetheless, Uber is growing. The company operates in 71 countries and books some 19 million trips over its app each day — a testament to its convenience for customers and to the weakness the company rightly identified in the taxi industry’s ability to meet demand.
In the wake of that success are altered lives and livelihoods. Taxi drivers from Cape Town to Connecticut have been plunged into financial hardship, according to records and interviews, strapped by falling fares and in some cases encumbered by debt from mortgaged taxi licenses that have plummeted in value. As the Uber subsidies waned, many of its drivers also havestruggled to make ends meet. From New York to New Delhi, a handful of taxi and Uber drivers have died by suicide, citing deep debt and disgust with the company.
Moments of candor tucked in the gigabytes of leaked internal records show that some Uber executives knew early on that the phone app was on a collision course with hard realities.
“Get some sleep when you can,” the company’s head of communications, Nairi Hourdajian, wrote to one of the company’s top European lobbyists in December 2014. “Remember that everything is not in your control, and that sometimes we have problems because, well, we’re just f------ illegal.”
Hourdajian declined to comment.
‘Embrace the chaos’
In the 15 years after he dropped out of UCLA in 1998 to start a file-sharing company, Kalanick knew only the scrappy world of Silicon Valley start-ups. He went without a paycheckfor years at a time, living with his parents and putting everything he had into one venture after another, each seeking to strike it big by using computers to disrupt an antiquated market. After launching Uber in San Francisco in 2010, Kalanick enjoyed increasing celebrity and wealth, and millions in seed funding was ballooning into what would eventually be billions in venture capital. But he could not shake the start-up mind-set, the sense that he was the challenger taking on Goliath.
“I’m still the David,” Kalanick told an audience at a tech conference in 2014. “The opponent is an a--h--- named Taxi,” he said. “Nobody likes him, he’s not a very nice character,” he said, adding that “we have to bring out the truth about how dark, and how dangerous and evil the taxi side of things is.”
Domestically, Uber had faced pushback from taxi unions, and challenges from other start-up ride-hailing apps, not the least of which was Lyft. Kalanick recognized that feuding with up-and-coming competitors could quickly become a race to the bottom, to outsubsidize riders’ fares. To keep ahead, he sought to push Uber into new markets where its prime adversary would be the legacy taxi business.
Kalanick set a goal of operating in 500 cities worldwide by 2017. In some of those places, there were no laws governing Uber’s business model, and cities embraced it. But in many others — as had been the case across much of the United States — the laws were complex and unsettled, and the question of how they applied to Uber and similar companies was in dispute.
In early 2014, the company heavily promoted the hashtag #UberEverywhere, highlighting dozens of cities worldwide where it had launched operations.
In a memo to Uber managers in India that August, Allen Penn, whom Kalanick had tapped to lead Uber’s expansion across Southeast Asia, summed up his view of the company’s approach: “Embrace the chaos.” The company had started there with a luxury-car offering but was drawing objections from regulators as it pressed into what was expected to be a much bigger market of low-cost ride hailing.
“We will likely have both local and national issues in almost every city in India for the rest of your tenure at Uber … so get used to this,” Penn said. “We will generally stall, be unresponsive, and often say no to what they want. This is how we operate and it’s nearly always best.”
To be clear, Penn wrote, echoing his boss, Uber’s troubles were the fault of the taxi industryand jealous upstarts: “Competitors apply this pressure to govts to f--- with us because they want to disrupt our business growth.”
Penn did not respond to emails and messages seeking comment.
It wasn’t just India and France. Taxi drivers on three continents were protesting during the summer of 2014, calling on officials to clamp down on Uber’s ride hailing for allegedly violating local laws. Authorities from Thailand to the Netherlands were investigating. In Germany, courts in Hamburg and Berlin were asked to decide if Uber was legal. Frank Horch, Hamburg’s senator for economic affairs, said in an interview on Aug. 11 that he wanted to ban Uber for not having permits to operate.
