A short history of Uber’s recent struggles
Uber has not had a great start to the year. The ride-hailing company has been reeling from a public battering over claims of willful discrimination, allegations of intellectual-property theft and the departure of several executives. The controversies have resurfaced a debate over Uber’s hard-charging internal culture and the consequences of its win-at-any-cost attitude to business and regulation.
If you’re having trouble keeping up with all the Uber news, here’s a brief history of its struggles in 2017.
Hundreds of thousands of Uber customers reportedly canceled their accounts in response to the #deleteUber social media campaign after the company continued to run service while taxis were on strike at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The strike was to protest President Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting foreign nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries. Some users viewed Uber’s decision to continue to pick up passengers as an attempt at profiteering. Uber suffered a 10 percent drop in rides that weekend, according to some estimates.
Amid continuing criticism for not suspending service to JFK over the travel ban, Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick stepped down from his position as a strategic adviser to Trump. Kalanick had been a member of a special advisory council to the White House that included Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and a number of other executives. Critics had questioned Kalanick’s role with the administration. In a companywide memo, Kalanick said that he did not intend for his membership on the council to be interpreted as an endorsement of Trump’s policies.
Uber suddenly found itself embroiled in a sexual harassment controversy after a blog post by Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer, went viral. In her post, Fowler outlined a number of allegations against the company and said that her reports of inappropriate sexual attention from a manager went largely ignored and that Uber’s human resources department blamed her for “[being] the problem.” The incident created a social media firestorm, prompting Kalanick to announce an investigation led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Uber sent users intent on deleting their accounts messages saying that employees were “deeply hurting” in light of the blog post and that the allegations went “against everything Uber stands for.”
Uber again landed in hot water when Google’s self-driving car spinoff, Waymo, filed a lawsuit against the ride-hailing company that threatens to halt Uber’s progress in developing its self-driving car. The suit accuses a former Google executive, Anthony Levandowski, of stealing sophisticated self-driving technology from Google before leaving to form his own self-driving truck company, which was then acquired by Uber. Google is an investor in Uber, and the relationship between the two firms has grown increasingly competitive as both work to dominate the race to build a mainstream self-driving car.
Amit Singhal, another top Google employee who left to join Uber, stepped down after a report that he failed to disclose the real reason he left the search giant – namely, that he had been accused of sexual harassment while at Google. Singhal voluntarily departed Google, and was later asked by Kalanick to leave Uber, according to news reports.
Kalanick made headlines again when he got into an argument with an Uber driver over fares. The encounter, which was caught on video, showed Kalanick boasting about how hard he drives his employees and accusing the driver of failing to take responsibility for his own income. The driver pointed out that Uber has repeatedly lowered wages for its drivers. Kalanick ended the trip by sarcastically wishing the driver luck.
Kalanick later apologized and said that he needed “leadership help.” The company said it was looking for a chief operating officer to work with Kalanick. “I must fundamentally change and grow up,” Kalanick said in a blog post.