Uber is a mobile application which allows users to request rides from car drivers in major cities across the globe. The service has generated protests from taxi companies worldwide, who argue that Uber uses unfair business practices and illegal operations.
In 2009, entrepreneurs Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick founded the "UberCab" car service in San Francisco, California. In 2010, the company launched a mobile application for iOS and Android devices, which initially only allowed users to hail car drivers in the San Francisco area. In 2011, the venture capital firm Benchmark led a Series A funding round for Uber, raising $11.5 million. That year, Goldman Sachs, Menlo Ventures and Bezos Expeditions invested $32 million in the company. In December, Uber launched its service in Paris, France. In 2012, Uber became available in Toronto, Vancouver, London and Sydney. As of November 2014, Uber is available in 49 countries and more than 200 cities around the world.
As Uber continued to expand its service across major cities in the United States and elsewhere around the world, various stories about drunk passengers and poor customer service experiences began to surface and circulate in the social media. On July 22nd, 2014, Redditor Uhcougars1151 submitted a screenshot of the trip itinerary in a post titled "After a night of fairly heavy drinking, I woke up to find I took a very unnecessary cab ride… Thank you Uber for rubbing it in my face with the detailed map," garnering more than 5,100 notes (shown below, left). On April 21st, 2015, Redditor NYCThrowAway347 submitted a screenshot of an Uber service receipt that his girlfriend had allegedly received for a seven-mile trip in New York City, which shows a fare of $16,251.49 (shown below, right). After the story went viral, the company issued an apology for the clerical error and pledged to refund the entire cost of the ride.
"My Uber Is Down There"
On October 30th, 2014, YouTuber impulsinator uploaded a video titled "Clearing the streets," in which a woman complains to a line of riot police that her "Uber is down there" during riots in San Francisco following the 2014 Giants' World Series victory.
"Hey It's Your Uber Driver"
"Hey It’s Your Uber Driver" refers to an exploitable image featuring an iPhone-style text message notification bar paired with the image of a character or celebrity sitting in a car, implying that the person pictured is the Uber driver who has arrived.
2014 European Protests
In June 2014, taxi drivers in several European cities blocked roads to protest Uber competition, complaining that the service bypasses the regulations and fees placed on traditional taxi services.
Competitor Sabotage Allegations
On January 24th, 2014, Tech Crunch and Valleywag reported they had obtained leaked documents revealing that New York City Uber employees spammed fake orders to the competing car service Gett. That day, Uber issued an apology on their website for the New York team's "aggressive" sales tactics.
Journalist Dirt-Digging Scandal
On November 17th, 2014, BuzzFeed published an article by editor-in-chief Ben Smith entitled "Uber Executive Suggests Digging Up Dirt on Journalists," which reported on a series of controversial remarks made by Uber's Senior Vice President Emil Michael at a dinner event in New York City. According to the article, Michael suggested that the company should hire a well-funded team of opposition researchers and journalists to dig up disreputable information on members of the press who have portrayed Uber in a negative light, specifically Panda Daily writer Sarah Lacy, who had criticized the company for espousing sexism and misogyny in an article published in late October. Michael's remark was subsequently reported on by The New York Times, USA Today, Mashable, CNBC, The Washington Post and Business Insider. On November 19th, American actor and Uber investor Ashton Kutcher posted a series of tweets defending Michael's statements and questioned "What is so wrong about digging up dirt on a shady journalist?" (shown below).
Also on November 19th, American tech blogger Robert Scoble posted a Facebook status update calling for Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to resign for the company to recover from the controversy. In the wake of the public relations fiasco, Kalanick issued a series of apologetic tweets clarifying that Michael's comments did not represent the views of the company as a whole.
2016 Kalamazoo Shooter
On the early morning of February 21st, 2016, Jason Dalton, a 45-year-old Uber driver in Kalamazoo County, Michigan, was arrested by the police on suspicions of launching a random shooting spree that resulted in the deaths of six people and critical injury of two others. According to the authorities, Dalton embarked on the deadly rampage at an apartment complex at around 5:45 p.m. (EST), followed by two additional shootings at a KIA car dealership at 10:08 p.m. and outside of a Cracker Barrel restaurant at 10:24 p.m., before he was ultimately taken into custody by the police at 12:40 a.m. on the next day. In addition, the investigators also revealed that the suspect purportedly took fares between the shootings spanning over the course of four hours.
