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The Uber Files: Inside The Cab-Hailing Firm's History Of Lawbreaking And Exploitation

Updated: Aug 13, 2022

The Uber Files is an international investigation based on more than 1,24,000 leaked records consisting of internal company emails, memos, presentations and Whatsapp messages.

They reveal how the ride-hailing company found ways around the law and lobbied aggressively with governments during its expansion.

The Uber Files are a database of Uber's activities in approximately 40 countries from 2013 to 2017. The database was leaked by former senior executive Mark McGann, who admits to being "partly responsible." The database was published by The Guardian on 10 July 2022, and The Guardian shared the database of more than 124,000 files with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and 42 other media outlets. The database was leaked by Mark McGann.

E-mails, messages, and WhatsApp conversations exchanged between the senior leadership of the company were among them. Also included were memoranda, presentations, and other confidential company materials.

The documents revealed attempts to lobby powerful figures such as George Osborne, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, German chancellor Olaf Scholz while he was mayor of Hamburg, Germany, and former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden. Additionally, the documents revealed that re-elected French President Emmanuel Macron secretly assisted Uber lobbying in France while he was a cabinet member of the French government.

In addition, the files include evidence of the utilisation of technologies such as "grey ball," which was intended to deceive local law enforcement, and a "kill switch," which was utilised during police raids to conceal data.

Travis Kalanick, a former CEO of Uber, responded to the concerns of other executives by stating, "I think it's worth it, violence guarantees success." These executives were concerned that sending Uber drivers to a protest in France would put them at risk of being violently attacked by angry opponents in the taxi industry.

Uber logo on a phone

Reportedly, Uber leveraged violence against its drivers to push for meetings with politicians. It provided details to journalists if company officials thought the violence would result in negative attention for the taxi industry.

The company used technological tools such as the 'kill switch' to disrupt regulatory raids in India, Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, Romania, France, and Hungary.

The kill switch is a process that shuts down the local system to firewall them from any probe. As per the records, the 'Kill Switch' was used even as raids by regulators were in progress at the Uber offices.

Tools like 'grey ball' and 'geofencing' were used to keep Uber rides away from Policemen and Government Officials. It identified officials who were ordering Uber cars to gather evidence and showed them a fake version of the app with "phantom cars" that never arrived. Such incidences happened in the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, Spain and other countries.


Uber was able to target certain persons, such as the local police, with a phoney version of the app by making use of a programme called Greyball. This phoney version of the app featured phoney automobiles that would never come if the user tried to contact them. This was designed with the purpose of escaping the law in situations when the company's operations were regarded to be unlawful.

Senior management, such as Kalanick and Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, were aware of the deployment of Greyball in many countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, and Denmark. According to Uber, the company ceased using the app in 2017.


Two of Barack Obama's most senior presidential campaign advisers discussed helping Uber to access leaders, officials and diplomats.

As economy minister, Emmanuel Macron went to extraordinary lengths to support Uber, even telling the company he had brokered a 'deal' with its opponents in the French cabinet.

The former vice-president of the European Commission Neelie Kroes secretly helped Uber to lobby a string of top Dutch politicians.


The company was hit by a crisis in December 2014, when a passenger in New Delhi was raped in an Uber car by the driver.

As per media reports, the "panic button" that Uber promised in every cab is yet to be integrated with Delhi Police and State Transport Department Systems.


The data also expands on the manner in which Uber tackled tax and regulation issues that arose frequently in India, and used it as an example in other countries.

In August 2014, Uber's then Asia Head, Allen Penn, sent an email to the team in India that read:

"....we will generally stall, be unresponsive, and often say no to what they want. This is how we operate and it's nearly always the best."


The files reveal that a senior executive wrote in an email:

"We are not legal in many countries, we should avoid making antagonistic statements."

Another executive reportedly wrote:

"We have officially become pirates," in response to the strategies Uber deployed to "avoid enforcement."

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