Uber’s scandals, blunders and PR disasters: the full list

The company has had a seemingly never-ending string of missteps, from its controversial CEO to questionable tactics and sexual harassment claims

Uber has been rocked by a steady stream of scandals and negative publicity in recent years, including revelations of questionable spy programs, a high-stakes technology lawsuit, claims of sexual harassment and discrimination and embarrassing leaks about executive conduct.

The PR disasters culminated in CEO Travis Kalanick taking an indefinite leave of absence this week and promises of bold reform that largely ignored the ride-hailing companys strained relationship with drivers.

Here is a timeline of some of the most consequential controversies.

Boob-er backlash, February 2014

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick faced backlash for a sexist joke about his increasing desirability, telling an Esquire reporter: We call that Boob-er.

Targeting the competitor, August 2014

Uber faced accusations that it booked thousands of fake rides from its competitor Lyft in an effort to cut into its profits and services. Uber recruiters also allegedly spammed Lyft drivers in an effort to recruit them away from the rival.

The God View scandal, November 2014

Uber executive Emil Michael suggested digging up dirt on journalists and spreading personal information of a female reporter who was critical of the company. He later apologized. It was also revealed that Uber has a so-called God View technology that allows the company to track users locations, raising privacy concerns. One manager had accessed the profile of a reporter without her permission.

Spying on Beyonc, December 2016

A former forensic investigator for Uber testified that employees regularly spied on politicians, exes and celebrities, including Beyonc.

Self-driving pilot failure, December 2016

Regulators in California ordered Uber to remove self-driving vehicles from the road after the company launched a pilot without permits. On the first day of the program, the vehicles were caught running red lights, and cycling advocates in San Francisco also raised concerns about the cars creating hazards in bike lanes. The company blamed red-light issues on human error, but the New York Times later claimed that the companys statements were false and that the autonomous technology failed.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/18/uber-travis-kalanick-scandal-pr-disaster-timeline

Facebook plans to invest $20m in affordable housing projects

The tech company, long criticized displacing low-income residents in Silicon Valley, will partner with advocacy groups to amid massive campus expansion

Facebook has agreed to invest $20m in affordable housing initiatives after facing intense criticism for failing to help low-income residents in Silicon Valley where the technology boom has exacerbated displacement and gentrification.

The corporation, which is pushing forward with a massive campus expansion in northern California, announced on Friday a partnership with community organizations aimed at funding affordable housing construction and assisting tenants facing eviction.

Housing activists who have long been critical of Facebook and its role in accelerating income inequality in the region said the investment marked an unprecedented collaboration between Silicon Valley corporations and advocacy groups and that the project could push neighboring tech companies to better address local poverty.

Im hoping this fund will be the thing that starts to move the rest of the region, said Tameeka Bennett, executive director of Youth United for Community Action (Yuca), a non-profit in east Palo Alto that helped negotiate the new agreement.

The housing shortage has reached crisis levels in Silicon Valley, which is also home to Google, Apple and many other wealthy technology firms. Rapid job creation combined with a lack of new housing has created an estimated shortfall of 22,000 homes, with the region building only 26% of the housing needed for low-income people, according to non-profit group Public Advocates.

That means only the wealthy can afford to live near their Silicon Valley jobs, forcing an estimated 70,000 low-income workers to commute more than 50 miles to work.

Facebook, headquartered in Menlo Park, has contributed to the problem in direct and indirect ways. The company sparked backlash after it began offering generous bonuses to employees if they live near campus, which advocates say has hastened gentrification. Local real estate managers have evicted low-income tenants en masse, explicitly marketing units to Facebook employees.

The funding announced this week is not simply a philanthropic donation from Facebook, which is valued at $350bn. The corporation is legally required to fund certain community benefits as part of its ongoing expansion project, and activists have spent months pressuring the company to make substantial investments.

Facebook plans to add 126,000 sq ft to its campus and bring 6,500 new employees to the area, increasing the Menlo Park workforce by 20%. Development laws mandated that the corporation contribute $6.3m to below-market-rate housing.

Still, non-profit leaders said the housing fund could have a significant impact and noted that Facebook executives have relied heavily on the input of local advocates with the kind of intensive collaboration advocates rarely see from corporations.

The community groups that have the expertise really were equal players, said Sam Tepperman-Gelfant, senior staff attorney at Public Advocates, which had raised formal objections to Facebooks expansion proposal.

I hope having one large prominent Silicon Valley company leading the way on this will be a wake-up call for all the other global corporations that the Bay Area is hosting and the need for them to work locally, he added, rather than just thinking of themselves as global corporations that exist online.

