Home / General / How Often Do “Disruptive” Business Practices Actually Mean “Illegal” Business Practices?

How Often Do “Disruptive” Business Practices Actually Mean “Illegal” Business Practices?

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Uber, once again proving the “sharing” economy capitalists are as bad as any traditional economy capitalists you could create:

Security researcher GironSec has pulled Uber’s Android app apart and discovered that it’s sending a huge amount of personal data back to base – including your call logs, what apps you’ve got installed, whether your phone is vulnerable to certain malware, whether your phone is rooted, and your SMS and MMS logs, which it explicitly doesn’t have permission to do. It’s the latest in a series of big-time missteps for a company whose core business model is, frankly, illegal in most of its markets as well.

Taxi-busting ride share app Uber might have an operating model that suits customers better than traditional, regulated taxi services – but the company’s aggressively disruptive (and frequently illegal) business practices don’t seem to stop at harming the taxi industry.

Its vicious attacks on competitors have included ordering and cancelling more than five and a half thousand rides through its chief competitor Lyft. Its senior Vice President of Business, Emil Michael, casually mentioned at a dinner that maybe Uber could start digging up personal dirt on journalists critical of the company.

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  • Maybe I’m naive to ask this, but is there anyone left, other than the new capitalists, who thinks the new capitalists are better than the old capitalists?

    • Hogan

      I don’t even think they’re new capitalists. New haircuts, maybe.

    • Brett

      After the Techtopus Scandal? Nope. They’re big business, like any other business.

      • I find their self promotion more tedious than that of traditional big business.

        • Brett

          I find it weird that people focus on that stuff so much. It seems so obviously a bunch of PR hype they spew out in order to attract investors into a riskier industry (especially “angel” and other equity investors).

          • I don’t focus on it much. But without the bullshit – excuse me, PR hype – Uber and its ilk are nothing but conmen selling lousy ideas that are frequently illegal and always dangerous. BubbaDave nails it here, although Uber is IMO less of a threat to safety than AirBnB. Letting people rent their apartments by the night to strangers…what could possibly go wrong? If it wasn’t so goddamned gruesome, I’d start a pool on when the first assault and murder by someone who shouldn’t have been in an apartment house takes place.

            • Aimai

              Assaults, rapes, and murders happen in hotels as well. And they happen when people let friends in to apartment buildings or have house sitters too, so I’m not sure why airbnb is particularly dangerous.

              • Because there are no controls. In a hotel, you have no expectation that you know anyone or that you shouldn’t be semi-on-your-guard when out of your room. In every apartment I’ve ever lived in – and I’ve lived 45 of my 49 years in apartments, with four years in college – people have some sense of who is on their floor. If someone decides to start renting their room out every night, I lose that sense of who belongs and who doesn’t.

                • Aimai

                  I don’t think there are any controls anywhere or that you can have a reasonable expectation of safety in either place or that being on your guard means anythign in hotels. Not only are you at risk from other guests but you are at risk from employees.

                • You’re talking about hotels, I’m talking about apartments. I agree hotels can be dangerous, which is why I don’t want some asshole who lives down the hall from me to turn our building into one.

                  There’s a fair amount of policing one another that takes place in apartment houses, which only works if there is, again, some sense of who lives there and who does not.

                • Barry Freed

                  This is it exactly. And house sitters are very different, usually being friends/relatives of the tenants.

                • ScarsdaleVibe

                  “Reasonable expectation” is coming close to a legal term of art, so let’s not misuse it. I don’t see why someone wouldn’t have a reasonable expecation of safety in their own homes. I think a “reasonable person” would agree.

                  My building does criminal background checks. Dunno if it’s legal or not, but they do. It also requires references, that they actually investigate. I think it’s safe to say that someone renting out their place on airbnb doesn’t do the same level of due diligence. Sure, repair men come in and so do delivery men and whatnot. But they are usually in and out, they don’t have access during all hours for extended periods of time, and in the case of the repair men, they’re vetted by the management company or the company the management company uses.

                  Either way though, I don’t see how renting out a place you share with dozens of other people is a fundamental right. Limiting this is merely a policy decision I’m in favor of. As it is, my management company allows sublets, but the sublettors must be vetted at their or the renter’s expense. Seems reasonable to me. The hassle rules out short term residents, of course, but whatever.

            • The Dark Avenger

              Don’t they do a credit check as part of the process? Somebody with, say, a 650+ FICO score isn’t going to be a violent robber/assaulted of strangers in a complex of apartments, IMHO.

              • First, I’ve never seen any reference to AirBnB checking your credit to stay as a guest. Second, I doubt the premise of your comment.

                • The Dark Avenger

                  I’ve had mine checked at a department store in less time than it takes to finish a milkshake, but then, what do I know?

                • I looked at the AirBnB website and saw nothing about checking credit scores. If you think they check, can you show me evidence of it?

              • dporpentine

                No, they do not check your credit–at least as a guest. End of story.

                • The Dark Avenger

                  Thanks for being responsive and polite.

