Uber Assures Journalists That It Wouldn't Spend A Million Dollars Investigating Them

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

Uber’s bid to be The Company, The Actions Of Which Most Closely Resemble The Actions Of Companies In William Gibson Novels continues. This time, Uber’s doing the equivalent of putting a pistol on a table during a negotiation, Cookie Brown style. The metaphorical pistol is aimed right at a journalist who has been critical of the company’s operations — but not to worry, Uber would never think of using it.

It started when Uber’s Emil Michael suggested at a media dinner/party that the company might spend a million dollars doing opposition research on four journalists who have been critical of the company’s “aggressive” business practices. He later on issued a remarkably unconcinving denial, which TechCrunch has difficulty even trying to believe:

The problem is that after Uber has tried to sabotage its opponent’s fundraising and recruiting efforts, after it hired a guy who reportedly stole confidential documents from the same competitor, after it pushed drivers who didn’t know better into subprime loans, there are seemingly no depths to which this company would not stoop in its megalomaniac efforts to win the market.

The problem is that most people don’t doubt for a second that Uber would do “oppo research” if it thought it could get ahead, and if it thought it wouldn’t get caught — if, as Michael reportedly said at the dinner, “Nobody would know it was us.”

There are certainly a few fascinating aspects of the story to consider here. The first is Uber’s demonstrated willingness to break the fourth wall of corporate personhood and act in a completely rogue fashion — something that’s been the staple of every cyberpunk novel since Neuromancer but which in the real world tends to run up against the unwillingness of individuals to commit felonies for the benefit of a corporation, pre-IPO or not. Why not attack its critics personally and viciously? If someone was trying to take a million dollars or more out of your pocket, wouldn’t you be willing to do them serious harm? That’s undoubtedly the moral position held by many Uber employees who stand to benefit spectacularly from a piece of the $18 billion pie.

The next aspect to consider is this: Should journalists be considered “noncombatants” in this sort of no-holds-barred corporate street-fighting? Perhaps in a bygone era where journalism was considered an honorable and nonpolitical profession, but in 2014 shouldn’t it be considered that Uber’s critics might simply be in the pay of, or ideological fellow-travelers of, state and city governments who have a massive vested interest in the existing taxi medallion scheme? When the battle is between millionaire medallion holders whose strength is augmented by the violent force of the government and millionaire Uber shareholders-to-be, isn’t it likely that money and influence is already affecting the journalists who report on the situation? If a journalist is actively protecting the interests of other millionaires, isn’t he or she a “player in the game” who deserves to be treated as such?

Last but not least: is this mess an indictment of the existing taxi system, a shining example of what’s necessary to fight a government big enough to take everything you have, or is it a demonstration of the need for stronger public oversight of a resource on which millions of people without cars of their own have come to depend?

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • MattPete MattPete on Nov 19, 2014

    Uber's business model is built on breaking the law and cheating. We can argue the merits of taxi regulation, medallions, etc., but truth be told, Uber's business model is built on running outside the law. They try to justify this through lots of handwaving, "free market", "internet", "it's what the customers want", etc. (which equate to the same level as "everyone else is doing it", or "my dog ate my homework"…). Uber's business model is equivalent to a builder that doesn't bother to get building permits, build to code, etc., but you can order your house THROUGH THE INTERNET!!!! (er, an app on your phone). As if that magically makes it alright. Screw Uber. They are a bunch of crooks. Meanwhile, some immigrant that plays by the rules is getting screwed.

  • Signal11 Signal11 on Nov 20, 2014

    The trouble with Uber is that it as a company has a don't-give-a-fart attitude towards laws and regulation. When told that their business model is illegal and/or must face some sort of regulation in any given city or country, their response to change their definition of what the company does and carry on while thumbing their noses. Uber has a completely blase attitude towards use privacy, going as to far as to broadcast "notable" NYC users' location data in real time without their consent at a launch party in Chicago. Uber is a shady, unethical company run by shady, unethical people. Does it surprise anyone that they'd be talking about oppo/doxing reporters?

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  • 28-Cars-Later I keep forgetting I own it, but the space look on the ext cab reminds me of my 'Yota pickup of the same model year. I'm pretty sure there is some vintage of Hilux which features the same looking ext cab window (maybe '88?) its a shame these things are mostly gone and when available are $1,000,000,000 [INSERT CURRENT CURRENCY].
  • Sayahh Imagine if Ford had Toyota design and build a Mustang engine. It will last over 300k miles! (Skip turbo and make it naturally aspirated.) Maybe Yamaha will help tune it...
  • Sobhuza Trooper Isuzu's crime was to build some damn good trucks.Shame on them.
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