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Uber Files: Whistleblower Behind Massive Leak Comes Forward

Uber's former chief European lobbyist leaked over 124,000 company files to The Guardian.

a phone screen showing the Uber logo
Angela Lang/CNET

Uber used deceitful and allegedly illegal tactics during its "aggressive global expansion" from 2013 to 2017, according to a massive leak of internal files and messages reported in The Guardian on Sunday. 

The ride-hailing company reportedly "flouted laws, duped police, exploited violence against drivers and secretly lobbied governments," while co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick led the company.

The Guardian obtained over 124,000 documents, including emails, WhatsApp messages, briefing papers and invoices that span the five-year period. The documents, dubbed the Uber files, cover the company's business across more than 40 countries, according to The Guardian. 

The files were leaked by former Uber lobbyist Mark MacGann, who revealed himself as the whistleblower Monday in an interview with The Guardian. MacGann directed Uber's efforts to win over governments in several nations, including the UK, France and Russia. 

Between 2014 and 2016, MacGann reportedly assisted in persuading governments to change taxi regulations so Uber could expand in markets where the ride-hailing company would be in violation of taxi licensing laws. 

"I regret being part of a group of people which massaged the facts to earn the trust of drivers, of consumers and of political elites," MacGann said in his interview. "I should have shown more common sense and pushed harder to stop the craziness. It is my duty to [now] speak up and help governments and parliamentarians right some fundamental wrongs. Morally, I had no choice in the matter."

The leaked documents were also shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, as well as other publications including Le Monde, The Washington Post and the BBC. CNET hasn't independently verified the leaked documents. 

Kalanick: 'Violence guarantees success'

Among the revelations in the Guardian's report, French President Emmanuel Macron, serving at the time in the cabinet as minister of the economy, industry and digital affairs, reportedly provided support for Kalanick when thousands of taxi drivers demonstrated against Uber in France in 2015. 

Kalanick reportedly dismissed concerns from executives that sending Uber drivers to protests in France could put them at risk of violence. "I think it's worth it," he reportedly said. "Violence guarantee[s] success."

The leaks also detail Uber's efforts to lobby government officials during its expansion, including then-US Vice President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who at the time was mayor of Hamburg. These included attempts to change labor laws.  

Kalanick departed Uber in 2017 following a wave of scandals. He was replaced by Dara Khosrowshahi, the former CEO of Expedia, who began his tenure with apologies for the company's past conduct and an attempt to reform its "toxic" corporate culture. 

"We have not and will not make excuses for past behavior that is clearly not in line with our present values," Uber wrote in its response to the report, published on its website. "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 Guardian also published a lengthy statement from Kalanick's spokesperson in response to the leak. 

"Any accusation that Mr Kalanick directed, engaged in, or was involved" in illegal or improper conduct is "completely false," reads the statement. "The reality was that Uber's expansion initiatives were led by over a hundred leaders in dozens of countries around the world and at all times under the direct oversight and with the full approval of Uber's robust legal, policy, and compliance groups."