Tag: Uber

Uber Apologizes For “Imperfect (And Fictitious)” Rebuttal Of A BuzzFeed News Claim

On Monday, Uber walked back a core explanation for the thousands of tickets in its customer support ticket system with the subject “rape.” This change in position comes less than a day after a BuzzFeed News published screenshots from Uber’s Zendesk-based customer support system showing thousands of tickets containing the words rape. Our report led to Uber’s revelation that the company received five claims of rape, and 170 claims of sexual assault directly related to an Uber ride as inbound tickets to its customer service database between December 2012 and August 2015.

Uber responded with a letter signed by three key executives. It directly referenced the Zendesk screenshots, and claimed these were “highly misleading” and contained false matches. It offered three explanations for the prevalence of the word rape in its system. The second of these stated: “Any email address or rider/driver last name that contains the letters R, A, P, E consecutively (for example, Don Draper) are included.”

However, that turned out not to be right. Today, at approximately 1:10 pm Pacific Time, Uber updated its letter with the following:

* An earlier version of this post stated that “ Any email address or rider/driver last name that contains the letters R, A, P, E consecutively (for example, Don Draper) are included. After analyzing the data, we found more than 11,000 rider names and 17,500 rider emails with the letters ‘rape’”.

Zendesk, one of our customer support platforms, contacted us to say that their search tool would not return a name such as “Don Draper” when searching for the word “rape.” However, such a search would (and did) return names that start with the letters R,A,P,E — even if the ticket itself had nothing to do with a claim of rape. We apologize to Zendesk for using an imperfect (and fictitious) example that doesn’t accurately represent their search functionality. This does not impact our analysis of the overall numbers, which was based on a manual review of these tickets rather than a simple keyword search.

The update came following an investigation by BuzzFeed News. Yesterday evening, BuzzFeed contacted Zendesk to specifically ask about its search query capabilities. After failing to get a response, BuzzFeed News called, and stopped by the company's headquarters. Following that visit, Zendesk notified Uber of the error.

Uber's update notes, “we apologize to Zendesk for using an imperfect (and fictitious) example that doesn’t accurately represent their search functionality. “

Prior to the update from Uber, BuzzFeed News had already learned that the Zendesk system did not work in the way Uber claimed in its original statement, and had reached out to Zendesk for confirmation and comment. It is unclear at what point it contacted Uber.

Contact Charlie Warzel (charlie.warzel@buzzfeed.com) if you have additional information about this ongoing story.

BuzzFeed – Tech

California Labor Commission Rules San Francisco-Based Uber Driver Is An Employee

The California Labor Commission has ruled that Barbara Ann Berwick is an employee, not an independent contractor.

ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / Getty Images

The California Labor Commission ruled that San Francisco-based Uber driver Barbara Ann Berwick is an employee, not an independent contractor as the ride-hail service and its competitors would have it.

In response to a claim filed by Berwick, the California Labor Commission ruled that because “Uber is involved in every aspect of the operation,” Berwick is not an independent contractor and is owed $ 4,000 in employee expenses. Uber is appealing the decision.

The ruling, which comes during a nationwide debate over whether drivers are employees or contractors, sets a precedent for the classification of drivers. In San Francisco, two individual groups of Lyft and Uber drivers have brought class-action suits against the companies claiming they are treated more as employees, not independent contractors free to perform their services as they see fit. In both cases judges denied Uber and Lyft's motion for summary judgment and ruled the cases will be heard in front of a jury.

In Florida, as BuzzFeed News reported, the Department of Economic Opportunity ruled that Uber driver Darrin McGillis was also an employee of the company.

An Uber spokesperson confirmed that the ruling only applies to a single driver and later cited a January study conducted by the company emphasizing that primary reason drivers choose Uber is for the flexibility of the platform.

“The California Labor Commission's ruling is non-binding and applies to a single driver,” the spokesperson wrote in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News. “Indeed it is contrary to a previous ruling by the same commission, which concluded in 2012 that the driver 'performed services as an independent contractor, and not as a bona fide employee.' Five other states have also come to the same conclusion. It's important to remember that the number one reason drivers choose to use Uber is because they have complete flexibility and control. The majority of them can and do choose to earn their living from multiple sources, including other ride sharing companies.”

“The reality, however, is that Defendants are involved in every aspect of the operation.”

"The reality, however, is that Defendants are involved in every aspect of the operation."

BuzzFeed News


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BuzzFeed – Tech

Uber Is Banned In East Hampton

The town passed new legislation that would require all drivers to have a local business address in order to operate.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

Steve Jennings / Getty Images

In the summer, New York City can be a ghost town, as New Yorkers escape the concrete jungle to flock to the waterfront haven of the Hamptons. This summer, however, New York's avid Uber riders won't be able to depend on the ride-hail service to get them around one particular coastal town: East Hampton. The town passed a new ordinance that would require drivers of for-hire vehicles to have a local business address in order to obtain a commercial driving license.

This means Uber is effectively banned in East Hampton. Few, if any, Uber drivers servicing the Hamptons either live in the area or are summering at the beach. Instead, many drivers make the trip there and stay for a night or two, drawn in by the promise of higher rates and high demand, a welcome change for New York City-based drivers facing the typically slower summer season.

