Why Uber Will Survive (Updated)

2017 has been pretty much a bad year for ride-hailing startup Uber. In fact the last one month has been nothing but a steady stream of one bad news after the other for the company. But that's not something new. Infamous for upending the conventional taxi industry as we know it, Uber has long courted several battles with regulators and competitors alike. It has failed to recognize Uber drivers as employees in the United States, even though a landmark ruling in the UK proved otherwise. It has secretly investigated its legal foes, employing the services of a CIA-linked intelligence firm to dig out unsavoury details about the plaintiff's life. If these all amount to unseemly, shady business practices, you haven't heard the rest.

Here's an accurate timeline of events (reproduced from The Verge) -

More updates continue below -
  • March 8th: Uber said it will stop using Greyball tool to evade authorities.
  • March 17th: Uber, which is battling allegations from Alphabet subsidiary Waymo over Anthony Levandowski's stealing of trade secrets before he abruptly quit the company to float his own self-driving truck company Otto (which was later snapped up by Uber last August), said it couldn't locate Radu Raduta, one of the two engineers also accused of stealing documents before joining Uber.
  • March 19th: Uber president Jeff Jones quit the company six months into the job, citing differences over 'beliefs and approach to leadership'.
  • March 20th: Brian McClendon, vice president of maps at Uber, 'amicably' quit the company after close to two years in what's the latest in a series of executive departures.
  • March 20th: Arianna Huffington, who is on the board committee investigating Uber's workplace harassment claims, said it's not a systemic problem problem at the company.
  • March 21st: Uber outlined plans to improve its toxic company culture and its ongoing hunt for a new COO.
  • March 21st: Uber said it had its best week ever in the United States despite ongoing "image problems", pretty much signifying the reason why the ride-hailing startup will survive despite its toxic company culture - convenience.
  • March 24h: A group of Uber employees', including CEO Travis Kalanick and his girlfriend Gabi Holzwarth, visit to an escort bar in Seoul in mid-2014 prompted a HR complaint from a female marketing manager who felt "horrible as a girl", a new report by The Information (paywall) revealed.
  • March 28th: Uber announced that its exiting Denmark on April 18 citing new taxi law that introduces additional requirements such as mandatory fare meters and seat sensors.
  • March 30th: Uber executive and Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski exercised his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination with regards to a lawsuit filed by Google's Waymo against Uber, according to his lawyers.
  • April 3rd: The New York Times published a report detailing Uber's behavioural tactics aimed at inducing drivers to work for longer hours.
  • April 5th: Uber and Google Waymo's stolen trade theft lawsuit took a fresh twist after one stolen file is found in Sameer Kshirsagar's (one of the three accused) personal device.
  • April 6th: Uber faced a fresh class-action lawsuit alleging the company of defrauding drivers by showing a shorter route to the driver, but a longer one for the passenger as he uses the app to hail a ride and paying the driver a commission for the shorter route and pocketing the difference.
  • April 7th: Uber is banned in Italy after a Rome judge ruled in favour of Italy’s major taxi associations that the ride-hailing service amounted to unfair competition.
  • April 11th: Uber's global head of policy and communications quit the company in what's the latest executive departure from the ride-hailing startup.
  • April 13th: Uber used a software program called Hell between 2014 and early 2016 to secretly keep tabs on the number of Lyft drivers available in an area, and also find out how many of those tracked drivers were driving for both Lyft and Uber in an attempt to lure them away, The Information (paywall) revealed.
  • April 17th: Uber VP of Global Vehicle Programs Sherif Marakby, who helped launch Uber's self-driving program in Pittsburgh, quit the company.
  • April 20th: Uber said it has extended its internal investigation into sexual harassment claims, and a report is expected by the end of May.
  • April 23rd: Uber used unique device identifier (UDID) on iPhones to track (re-)installs as a means to curb fraudThe New York Times revealed; CEO Travis Kalanick reportedly told his engineers to "geofence" Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., to keep Apple in the dark about its fingerprinting method.
  • April 24th: Uber got sued by Michael Gonzales, who drove for rival Lyft during the time the company allegedly used a software program called Hell to track Lyft drivers (see April 13th entry).
  • April 25th: Appeals court ordered Uber to turn over documents related to its acquisition of Otto, the company founded by ex-Googler Anthony Levandowski.
