Uber: Provably the Government’s Best Friend
I’ll admit it, I run in (or at least my work carries in) some pretty peculiar circles. Those circles have some odd names to many: “libertarians”, “voluntarists”, “anarchists” (my favorite), “anarcho-capitalists”, “anarcha-feminists”, “anarcho-communists”, “mutualists”, “market anarchists”, “techno-libertarians”…I could go on and on. I’m honored that people of such diverse ideological persuasions all find my work useful, really.
SIDE NOTE: Yes, I’m even honored by “anarcho-communists” appreciating my work. And seriously, when has a self-described communist or socialist–that doesn’t believe in the political process at all–ever “stolen” something from you? Please, email me with your story of how a group of communists walked up to you and took all of your property.
But these are different ideological persuasions, so they don’t all think the same. And that’s fine (as long as none of it leads to violence). One of the things that blows my mind within some of these hyphenations or terms, though, is the upholding of Uber as a heroic anti-government company. Or that it’s somehow an example of the “free market”.
While I’ll agree that the disruption of the taxi monopoly is a great thing, and you could certainly list off Uber as a company that has lead the way in disrupting the taxi monopoly, and did so by ignoring government edicts, this does not by its very nature make it worthy of holding up as heroic. And while I’ll certainly agree that it is faster, cheaper, and overall more efficient than the run-of-the-mill taxi service in whatever city, this does not by default mean that it’s a “good thing”.
Case in point, Uber released its first transparency report on April 12th, 2016. The numbers are interesting for a variety of reasons, and obviously show that Uber is very popular with the populous. However, there is a particularly interesting number in there that shines a very unheroic light on Uber: The ride-sharing company said that between July and December 2015, it had provided information on more than 12 million riders and drivers to various U.S. regulators and on 469 users to state and federal law agencies.
12 million users!
And not only that, but Uber said it had not received any national security letters or orders under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance act. Do you understand what that means? That means that whenever a government/agency asked for information from Uber–of any kind–it didn’t ask them to get a warrant. Uber didn’t tell them to, “Fuck off! Our users have rights!”…not at all. They just handed your data over upon request, no questions asked, and no fight put up.
And Uber is proud of the fact that they’ve never received a FISA request! I’ll admit it’s a very mixed message. Uber is willing to ignore the laws around the taxi industry, but then they’re totally willing to bend over and grab the ankles when it comes to user data requests from the same government? WTF?!
SIDE NOTE: Before anyone says it, Uber does not create more jobs for the “everyman”. I theorized a long time ago on my tech podcast, Sovryn Tech, that Uber is really just creating an infrastructure for Alphabet/Google’s self-driving cars, and that in a few years, Uber would become a self-driving car taxi service. So all those people that are working for Uber now, those jobs are very short-lived. You’re a bunch of “elevator operators” waiting to be replaced by automation. If I were to get conspiratorial, I’d argue that this has been the plan from day one with Uber, especially considering that much of their original seed funding came from none other than…Google Ventures.
The same report, again, shows just how much Uber is used. And it is used a lot. Well, the handing over of user data actually shows that Uber has at least one very serious disadvantage in comparison to your average taxi: a complete lack of anonymity.
When you hail a taxi, you tell the driver where you’re going. When you get to your destination, you get asked to pay, and you can easily hand over some cash. Yes, for a variety of potential reasons, this will cost you more than getting an Uber. But you will have gotten a ride, and paid for it, relatively anonymously. No name required, no credit card required, no need for having an app that is logged in to with your Gmail account. Other than you carrying a block of sensors in your pocket (known as a “smartphone”), you’re not being tracked, and it would be difficult to track you by using a taxi and paying with cash.
Taking an Uber? It’s the exact opposite. You cannot pay with cash. You are absolutely using your name and personal data attached to your smartphone (and a Dark Android Project setup is not going to protect your data if you use Uber). And now we know that Uber will–without a second thought–hand over you travel and app data at the drop of the hat from governments.
SIDE NOTE: Keep in mind that Uber has recently rebranded itself as a “platform”, not just as a ride-sharing service. They are looking to take on Amazon itself, which as I’ve said many times, is the #1 tech company on the planet. So Uber is potentially willing to hand over far more data than just where you are and where you’re going to government agencies. This could affect every single one of your actions.
This is not the actions of a “heroic company”. This is not the actions of a company that I want to claim as a product of the “free market”. This is not a company I want to spend even two seconds rooting for. If Uber were continuing their “break all the rules” stance by not handing over user data, maybe I’d feel different. If Uber put some kind of zero-knowledge encryption and anonymity system in place in their app, I’d likely feel very different. An actual example of a heroic company would be Lavabit. When the government came knocking on Levar Levison’s door, he shut down the whole company before allowing the government to have access to user data. That is the proper “legal” response. That is what Uber should have done. And they should’ve made a stink about it in the process.
SIDE NOTE: And I haven’t even brought up Uber’s “God View” scandal from a couple of years ago, after which the company said they were going to double-down on privacy…which…I guess that didn’t happen.
But Uber’s not doing any of that. They’re playing ball with the government and doing it with a smile. They are eroding your basic human liberty of privacy, and they are bolstering the Surveillance State around the world.
SIDE NOTE: Uber is also a sponsor of various police conventions, including Urban Shield.
I’m not saying you’re evil for taking an Uber anymore than I’d say that to you for using the one-time legal monopoly of taxis. But I am saying let’s be very clear that Uber is not a heroic company. They are not the “good guys”. And obviously, they are not “ignoring the government” anymore.
Far from it, they’re the government’s new best friend. Fuck you, Uber.