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The Uber Files: what do they mean? Do they mean anything at all?

Image: ICIJ

Updated: July 12, 2022 9am

The Taxi/Ridesharing world is abuzz with information and comment on “The Uber Files,” published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists over the weekend. The London Guardian and the Toronto Star are two of the major newspapers offering in-depth coverage of the slickly-produced product.

Rita Smith

I am reading as fast as I can, and have received phone calls from numerous associates who have various interests in the files. Taxi, Ridesharing, Insurance, Finance, Government Relations, Lobbying, Media – everyone who has watched the Taxi/Uber scenario play out for a decade has an opinion on what the Uber Files mean for business and politics.

I am not sure yet; it’s too early to tell. I will say, however, that I am skeptical that these stories mean anything at all. The most common comment I’ve heard so far is: “There is nothing new here. Everyone knew all of this years ago.”

The second most common comment is on what was left out:

“There is no mention of insurance.”

“There is no mention of sexual assaults or passenger safety.”

“There is no discussion of whether money changed hands illegally.”

Third is the fact that none of the local industry members with institutional memory of the files was contacted or in fact, is being contacted now. The Toronto Star ran a lengthy special report without speaking to a single member of either the Taxi or Ridesharing industries that I can find. Maybe that will change in the days ahead.

IAATW General Secretary Ejaz Butts Photo: IAATW

July 12 update: The International Alliance of App-Based Transportation Workers (IAATW) told Taxi News that the group held an urgent international video meeting on July 11th and expects to issue a media release shortly. General Secretary Ejaz Butts indicates the IAATW, which represents drivers in 18 nations, was not contacted for input into the ICIJ’s “Uber Files” prior to publication.

Below are the introductory paragraphs to the ICIJ’s online coverage; you can read them for yourself. I will have a more in-depth analysis in the hours ahead, when my phone stops ringing for a few minutes:

“The Uber Files project reveals how ride-hailing juggernaut Uber stormed into markets around the world, how it used stealth technology and evasive practices to thwart regulators and law enforcement in at least six countries and how it deployed a phalanx of lobbyists to court prominent world leaders to influence legislation and help it avoid taxes.

“The investigation is based on a leak of sensitive texts, emails, invoices, briefing notes, presentations and other documents exchanged by top Uber executives, government bureaucrats and world leaders in nearly 30 countries. It provides an unprecedented look into the ways Uber defied taxi laws and upended workers’ rights.

“Our investigation found that the onetime Silicon Valley startup held undisclosed meetings with politicians to ask for favors, including dropping probes and changing policies on workers’ rights; that the company used Russian oligarchs as conduits to the Kremlin; and that it discussed the public relations benefits of violence against its drivers as it engaged in international power struggles with taxi drivers and legislators opposed to its expansion.

“As Uber fought to set up shop in cities around the globe, it saved millions of dollars in taxes by routing profits through Bermuda and other offshore jurisdictions. The confidential documents, leaked to The Guardian newspaper by an anonymous source, show that Uber sought to deflect attention from its tax liabilities by helping authorities collect taxes from its drivers.

“The Guardian shared the Uber Files documents with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a nonprofit newsroom and network of journalists based in Washington, D.C., and with other media organizations, to facilitate an international investigation.”