There’s a pattern that’s becoming clear: a news story breaks revealing Uber to have been engaged in illegal, unethical, or just downright gross behaviour. Uber half-heartedly swears it’s an exception, or it’s in the past, or that actually it is the law that is wrong anyway. Everyone expresses outrage, arguing that this is surely the story which will spell the end of Uber by causing its customers/investors/employees to abandon it in droves. And Uber continues to grow, and cement itself further in the lives of millions of customers.
You could see that this spring, when Uber leapt headfirst into a sexual harassment scandal from which it is still attempting to extract itself. First one employee, then a trickle, then a flood, came forward with allegations that the company’s working environment was hostile to women, and that HR simply didn’t care.
Uber’s chief executive Travis Kalanick announced an external investigation, but four months later pre-empted that investigation by firing 20 people, and upholding almost 100 other complaints, in an all-staff meeting.
The sexual harassment scandal has been one of the most damaging incidents for the company, but by no means the only one – nor even the only one to hit it this spring. In March, it was revealed that the company had been “greyballing” law enforcement, hiding vehicles from them in an effort to fox attempts to catch drivers in cities where the app is banned. A week later the company announced it would no longer use the tool.
Later that month, the company was revealed to have broken Apple’s rules in an effort to fight fraud in China, keeping track of specific devices between reinstalls. Tim Cook had personally hauled Kalanick to Cupertino for a scolding in order to stop Uber breaking the rules.
Throughout all this, Uber has also faced twin scandals in its self-driving car division, a part of the firm that Kalanick views as existentially important for its future.
The question for Uber’s customers with each new scandal is no longer “is this bad”, “is this abhorrent” or even “is this a company I can continue to morally support”. It’s simply “am I surprised enough by this to change my view for the worse”. And Uber has reached the stage where there is seemingly no low it can reach that will surprise people. It is, in a sense, indestructible.
Maybe the latest scandal – the reports that an Uber executive somehow acquired the medical records of an Indian customer who had been raped by one of the company’s drivers, and shared them with other execs, including Kalanick, to cast doubt on her claim and even point fingers at a competitor – is the thing that will shock Uber’s supporters, and its apathetic customers, into ditching the firm.
- “How low does Uber have to go before we stop using it?”