  • April 27th: Anthony Levandowski, who is facing allegations of trade theft from his former employer Google/Waymo, stepped down from his role as the head of Uber's Advanced Technologies Group (ATG).
  • May 4th: U.S. Department of Justice began a criminal probe into Uber's Greyball program, a software tool that helped its drivers evade regulators from conducting sting operations in areas where the company was not given legal approvals to function, according to Reuters.
  • May 11th: European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Uber should be treated like any other transportation company and "cannot be regarded as a mere intermediary between drivers and passengers ," thus making it easier for authorities to hit the company with new regulations.
  • May 15th: Appeals court ordered Uber to bar Anthony Levandowski from working on projects related to self-driving car technology and to return stolen files to Google's Waymo.
  • May 25th: Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley ordered Uber to turn over its due diligence report of Anthony Levandowski's self-driving tech startup Otto prior to its acquisition to Waymo.
  • May 30th: Uber fired Anthony Levandowski, the ex-Googler who found himself in the center of a major trade secret lawsuit between Google's Waymo and the ride-hailing startup.
  • June 6th: Uber fired more than 20 employees in sexual harassment probe; hired two women in top executive positions.
  • June 11th: Uber's board unanimously voted to adopt all recommendations as part of an external investigation by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his legal partners Tammy Albarrán. (The exact details are still unclear.)
  • June 13th: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick took leave of absence from the company for an undetermined amount of time to grieve his mother who passed away recently in a boat mishap.
  • June 13th: External investigation into Uber's toxic employee culture recommended lesser responsibility for CEO Kalanick, a more independent board and asked the company to clarify its alcohol and drug use policies, among others.
  • June 14th: Uber faced a fresh probe from United States Federal Trade Commission over its privacy practices.
  • June 15th: Uber was sued by a woman who was raped by a Uber driver in Delhi back in 2014 for breach of privacy following revelations that Uber Asia Pacific chief Eric Alexander obtained her medical records.
  • June 21st: Uber founder Travis Kalanick stepped down as CEO after investor revolt, according to a report by The New York Times.
  • June 22nd: Fresh filing from Google's Waymo against Uber revealed that former CEO Travis Kalanick knew that Anthony Levandowski had stolen information from Google.
  • July 4th: Uber suffered fresh setback in the European Union after E.U. Court of Justice ordered the company to abide by safety and employment rules governing taxi services, and not as a mere digital platform connecting drivers and passengers; court also ruled France could ban certain types of transportation services it deemed illegal (including UberPOP, for which it was fined $900,000 last year)
  • July 6th: Uber suspended its UberPOP operations (that allows any driver to offer unlicensed trips to riders) in Helsinki until next year as it awaits new transportation reforms to go into effect.
  • July 7th: Alphabet/Google's self-driving unit Way dropped three of its four patent infringement claims against Uber.
  • July 13th: Uber entered into a deal with Russia's Yandex to jointly offer rides and UberEATS deliveries in Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Kazakhstan, as well as in new markets Armenia and Georgia.
  • July 17th: Uber suspended its operations in Macau after disagreements with local regulators.
While Uber's issues have gotten a ton of press, the question we need to be asking is perhaps different. Does the average customer really care about them? If not, is it the convenience economy to blame? Is the backlash only restricted to the tech community? Or is it symptomatic of the Silicon Valley culture in general? Truth be told, Uber has become such a prominent service (and cheaper too), it's not surprising that reactions, which otherwise go viral on social networks, have been muted. (On a side note, the company does need to be recognised for bringing transparency in fares and triggering a boom in online payment). So have no doubt. Uber will come out of the hole it has dug for itself. But has it met its comeuppance? Sure, yes, as a shining example of how not to run a company.

Related stories -
  • Uber's scandals, blunders and PR disasters: the full list - The Guardian
  • A Short History of the Many, Many Ways Uber Screwed Up - Wired
  • 14 Executives Who Have Left Uber This Year - Buzzfeed
  • Uber's Top Ranks Thin Out as CEO Travis Kalanick Steps Away - Bloomberg
  • Uber is imploding, but does anyone really care? - The Verge
  • Homeless, assaulted, broke: drivers left behind as Uber promises change at the top - The Guardian
  • Inside Travis Kalanick’s Resignation as Uber’s C.E.O. - The New York Times