In addition to investing $18.5m toward the creation and preservation of affordable housing, the company has offered $500,000 toward legal and rental assistance to tenants threatened with displacement.

A Facebook spokesman told the Guardian that the company doesnt have projections on the number of housing units the partnership could fund, but noted that the $20m is an initial contribution and said the company hopes to attract additional public, private and philanthropic entities to contribute to the fund.

Kyra Brown, Yucas social justice program director, said it was critical that Facebook do a better job diversifying its workforce and hire locally in east Palo Alto, a historically black city. African American employees make up only 3% of the corporations senior leadership in the US.

Silicon Valley is known as this very innovative place when it comes to addressing everyday issues, she said, but my hope is that we also take that same innovation and apply it to social issues.

Brown, who grew up in east Palo Alto, said the announcement was an important first step in the tech sector helping to address inequities in the communities theyve entered.

Im glad that Facebook is thinking about the legacy it wants to leave particularly when it comes to communities of color, she said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/02/facebook-affordable-housing-silicon-valley

Google-funded loan startup to pay $6.3m for ‘deceptive’ practices

Experts say the LendUp case is significant for firms in the emerging online fintech sector that claim to offer a better alternative to payday loans

A Google-funded lending startup will have to pay $6.3m in fines and refunds for a number of deceptive practices, signaling the US governments interest in regulating the growing industry of online alternatives to traditional payday loans.

LendUp a San Francisco firm that claims to offer a secure, convenient way to get the money you need, fast misled customers, hid its true credit costs, and reversed pricing without disclosing it to consumers, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

LendUp pitched itself as a consumer-friendly, tech-savvy alternative to traditional payday loans, but it did not pay enough attention to the consumer financial laws, bureau director Richard Cordray said in a statement Tuesday, announcing the settlement.

The company, which has funding from high-profile Silicon Valley venture capital firms and GV, Googles venture capital branch, began marketing its services in 2012.

The startup claimed it would help consumers move up the LendUp Ladder by building credit and improving their scores. The firm promised customers the opportunity to eventually progress to loans with more favorable terms, such as longer repayment periods and lower rates.

But regulators allege that the startups offerings did not match its advertising and that the firm failed to properly provide information to credit reporting companies, which denied consumers the opportunity to enhance their credit.

The federal agency has ordered LendUp to pay a $1.8m penalty and provide more than 50,000 consumers with roughly $1.8m in refunds.

The California department of business oversight also investigated the firm and announced a settlement this week requiring LendUp to pay $2.7m to resolve allegations it charged illegal fees and committed other widespread violations of payday and installment lending laws.

The state agency said the startup had paid $1m in refunds but still owes $537,000 to borrowers.

Experts say the case is significant for firms in the emerging online fintech sector that have claimed to offer better services than traditional payday loan industry businesses, known for trapping low-income Americans in cycles of debt.

Companies like LendUp have attracted positive press from the tech media in recent years.

TechCrunch said the startup would make the loan experience for the millions of unbanked Americans more fair and transparent. Time Magazine said it offered an innovative new payday loan banking model thats more Silicon Valley than Wall Street.

The violations raise questions about that kind of praise and suggest that regulators must do a better job scrutinizing online startups, said Liana Molina, director of community engagement for the California Reinvestment Coalition, a group that advocates for fair banking access for low-income communities.

The main takeaway here is that online payday loans … are just as dangerous if not more so than those products available in the storefronts, she said, adding that restrictions across the board need to be strengthened to better shield vulnerable people from harmful loans.

Theres a lot more work to be done [but] it sends a strong message to quote-unquote innovators in this space that they need to adhere to existing protections.

In June, the CFPB pushed forward new rules aimed at regulating the $38.5bn payday loan industry, requiring lenders to verify the income of borrowers to ensure they can afford to repay the loans.

As a result, digital lending services are rapidly expanding, said Paige Marta Skiba, Vanderbilt University economist and law professor. Were about to see the kind of wild wild west of online lending.

This weeks enforcement actions could impede funding efforts for LendUp and its competitors, which could have hurt companies trying to offer fairer alternatives, Skiba added.

People willing to invest in this kind of startup are going to be all the more scared Its going to be difficult, if not impossible.

LendUp downplayed the penalties in a statement, saying the penalties address legacy issues that mostly date back to our early days as a company, when we were a seed-stage startup with limited resources and as few as five employees.

The firm now has dedicated compliance and legal teams and has fully addressed the issues cited by our regulators, including discontinuing some services, the statement said.

The LendUp penalties are also noteworthy given that Google, a key funder, announced this year that it would no longer sell ads for payday loan companies, saying they were dangerous products classified in the same category as guns and tobacco.

