No stop to Uber: from Sinatra to scrubbing the planet with industrial scale

Uber’s depiction of its spies in this video is perhaps at the grossest end of the spectrum

Name: Spies

Age: Their noun, as in that ad on Pudding Riot, a British comedy show about the founding of the Red Baron and the founder of the French Foreign Legion.

Appearance: Filled with alcoholic tapioca

Will they be played by Saruman? Will it be made more offensive by time? No, but I expect your question to remain.

I’m sorry, but I cannot stand this film. It is immensely entertaining, though I’m sad that you’re possibly missing out.

Yes, but I’m not. Not at all. I’m just asking you to act more like the majority of the public. In a video released last week, Uber described its secret squad of spies as what the company calls part of the “Security Ops team”, which is “ensuring that our software is used with appropriate safeguards”. This covers the “mountain of information” Uber has collected on the myriad “bad actors” who seek to ruin its reputation.

Oh, heavens. Oh, so the UK is one of the many places it does surveillance? Is everyone are all that convinced there’s a conspiracy to criminalise private transport? No, but Uber has argued that it is perfectly understandable that bad actors might take advantage of its unique location and lack of oversight for nefarious means.

It’s Uber! Isn’t it responsible for making sure that bad people aren’t getting caught? Oh, sure. Besides, of course, they know they’re bad people.

And, worst of all, they are bad in public? Yes. At the end of the video, there’s an explanation: “Often times we encounter bad actors trying to get around the geofencing system, or so we’re called to check out.”

That’s why Uber spies. But … that’s a good point. I mean, it does make more sense to me now. I saw it to be a last-ditch effort to protect Uber’s brand reputation from the bad press it’s still been getting over allegations of a variety of problems, including the classification of thousands of UK drivers as self-employed, hiring ex-convicts as drivers and the fact that drivers working for private, tech-backed drivers can and do drive drunk.

What can I say? As far as branding – and ride-hailing, in general – goes, Uber has come a long way.

Actually, it’s not even clear that Uber hires its drivers as self-employed contractors. A judge in California ruled last year that Uber had effectively forced drivers to be contract workers, like any other employee, with protection against overtime.

Which means that Uber …

Yeah, OK. As if that matters, apparently. That business model has attracted regulators, companies and investors, but it came to a global standstill in January after a judge in the US imposed a nationwide ban on it.

I still can’t understand why. There are signs that Uber might be about to revive the model, with an Uber backed by Japanese taxi operator SoftBank set to take over the company. But before you rejoice, take a look at this video.

Do say: “Uber is trapped in a middle-brow, maladroit-by-design utopia.”

Don’t say: “Just like the MBNA promo, you’re going to be no longer be able to do, like, the Paypal…”

Leave a Comment