In response to the incident, an unidentified Uber representative confirmed that the suspect had passed the company's standard background checks with no history of criminal records, while Uber's Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan released an official statement expressing sympathy for the victims and their families and the company's intention to fully cooperate with the police investigation.
"We are horrified and heartbroken at the senseless violence in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Our hearts and prayers are with the families of the victims of this devastating crime and those recovering from injuries. We have reached out to the police to help with their investigation in any way that we can."
On January 27th, 2017, thousands of demonstrators assembled at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City to protest President Donald Trump's executive order calling for a large-scale travel ban on foreign nations originating from certain Muslim-majority countries. The protest was also joined by an hour-long strike from mostly immigrant New York City taxi drivers under the direction of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA).
Approximately half an hour into the NYTWA's hour-long strike, Uber NYC tweeted that surge pricing has been temporarily disabled at JFK as the demand for Uber services began skyrocketing.
While the company's intention behind the decision remains unclear, Uber's temporary suspension of surge pricing was largely interpreted by many New Yorkers as a strike-breaking move, soon giving rise to an Uber boycott movement across the social media under the trending hashtag #DeleteUber.
Sexual Harassment Allegations
On February 19th, 2017, former Uber employee published a blogpost called "Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber." In the post, she made assertions that not only had she been the victim of sexual harassment by her manager, but also was threatened with termination if she reported it. CTO Thuan Pham, allegedly, also knew about the harassment and threats did nothing about them. Posting the blog entry to Twitter, Fowler's tweet received more than 22,000 retweets and 30,000 likes in five months.
Upon hearing of the allegations in the viral blogpost, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said:
"I have just read Susan Fowler's blog,” Kalanick said. “What she describes is abhorrent and against everything Uber stands for and believes in. It’s the first time this has come to my attention so I have instructed Liane Hornsey our new Chief Human Resources Officer to conduct an urgent investigation into these allegations. We seek to make Uber a just workplace FOR EVERYONE and there can be absolutely no place for this kind of behavior at Uber -- and anyone who behaves this way or thinks this is OK will be fired."
In June 2017, Uber fired more than 20 employees after the company did an internal investigation into sexual harassment, discrimination and inappropriate behavior. On June 13th, Kalanick took an indefinite leave of absence due to the numerous controversies that took place under his watch.
That day, leaked audio from an all-hands meeting about sexism revealed one board member, David Bonderman, making a sexist remark to another board member, Ariana Huffington. Twitter user @SallyPanckes posted a transcript of the conversation (shown below). The tweet received more than 2,100 retweets and 2,300 likes in three days.
The following day, Bonderman resigned from the board of Uber. In a statement, Huffington said, "I appreciate David doing the right thing for Uber at this time of critical cultural changes at the company."
On December 18th, 2019, Uber agreed to pay $4.4 million in a settlement to victims of sexual harassment and retaliation. The settlement comes following an investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
"The EEOC found reasonable cause to believe that Uber permitted a culture of sexual harassment and retaliation against individuals who complained about such harassment," the EEOC said in a statement.
"We’ve worked hard to ensure that all employees can thrive at Uber by putting fairness and accountability at the heart of who we are and what we do. I am extremely pleased that we were able to work jointly with the EEOC in continuing to strengthen these efforts," said Uber's Chief Legal Officer Tony West said in a statement.
Have the D
On May 15th, new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi introduced a mentality designed to eliminate "bureaucracy creep" under his management. Under previous CEO Travis Kalanick, decisions could often get caught up in red tape and it was unclear who was responsible for things. Khosrowshahi encouraged employees to assert themselves in meetings. The memo read: “You may hear me say in meetings ‘[insert name] has the D here.’ This is about being clear on who is the decision-maker; I’d encourage you to do the same.” The phrase "Have the D" in business was started by the Harvard Business Review in a 2006 article titled "Who Has the D?: How Clear Decision Roles Enhance Organizational Performance."
This provoked jokes from several media outlets who know the memetic definition of The D which means "the penis." Reached for comment, Uber responded: “As you may have read, Uber is now run by your dad -- so, no, that interpretation was lost on him, but he appreciates Business Insider pointing it out.”
 New York Times – Uber a Start-Up Going So Fast It Could Miss a Turn
 The New York Times – Uber Fires 20 Amid Investigation Into Workplace Culture
 The New York Times – David Bonderman Resigns From Uber Board After Sexist Remark