You don't have to look any further than most PR and marketing materials to see Uber's impact on startup financing and the sharing economy. New companies are constantly touted as "The Uber of ..." and analysts refer to any disruption of an industry as "Uberization." Even when the ridesharing giant isn't announcing further expansion into yet another state or country, it's hard to take your eyes off Uber.
But for the past two weeks, all of that media attention has been for all the wrong reasons. Scandal after scandal riddled Uber in late February and early March, leaving the company's image reeling, and that doesn't include the announcement it lost almost $3 billion in 2016. Here's a look:1. Uber Demonstrates How Not to Respond to Sexual Harassment Claims
Female former engineer Susan Fowler Rigetti dropped a bombshell blog post on February 19, detailing rampant sexual harassment and discrimination at Uber as well as the company's inadequate responses (if it responded at all) to claims filed by female employees. While Uber appears to be taking a more proactive stance to investigating sexism within the company, its early actions, or lack thereof, bordered on illegal.
(It didn't help than just three days later the New York Times published a withering article on Uber's workplace culture, describing not just sexual harassment but sexual assault, homophobic slurs, and threats of physical violence. Not a great look.)2. Uber Sued for Patent Infringement by Google's Self-Driving Car Division
Google subsidiary Waymo claims a former engineer absconded with company IP and trade secrets and used them to form his own company. He then sold that company to Uber just seven months after leaving Google, for a mere for $680 million. Uber's driverless tech then leapt ahead of Google's, and the search engine giant claims it was tipped off to the theft after it received an emailed image of an Uber circuit board that looked suspiciously like its own. The lawsuit claims the engineer "downloaded the 14,000 files, representing approximately 9.7 GB of highly confidential data" on his way out the door, and that other former Googlers might've done the same.
Uber isn't welcome everywhere. And it turns out Uber had a secret data-collection program called "Greyball" it used "to identify and circumvent officials" that might be involved in sting operations in states and countries where Uber was illegal. Uber's defiant response, while legally sound, served only to create more PR headaches. The company said the program "denies ride requests to users who are violating our terms of service -- whether that's people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret 'stings' meant to entrap drivers."
Maybe next week will be a little better for Uber.