Inside Uber, Horch’s comments drew immediate attention. A network of employees monitored threats and comments made about the company around the clock. Uber’s communications teams had built 89 databases, spanning five continents and containing a combined 2,000 names of people the company saw as threats or points of opportunity for influence or lobbying, according to the documents.
In response to the German lawmaker’s comment, an Uber lobbyist wrote: “Horch needs neutralizing politically as well as in media terms.”
With investors, including Google, voicing concerns, Kalanick set in motion a newly focused effort to win over politicians needed to rewrite laws around the globe to facilitate Uber’s operations. He announced on Aug. 19, 2014,that the company was hiring a campaign manager with name recognition among leaders worldwide — Plouffe, who had led Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Kalanick boasted that Plouffe would be senior vice president of policy and strategy and Uber’s “field general,” in charge of messaging and beating the “big taxi cartel.”
Plouffe was more diplomatic, writing on the company’s website that Uber had a chance to be a “once in a decade, if not once in a generation company,” and telling Politico his job would be to “change the point of view of established politicians.”
Plouffe began promoting positive aspects of the company. Driving for money gave people freedom and flexibility to make extra cash, he said. The online app connected neighborhoods that were underserved by taxis. Sober Uber drivers would mean safer roadways, as drunk drivers would be kept off the road at night. If Uber were broadly used, people wouldn’t need to own cars at all, reducing roadway congestion and emissions.
Plouffe’sstaff began coordinating with Jim Messina, Obama’s former deputy White House chief of staff, records show. Messina was already on board as an Uber consultant.
A spokesman for Messina said in a statement to The Post that Uber was one of many companies Messina advised over the past decade. His work for company executives “involved helping them understand the political landscape in certain European countries where the company was seeking to grow its business,” the statement said.
Plouffe was also enmeshed in high-stakes regulatory fights in dozens of countries. “URGENT Berlin,” read the subject of an October 2014 email relaying news thatUber had received a cease-and-desist letter and was facing fines of $25,000 per day. Soon, emails from Plouffe’s aides and others in the company were going out to officials from Berlin to Brazil seeking to set up meetings to head off regulatory actions. If Plouffe’s name wasn’t immediately recognizable, Uber staffers left little doubt about their negotiator’s calling card in many of the messages: “Plouffe (Obama White House).”
Plouffe was also soon exposed to the depths of the company’s struggles with regulators and police, the documents show.
In November 2014, he was copied on an email with the subject line “Re: Kill Paris access now.” The forwarded message recounted how officers from France’s General Directorate for Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control had just raided Uber’s Paris location and company officials had shut down access to company data. Plouffe responded, inquiring about the authorities who raided the company. “They report to Macron, correct?” he wrote, referring to French President Emmanuel Macron, then the economic minister.
Plouffe did not provide detailed responses to The Post’s questions. Hedid dispute that he had traded on his name recognition from working for Obama to advance Uber’s goals.
“Let me tell you, you get in the room with a transportation minister, I don’t care where it is, state capital, city council, European capital, African country, they don’t care what I or anyone else did before,” he said, adding that the negotiations “tended to get very specific about a whole set of issues around ride-sharing.”
By December 2014, Plouffe and Uber were facing a new crisis. A woman who hailed an Uber to take her home in New Delhi was raped by a driver who had a history of sexual assault allegations. The company initially cast some blame on the Indian government for failing to mandate background checks on drivers.
Facing public outrage and a suspension by Indian authorities, Uber said it would conduct stricter background checks on all drivers in the country. But the fallout did not end there.
Uber’s hoped-for year-end headlines about the speed of its global expansion instead read like a rap sheet: Uber offices in Bangalore, India and Chongqing, China were raided by authorities. In Bangkok and Madrid, the company was served with orders to cease operations. And in South Korea, authorities issued an indictment for Kalanick’s arrest, for allegedly running an illegal taxi ring. A headline on NBC News read: “Uber’s Wild 2014: Can Lawsuits and Protests Bring it Down?”
‘Keep the violence narrative going’
By the start of 2015, discussions were intensifying inside Uber over how to highlight violence against its drivers to win sympathy from the public and government officials, documents show.