    • DrDick

      Hell, these are just libertarian fuckwits trying to evade regulation so they can make more profits.

  • Murc

    I really hate the term “sharing economy.”

    You know what it involves? It involved people leveraging new and more powerful communications technology to reach customers. That’s it. Do you have any idea how unremarkable that is? It’s been happening since we figured out how to make paper. Probably before that.

    I mean, don’t get me wrong, I applaud the basic ideas at work, and in the specific case of ride-booking (I refuse to call it ride-sharing) I have no love for taxi companies. But the people who came up with it aren’t exactly geniuses. They simply noticed that a non-trivial number of people now are tethered to a tiny computer that they liked to use order services through, and thought “Why not car rides?”

    Good for them for being first-movers, but don’t pretend you’re some kind of business genius. You got lucky. Be humble in your good fortune, like someone with a soul.

    • Pat

      There was a guy who wrote to Josh Marshall on TPM and did a remarkable business analysis of Uber that was fascinating reading. His essential concept was that there was not enough money in the taxi business in the entire world to warrant the valuation Uber was claiming. Uber also did not provide any explanation for what the inefficiencies of the taxi business were that Uber was eliminating.

      So, it’s a scam.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        but it’s *cool*! because, you know, *apps*!!!

      • Murc

        Well, not to defend Uber, but isn’t the inefficiency they get rid of the artificial cap on the number of taxi medallions most cities impose? That seems pretty obvious.

        That said, their valuation is indeed nuts. The only way I’d consider investing in Uber is if a sluggish economy for the poors meant I was sitting on a giant pile of cash and had nothing better to do with it.

        Oh, wait!

        • howard

          The innovation is bypassing the dispatcher system and connecting driver and passenger directly.

          • Pat

            That innovation doesn’t save a lot of money.

        • cpinva

          bear in mind, Uber’s market valuation is, to a large extent, based on subjective evaluation, not on actual historical and projected data. in fairness, it hasn’t been around long enough to have much in the way of history, a fact it will (assuming it lasts) overcome as the years go by. what bothers me is that, as near as I can figure (and someone please correct me if I’m wrong), Uber has little in the way of actual assets, tangible or intangible. the only one I’ve heard of is the rider app.

          as a result, it’s market valuation is based on an app that will be outdated soon, probably next month, as these things go. it owns no infrastructure (vehicles/bldgs./maintenance facilities), relying upon both the kindness and actual wherewithal of strangers. and, as noted in the review, it’s actual core business is illegal in most of the places it operates in.

          call me cynical, but I see this balloon popping, and the only people who are going to make money out of it are those at the top.

          • ThrottleJockey

            When you say you see its balloon popping do you mean its valuation, or its revenue stream?

            • cpinva

              “When you say you see its balloon popping do you mean its valuation, or its revenue stream?”

              a fair question, and I think both. operationally, it’s business model relies on people who own their own vehicles being willing to use those vehicles as taxi’s. which is fine, as far as it goes. where it doesn’t go is in meeting most area’s medallion standards (the license needed to operate as a taxi, in pretty much every jurisdiction in the US), which are very regulated. they are also, as noted, limited in number by law.

              eventually, Uber will get nailed, for operating a taxi service without a license, and without vehicles meeting the minimum legal standards. along with a hefty fine from the jurisdiction, they’ll also be hit with both compensatory and punitive damages, to the class of taxi companies that sues them. as well, they will be further hit with an injunction, shutting them down in that locality. this will happen all over the country, unless they decide to apply for medallions. at which point, they will be just another cab company that you can call for a ride. and their market valuation plummets accordingly.

              with respect to the “collecting data” side of their operation, this too shall fall, as it is dependent on people downloading/using their rider app. people won’t do that, if there’s no rides available. granted, some people will leave the app on their phones, just out of forgetfulness, but a great many won’t, and their won’t be any new people putting it on. Uber’s data mining is dependent on a constant stream of new people using the app, they already have their existing customer’s data.

          • DrS

            Their real value is probably where a lot of tech companies find their value these days. Collecting data on their users and selling it.

        • matt w

          Murc–the TPM piece discussed that. Basically, the taxi medallion inefficiency is only a big deal in New York, DC, and a couple of other cities where Uber is already working. There’s not a lot of room for growth in that particular way of making an end run around taxi regulations.

          • Brett

            It’s definitely not going to grow forever. It’s not just the rival car-share services – you figure that sooner or later the cab companies are going to branch hard into App-Hailing as well. Yellow Cab Utah already lets you reserve a cab or van through an online form, and call a taxi by text message.

            • The Curb app allows you to hail traditional taxis in many cities through an app.

