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The app and spac moonies

I have never really drunk the Uber kool aid, at least the flavour pedalled by the old management, which has been divulged by whistleblower Mark MacGann, responsible for delivering government relations tactics he now cries foul over. If something is so cheap it’s too good to be true, then there probably is something fishy about it.

And so it was with Uber during its first heady days of growth under its previous CEO Travis Kalanick, replaced in 2017. The company used what they called “Greyballing” which was software to hoodwink the police in several countries, including the United States until 2014, and later in Russia and Bulgaria.

Greyball software would geolocate authorities trying to track down drivers without permits and make sure they never actually entered the cabs. According to the Guardian report, Uber staff could pinpoint police stations and users whose payment details could be traced to law enforcement and provide them with a phoney map of car locations and warn drivers to make excuses and drop pick-ups.

Kalanick’s spokesperson said that the company’s growth came about because of a team of “over a hundred leaders in dozens of countries around the world” and that the company has “robust legal, policy, and compliance groups” overseeing those teams. This suggests he is distancing himself from the many approbatory quotes about the tactics from him revealed in the Guardian expose.

The current management wants no responsibility for past actions and states that since current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi took over governance has been stepped up.

I should fess up on writing this. I like talking to old-fashioned taxi drivers and would defend their right to an honest living. I like giving tips in coins, usually 10%. Having said that, there were no halcyon days for taxi drivers and until they own their own cabs they are working for minimum wage and I’ve never come across a cab driver who was overly content.
“I hate my life”, a minicab driver taking me from Heathrow once told me at the end of a very long rant. So life wasn’t perfect.

My most pungent memory of my early days in Warsaw is of being in the back of an air-conditioning-free Daewoo Nubira with the smell of caked dandruff mixed with stale pine and Golden cigarettes. The meter was always carefully positioned behind the gear lever so you couldn’t see the driver flick on the zone two night tariff in blazing sunlight in the city centre. If you went to put on your seatbelt they would give you a lecture on how wearing one didn’t fit in with their view of accident survival rates.

But they weren’t all like that, and if you knew to steer clear of the shiftier ones who weren’t with a corporation that hung around the airport or central station, you were generally ok. They paid tax and social security. They spent their money locally. The radio firms to whom they paid their monthly dues, were also generally paying tax locally, though there were good ‘uns as well as bad ‘uns.

This compared with the Uber set up in the earlier days, which made the harm done to society by the fly men among the taxi drivers pale into nothing..

Telling early adopters to app gig economy cabs that there was something off about their set up was like crying foul on mass weddings to a follower of the Moonies. Cats apparently trap mice and cat-loving humans by bewitching them with toxoplasmosis virus in their urine.That was what the PLN 8 ride did to people’s sense of what is right and wrong in the economy.

Uber and its imitators that were paying no tax locally, and their drivers were often registered as working as volunteers for foundations and given pocket money, which would not be taxable.

But their cabs were clean and their cars well serviced. If anything Ubers got the local firms to smarten up their act and invest in technology.

While most of the sharpest practices have been eradicated by the app providers of this world, it does not mean that those responsible for wrongdoings should not be held responsible for crimes and competition infringements.

Just as a country which commits war crimes is responsible for those inhumanities, if the MacGann revelations do alert to anything answerable in law, then the perpetrators should be brought to justice and the company could be open to legal action, even if the new board is free from blame.

Unfortunately the main risks were taken at a time when the share price of the company dwarfed its revenues, and those who profited most on its share price surge have probably moved on, in the current tech downturn.


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