Friday, November 21, 2014

(The Big Disrupt) Uber: Where Uber Goes, Controversy Follows

Is it healthy for a young company to be this controversial and increasingly unpopular? Well.. the short answer is yes. Uber has gone from being just another startup among many to a global company worth billions and according to a "leaked" internal report on the company's earnings, "could soon generate $10 billion of revenue per year" 

So why is this company so controversial?, is it because it represents so many negative stereotypes about american capitalism and indeed capitalism? or is it because everybody in the company's C suite are tin eared douches who are prepared to do and say whatever it takes to be no 1 and stay no 1?

So far it's safe to say the company has been swaying violently between both ends of the spectrum as it has gone from one controversy to the next. News of Uber Executives looking to use NSA like tactics against members of the fourth estate they didn't like has been another addition to growing number of instances that reveals the company as one of the most ruthless companies around as Uber has proven it can play rough as rough can get, just ask Lyft.

But what most interesting about the whole debacle is not that Uber was planning to spend millions on looking into journalists they didn't like but the terrifying reality the company have the means and inclination to pull it off with their "god view" tool that according Buzzfeed "shows the location of Uber vehicles and customers who have requested a car, was widely available to corporate employees".

Like it or not, almost all tech companies are in the data collecting and monetization business from Google to Facebook but neither company of these two tech giants has had  an executive brag, to a reporter no less, about what they can do with it outside a power point presentation or a hyper-managed public appearance.

While both companies have been at times spotty or downright poor in handling data, (our data, that is) and the privacy issues that come with it, neither company has had one of its executives using the company vast pools of data to track a reporter just to prove a point once again, to a reporter, without her permission. 

To illustrate, could you imagine the day when a Google or Facebook executive used their company's vast banks of our data to track a reporter without their permission (BTW, what reporter would give a company permission to track their every move?) one can only imagine the breaking of the internet as well as what would be new the global epidemic of exploding heads landing on laptop keyboards dripping with blood and membrane. 

Sure that sentence was a little morbid (that's what hours whittled away watching and reading of The Walking Dead show, comics, and novels can do to you) but the result would be same. People barely trust companies to keep their data safe never mind tamper with it or even worse use it against you so news of an Uber executive planning an offensive against the fourth estate and using the formidable resources of his company to do it doesn't help other tech companies when they try to explain away the palpable concern of their users when it comes to how their data being used (tech companies know most people don't read their privacy policies or even their terms of service which are almost always written in thick legalese and are the softest yet most effective form of obscurantism in the digital age). 

In sum, Uber are a young company that's really aggressive about being number one but with a company that has  turned into global company in no time and has a number of issues such the privacy of users or the fights it's picking with the second and, worryingly, the fourth estate, current culture at the company is getting all the press it can handle, good and bad. And with recent revelations of their plans to deal with journalists they didn't like, don't expect the controversy surrounding this burgeoning Sillicon Valley to be out the news any time soon.

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