July 21, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss the recent revelations about Uber’s conduct in India and abroad. We also look at Bihar’s partnership with IIM Ahmedabad, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
The Uber Files – Allegations And Responses
Uber, the multinational ride-hailing company was recently exposed for various illegal activities, and it’s all anyone can talk about. Over 1,24,000 confidential documents were leaked to The Guardian by an anonymous source at the time, revealing how the tech giant skirted laws, exploited drivers, and secretly influenced governments over the course of its global expansion.
The leak spans over five years (2013 to 2017), exposing the ethically questionable routes adopted by the company to gain traction worldwide. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) exposé suggests that Uber faced many obstacles during its expansion period, specifically in India.
Uber is the international tech giant that transformed the landscape of taxi services in many countries. Going on a night out? Need urgent transport? Don’t feel like driving? Uber became the solution to all these problems almost overnight. But how did such a small start-up become so popular so quickly?
The concept of Uber was born in 2008 when co-founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp were unable to get a cab after attending an annual tech conference called LeWeb in Paris. The rising popularity of the application was due to the ease and simplicity with which a cab ride could be summoned without any hassle. Founded in 2009, less than two years later the company launched internationally in Paris in 2011.
Although Uber grew rapidly, it faced some major challenges on its way. Uber’s IPO is marked as one of the biggest first-day losses in the United States. In 2017, it was faced with the controversy of having a hostile, sexist, and offensive work environment after a former female employee uploaded a 3,000-word blog post about the same.
Apart from this, Uber had a hard time penetrating the Indian market. Launched in the country in 2014, the company faced major hurdles as it was scrutinised by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Indian tax authorities, and Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA). The Director General of Goods and Services Tax Intelligence (DGGI) claimed an outstanding tax liability of ₹800 crores after investigating Uber India.
Despite all these problems, how did Uber become the world’s most popular startup, with a valuation of $78 billion in 2020?
VIEW: Investigation of the Uber Files
The answer to this question lies in the thousands of leaked documents in the form of emails, WhatsApp messages and iMessages. The documents were leaked by whistleblower Mark MacGann who was the company’s chief lobbyist for the Middle East, Europe and Africa. The documents revealed the apathy and violence towards drivers by co-founder Kalanick in addition to secretly collaborating with powerful politicians such as the French President and then US Vice-President Joe Biden.
Uber also has a substantial standing in India with nearly six lakh drivers, investing nearly ₹1,767 crores despite running into trouble with some controversies. The biggest of these was the rape case in Delhi; a 27-year-old woman was raped by an Uber driver in 2014, spurring outrage and leading to a ban on the services in the capital. In order to tackle tax and regulation issues, the company lobbied a dozen Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) signed by bureaucrats and people belonging to the political class.
The leaked data revealed Uber’s response to the rape case, claiming that the “flawed” system of background checks of drivers in India led to the incident. In an email to select employees regarding this incident, Kalanick wrote “… we will generally stall, be unresponsive, and often say no to what they want. This is how we operate and it’s nearly always the best. Early quick meetings set us up for failure. Get comfortable with that approach… don’t let it distract you from your mission to dominate the market.”
The infamous ‘Kill Switch’ adopted by Uber was used to switch off all systems in the event of regulatory action such as a tax raid. The switch was employed on multiple occasions in cities across many countries such as Hong Kong, Paris, and Amsterdam, among others. Emails found in the leak traced how the Uber Manager, Rob van der Woude blocked access of Indian authorities using the ‘Kill Switch’amidst the rape case scandal.
COUNTERVIEW: Uber’s response
In response to the leaked documents, Uber’s senior vice-president of public affairs, Jill Hazelbaker, in a statement said that there is no lack of reporting of the mistakes made by Uber prior to 2017. She also said that due to this reason, the company hired a new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, who was given the responsibility of transforming Uber in every aspect. She also claimed that 90% of the current employees were hired after Dara, thereby making it a completely different company in a literal sense.
Hazelbaker claimed that whistleblower Mark MacGann “had only praise” for Uber when he left however, he is in litigation against the company to receive the bonus it owed him. She also found it noteworthy that he ‘blew the whistle’ after he received €550,000 from the lawsuit. Jill also added that the company will not make any excuses for the mistakes they have made in the past and requests the public to judge Uber based on its actions in the past five years and “in the years to come.” Find the full statement here.
