Uber files: Dirty lobbying campaign in Europe

Stop - Pixabay[German]More than 124,000 confidential documents have been leaked to the British Guardian. The analysis of this data by journalists reveal that the ride service provider Uber has tried to influence politicians such as Joe Biden and has exerted powerful pressure. The texts also reveal that todays France President, Emmanuel Macron. secretly supported Uber's lobbying efforts in France. The company also used a "kill switch" during raids to prevent police from viewing data. Addendum: The identity of the whistle-blower, a former top executive, is now known.


The more than 124,000 confidential documents leaked to Britain's The Guardian show how U.S.-based ride-hailing company Uber has used questionable lobbying across Europe to try to change laws to its own advantage. After the Guardian received the documents, their research team coordinated with other media outlets.

The data dates from 2013 to 2017 and includes emails, presentations, briefings, text messages and charts. The material details how Uber tried to influence politicians, officials and journalists across Europe. The background is that Uber faced massive opposition when it expanded in Europe in 2014. Cab drivers mobilized against the U.S. company – and large parts of Uber's U.S. business model were not legally compliant in many European countries. That applied to unlicensed drivers, for example.

So Uber launched a massive lobbying campaign in Europe. In 2016, Uber allocated 90 million euros for this in Europe alone. Emmanuel Macron, formerly economy minister and now president of France, met several times with high-ranking Uber lobbyists. When the prefect of police in Marseille imposed massive restrictions on an Uber service by order in the fall of 2015, Uber's chief European lobbyist contacted Macron by text message and asked for political support. Macron wrote back 11 hours later, saying, "I will look into the matter personally … Let's stay calm for now." That same evening, the regulation was defused, a success for the U.S. company that was "due to massive pressure from Uber," according to an internal company email. It has not been proven that Macron intervened, but the suspicion remains.

EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes (European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda from 2010 to 2014 and Vice President of the European Commission in the meantime) also let herself be roped in by Uber. After leaving in 2014, she was given an 18-month grace period before being allowed to take a lobbying job with Uber. But papers show that Kroes intervened during an ongoing police crackdown on Uber in Amsterdam while still within those 18 months. In March 2015, Uber's chief lobbyist for Europe informed executives led by then-CEO Travis Kalanick that Kroes would call a Dutch government official and administration staff. The goal, he said, was to "force regulators and police to back down." It is not clear from the documents whether the call was made.

The chief lobbyist reminded his colleagues in another email that relations with Kroes were "strictly confidential." Her name must not appear in any document, he said. There was a risk that Kroes would spark a debate about "the political revolving door and about nepotism," another e-mail said. The documents disclose a commitment by Neelie Kroes to seek a meeting between the group and an EU commissioner during the grace period. Immediately after the end of the grace period, Kroes took a consulting job with Uber that includes an annual salary of $200,000, according to documents. Kroes rejects this, stating that during the 18 months he worked unpaid for a Dutch organization that supports startups.


It is also likely to weigh particularly heavily that the U.S. company Uber may have repeatedly hampered criminal investigations. To this end, a "kill switch" was used in branches in Europe so that the police could not access certain information on the respective computer in the event of a raid. The software was used in searches in seven countries. More details about the lobbying may be read within The Guardian article.

Manager Mark MacGann is the Uber whistle-blower

Addendum: In this article, the UK Guardian has revealed the identity who leaked the internal documents about ride service provider Uber to the newspaper. He is Mark MacGann, a career lobbyist who led Uber's efforts to win over governments in Europe, the Middle East and Africa to the company's business model.

The man does seem to have had remorse at some point, and says of the process, "He decided to speak out because he believes Uber knowingly flouted laws in dozens of countries and misled people about the benefits of the company's gig economy model for drivers."

MacGann held a top position at Uber between 2014 and 2016 that put him at the center of decisions made at the highest levels of the company. During that period, Uber attempted to penetrate markets in Europe and Russia in violation of cab licensing laws. He was responsible for overseeing Uber's attempts to convince governments to change cab regulations and create a more favorable business environment in more than 40 countries.

The ex-Uber lobbyist, now 52, gave The Guardian an exclusive interview. There, he acknowledged culpability for the Uber behavior he described and said he was motivated in part by remorse.

I'm partially responsible. I was the one talking to governments, I was the one promoting this in the media, I was the one telling people to change the rules because drivers would benefit and people would get so many economic opportunities.

When it turned out that wasn't the case – we had actually sold people a lie – how can you have a clear conscience if you don't stand up and stand by your contribution to how people are treated today?

I regret that I was part of a group of people who twisted the facts to gain the trust of drivers, consumers and political elites. I should have used more common sense and worked harder to stop this madness. It is my duty [now] to raise my voice and help governments and parliamentarians correct some fundamental mistakes. Morally, I had no choice in the matter.

He said the ease with which Uber rose to the highest echelons of power in countries such as Britain, France and Russia was "exhilarating," but also "deeply unfair" and "anti-democratic."

Uber wrote in response, "We understand that Mark personally regrets his years of unwavering loyalty to our former leadership, but he is not in a position to speak credibly about Uber today." In response, Uber acknowledged past failures (under its founder Travis Kalanick, David Plouffe, ex-Obama campaign aide, and Rachel Whetstone, a British PR executive). But a spokesman stressed that the company has changed since 2017 under the leadership of its new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi. "We have not and will not apologize for past behavior that is clearly not in line with our values today," the spokesperson said.

As MacGann said in the interview, "Even then, it dawned on me that this was an unserious company." So it's fortunate that Uber's runaway success in Germany, and arguably in Europe, hasn't happened.

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