The ban is a big deal for drivers, and a big deal for the company, too — even if it is a small market. While the Hamptons are not a critical location for Uber — it's only busy during the summer — the company being banned there does conflict with the company's goal of being a primary transportation option everywhere.

“There is an unquestionable need and demand for Uber in the Hamptons because taxi service has been historically unreliable,” Uber spokesperson Matt Wing said. “For the last several summers, Uber obtained local licenses from the town of East Hampton so residents could get safe and reliable rides with the push of a button. Unfortunately the East Hampton Town Supervisor and Town Board have changed the rules, banning Uber from the town and denying their constituents access to our service.”

The vacation town is also known for its intoxicated drivers causing some Hampton-goers to publicly lament the Uber ban on Twitter. Just last week there were 11 alcohol-related arrests in East Hampton. But as long as the rule stands, there will be fewer alternatives to get partygoers safely back home.

BuzzFeed – Tech

Democratic Think Tank Takes Aim At “Exploitation” In The Uber Economy

The Center for American Progress’s report targets Uber and other popular apps that use subcontractors to power their success — without providing benefits and protections. A widening partisan divide.

Larry Summers last fall.

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

A key Democratic think tank is sharply criticizing the new “gig economy” led by companies like Uber, AirBnB, and TaskRabbit in a new report released on Thursday.

The Center for American Progress, a liberal policy group with close ties to the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton, knocks the way the ascendant companies use subcontractors — instead of full-time employees with benefits and protections — for their labor.

The report, written by the Commission on Inclusive Property, co-chaired by former top Obama and Clinton aide Larry Summers and Ed Balls, also contends that while the sharing economy offers workers job flexibility, it leaves many workers who use it as a primary source of income without traditional benefits. The report suggests that companies that use independent contractors should be forced to offer them benefits — a responsibility the companies are eager to avoid.

“Firms have structured themselves to be capable of growing quickly by reducing their commitments to employees,” the report reads. “By reducing the need to provide a stable, predictable income for the people doing the work, these companies free up capital and reduce overhead costs. Second, these firms also reduce costs by avoiding typical, minimum-mandated corporate expenses such as employment taxes and benefits.”

That lack of predictable income can lead to “exploitative employment conditions, with little warning about when and how much they will work in a given week,” the authors write.

The economics of these companies is at the center of a widening new partisan divide over labor and technology. Republicans have championed, in particular, Uber, as a force for free-market competition in the face of existing city and state taxi regulations. They see the popularity of the companies as, in particular, a potential opening with younger voters — Sen. Marco Rubio writes in his new book that Uber converts progressives into free-market conservatives. The party likewise focused on the issue of Uber and government regulation in last year's Illinois governor's race.

But the Center for American Progress calls for increased government oversight, urging regulators to “establish best practices and to make legal or regulatory changes to discourage abuse.” And the group's political ties — its former chairman, John Podesta, is expected to chair Clinton's presidential campaign — mean that its white papers could quickly become platform planks.

While the report and (in an earlier BuzzFeed News report) several executives of sharing economy companies said the federal benefits — and specifically the Affordable Care Act — can solve independent contractors' health-care issues, other benefits remain intrinsically tied to employment. In addition to creating government programs to address the needs of families and workers who turn to the sharing and gig economy for their primary source of income and have no access to traditional benefits like workers' compensation and pensions, the Center for American Progress also suggests attempting to “modernize the employer-employee relationship to ensure that employers continue in their traditional roles.”

Using the construction industry in the U.S. (“where firms use subcontractors and create subsidiaries”) as an example, the report also warns against misclassifying workers as contractors to avoid employer responsibilities.

“To address these problems, basic legal protections for employees need to apply when an employment relationship exists, and these protections should not be negated by legal form. Firms that are in reality employers should be made responsible for basic protections such as overtime pay, workers' compensation, and unemployment compensation, as well as for following other protections provided by labor law. In some countries, certain rights are quite rightly bestowed on individuals after a continued period of employment by the same organization.”

BuzzFeed – Tech

Ride-Hailing Startups Discuss Global Taxi Alliance Against Uber

Two companies in Asia backed by Softbank Capital and one in the U.S. have discussed cross-booking and integrated apps.

China Stringer Network / Reuters

Ride-hailing apps around the world may soon work together to compete against Uber by forming a global alliance of regional players, according to two executives at companies involved.

The executives also suggested that the venture capital firm Softbank Capital has helped to create this potential global taxi alliance. Softbank recently invested in two of Uber's biggest competitors: It invested $ 250 million in funding to Southeast Asia's GrabTaxi in December and $ 210 million in India's OlaCabs in October.

GrabTaxi and OlaCabs operate in many of the same markets as Uber, though both tap into the existing supply of taxi drivers in their markets, but do not include operators of unregistered private vehicles, as Uber does.

When asked about the possible reasoning behind Softbank's interest in Uber's competitors, Brian Cu, the co-founder of the Philippines-based GrabTaxi, said that he has heard industry discussions of forming a global taxi alliance among like-minded apps.