“We need to use this in our favour,” Uber lobbyist Cristian Samoilovichin Amsterdamwrote to a colleague in March of that year, after an adviser to the European Commission wrote on Facebook that an Uber he was in had been attacked by a gang of taxi drivers in Brussels. At the time, Brussels officials were considering changing ride-hailing laws to legalize rides booked over smartphones.
That same week, taxi drivers in the Netherlands were protesting to demand that authorities enforce a court ruling from three months earlier that UberPop, the company’s service using nonprofessional drivers, was illegal and punishable by fines of up to 100,000 euros per day. Four Uber drivers were attacked in one night. In one of those incidents, masked men surrounded an Uber car and held a weapon to the driver’s throat while taking his license plate and slashing his tires. In another, an Uber driver was “seriously injured,” according to the documents.
Niek Van Leeuwen, the company’s general manager for Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, recounted the deteriorating situation in a March 11, 2015, email to Kalanick, Plouffe and others. The company’s response plan involved pushing the story of violence to try to get politicians to speak out against it, “while dragging out the enforcement process as long as possible,” Van Leeuwen wrote, referring to the court-ordered fines and the possibility that authorities might take other action to stop Uber from operating.
Days later, van Leeuwen provided an update: “police reports on violence have been shared with De Telegraaf newspaper and will be published without our fingerprint on the front page tomorrow.”
Company lawyers were also drafting a proposed emergency law change, he wrote. Van Leeuwen wanted to wait for the right moment to present it to lawmakers. “We keep the violence narrative going for a few days, before we offer the solution,” he wroteon March 16.
MacGann, the former Uber lobbyist who provided the documents to the Guardian, replied the next day with praise for the publicity the violence story had received: “Excellent work. This is exactly what we wanted and the timing is perfect.”
MacGannforwarded images of the news coverage tohis boss and to Plouffe that same day, writing: “Step one in the campaign, get the media to talk about Taxi violence against” Uber drivers.
More than 10 additional Uber drivers were attacked in the city over the next twonights. On March 19, Uber urged lawmakers to approve its emergency rule change allowing UberPop to operate legally, according to internal company communications. “We strongly condemn the use of violence and the damaging of vehicles of our drivers,” the company wrote to lawmakers. “Violence can never be the answer to innovation, and should not be a basis for regulation.”
Samoilovich told The Post he did not remember writing that the company should use the violence to its favor but remembered the confrontations. “I was of the opinion that politicians should take their responsibilities and regulate a hre zone and legal vacuum that was building up frustration and anger,” he wrote in an email.
Van Leeuwen did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
MacGann said in statement: “There is no excuse for how the company played with people’s lives. I am disgusted and ashamed that I was a party to the trivialisation of such violence.”
By mid-2015, attacks on Uber drivers had become so frequent that the documents show the company had set up an internal “Taxi intimidation Tracker,” the documents show. Uber had identified at least 80 physical attacks on its drivers, which had sent more than 10 people to the hospital.
“The reaction to Uber in Europe has seen some of the worst violence and sinister union opposition in our five year expansion to 58 countries and 6 continents,” MacGann wrote in July to a communications executive.
He ticked through the toll it had taken on drivers: “Dozens of cars destroyed, people deprived of what is often their most expensive, and only asset,” he wrote. “Increasing and credible intel of taxi entrapment and ambushing of Uber drivers.”
MacGann went on to describe the threats Uber managers were facing in Europe. Managers “frequently” required bodyguards when speaking in public, he wrote. One had around-the-clock protection, and another had a device with a panic button in case of a serious incident.
That July in Portugal, taxi drivers committed “acts of violence” against Uber drivers on three occasions, sending at least one to the hospital, Rui Bento, a general manager for Uber’s Portugal office, said in an email to colleagues. One of the country’s largest taxi associations, ANTRAL, had succeeded in getting a court to temporarily ban use of the Uber app. ANTRAL’s president, Florêncio Almeida, had spoken out against the ride-hailing service, which he considered illegal.
