An Uber vehicle overturned by French taxi drivers as they clash with riot police, France, 2015 (Image: AAP/EPA/Ian Langsdon)
An Uber vehicle overturned by French taxi drivers as they clash with riot police, France, 2015 (Image: AAP/EPA/Ian Langsdon)

The Uber Files, a leak of 124,000 documents from the ride-hailing-turned-transport company, gives an unprecedented look into the machinations of the notorious tech startup. Internal Uber texts, emails, invoices and other documents -- leaked to The Guardian and shared to journalists around the world by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists -- show how the company, led by then CEO Travis Kalanick, broke the law, welcomed violence against its drivers, and used underhanded tactics to stymie regulators and other opponents.

Here are some of the biggest claims revealed so far: 

  • Uber had direct access to the world’s most powerful people and was able to influence them. Internal communication between Kalanick and other executives shows how the company lobbied figures including French President Emmanuel Macron (then economy minister), US President Joe Biden (then vice president to Barack Obama), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (then mayor of Hamburg), and former UK minister George Osborne (then UK chancellor). These weren’t just courtesy meetings either; documents suggest that these figures advocated for the company after meeting them. Macron, for example, told the company that he had negotiated a secret “deal” with his opponents in cabinet to help the company. 
  • Uber systematically flouted the law in many of the countries it operated in. Internal emails show top executives acknowledging their “less than legal status” in countries like Turkey, South Africa, Spain, the Czech Republic, Sweden, France, Germany and Russia. The company’s head of communications told another staff member in 2014 that the company was facing issues “because, well, we’re fucking just fucking illegal”.
  • The company created a “kill switch” to thwart attempts by police to access their data. Uber had a variety of tactics it used in response to its law-breaking, including a technical method that remotely cut off access to the company’s data systems for hardware. Doing so would stop efforts by regulators to gather evidence (such as what is included in these leaks) on the company’s operations. Internal documents also reveal the extent to which Uber used Greyball, another company tool that would stop accounts associated with the authorities from being able to find drivers. 
  • Uber leveraged violence for its own ends. During the height of tension between French taxi drivers and Uber drivers in 2016, people were beat up, cars were wrecked and mass protests brought the city to a standstill. Internally, Uber executives saw violence committed against their drivers as a strategic win for them. “I think it’s worth it … Violence guarantee [sic] success,” Kalanick said in a message. When similar acts of harm committed by taxi drivers against Uber drivers happened in dozens of countries, the company capitalised on it by alerting national media to create anti-taxi publicity.