“It would include knowledge sharing and maybe cross-booking,” Cu told BuzzFeed News. “If you're in the Philippines, you can book a GrabTaxi using the OlaCabs app; it's in the realm of possibilities, so maybe Softbank is trying to do that.”

Softbank Capital partner Ron Fisher told BuzzFeed News that he could not comment on the matter.

“Given that these are new investments, we'd prefer not to get into the rationale and plans,” Fisher told BuzzFeed News via email.

Meanwhile, Flywheel, a San Francisco-based ride-hailing company that connects riders to existing taxi drivers, has also been privy to discussions of a possible alliance, according to Flywheel CFO Oneal Bhambani.

“You may see a global alliance to unify all these regional markets and unify taxis across the globe in other markets,” Bhambani told BuzzFeed News.

“Uber works here with fleet operators,” GrabTaxi's Cu told BuzzFeed News. “Now they started branching out to private vehicles. It's been a point of contention with the government since around October, November of last year. The government started looking into it. It's a very messy scene right now — technically they're illegal. The chairman of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board [LTFRB] said they're illegal but they're being tolerated.”

Although in October the LTFRB initially set up a sting operation targeting Uber drivers for operating private cars as for-hire vehicles, the board has since changed its tune. At a joint committee hearing with Congress in November, the LTFRB urged lawmakers to change the for-hire vehicle rules to allow private vehicles to operate. At this time, however, Uber partners driving private cars are still operating outside the limits of the law.

“How can you be illegal according to the letter of the law but still be tolerated by the government?” Cu asked.

Although the national government establishes standard taxi rates throughout Metro Manilla, Uber has been offering private rides at prices below the mandated minimum taxi fares. (Uber X charges a 40 Philippine peso base fare plus 2 pesos per minute and 5.70 pesos per kilometer, while the standard taxi fare is also a 40 peso flag-down rate, but charges 3.50 pesos for every 0.5 kilometers and 3.50 pesos for every 2 minutes.) This has allowed it to undercut GrabTaxi and other companies like Rocket Internet-backed Easy Taxi.

“Our growth is hindered by the regulations that we follow,” Cu said. “So we can't expand the way Uber expands their supply base because we only work with regulated fees.”

Flywheel's Bhambani and CEO Rakesh Mathur have discussed specifics with Bhavish Aggarwal, the OlaCabs CEO.

“We are both very passionate about the very same things so we talk all the time and talk about our customers and our drivers and we share the same vision of the safety aspects of the industry,” Bhambani said. “Going forward if anything happens [between our companies] it's more of a synergistic thing.”

Flywheel currently operates in only five U.S. markets but plans to expand throughout the country early this year. Once Flywheel has opened in other major U.S. markets, Bhambani told BuzzFeed News the company will have its sights set on international expansion.

Founded in 2013, the company has already had success in its existing markets. Bhambani said Flywheel has 85% of taxi drivers in San Francisco on their platform. Soon, Flywheel will begin to apply that same model to markets outside of the U.S. in the hope of aggregating a large chunk of the supply of taxi drivers onto one platform.

When asked about the possibility of cross-booking occurring between apps, Bhambani said consumers may see something even more integrated.

“It's a possibility; I mean there's no product road map but on a high level it makes a lot of sense,” he said. “As long as people are operating through the taxi industry in their own locales and have a captured supply of these taxi drivers, there's a unifying vision. I can't speak for GrabTaxi guys, but there's a high degree of certainty that all of the people who run on Android could conceivably be run on the same device.”

“Successful taxi apps all have technology that aggregates taxi cab inventory to offer passengers the closest ride that is fast, safe and predictably priced,” he elaborated. “Through a technology integration, it is certainly possible for passenger hails and taxi cab inventory to be shared by more than one taxi app.”

Uber did not respond to a request for comment.

BuzzFeed – Tech

Some Parisian Uber Drivers Are Harassing Female Customers By Text

Several women complained about the texts on Twitter. Uber told a French newspaper that it’s investigating the claims.

Sergio Perez / Reuters

Several Parisian women complained on Twitter about Uber drivers hitting on them via text message after getting their numbers through the app, the French newspaper Libération reported on Tuesday.

“If you can't sleep, I can help you,” one driver texted a woman whom he had driven around; “I'm coming over, honey,” another texted a woman he was about to pick up. The women took screenshots of the messages and posted them on Twitter. Other women complained about drivers hitting on them during their ride. One of them said her driver told her that he had “a lollipop” for her.

Uber Paris replied to one of the women on Twitter asking her if they could talk about it via direct message. The company also told Libération that it would suspend any driver who doesn't respect the company's quality guidelines. Uber told the newspaper that it started investigating the claims, but that the women refused to give them more details about the incidents. One woman reportedly told Libération that she did not want to “cause any harm to the driver.”

In December, French authorities decided to ban UberPop, a service offered by Uber in which private individuals can offer rides to customers. “Currently, people who use UberPop are not protected if there is an accident. So not only is it illegal to offer this service but for the consumer there is a real danger,” a government spokesman told TV network BFM at the time.

