Big Tech’s account won’t stop with Uber
These details and more are revealed in text messages and emails, part of more than 124,000 confidential documents leaked to the Guardian, which show how Uber executives were fully aware they were acting above the law, jokingly calling itself “pirates” and “fucking illegal. Uber says it has transformed since 2017 under CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, and it is indeed a different company today than the one the founder Travis Kalanick founded. In fact, the documents highlight just how much the landscape of tech founders has changed.
For years, it was almost a cliché for Silicon Valley founders to believe they could move fast and break things (including laws) because they thought they were making the world a better place in the long run. . Mark Zuckerberg justified playing fast and loose with regulators and our data largely because he was fulfilling a global mission to “connect people.” Elon Musk appeared to treat regulatory fines as a cost of doing business while pioneering an electric vehicle revolution that could help fight climate change.
Then the wool was removed from our eyes. It turned out that Facebook may have done more to polarize people than to connect them. Musk’s Tesla Inc. had been coy about its environmental footprint and critics raised questions about its safety standards. And while Uber has made transportation easier for many city dwellers, that dream is starting to erode amid steep fare increases.
Uber’s unscrupulous ways have helped build an empire, but they’ve also led to political and regulatory backlash, which has become all the more humiliating amid its struggles to achieve profitability. Antitrust officials have gotten tougher on tech deals — reversing a Facebook acquisition, for example — after admitting they allowed giants like Meta Platforms Inc. and Alphabet Inc. to pick up far too many competitors. US lawmakers on both left and right are eager to tame tech companies’ aggressive growth tactics with tougher laws, spurred by revelations from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.
Big Tech could get away with “messing up” the rules for years because there were so few restrictions on digital markets in the first place. That’s why it made sense for lawyers for Uber and Facebook to argue that they were tech companies and not subject to laws governing the media or taxi companies.
But that is changing. Antitrust officials have updated their guidelines to better manage software complexity and Europe is set to roll out tough online content laws, echoing a similar tightening in Japan and India.
It will be telling to see how a Delaware judge ultimately rules on Musk’s abandonment of his Twitter contract. A harsh judgment against Musk could further underscore that the days of acting above the law for the tech elite are over.
Uber’s own calculation has been mixed. Legal challenges forced it to pay drivers a minimum wage in the UK, but the company was not punished for creating a shadow app to thwart city authorities’ scrutiny of the company, using a tool called Greyball. It is undoubtedly frustrating.
Uber’s aggressive marketing and lobbying strategy hasn’t paved the way for a sustainable business model and has yet to help the company turn an annual profit. Its stock price has fallen almost 50% since the start of the year, eclipsing the losses of many other technology companies.
Meanwhile, ride-sharing startups like Bolt Technology OU in Estonia have taken advantage of all the lobbying work done by Uber to roll out their own business, but with less investment in public policy so they can offer cheaper fares. . In a roundabout way, Uber’s grimy courtesy to politicians may have helped its competitors, at least temporarily.(2)
Uber’s strategy, while extreme, has lived up to Silicon Valley’s empire builders, who ask for forgiveness instead of permission. The difference now is that authorities are starting to hold tech platforms to account.
More writers at Bloomberg Opinion:
Twitter wants you to build a bot. So I did: Tim Culpan
Google should also remove abortion search queries: Parmy Olson
How to reverse the West’s creativity crisis: Parmy Olson
(1) Bolt has also had to increase its fares recently, making London Black Cabs or San Francisco taxis more attractive when peak prices are in effect.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Parmy Olson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. A former journalist for the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, she is the author of “We Are Anonymous”.
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