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Uber Files, How they used our politicians to get their job done?

Uber cab service

Today Uber is the world’s largest taxi service provider. Within a decade, it has spread its business to 72 countries including India and has become a $ 44 billion company. After all, on the basis of its investigation, the English newspaper The Indian Express has made many sensational revelations about how Uber has increased its business in such a short time. According to the report of The Indian Express, Uber used many unethical means to rapidly increase its business in markets around the world.

The Indian Express conducted this investigation in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a non-profit network of investigative journalists. During the investigation, many internal files, emails, invoices and other documents of Uber were scrutinized. It revealed how Uber broke laws to expand its business, used violence against drivers to its advantage, and misled government regulatory bodies and their officials. These internal documents related to Uber were first found by the British newspaper The Guardian, which shared them with a group of investigative journalists.

The documents collected by The Guardian from 2013 to 2017 include more than 83,000 e-mails and WhatsApp messages. The leaked documents date back to the period Uber was operated by its co-founder Travis Kellenick. At that time the company had adopted a policy of spreading its feet ignoring the laws. When the atmosphere against it was created, the company used unfair means to gain the support of presidents, prime ministers, billionaire businessmen and the media of various countries.

According to reports, the company officials were fully aware that they were breaking the law. However, it is not yet clear what the way Uber operated in India was and how the company took the wrong steps to gain a foothold in the country.

In fact, in September 2014, Uber prepared a presentation for its staff using India as a case study for handling service tax issues. “The authorities want Uber to open their books, otherwise we are facilitating fraud,” reads a slide in a PowerPoint presentation that is part of the now-revealed records.

Shortly after, in December 2014, the company suffered a crisis after the rape of a 25-year-old passenger in New Delhi in an Uber car by the driver.

Dozens of internal emails show that even as red flags were going up over the Delhi government-imposed ban, senior executives squarely blamed “flawed” licensing systems in India for letting the accused driver’s criminal record slip through.

Uber was in a panic and in the midst of a frenzy of damage control, Nairi Hourdajian, then head of Uber’s communications unit wrote in an email to his colleague on December 11, 2014, just six days after the breach: “Remember that not everything is in order.” your control, and that sometimes we get in trouble because, well, we’re just fucking illegal.”

An investigation by The Indian Express shows that critical elements of the new safety feature Uber boasted about after the New Delhi rape incident are not yet in place. Example: The “panic button” that all Uber taxis, like public transport buses and taxis, are required to have has yet to be integrated with the Delhi Police and State Department of Transport systems, even six years after the rape.

Much has been said about the “nasty technology” that Uber implemented during Kalanick’s tenure, and The Uber Files dramatically expands the instances and circumstances of its use: there are details of how the company used tools like “gray ball” and “geofencing” to keep Uber rides away. of nosy police and government officials.

Significantly, there are 13 instances discovered in the files of the ‘Kill Switch’ being implemented in various countries, an internal label for a process that shuts down local systems to protect them from any probes. In fact, in six cases, the records reveal, the ‘kill switch’ was used even as regulators were raiding Uber’s offices.

One particular email from a senior Uber executive from February 2015 (in the context of anticipated tax raids in Belgium) details the modus operandi that Uber used for India: how the local team seemed to cooperate with Indian authorities even when in they were actually “closed” — courtesy of ‘Kill Switch’ — by Uber headquarters.

In April 2015, Uber announced it would include the service tax in the ride cost.  The leaked records indicate that the company wanted to “show commitment to comply” with Indian rules, choosing an approach similar to the one it adopted in Europe.

We will “ensure partner [driver] compliancy and improve the relationship with local authorities,” the project’s PowerPoint guidelines say. “Goal is to become a facilitator for tax collection and remittance.”

In the following years, Uber appealed several tax rulings in India. It slashed its corporate income tax bill from $35 million to $8 million for the years 2018, 2019 and 2020, according to financial statements. The company received a favourable ruling after challenging tax claims for 2016 and 2017 and was waiting to see if the authorities would appeal, the most recent financial statement says.