Back in October, Uber Lyon (France's third biggest city) promoted an app called “Avions de Chasse” that offered to pair Uber riders with “hot chick” drivers. The promotion was deleted after BuzzFeed News got in touch with the company.

The new allegations are the latest in a string of abusive incidents toward women by drivers working for the massive startup. In December, Newsweek reported that the company had offered a woman credit after she accused a driver of sexually harassing her during a ride in London. The company also suspended its services in New Delhi, India, in December, after a driver allegedly raped a female passenger.

BuzzFeed – Tech

The Danger Of Calling Uber A “Tech Company”

Via Facebook

As a tech writer, every holiday season I take on a side job as an extended family tech support jockey. In this role I gamely help older family members “Force Quit” the Mail application, restart their iPhones, and change the clock on their Fitbits. And yet this year, as my family turned their conversation to the transit giant Uber, I found they weren’t interested in my opinions. To them, Uber is just a different kind of cab company, not a tech company.

My experience is all anecdotal, but it points to a critical problem with the latest iteration of the web, which companies like Uber are busy ushering into the mainstream. It doesn't feel like technology, at least not in the way that we popularly conceive of it, and casual bystanders (read: most potential users) don't see it as technology. And that’s a serious problem. The Silicon Valley tech company ethos, forged throughout decades of building hardware and software, is predicated on the notion that, equipped with better ideas and better technology than the establishment, the innovators can bypass establishment rules on their way to changing the world. The problem: “Move fast and break things” works when the “things” are software. It works slightly less — and poses a serious safety concern — when those “things” are people.

Uber, like Airbnb, TaskRabbit, Instacart, or any of the poorly labeled “sharing economy” apps, are part of what research analyst Jan Dawson has labeled “the digital layer“: services that are powered and made possible by technology, but exist primarily in the physical world. Packaged in app form, Uber’s technology has rendered it transformative. But to call Uber an app doesn't quite do the service justice. Uber is, for better or worse, a massive, world-changing dispatch company.

Uber is, for better or worse, a massive, world-changing dispatch company.

Uber's physical-world experience of getting in a car and ending up in a different place is so familiar that my family, which doesn't pay attention to Silicon Valley or VC valuations, thinks of Uber like a traditional cab company with a push-button feature. And yet, companies like Uber seem to see it the other way around, envisioning themselves purely as tech companies positioned to destroy market inefficiencies with their world-changing ideas.

The problem is that tech companies — at least many of the social, software, and digital media startups I cover — move differently and have vastly different expectations than, say, widget-producing traditional companies. “Move fast and break things,” Facebook says! Digg sent me a sticker last month that said “Fuck it, ship it!” After all, what's the worst that can happen? You roll out some dumb, bad software update or hardware that nobody uses or you scale too big, too fast and your company goes under so you start another one. It's software or soon-to-be-obsolete hardware, so who cares?!

Via Twitter: @fuckitshipit

That all goes out the window with the digital layer, which takes all that wonderful, complicated, and fragmented internet you've got trapped in what is essentially a pocket computer and connects it to the physical world, turning that device into a remote control for your life. But the physical world operates at a different (read: much slower) pace from the tech and startup world. The physical world is full of logistics and red tape and regulatory battles and, most importantly, people. Just ask Uber: Disrupting a physical-world service is a terribly costly, time-consuming, and maddening endeavor and it's why the company has had to become experts in local city regulations in roughly 50 different American cities. It’s precisely because of these hurdles that any tech reporter who spends their time covering the sharing economy is now, essentially, a labor reporter.

Just ask Uber: Disrupting a physical-world service is a terribly costly, time-consuming, and maddening endeavor.

Ultimately, the red tape and the logistical hurdles and the regulatory battles of the physical world exist to protect people. Providing physical-world services for people is complicated and risky by nature. To Uber and its competitors' credit, the company has provided an overwhelming majority of its customers with a safe and reliable service (which, of course, is why it's so popular), but there have been sobering reminders of what happens when important logistical procedures like background checks for drivers take a backseat to expansion pressures. Last month's rape of a Delhi woman by an Uber driver is one such horrific reminder.

And yet, Uber and Lyft continually try to duck local governments and law enforcement. Currently, Uber and Lyft operate illegally in multiple major U.S. cities, with the companies failing to comply with local laws in order to scale to demand, as is embedded in their tech company DNA. To try and keep up with the Silicon Valley/startup pace of innovation, Uber has had to adopt aggressive tactics, as Uber NYC executive Josh Mohrer told BuzzFeed News last year. “It's not just like Facebook where you can say, 'let’s add a bunch of servers.' There’s human beings providing services, running their business on a platform and that’s not scaling up a bunch of servers,” he said. “It’s convincing a bunch of human beings to bring business on our platform. So we’re unabashedly aggressive in the way that we do that and what that means is there’s very little I won’t do to get in front of someone and tell them about Uber. And that includes taking taxi rides and taking rides with competitors.”

