Uber Whistleblower: We 'Sold People a Lie'

Former chief lobbyist Mark MacGann says he wants to clear his conscience
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 11, 2022 1:20 PM CDT
Uber Whistleblower Comes Forward
Taxi drivers stage a protest outside the parliament building in Bucharest, Romania, Tuesday, June 18, 2019.   (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

The man who leaked a huge quantity of Uber internal documents to the media has come forward, revealing that he was a key player in the company's aggressive efforts to establish itself in new countries. Mark MacGann, 52, was Uber's chief lobbyist in Europe in 2014 to 2015 and left the company in 2016. He tells the Guardian that remorse is part of the reason he is speaking out. "I was the one talking to governments, I was the one pushing this with the media, I was the one telling people that they should change the rules because drivers were going to benefit and people were going to get so much economic opportunity," he says. MacGann adds that he wants to clear his conscience because "we had actually sold people a lie." More:

  • The plan was breaking the law. In cities where the taxi market was heavily regulated, the "approach in these places was essentially to break the law, show how amazing Uber’s service was, and then change the law," MacGann says. "My job was to go above the heads of city officials, build relations with the top level of government, and negotiate. It was also to deal with the fallout.” The "mantra from the top," he says, was to "launch, hustle, enlist drivers, go out, do the marketing" without seeking approval from authorities.

  • Early misgivings. MacGann says he started having misgivings about Uber on his first day on staff in 2014, when he told an exec he was on his way to the company's London offices from the airport and was informed he was already being watched from "Heaven," also known as "God View," a tool that allowed staff to monitor the movements of any user. "It felt like children playing around with powerful surveillance technology,” MacGann says. "Even back then it was dawning on me this was a rogue company."
  • Kalanick "wanted to keep the fight burning." MacGann says that when former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick wrote "violence guarantee(s) success" in connection with a protest in France, he meant that the only way for Uber to keep growing "would be to keep the fight, to keep the controversy burning. And if that meant Uber drivers going on strike, Uber drivers doing a demo in the streets, Uber drivers blocking Barcelona, blocking Berlin, blocking Paris, then that was the way to go." He describes the attitude as "dangerous" and "very selfish," because Kalanick was never personally at risk.

  • Why he waited to come forward. MacGann says he reassessed his time at Uber after therapy in 2018 and 2019. "I’d stepped off the corporate hamster wheel for the first time in decades," he says. MacGann says he started trying to share inside information in early 2020, angered by what he saw as mistreatment of drivers, and eventually decided to leak his huge stash of Uber secrets.
MacGann also recently settled a legal dispute with Uber, and company spokesman Noah Edwardsen tells the Washington Post that "he is in no position to speak credibly about Uber today." Edwardsen says MacGann received $553,000, and it is "noteworthy that Mark felt compelled to 'blow the whistle' only after his check cleared." (More Uber stories.)

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