In his email, Bento said the company was “considering leaking” information about the attacks to local newspapers. The benefit, he wrote, would be to drive a story that “creates a clear link between the public declarations of violence of the president of ANTRAL and these actions (degrading their public image).”
In an emailed response, Yuri Fernandez, an Uber communications manager, proposed investigating Almeida’s background to “see if we have enough intel to make it sexy for Media.” It’s unclear whether Uber went through with investigating Almeida or planting stories about the attacks.
Bento and Fernandez did not respond to requests for comment from The Post.
In late January 2016, a Geneva taxi driver attacked an Uber driver with a screwdriver, nearly killing him, according to an email that Steve Salom, a general manager for Uber in Switzerland, sent his colleagues.
“Most importantly: the driver partner is fine,” Salom began the email, before kicking off a debate about what the company should do with the information about the attack.
“Do you have talking points to speak to it in the media or to politicians?” Uber policy staffer Maxime Drouineau asked, adding that the incident “happens really at the worst moment” for taxi drivers who opposed legalizing Uber in the country.
Salom later mentioned the attack during an interview with a Swiss publication, saying it was an example of how taxi drivers are acting on their fears about Uber’s expansion.
Drouineau declined to comment when reached by The Post.
Salom said he believed it was right to draw attention to the violence. “Uber drivers were beaten up a number of times, and threats by taxi drivers were happening and reported to us several times a day,” he wrote in an email. “I had team members that were threatened and I personally received a number of threats. By discussing such events with the press, we were trying to show drivers’ day-to-day reality as well as ours. … We believed that visibility on such events would provide balance and show another side of the story taxis were giving.”
In March 2016, on a tour of the Middle East, where Plouffe was introducing Uber executives to elites from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, he was asked about the violence targeting Uber drivers. Plouffe acknowledged the violence and nodded to the belief that is spelled out in greater detail in the internal company documents: There was a potential upside.
“We have seen some violence around the world, but that usually ends up expediting regulatory engagement with the government,” he told a crowd at the American University in Cairo, according to a report by the Egyptian news organization Mada Masr. According to the news report, Plouffe added that riders and drivers are Uber’s “most important ally” to get regulation reform moving.
The battle for Paris
In Paris, the city where Kalanick claimed he had partly thought up the idea for Uber years earlier while looking for a cab on a winter night, the government’s stance on Uber had hardened by 2016.
In fact, the company was in a fight for survival there. Police had raided its Paris office. Two of its top officials had been charged with complicity in operating an illegal transportation service and briefly taken into custody. Government officials had repeatedly urged Uber to shut down UberPop, which had a base fare of just one euro, cheaper than any taxi in the city.
That year, the aggressive strategy Uber deployed in entering the French market had led to chaotic scenes across the country: Taxi drivers blocked vital intersections and airport access roads, chanting anti-Uber slogans as the black smoke of burning tires billowed around them. Tensions quickly escalated. Mobs of enraged taxi drivers chased their Uber competitors, stopping their cars and damaging or toppling some of them.
Emails and text messages from that period document the extent to which Uber’s executives were aware of the escalation.
Ahead of a major taxi protest in January 2016, Thibaud Simphal, then-Uber France’s general manager, shared “intel” with his colleagues that the demonstration would become “big and potentially violent.”
Uber took the threat so seriously that it abandoned its own premises the day of the protest, renting a nondescript office in the center of Paris, where it set up a guarded “situation room,” according to the documents. Other staffers were instructed to work from home or from cafes.
Early on the morning of Jan. 27, Simphal told colleagues that the team in Paris reported 53 incidents overnight, three of which were “relatively serious cases involving taxi violence including 1 badly damaged car and 2 beaten up drivers.” Though police were out in force, he wrote, “we’re afraid that some driver assaults will happen overnight.”
Two days later, when Kalanick pushed for a counterprotest, Rachel Whetstone, a senior communications executive, responded to him by noting that MacGann had raised concerns about violence against Uber drivers. “Unions being taken over by far right spoiling for a fight,” she wrote, adding in another text, “One to think through.”
MacGann then addedthat “extreme right thugs” had infiltrated some taxi protests, and that the company would have to keep people safe, probably by calling on contacts with the Paris police. “We’ll be smart,” he wrote.