The apps and companies that will contribute to the digital layer are transformative technologies with the power to reshape and reorganize our physical world. On-demand services like Uber, Airbnb, Instacart, and Homejoy are responsible for a growing subset of contract gig workers, or “micropreneurs,” who shift between services picking up small payouts for odd jobs. Surveying the industry, it’s hard to ignore the number of contract employees: As of August 2014, the New York Times reported Lyft had over 60,000 contract drivers, while services like TaskRabbit have over 30,000 freelance users. According to the same Times report, 17.7 million Americans “worked more than half time as independent contributors” in 2013.

And if and when these companies succeed, they'll do it on the backs of their engineers and technology. They are tech companies. But to think of them as tech companies in the “move fast and break things” sense feels dangerous. Downloading a social app opens you up to harassment, hacking, and any number of other digital concerns, but downloading and hailing and stepping into a cab brings with it far more visceral — and potentially serious — risks.

Uber Drivers Network in New York protest Uber X fare cuts outside of the Long Island City office in Queens in September.

BuzzFeed News | Johana Bhuiyan

When I finally joined my family's Uber conversation, the subject turned to an argument over regulating businesses and stemming the tide of disruption, but that seems to obscure the larger point: that tech companies whose tendrils reach into and wrap around the physical world must be seen as such and not simply as software providers.

And that means, for better or worse, not skirting rules imposed by local governments. It's harder that way, sure. There's a lot of rules and permits and certifications and local legislative approval to seek, and many of these logistical hurdles have been put in place by the progress-fearing and corrupt. But there's hope, too, for techno utopians: Uber, Lyft, and these wildly popular on-demand service apps have the ability and goodwill from users not only to thrive but to expose the antiquated and ridiculous flaws and bureaucracy in our regulatory systems (in Washington, D.C., Uber’s rise illuminated the city’s corrupt livery culture), but the only responsible way to do that is to meet those systems head-on.

BuzzFeed – Tech

In The Wake Of Rape In India, Uber Publishes A Safety Report

Authored by Uber’s Head of Global Safety, Philip Cardenas, the post lays out the company’s plans to increase consumer protection in the next year.

blog.uber.com

Uber Head of Global Safety Philip Cardenas published a post today laying out the company's “roadmap” toward improving safety over the next year. The report comes after an internal review performed by the company's safety team and the recent rape of an Uber passenger by her driver in New Delhi.

Uber has since been banned in New Delhi and other parts of India while the driver has been arrested and charged. At the time of his arrest the driver accused or raping his passenger was awaiting trial on at least four other criminal charges, and as a result much of the blame has fallen Uber, which issued a public apology. Police in India have said that Uber can be held liable if it's found that they misled their riders about how stringent their background checks are.

In the post, Cardenas said that the company is looking into new ways to screen drivers “using scientific analysis and technology to find solutions,” particularly in parts of the globe that have complex regulations on background checks.

But even in the United States, some cities and state authorities are fighting both Uber and its biggest competitor, Lyft, on ordinances mandating that for-hire vehicle drivers must undergo a state- or city-regulated background check. In fact, District Attorneys in both Los Angeles and San Francisco have filed a lawsuit against both companies claiming, among other things, that they are misleading riders to believe regarding the rigor of their background checks.

Uber makes no mention in the report of reevaluating background checks in the U.S. but did say the company is developing custom tools, like voice verification, to enhance driver screenings.

Additionally, Cardenas announced that the company has hired Tim Collins, who most recently led Amazon's Europe operations, to head Uber's global support team.

“Our 2-way feedback system has introduced unprecedented transparency to transportation,” Cardenas wrote. “But as our rapid growth continues, our customer service must evolve to keep pace.”

Under Collins, Uber will also be establishing Safety Incident Response teams globally with the goal of providing instant support during emergencies.

BuzzFeed – Tech

Here Is Where Uber And Lyft Are Facing Regulation Battles In The United States

Uber and Lyft are fighting for the ability to operate in cities across the country. Here are some of the regulatory battles, the resulting citations, and in some cases, law suits the companies are embroiled in.

San Antonio

Despite the newly approved rules, Uber will not be leaving San Antonio immediately. Uber San Antonio general manager told BuzzFeed News that the company hopes to work with the San Antonio city council to determine whether Uber (or any other ride sharing company for that matter) can operate in the city after March.

“The ordinance passed by the San Antonio City Council is highly problematic and full of provisions designed to protect the taxi industry,” Leandre Johns said. “While it opens up a regulatory framework for ridesharing, it is significantly more stringent than anything in the country. Several amendments were made to ease the driver barriers, but there is still work to be done in San Antonio.”

“More than 10,000 San Antonians and numerous business leaders like Graham Weston told the City Council to protect their access to Uber,” Johns continued. “We hope city officials remember how excited their constituents are about ridesharing and will work to transform the ordinance into a bill that truly supports competition on the streets of San Antonio like their innovative neighbor, Austin. If we cannot fix the ordinance before March 1st and conclude that we are unable to operate under these regulations, all Uber partners in San Antonio will be able to drive and earn income in Austin.”

BuzzFeed – Tech

Uber And Lyft’s Bitter Battle For Tampa

When it comes to new cities, Uber and Lyft aren’t afraid to operate illegally.

Uber Tampa Bay blog / Via blog.uber.com

Just because Uber is everywhere doesn't mean it's always legal.

