Uber, the ride-sharing app, has shown questionable respect for women and their safety, and it looks like public ire against the company is finally reaching critical mass. A story is quickly unspooling of a company that, despite a $18 billion valuation, manages to show a bankrupt sense of regard for women passengers, employees and journalists. Here are five reasons you might want to delete the Uber app from your phone:
1. An Uber executive threatened to terrorize a woman journalist after she wrote a scathing exposé on the company.
Sarah Lacy is the founder and editor-in-chief of PandoDaily, a Silicon Valley publication that covers all things in startup culture. As a highly visible woman in the male-centric tech world, and one with a platform to potentially make or break fledgling companies, Lacy has faced everything from social media harassment to million-dollar lawsuits. What she wasn’t prepared for were threats against her family.
At a recent Manhattan dinner, the senior vice president of Uber, Emil Michael, commented that Uber should spend “a million dollars” hiring opposition researchers to strike back against Uber’s critics in the media. These researchers would dig into “your personal lives, your families.” He suggested going after one reporter in particular—Lacy—in light of a recent PandoDaily report she had done on the sexist frat culture at Uber, in which she urged users to delete the app. Michael expressed his indignation at the article, arguing that women are far more likely to be sexually assaulted by cab drivers than Uber drivers. He then went on to say that Lacy should feel “personally responsible” for women who experience sexual assault after following her advice to default to other ride-sharing services or cabs.
Lacy details how she felt when she first learned of the company’s threats against her and her family:
A chill ran down my spine that had little to do with the weather, as [Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith, who was at the dinner] described the bizarre interaction. I immediately thought of my kids at home halfway around the world, just getting out of their baths and groggily pulling on their pajamas, and how the new line that this company was willing to cross would affect them. … these new attacks threatened to hit at my only vulnerability. The only part of my life that I’d do anything to protect: my family and my children.
2. An advertisement for the company in France encouraged male passengers to use the service for an opportunity to get picked up by a hot woman driver.
According to a report by BuzzFeed News, the company’s Lyon office started a marketing promotion that enabled passengers with a promo code to be picked up by a model who would then drive them around the city for free. The ads for the service featured photos of cleavage-baring, platform-heel-wearing women in the drivers’ seats with the tagline, “Who says women can’t drive?” Though the ad was hastily removed after the Buzzfeed story broke, no one at Uber apologized for the degrading, objectifying ad.
3. The company’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, publicly commented he should change the company name to “Boob-er” due to all the sexual attention he has received as a result of the company’s meteoric rise.
In a GQ profile in which Kalanick was described as a “bro-y alpha nerd,” the reporter wrote:
Not to make assumptions, but Kalanick probably wasn’t the first kid in his class to lose his virginity. But the way he talks now—which is large—he’s surely making up for lost time. When I tease him about his skyrocketing desirability, he deflects with a wisecrack about women on demand: ‘Yeah, we call that Boob-er.’
Even though this was framed as a innocuous joke, comments like these aren’t really funny. They’re reflections of how these men in power feel towards women. Women are spoils to be enjoyed with success, or threats (like Lacy) who need to be cowed into submission. They are never people.
4. Uber claims to run vigorous criminal background checks on their drivers, but recent reports have cast doubts on this assertion.
Uber isn’t beholden to the same oversight as taxi companies, and it uses that loophole to cut corners when it concerns women’s safety. There have been incidents of crucial information such as misdemeanors and even felony convictions being overlooked or simply ignored. An Uber driver who violently assaulted a male passenger in San Francisco had previously served prison time for drug-related offenses and for resisting an officer. An investigative report by PandoDaily stated:
The real problem here is not that a handful of Uber drivers have allegedly assaulted their passengers. It’s that there’s not a good regulatory framework in place to vet those drivers in advance. … users don’t know whether they’re protected hopping in cars with ridesharing strangers. The companies have sent mixed signals about how thoroughly they vet drivers and how much they value passenger safety. When it suits them, they claim to care about safety and background checks, and when it doesn’t suit them, they call themselves a platform and deny responsibility.
5. Several Uber drivers have been accused of abducting or sexually assaulting female passengers.
In what is the most blatant show of the company’s misogyny, Uber has swept under the rug several reports of its drivers kidnapping or sexually coercing female passengers. In Washington, D.C., an Uber driver was accused of molesting a young woman who was trying to get back to her hotel after a party. In the woman’s affidavit, she stated she had passed out in the back of the car and awoke to find that the car had stopped and the driver was fondling her breasts and fingering her genitals.
There were also two separate incidents in Los Angeles of Uber drivers abducting women passengers: In June, the LAPD arrested a driver who allegedly kidnapped a woman he picked up from a nightclub, taking her to a hotel instead of her home. In October, another L.A. woman was driven 20 miles out of the way to an empty parking lot, and was only taken home when she started screaming at the driver.
Uber’s reaction to this? In the case of the 20-mile detour, the company eventually refunded the woman’s money and sent an automated email apologizing for the driver’s “inefficient route.”
Uber operates under the rubric that its drivers are not really employees, but “independent contractors;” ergo, Uber should not be held accountable for their behavior. In an internal email critiquing the negative press his company was getting, CEO Kalanick wrote:
[F]or whatever reason these writers are starting to think that we are somehow liable for these incidents that aren’t even real in the first place.
I think I’ll stick to regular cab companies or Lyft. If half of Uber’s market is women, you would think that ensuring their safety would be essential to its bottomline. But it looks like Uber won’t get the message until users start giving it the red light, and its app vanishes from smartphones in city to city.
Photo courtesy of Melvin A via Creative Commons 2.0.