Kalanick responded with the “violence guarantee success” text. In another message he added: “These guys must be resisted, no? Agreed that right place and setup must be thought out.”
Simphal texted MacGann and Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, head of Western Europe at Uber. As the officials rushed to set up the counterprotest for Feb. 3, Simphal appeared to make light of the legal challenges the company faced, saying that “we have officially become pirates.”
MacGann wasn’t amused, particularly because Simphal and Gore-Coty were the two officials who had been charged by French authorities. “You both need to speak this morning to your personal lawyers so that you don’t screw your criminal case,” he responded.
Less than six months later, Simphal and Gore-Coty would be convicted of complicity in operating an illegal transportation service. At sentencing, they avoided jail time but were fined 20,000 euros and 30,000 euros, respectively. Uber was also found guilty of that offense and others and was fined 800,000 euros. Half of the fines were suspended.
After Kalanick was forced out, Uber said it welcomed being regulated and would work with governments in France and elsewhere to find compromises. The company has continued to appeal the 2016 verdicts, saying they raise troubling legal issues. The matter is now pending before the French Supreme Court.
Whetstone told The Post that she “consistently pushed back on Uber’s more aggressive business practices” and resigned after 18 months because of “significant, ongoing concerns about the company’s culture.”
In a statement, Simphal said he should have chosen his words at the time more carefully and did not wish violence on any of the company’s drivers. “In a context of confusion and violence, my words were sometimes hasty; but my intention was never to fuel violence,” Simphal wrote. “These crises as well as the trial I faced were very difficult experiences, but also real learnings that have taught me a lot.”
Reached for comment, Gore-Coty also expressed remorse, writing in an email: “I joined Uber nearly ten years ago, at the start of my career. I was young and inexperienced and too often took direction from superiors with questionable ethics. While I believe just as deeply in Uber’s potential to create positive change as I did on day one, I regret some of the tactics used to get regulatory reform for ride sharing in the early days. I have personally experienced the consequences of these decisions, including an ongoing trial in France.”
As Feb. 3, 2016, quickly neared, a group called AMT, which described itself as an association of non-taxi drivers, appeared to be arranging the protest. In public, AMT presented itself as an independent organization. But many drivers suspected Uber to be behind the group and its members.
AMT’s critics had good reason to be skeptical, the documents show. In internal messages, Uber executives described AMT as “our drivers union” and wrote that it would be “very useful for the next hours and weeks… ;)”. Uber executives said they were preparing a logo for AMT’s use, providing “political and media training” to the group’s leader and helping to coordinate the protest Kalanick had pushed for. In text messages, Simphal and others debate the time and location that was later promoted by AMT.
Uber’s role in helping to organize the protest was not reflected in its public communications. In a text on Jan. 31, Alexandre Quintard Kaigre, an Uber public-policy official in France, wrote to a colleague in French that Simphal “is aligned with our idea of Uber being the most absent” organization in the protest and communications in the days that followed.
AMT’s director at the time did not respond to a request for comment. Kaigre also did not comment when reached by The Post.
When the counterprotest got underway, there were far fewer than the “15,000 drivers” and “50,000 riders” Kalanick had hoped for in his texts days earlier. Only a few hundred drivers showed up, according to media reports at the time. After dark the next night, on the outskirts of the city, police intervened as taxi drivers and Uber-aligned protesters clashed.
Noack reported from Paris.
Alice Crites in Washington; Joseph Menn in San Francisco; The Guardian’s Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington, Johana Bhuiyan in New York and Felicity Lawrence in London; The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists Sydney Freedberg in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Nicole Sadek in Durham, N.C.; and Damien Leloup and Adrien Sénécat of Le Monde and Elodie Guéguen of Radio France in Paris contributed to this report.
The project is based on more than 124,000 emails, text messages, memos and other records that a former top lobbyist for Uber, Mark MacGann, provided to the Guardian. It shared the material with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which helped lead the project, and dozens of other news organizations, including The Washington Post.