scorecardUber Files — What they reveal about the company’s India operations
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Uber Files — What they reveal about the company’s India operations

Uber Files — What they reveal about the company’s India operations
Business4 min read
  • Uber Files have revealed how the ride-hailing giant played around loopholes and regulations in key global markets to expand its presence.
  • The files include 124,000 internal emails, text messages and internal documents of Uber.
  • The Uber Files also revealed that the company has an internal tactic called the “kill switch” to escape raids by the government.
Uber has managed to disrupt the entire ride-hailing industry in a decade, becoming the lifeline for several towns and cities, even in India. The company’s extensive network of transportation has made traveling much more convenient but it may not have taken the straightest route to get there, leaked internal documents have revealed.

A series of documents and messages being called the ‘Uber Files’ have revealed how the ride-hailing giant took advantage of loopholes in regulations in key global markets to expand its presence. The files include 124,000 internal emails, text messages and internal documents from within Uber.

The files were obtained by The Guardian and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and a global consortium of newsrooms. The leaked records cover the period between 2013 and 2017. The documents were accessed by The Indian Express.

Here’s what Uber Files revealed about its Indian operations

Shifting blame for driver’s misconduct

A female passenger was raped in an Uber cab by its driver in New Delhi in December 2014. Documents show that the company shifted the blame to the ‘flawed’ Indian licensing system that skipped background checks on drivers and allowed the accused to commit the rape.

“It is important that we show compassion and express our willingness to develop a longer term solution to stop this pandemic of violence against women in India,” the company’s Head of Public Policy in Asia, Jordan Condo, wrote to the top leadership of the company. Several from the leadership did respond with ways to upgrade the system and maintain a country-wise document on background checks for both licensed and unlicensed drivers.

In this email thread, Mark MacGann (then Uber’s Head of Public Policy for Europe and Middle East) and Niall Wass (then Uber’s Senior Vice President for Europe, Middle East and Africa) were seen shifting the blame to the Indian authorities.

“We’re in crisis talks right now and the media is blazing…The Indian driver was indeed licensed, and the weakness/flaw appears to be in the local licensing scheme… the view in the US is that we can expect inquiries across our markets on the issue of background checks, in the light of what has happened in India,” MacGann said.

Meanwhile, Wass wrote, “We had done what was required in terms of the Indian regulations. However it’s clear the checks required for a driver to obtain a commercial license from the authorities now appears to be insufficient as it appears the accused also had some previous rape allegations, which the Delhi police check did not identify (in what’s called a ‘character certificate.’).”

Critical elements of the safety feature that it introduced following the rape incident are still not in place. The Indian Express report noted that Uber is yet to integrate the ‘panic button’ that every Uber cab is supposed to have, with the Delhi Police and State Transport Department systems.

The ‘Kill Switch’

The Uber Files also revealed that Uber has an internal tactic called the ‘kill switch’ to escape raids by the government. At the time of any raid, at any office, the IT staff were directed to cut off all access to the company’s main data system. This move prevented the authorities from gathering any evidence against the company.

India was among the countries where Uber deployed the ‘Kill Switch’ tactic as it was facing regulatory issues with the Reserve Bank of India and governmental authorities like the Service Tax authorities, Consumer Courts and Income Tax.

The data show 13 instances between 2014-2016 when the ‘Kill Switch’ was used in Amsterdam, Montreal, Hong Kong, Budapest, Lyon and Paris. The reference to India comes in confidential emails dated February 10, 2015 — two months after the rape incident in New Delhi and the subsequent seven-month ban on its service.

The emails titled ‘Uber Belgium/special tax inspectors’ in the context of anticipated tax raids in Belgium, refer to how the company blocked Indian authorities from accessing its data.

“What we did in India is have the city team be as cooperative as possible and have BV (the company in Netherlands) take the heat. E.g. Whenever the local team was called to provide the information, we shut them down from the system making it practically impossible for them to give out any info despite their willingness to do so. At the same time we kept directing the authorities to talk to BV representatives instead. Not sure if that works here given they have telco info, but that bought us some months there,” Uber Manager, Rob van der Woude, wrote in the email thread.

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