India loses an estimated $16 billion to corporate tax avoidance and other tax abuses every year, according to a recent report by the Tax Justice Network.

According to the report, Uber pressured political figures to relax taxi and labour laws and used stealth technology to thwart regulatory and legal scrutiny. In addition, the company sent funds from Bermuda and other tax havens and used incidents of violence against its drivers to garner public sympathy.

According to the report, Uber, founded in 2009, offered cheap transportation through ride-sharing apps, bypassing taxi regulations. Uber adopted an extraordinary strategy to establish itself in almost 30 countries. Lobbying for the company included many high-level politicians, including former advisers to US President Barack Obama. They also pressured government officials to influence investigations, change taxi and labour laws and relax rules to control drivers, according to the documents.

The investigation found that Uber used ‘stealth’ technology to hide facts to thwart government investigations. For example, the company used a “kill switch” that prevented officials from accessing Uber’s servers when tax officials were raided or during any other regulatory scrutiny. This prevented officials from obtaining evidence during raids in at least six countries.

The report also suggested that Kalanick American businessman used violence against Uber drivers in France to gain sympathy. He sent the message to his colleagues: “Violence is a guarantee of success.” However, Kalanick’s spokesman, Devon Spurgeon, responded by saying the former CEO “never suggested that Uber should suffer violence at the expense of customer safety based on information obtained from the Uber Files, the report claims that Uber also evaded millions of dollars in taxes by sending its profits through Bermuda and other tax havens.

According to reports, Allen Penn had e-mailed employees in India after the Delhi incident. In this, he had told ways to avoid the questions and answers of the officers. “Whatever our competitors and their respective interests may say. You and Uber are helping India improve,” Penn wrote. He said, “During your tenure at Uber, we may have to face different issues at local and national levels in every city in India. But you guys don’t talk to the government and its people at all. At least Unless instructed by Jordan (referring to Uber Asia’s head of public policies, Jordan Kondo).”

He had said in the mail- “Till then we either will not answer them or tell them everything on what the officials want from us. We will also try to stop them. That’s how we operate and this is the best technology.” Adopt this approach, so that no one can stop us from making our place in the market.”

The Uber files reveal how the cab company resorted to techniques like lobbying to evade taxes and regulators in India. For this, Uber had also made a list of people active in bureaucracy and politics, who could influence policies. Uber had also signed MoUs with several states to expand its business, but most of these remained only on paper.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Uber India addressed a global statement the ride-sharing company had issued in response to the investigation.

In the statement, Uber acknowledged “mistakes” in the past and said the company, under Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi since 2017, “is a different company.” It’s literally a different company, as “90 per cent of Uber’s current employees joined after Dara became CEO.”

“We have not and will not make excuses for past behaviour that is clearly not in line with our present values. Instead, we ask the public to judge us by what we’ve done over the last five years and what we will do in the years to come,” the statement said.

While the investigation did not detail a specific transgression in India, a market Uber has been in since August 2013, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported on how Uber sought to circumvent taxi regulations globally and relied on subsidized drivers. and discount fares that undercut the price of the taxi industry.

Those “mistakes” five years ago culminated in the firing of several top executives.

“It’s also exactly why Uber hired a new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, who has been tasked with transforming every aspect of how Uber operates,” he said.

“Dara rewrote the company’s values, revamped the leadership team, made safety a top company priority, implemented best-in-class corporate governance, hired an independent chairman of the board, and installed the rigorous controls and compliance necessary to operate as a public company. the statement said.

“Uber has “moved from an era of confrontation to one of collaboration, demonstrating its willingness to come to the table and find common ground with long-standing opponents, including unions and taxi companies,” the statement said.

“We are now regulated in more than 10,000 cities around the world, working at all levels of government to improve the lives of those who use our platform and the cities we serve,” the firm said.

“Among other things, we have invested heavily in security, developing many of the technologies that are now industry standard and publishing a comprehensive report of the most serious security incidents,” he added.

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