By Lisa Autz
Photo courtesy of Julien GONG Min.
With a quick tap of the phone, the app called Uber can summon anyone a taxi service in many locations within minutes. It’s a platform that is democratizing the industry like never before and causing traditional cabbies to shake in their seats.
Yet, as successful as the five-year-old start-up has been, its recent display of questionable–even downright deplorable–behavior is causing users to reexamine their loyalty.
Allegations that Uber accessed private customer information outside of contractual agreements and made frightful threats to dig up personal information on critical journalists like Sarah Lacy prompts the question: Is the moral bankruptcy of a company reason enough to do away with an otherwise useful service?
It sometimes feels like a dream, or possibly a nightmare to traditional taxi companies, that Uber has driven into our lives and dominated the industry in less than five years. Today, the start-up has gained a valuation of $18.2 billion by investors and has expanded to over 200 cities in 50 countries.
But this isn’t some sweet stroke of luck–in fact, the company carefully calculates domination, using risky tactics since the beginning.
Sidestepping its way around pricey regulations, having almost unlimited access to user data, and avoiding liability when anything goes wrong are just some examples of Uber’s precarious functioning.
Uber calls itself a “high-tech” company, not a taxi-limousine company. Its drivers are independent contractors which means Uber has no obligation to guarantee wages, insurance, or liability.
So when journalists like Lacy point the finger at Uber for failing to protect female passengers being sexually assaulted, Uber executives can legally step back and say, “That’s not our problem.” On top of that, CEO Travis Kalanick has shown a lack of respect towards women, nicknaming his company “boober” in a GQ interview because of his successes with women.
Terms and conditions of users’ information are also very suspicious. Uber claims to use data for “legitimate business purposes,” but who determines those purposes isn’t clear. The usage of information regarding location, email, credit card, name, or IP address can be used for “internal business purposes” which means Uber has the right to disclose and transfer all data to any affiliate, subsidiary, or eventual merger company. Such personal data can even be accessed after the app is deleted.
What is most concerning, perhaps, is that Uber has done nothing illegal. The company simply curtails around regulations to utilize the free market system, creating a business that is currently doubling its revenue every six months (according to Kalanick). Beyond deleting an app, consumers need to decide whether public safety is worth sacrificing at the alter of capitalism. Ultimately, is the convenience of taking an Uber ride worth it knowing the company’s treatment of consumers, employees, and municipality?