At the time, LendUp criticized the ban, saying it was too broad and would negatively affect them.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/sep/28/lendup-fine-google-payday-loan-deceptive-practices

WTF are techies saying? A linguistic guide for the aspiring tech hustler

In Silicon Valley, being ahead of the jargon curve can bring great social and financial rewards and it may even be confused for true innovation

Its as common as the hoodies and the Soylent: Silicon Valley loves its jargon while simultaneously groaning over the weight of its pretense. However, this pain point is also an opportunity for enterprising wordsmiths.

In the Valley, speaking fluent cutting-edge startup is the bare minimum required to inspire confidence. Being ahead of the jargon curve can bring great social and financial rewards. It may even be confused with true innovation.

Lets imagine a conversation between cofounders of a startup called DoubleNewSpeak, maybe as they launch a Minimum Viable Vocabulary. If the product is sticky, they will soon be considered visionaries and showered with venture capital at which point they will scale like crazy. In two years, everyone will be speaking this new language, as they shall devote their energies to overseeing the construction of an enormous Ikea-style ball pit in their open-plan office.

Twenty full minutes of ideating and six rigorous minutes of beta testing later, heres what they come up with, a linguistic guide for the aspiring tech hustler:

Evangelist? Bah! Your head of marketing should be a product demagogue. Were not conveying enthusiasm here, people were conveying dangerous rabble-rousing obsession with our product. But, you know, in an artisanal way. Growth hacker is so 2014 replace it with lumberjack.

Were all trapped in a punishing cycle of job title inflation. The future looks grim without a modern-day Scott Volcker to drag us over the coals and tame the beast (shout-out to all those 1970s monetary policy fans out there). So your former digital prophet really needs a promotion to high sparrow of the worshipful B2B CRM space. Your thought leader should probably just start borrowing directly from Kim Jong-il. Acceptable forms of address include: Mastermind of the Revolution, Ever-Victorious Iron-Willed Commander and Guiding Star of the 21st Century.

Continue that military aesthetic with a cheeky blitzkrieg no one does sprints anymore. But definitely avoid bootstrap given the Valleys woman problem, these days its garter or bust. Or bustier, I suppose.

Layoff is old-fashioned. Why not call it a freedom cull? Or a quarter quell? Perhaps even a staff detox?

Pivot is out, pirouette is in it sounds almost like I planned it.

As for adjectives sticky can be viscous, frothy is either rabid or lightly sparkling, and agile is being replaced with spry, limber or lithe.

By the way, this paradigm shift should be referred to as a thought schism.

Lets double-click on the phenomenon of tech jargon (a year ago, wed be drilling down, and two years ago, wed be going granular). Jargon is interesting because its not inherently bad. Its an efficient form of communication, initially but when new words dont actually describe a novel concept, they tend to have less benign purposes.

In the tech industry, fresh buzzwords are often a shortcut, a way to sell a less-than-impressive reality, gain unearned credibility and join an in-group. Early adopters are advantaged and holdouts exposed to increasingly high costs.

In fact, the economics of platforms and luxury goods collide in the jargon economy. Owning a dominant platform allows you to capture value from users activity. If your language becomes popular, it brings industry credibility and allows you to capitalise on the reputational boost. But your terminology can become overused and drained of meaning hello, disruptive innovation. If utility is based partly on rarity and novelty, like a Chanel bag, this tips the delicate balance; mass adoption is both the goal and the beginning of the end.

Jargon is not just a tech problem, but a classic strategy. Management consultants have been attempting to legitimize themselves with superfluous systematised vocabularies for decades. And despite its protestations, tech is not that different from other sectors; it is distinguished mainly by the scale of peoples ambitions and the super-profits made possible by infinitely reproducible solutions (software).

Ironically, in trying to avoid corporate Americas deadening euphemistic vocabulary, Silicon Valley may have created a parlance equally stripped of meaning.

Its tone also reflects its American origins; if, say, Denmark had been the epicentre of the technological renaissance, tech would feel very different. Silicon Valleys jargon draws on manifest destiny, refusing to admit failure outside a narrative of eventual success. It tends toward hype and hyperbole, mixed with the saccharine dead-on-arrival enthusiasm of American consumer service. With its talk of
rockstars and gurus, it buys into that libertarian worship of the individual which so often teeters into celebrating arrogance.

It feels only fitting to end a whine about America with a grumpy Englishman but unfortunately, Orwell is over-quoted on the evils of doublespeak. However, Thomas Paine said it well in The Age of Reason:

All this is nothing better than the jargon of a conjuror, who picks up phrases he does not understand to confound the credulous people who come to have their fortune told. Priests and conjurors are of the same trade.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jun/10/tech-jargon-silicon-valley-linguistic-guide