Currently, Uber is available in 52 countries. The transit behemoth's empire is vast, expanding from the Americas to Europe, Middle East, and Africa and it's quickly making its way through the Asia-Pacific. “Available locally, expanding globally,” the company's locations landing page reads.

But even as the company, most recently valued at $ 41 billion, makes its way to the Asia-Pacific it continues to fight regulatory battles in the locations it is already operating in — whether legally or illegally.

Most recently, New Delhi, Thailand, and Spain banned the service. In the United States, where Uber had its beginnings, a number of cities have either issued cease-and-desist letters to Uber and its rival company Lyft or have even gone as far as suing them. Earlier this week, Portland, Oregon, filed a law suit against the company for operating illegally within city limits, in addition to issuing a cease-and-desist and citing and fining drivers caught operating a vehicle for Uber. Shortly after, the district attorneys of both Los Angeles and San Francisco also filed a civil consumer protection suit against the company.

Often, Uber has reacted to regulatory limitations on their global expansion in much the same way — by operating anyway. And many city bureaucrats, after claiming to have made every attempt to work with Uber and Lyft on finding ways to allow them to operate legally, move quickly to stop the company.

The company's move to Tampa, Florida, for example, began the way most of Uber's expansion into new cities do. Uber began operating illegally, which led to driver citations. Uber continued to operate, and the city attempted to negotiate with the company.

Since Uber X and Lyft launched in Tampa in April, the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission has been attempting to work out a deal with the companies to no avail, PTC Executive Director Kyle Cockream told BuzzFeed News.

“To date we made no headway with either company,” Cockream said. “They're both operating illegally currently and we are still enforcing specific state laws against them that comes in the form of ticketing their drivers.”

But the PTC has, in its own words, been “bending over backwards” short of throwing out its laws to accommodate Uber and Lyft, he said.

“We started this campaign taking the high road, I'm very proud of that,” Cockream continued. “We contacted the companies, we asked them to cease and desist, we told them ways to become legal and what they could do for their drivers to become legal. We were open to suggestions to amend any rules to try to accommodate them somehow and additionally our campaign was simple. First, we contacted drivers to tell them what they're doing is illegal and here's why.”

The PTC offered to buy and provide a $ 12,000 fingerprinting machine so that drivers could just walk in, in order to ensure the proper background checks were being performed. “Lyft didn't respond and Uber said, 'No, we don't think you should have to incur that in your budget.' That's not for them to say,” he told BuzzFeed News.

Each illegally operating driver, Cockream said, receives three citations, which collectively comes out to $ 700. Additionally, Uber and Lyft also receive a citation for aiding and abetting each of the drivers. To date, 115 drivers have received three citations for: operating a public vehicle without certification, unlawful operation, and not having proper insurance. For each of those drivers, Uber and Lyft are cited for operating unlawfully without a public license.

“Lyft has just hired a local attorney to start representing them. We wrote tickets to Uber Technologies Inc. several months ago but they appealed those citations directly,” Cockream said.

Uber lost the first two rounds of appeals and just filed a third and final appeal in the fourth District Court of Appeals — the wrong district, a move that's frustrated Cockream and the PTC.

“They filed in the wrong court … they're supposed to file in the second district court of appeals,” Cockream said. “We don't know what the motive behind that is. The firm representing Uber is a relatively reputable firm here in Florida … and that's like a first-year law student mistake.”

Uber Tampa Bay blog / Via blog.uber.com

But now Tampa authorities are at standstill. With little cooperation from the state attorney and two months of radio silence from Uber, the city has just been continuously citing drivers, but with very little effect.

In addition to citing both the company and the driver, for each citation, the PTC files a criminal misdemeanor charge at the State Attorney's Office. However, so far, no action has been taken.

“The first bunch of [the criminal charges] the [State Attorney's Office] decided to dismiss,” he said. “They didn't tell us.”

As for the remaining cases, the State Attorney's Office has been lobbying back and forth with the PTC, saying they need more information.

“I was a cop of 29 years, so is everyone else in this department,” Cockream said. “Collectively we've seen tens of thousands of misdemeanor cases between all of us. This is kind of like elementary-level stuff. We're pretty confident we checked all the boxes.”

This has been happening for what Cockream estimates is about four months now. Uber, he points out, also ceased communicating with the PTC two months ago.

“We suspect they're just going to Tallahassee and throwing a lot of money at lobbyists,” he said.

When asked whether he thinks the state attorney's treatment of the criminal charges and Uber's lack of communications had anything to do with each other, Cockream paused: “Our state's attorney is an elected official. I cannot answer yes to that without having something concrete to give you. But I know there's a whole lot more to the story on that issue,” he said.


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BuzzFeed – Tech

Uber Executive Who Wanted To Investigate Journalists Went To War With His Landlord Too

A judge tossed Emil Michael’s case out of court, but he threatened to call in “my friend the Chief of Police.” The SFPD is not amused.

