Uber’s public relations crisis continues apace with no apparent end in sight.
On Tuesday afternoon, Bloomberg published a video in which CEO Travis Kalanick aggressively argues with an Uber driver who claimed he is earning less money after Uber cut fares. “Some people don't like to take responsibility for their own shit,” Kalanick exclaims, after driver Fawzi Kamel claims he lost $97,000 because of Uber. “They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!”
The publication of the dashcam-shot video is the latest in a parade of PR disasters for Uber. In January, Kalanick’s decision to sit on President Donald Trump’s economic advisory group inspired a viral #DeleteUber campaign in which the company saw about 200,000 users delete their accounts, according to the New York Times. Kalanick subsequently resigned from the council.
Then, in early February, a former Uber engineer penned a viral account of her experience at the company, with detailed allegations of systemic sexism. In response, Uber launched an internal investigation into the accusations, led by former Attorney General Eric Holder and Arianna Huffington, who sits on Uber’s board. A visibly emotional Kalanick apologized to his staff at an all-hands meeting and promised to “do better.”
Two days later, during a meeting with more than 100 women engineers, Kalanick was grilled about issues of sexism at Uber, according to an audio recording obtained by BuzzFeed News. “I want to root out the injustice,” he told those in attendance. “I want to get at the people who are making this place a bad place. And you have my commitment.”
Uber’s tensions with its drivers are well-documented. The company continues to grapple with lawsuits over the classification of drivers as independent contractors. Just last month, Uber paid the Federal Trade Commission $20 million to settle allegations that it advertised inflated estimates of how much its drivers earn on its website and in Craigslist job postings.
Kalanick’s video interaction with his Uber driver is in many ways a snapshot of those tensions — and one that Uber clearly did not expect to become public. Uber declined to comment on the video.
Uber says on its website that drivers are permitted by the company to record riders “for purposes of safety,” but notes that “local regulations may require individuals using recording equipment in vehicles to fully disclose to riders that they are being recorded in or around a vehicle and obtain consent.”
In California, a state with a two-party consent rule for recording confidential conversations, could the driver be in legal trouble?
“It was a risky move to publicize this video,” Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, told BuzzFeed News. “It’s unclear if the conversation between the Uber driver and the CEO would qualify as a confidential communication.”
Goldman said whether the conversation would qualify as confidential would depend on several factors, such as whether the dashcam was prominently visible, and whether for-hire vehicles could count as public spaces. Regardless of those questions, he said, lawsuits of this variety are uncommon and the optics around Uber suing one of its own drivers lower the odds of a lawsuit.
Said Goldman, “Uber’s CEO has much bigger problems in his life right now.”
Kalanick emailed Uber staff Tuesday afternoon:
By now I'm sure you’ve seen the video where I treated an Uber driver disrespectfully. To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement. My job as your leader is to lead...and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away.
It’s clear this video is a reflection of me—and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.
I want to profoundly apologize to Fawzi, as well as the driver and rider community, and to the Uber team.
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Priya Anand is a tech and transportation reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Priya Anand at email@example.com.
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