On the other hand, Kalanick responded to the Uber Files investigation through a spokeswoman, Devon Spurgeon. She stated that the co-founder never authorized any actions that could obstruct justice in any country and was not responsible for the illegal conduct of Uber in Russia as his involvement in the expansion efforts was limited. Devon also claimed that the ICIJ had documents that were almost a decade old and they refused requests to review any of the documents, questioning their authenticity.
She defended the actions of Kalanick by stating that since Uber was a serious competitor in an industry where “competition has been historically outlawed,” thereby pushing Uber to fight for the development of the transportation industry. She deemed Uber’s use of ‘Kill switches’ as a completely false allegation, stating that the company merely used tools to “protect intellectual property and privacy of their customers.” Find the complete response here.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Uber Files will not have any bearing on the company as most of the complaints are from the time of the erstwhile founder Travis Kalanick.
b) The Uber Files will lead to a serious reckoning of the company despite the fact that the events happened during the era of Travis Kalanick.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Revisiting Kali: An Amalgam Of Aboriginal Deities And A Symbol Of Rebellion
For the Left:
Privacy, Consent, Data — What Delhi Government Ignores When Giving Parents Live Classroom Footage
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Teachers protest mandatory service (Uttar Pradesh) – Schoolteachers in Lakhimpur Kheri have been directed to volunteer their services to help kanwariyas visiting a Shiva temple. Some male teachers followed the order and gave water and food packets to the kanwariyas. About 45 women teachers didn’t follow through, calling the order arbitrary and insulting. They want the order scrapped and the officer who issued it suspended. The order applied to 13 primary schools that included a reminder that they should be closed on all Mondays of Shravan.
Why it matters: The Gola Gokarnnath temple is 35 km northwest of Lakhimpur Kheri town. Since the schools were ordered closed on Mondays, the district education officer directed teachers to volunteer their time at the temple and help coordinate the arrival of a large number of kanwariyas. However, the officer said the order wasn’t mandatory.
RTC revival plans (Karnataka) – Last November, the government set up a committee to look into restructuring and reviving the ailing state road transport corporations (RTCs). It recommended the government return motor vehicle tax collected from RTCs back to them as a capital contribution. It also recommended asset monetisation and identified 700 immovable properties and more than 3,700 acres of land valued at ₹8,812 crores.
Why it matters: RTCs in Karnataka, unlike other states, don’t have enough support, according to the committee. It said that continuing with a viability gap funding is inevitable. In other states, the government support ranges from 12-23%. RTCs in the state recover 90% of their total losses from internal resources.
Partnership with IIM Ahmedabad (Bihar) – The State Health Society (SHS) and Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM A) signed an MoU to improve the managerial ability of healthcare workers and create a world-class healthcare service in the state. The main objective is to train workers through a customised executive programme to improve their overall efficiency. The state has undertaken measures to improve infrastructure and healthcare services at the grassroots level.
Why it matters: Bihar will be the first state to initiate such a programme to build the capacity of its healthcare workers. The government hopes this new training programme will benefit medical colleges and primary health centres also. Last November, the SHS signed an MoU with IIM Bodh Gaya where 53 healthcare workers, including medical officers and health managers, were trained.
App-based taxi service (Goa) – The Goa State Industries Association (GSIA) said it supports the state’s proposal to set up app-based taxi services in the state. The GSIA also said they’d support the taxi operators that launch their own app-based aggregator. The government has provided a subsidy of ₹11,000 per taxi to install digital taxi meters, but they’ve been non-functional. The GSIA said the government shouldn’t bow to pressure from the taxi unions.
Why it matters: The GSIA said taxi operators have been fleecing tourists and locals by overcharging them with arbitrary fares. This has persisted due to a lack of government monitoring. It’s affected the state’s image as a tourist destination. The GSIA said the state’s public transport has been inadequate. Having proper taxi services is vital for its economic development.
Peace talks with militant outfit (Meghalaya) – The state and Centre agreed to allow safe passage to leaders of the banned militant outfit, Hynñiewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC). They’ve come to the state to take part in the peace talks and figure out if the HNLC can be mainstreamed. The group has met with the state’s interlocutor, PS Dkhar thrice. The hope is that with the presence of the HNLC, the peace talks can progress faster.
Why it matters: HNLC representative Sadon Blah said the move to allow the group to stay is a positive development for the ongoing peace talks. He said any talk of a ceasefire could happen only after the group’s members give their views to the state and Centre. The group will also discuss the legality of allowing the HNLC to be at the negotiation table.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
9.7 lakh – The number of worldwide subscribers Netflix lost in the most recent quarter. It’s the second straight quarter that the streaming giant has lost subscribers. While this was less than expected, the company now has just under 221 million subscribers.