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg / Via Getty Images

The Uber executive who made headlines last month after suggesting the company investigate journalists is locked in a bitter struggle with the landlord of his $ 9,500-a-month San Francisco condominium. Their dispute, much of which is laid out in court records, reveals the take-no-prisoners style of the executive, Senior Vice President of Business Emil Michael, whose company is known for its aggressiveness.

At one point last year, Michael went to court to try to get a restraining order on his landlord, tech industry lawyer John Danforth. The judge threw out Michael's case, chastising it as “borderline frivolous.” But the squabble didn't end. In a series of emails provided by Danforth to BuzzFeed News, Michael called Danforth a “racist asshole” and “slumlord.” Michael even threatened to call in support from “my friend the Chief of Police of SF.”

Danforth, for his part, wrote a member of Uber's board, warning that Michael's behavior could harm the transit giant.

“My experience of Emil Michael as a tenant accords very closely with recent reports of him in the press as an Uber executive,” Danforth told BuzzFeed News.

Michael did not respond to questions about the conflict sent to his personal email. A spokeswoman for Uber, Nairi Hourdajian, also did not respond to questions.

The dispute between Michael and his landlord centers on a 2,000-square-foot Pacific Heights condo overlooking Alta Plaza Park for which Michael signed a $ 9,500 lease in June 2012 (the rent has since been raised to $ 13,335). The three bedroom, two bathroom condo was renovated in 2008 and boasts luxury finishes, a parking space, a balcony, and access to a landscaped private garden complete with a remote-control hot tub.

According to extensive court documents obtained by BuzzFeed News from the San Francisco Superior Court, Michael's relationship with his landlord began to sour in June of last year, when Michael made a run-of-the-mill request that Danforth repair the bathroom. But it quickly heated up. When Danforth entered the apartment to make the repair, he discovered that Michael had painted the walls after having been denied permission to do so, allegedly a violation of the lease. Danforth also walked to the apartment's balcony to look down at the garden and at a repair that had been previously made to the hot tub. Michael took issue with the visit, and said Danforth had on occasion entered areas where repairs weren't necessary, including his bedroom.

Two months later, on Aug. 30, Michael picked up a baseball bat to confront a “stranger” in the garden. The woman turned out to be the gardener. “I am at home this morning [sic] and the gardener appeared in the backyard,” Michael wrote in an email to Danforth that afternoon. “You provided no notice for this…If this happens again, I will be forced to call the police.”

That same day, Michael also wrote a painstakingly detailed letter listing his grievances with Danforth and indicating he'd be taking legal action. In the letter, he also claimed Danforth “violated [his] human rights,” and was “racist” (Michael is an Egyptian immigrant), and that he had filed a discrimination complaint against him with the San Francisco Human Rights Commission (requests to the commission to confirm the complaint went unanswered). The letter concluded with Michael, a former executive at the social media ranking company Klout, threatening to amplify the dispute online. “Finally, I want to be clear that I am free to post to my tens of thousands of social media followers the true facts regarding your entry into parts of my apartment…” By the next day, he had also begun blocking Danforth's emails.

In San Francisco's tight and pricey real estate market, such disputes are not uncommon. But six days later, Michael filed a petition in San Francisco Superior Court for a restraining order against Danforth, the sort of order people seek when they are being stalked or fear physical harm. “I am under constant emotional duress that a stranger can enter my apartment without notice requiring me to defend myself posing constant fear and a dangerous situation,” Michael wrote. “Also, the landlord is invading my privacy and ruining my relationship with my significant other.” Danforth responded to the petition on Sept. 24, calling Michael's statements “demonstrably false.”

After attempting mediation, the two men appeared in court for a hearing on Sept. 27, 2013. The judge, Donald J. Sullivan, made his doubts about the case clear from the beginning. “I will tell you here at the very outset that this clearly seems to me to be a landlord-tenant dispute,” he said. “And the question is, is it more than that?”

During the hearing, Michael described the “immense stress” the dispute had caused him. “I am entitled to the sanctity of my home,” he said. Later in the hearing, Danforth responded, saying, “He never said there has a been a pattern of this, which is what he swore under oath in his declaration. And he never said that he was under fear that somebody was going to come into the apartment, which has never happened.”

Sullivan, the judge, reacted harshly to Michael, tossing the case out of court and dismissing it with prejudice, meaning that Michael can never file another claim for the same case.

“Having listened to all of the evidence, I'm finding that this is a borderline frivolous case,” he said, according to the court transcript. “It doesn't even come close to meeting the statutory standards of by clear and convincing evidence.”

At the end of the hearing, Sullivan dissolved a temporary restraining order against Danforth and denied a permanent one. “You folks can can take your matter down to Department 501 [Housing Court],” he concluded. “It either can be a wrongful eviction or wrongful termination or go over to the San Francisco Rent Control Board and talk to them. But please do not come back here. Okay. Thank you.”

Michael chose not to move after the September litigation. Rather, he and Danforth's relationship continued to deteriorate in the following months, as the two men sparred in numerous emails. Parts of their correspondence were available in public documents filed with the superior court and rent board, while others were provided to BuzzFeed News by Danforth. The correspondence available does not include every message the men exchanged. Still, the messages show that Michael's tone was frequently belligerent.

