Uber’s Very Bad Day: A Rumpus Roundup


Taxi app Uber is in some serious trouble. Since its launch, lawmakers and users have had plenty to complain about. Now the company faces charges of sexism, bullying, and even abusing its software to stalk a reporter.

Four years ago, Uber launched a “car share” service designed to disrupt the taxi cab industry, disregarding the law to do so.

Uber also garnered the ire of customers and elected officials with its price-gouging model called Surge. Surge pricing jacks up prices during heavy use periods, but does not fully disclose the increased fare.

Though Uber has since agreed to stop gouging customers during hurricanes and blizzards, that didn’t help Gabby from Baltimore who spent her rent money for a ride on Halloween.

Uber insists their inflated pricing fees go to drivers and that drivers, on average, earn as much as $90,000 a year. Looking at the actual pay stubs reveals drivers don’t make anywhere near that much.

But price gouging, low pay, or “disruptive” business models aren’t why Uber has been in the news this week.

At a dinner on Friday last week, Uber executive Emil Michael suggested hiring opposition researchers to investigate unfriendly journalists. Particularly frightening about this suggestion is that Michael is also connected to the Pentagon.

Journalist Sarah Lacy would be the primary target of Michael’s planned smear campaign. Her crime? A critique of tech culture sexism where she took Uber to task for a promotion promising scantily clad women drivers.

It took Uber CEO Travis Kalanick 14 tweets to apologize. And he has so far refused to fire Micheal.

Not long after, Ashton Kutcher, the actor and an Uber investor, announced on Twitter that he didn’t understand what was wrong with investigating journalists.

Some people tried explaining to Kutcher the problem. Other people saw it as a symptom of Silicon Valley’s childish culture.

But the Uber missteps didn’t end there.

As it turns out, Uber has a built-in feature known as God Mode for spying. It uses GPS tracking software for each user’s account. For Emil Michael, “digging up dirt” on a female journalist meant “stalking her with Uber’s God View feature.” Or as a Douglas Perry at the Oregonian put it: “the company tracks your one-night stands.”

Uber’s data collection is starting to raise privacy concerns. Uber promises customer data is safe, just like it promises workers are earning a minimum pay. Uber is so confident with their current policies, they’ve decided to hire a privacy expert.

All this comes while Uber is negotiating a huge financing deal.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Uber plans to destroy India’s iconic rickshaws.

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at IanMacAllen.com. More from this author →