Uber took the start-up world by storm this past year, receiving an $18 billion dollar valuation from investors over the summer, but the ride-sharing giant now faces a firestorm of criticism in wake of a scandal involving comments made by a company executive.
Uber has been accused of engaging in plots to sabotage rivals in the past and raised privacy concerns over the use of user data, yet the latest claims may have been the most egregious example of the company’s increasingly suspect ethics. The story begins with a Pando Daily reporter, who published a scathing piece taking aim at what she perceives to be Uber’s sexist and misogynistic culture, beginning with CEO, Travis Kalanick and emanating from the top-down. The reporter, Sarah Lacy, may have struck a nerve when she signed off on her piece by stating that she had a perfectly suitable alternative to Uber in the company’s bitter rival, Lyft.
Uber VP’s Remarks Indicative of Culture of Bullying at Uber?
BuzzFeed broke a story this past Monday morning that involved Uber Vice President, Emil Michael, and his suggestion of using $1 million dollars of the company’s funds to look into and disparage reporters who had taken shots at Uber in the press. Mr. Michael was apparently unaware that his comments were being recorded, while attending a dinner party, but suggested somewhat nefariously that part of the “research” could entail investigations into the personal and family lives of the reporters who dared to challenge Uber. Michael further put his foot in his mouth by suggesting that the reporter, Lacy, should feel personally culpable for any female who deleted the Uber app and was subsequently sexually assaulted while using other modes of transport. The allusion to sexual assault, carrying obvious misogynistic overtones, went a long way towards validating Lacy’s claims and may have done more damage to the Uber brand than any of the company’s prior ethical missteps combined.
Uber in Damage Control Mode
The tremendous public scrutiny forced Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, into full-fledged damage control mode after the BuzzFeed story took off. Kalanick authored a series of tweets (NYSE: TWTR) insisting that Michael’s comments were a “departure” from company values and that Uber has never contemplated sponsoring a journalist surveillance program.
Despite their best efforts, the BuzzFeed story prompted a campaign urging outraged users to delete the app en masse and Lacy has stated that she would reach out to influential Uber investors to pressure Kalanick into enacting meaningful change in the company’s dealings. Kalanick has stated that it has yet to be decided whether the controversial Michael would be relieved of his duties, regardless, the company’s VP may have done irreparable damage and lent credence to the charges of the very journalists that he was seeking to silence.