“I am so glad that you denied that I have sole and exclusive use of the property. It is your typical harassment, retaliation, racist activity that you use with me,” Michael wrote in a Nov. 6 email. The message was in response to a notification that a tree would be replaced in the garden. “On the other hand, if you trespass on my property, I will have you arrested and my friend the Chief of Police of SF will make sure of it,” Michael continued.

A San Francisco Police spokesman disputed the idea that the chief of police, Gregory Suhr, would ever get involved in such a dispute. “Obviously, what Mr. Michael types in his emails is out of our control,” spokesperson Albie Esparza told BuzzFeed News after learning of the email. “But I can guarantee you that the chief himself will not be getting involved in any civil disputes or civil investigation.”

In another particularly protracted exchange in March, Michael wrote, “I was hoping you were not still dealing with your mental health issues. But, I guess given that you are a patent troll and a slumlord, you cannot help yourself.”

Danforth later responded: “I am very sorry that you have elected to continue the same tone and with the same disregard for the facts and the law as I saw from you last year.”

A few days later, Danforth suggested Michael might want to start looking for a new place. “I can stay in the apartment as long as I want, asshole,” Michael responded in an email on March 10. “Regardless, this is good evidence of your intent, racist asshole.”

Danforth terminated the Uber executive's lease in April, two months before it was to expire. The notice Danforth filed with the San Francisco Rent Board called out Michael's “abusive and insulting language,” as well as his refusal to cooperate with repair and maintenance efforts.

Despite Michael's moving out, the dispute still remains unresolved.

Last month, BuzzFeed News reported that Michael floated the idea of hiring opposition researchers to investigate journalists, and in particular to spread claims about the private life of one Uber critic. Michael apologized, and Uber denied that the plan had any connection to Uber's actual plans.

Later, BuzzFeed News revealed that Uber had sought to hire an experienced opposition researcher to “weaponize” information for use against its industry competitors.

In the wake of those stories, Danforth wrote to an Uber board member — he declined to name which one — regarding his dispute with Michael and included examples of their emails. “These emails from Mr. Michael…,[are] pretty clear evidence of the kind of character Uber seems to value,” Danforth wrote to the board member, according to an email he showed BuzzFeed News. (He blacked out the recipient's name in the email; an Uber official confirmed that Danforth had contacted a board member.) “Unwise for the guy Uber calls 'the face of Uber to its customers and partners globally.'”

Within hours, Danforth's attorney, Nils Rosenquest, received a letter from Michael's attorney, Dave Crow, demanding further mediation, according to a copy of the email provided by Danforth.

“I had prepared the letter before I received a disturbing email from Mr. Michael regarding an email Mr. Danforth sent to … a member of the Board of Directors of Uber,” Crow wrote. (Danforth says he also attempted to contact a second board member via LinkedIn, though he's unsure of whether that message went through.)

According to the letter, dated Nov. 24, Michael is threatening to sue Danforth for just over $ 100,000 in damages related to the dispute, including “breach of contract,” “attorney fees,” and “emotional distress.” He also complains that Danforth has not fully refunded his security deposit.

Johana Bhuiyan contributed reporting to this story.

BuzzFeed – Tech

Uber Offers Customer £20 After She Reported Her Driver’s Sexual Harassment

The customer said her driver offered her oral sex during her journey in London in March. Uber told BuzzFeed News on Thursday that it had kicked the driver off its service.

An Uber customer who reported that her driver offered her oral sex during a ride in London in March was offered £20 ($ 31) credit as compensation, Newsweek reported.

An Uber customer who reported that her driver offered her oral sex during a ride in London in March was offered £20 ($ 31) credit as compensation, Newsweek reported.

Sergio Perez / Reuters

The rider notified the company of her driver's misconduct in an email, which Newsweek reported seeing. The email said: “Driver was very forward and quite creepy. Asked me if I wanted him to go down on me. Not cool.”

She received a response from an Uber marketing manager who apologised for the “intrusive experience” and said the company's driver operations manager was “already investigating this … and I can assure you that the necessary actions will be taken to avoid a similar incident in future,” Newsweek said.

The manager signed the response by thanking the customer for “for raising this with us – while painful to hear, it's the best way for us to address any incidents like this”, Newsweek reported.

Unhappy with the response, the female passenger reportedly wrote back with a more detailed account of the event. She said the driver invited her to sit in the front of the cab with the driver, and she took him up on it because she felt car sick.

Towards the end of the journey he was asking if I liked blow jobs, saying that he was very good at going down on girls or giving “sucky sucky” to girls and did I want him to do it to me. He even suggested that he could pull over into a side street and do it now if I wanted, which was I think the scariest part of the drive.

I am aware that this kind of thing becomes very much a he-said, she-said kind of deal, but I did want to make you aware of it as I feel that people really trust the Uber name (as I do) and my trust was completely violated. I am pretty relaxed and outgoing and I feel that I can take care of myself, and if I felt so uncomfortable I dread to think how a more timid girl would have felt. I won't be taking this any further but I do implore you to take this quite seriously as I worry for other women who could find themselves in a similar situation.


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BuzzFeed – Tech