              • DonN

                I’ve used Taxi Magic/Curb for a few years now. Cause I’m not loving Uber. Curb works really well in South Bay. Kinda ok in SF. Not at all in Austin or San Diego. Uber really just works. There is no reason Curb shouldn’t be as good or better but the taxi companies won’t deliver. Uber could be killed tomorrow if taxi drivers showed up when they promised and delivered service pretty much everywhere. Curb shows they just can t do it. I would love for Uber to fail but when companies see their death in front of them and still can’t deliver the story is done.
                DN

            • cpinva

              ” you figure that sooner or later the cab companies are going to branch hard into App-Hailing as well.”

              this. in my area, which is hardly a major metropolis, you can already go online to the local taxi service website, and schedule a ride. as well, we now have inner-city transit, owned/operated by the city (with fed/state subsidies). it uses smaller, inner-city buses, we have a stop right up the street from us, and it covers the entire geographic area of the city, up to midnite, and the price is damn right.

              as annoying as I normally find our city gov’t, they deserve kudos for this. someone saw a definite need (and there is), did the analysis, and got three different governments to sign on to it. as near as I can tell, it is universally beloved in this city. if someone were to suggest removing a stop, they would probably be ridden out of town on a rail, after being tarred & feathered.

        • The Temporary Name

          Well, not to defend Uber, but isn’t the inefficiency they get rid of the artificial cap on the number of taxi medallions most cities impose?

          “Inefficiency” is such a terrible word.

          Uber is offshoring your workers.

          • Anon21

            Poe’s Law? The reflexive rejection of efficiency as a desirable quality, the risible claim that Uber is offshoring… taxi driving?

            • Lee Rudolph

              Conceivably they’re offshoring the dispatching.

              But, yes, the default assumption should always be that “efficiency” is not desirable in and of itself: and that therefore, if a particular increase in “efficiency” (however measured—which is hardly an uncontested issue) would cause a decrease (or prevent an increase) in social ends that are desirable in and of themselves, then that increase in “efficiency” should be rejected.

              • Anon21

                I doubt they have human dispatchers. So unless the software was developed offshore, it’s just an ignorant, reflexive complaint.

                But, yes, the default assumption should always be that “efficiency” is not desirable in and of itself: and that therefore, if a particular increase in “efficiency” (however measured—which is hardly an uncontested issue) would cause a decrease (or prevent an increase) in social ends that are desirable in and of themselves, then that increase in “efficiency” should be rejected.

                That’s a big “if,” friend! I don’t see protecting the incomes of incumbent medallion owners or taxi drivers to be a “social end that is desirable in and of itself.” I do see decreasing the price that riders pay for rides as socially desirable, as is the opportunity that Uber provides for black riders to detour around traditional cab drivers’ deplorable racism.

                • The Temporary Name

                  There’s no reason Uber in London should be undercutting cab fares with the money going to America. More locally, money from your city is just going elsewhere for no good reason, and people making a decent living get undercut by people making less.

                  Not every city or cab company is the same: pretending they are is stupid and ignorant.

                • The Temporary Name

                  Oh, and let it be said just for fun that Uber are indeed horrible horrible people.

                • Anon21

                  people making a decent living get undercut by people making less.

                  Some of those people “making less” probably need what they’re able to get from Uber more than incumbent taxi drivers, wouldn’t you think?

                • The Temporary Name

                  Yes, that’s why the minimum wage should be lowered and everyone should get pennies. Fuck off.

                • Brien Jackson

                  I’ve never really understood this brand of protectionist liberalism that’s sprang up around the issue of over-regulation: That we must protect some forms of working class incomes by…screwing people even less fortunate than them! Barbers, taxi drivers, etc.

                • Anon21

                  Yes, that’s why the minimum wage should be lowered and everyone should get pennies. Fuck off.

                  Y’know, that isn’t actually at all what I said. I don’t know about London, but yellow cab drivers in New York make more than minimum wage. And you haven’t actually offered an argument about why those who currently own medallions/work for medallion owners should be able to capture the lion’s share of the revenue from the “driving other people for money” business. They are incumbents, so they depend on that money now, but that isn’t actually an argument for why they should keep it.

                • DocAmazing

                  That we must protect some forms of working class incomes by…screwing people even less fortunate than them! Barbers, taxi drivers, etc.

                  I’m not sure the regulation of those two professions has as much to do with protection of income (in the case of medallion abuse, it’s clearly counterproductive) as it does public safety. Barbers who are poorly trained or insufficiently sanitary might accidentally cut your throat or give you a fascinating Staphylococcus infection. Taxi companies that hire without adequate vetting run the risk of employing serial rapists or robbers.

      • JS
        • Ahuitzotl

          Brilliant article, thank you

        • Barry Freed

          Tom Slee has been all over this and uniformly brilliant.

    • Nutella

      It might be more accurately described as the “share-cropping economy”. Publicly what they do is make ordering easier but the primary purpose of these “sharing” businesses is to convert a wage-paying, tax-paying industry to a new industry that pays no wages and no taxes by pretending that the workers who provide the service are independent businesses rather than employees.

      • Good point!

      • Brett

        The taxicab business in a lot of US cities is already like that, especially with the “medallion” set-up. You own the medallions and lease the right to drive a taxicab out to drivers, like any other franchise.

      • Aimai

        Piecework economy. In sharecropping the sharecropper didn’t own the land, while the modern piece worker does own the means of production. What he doesn’t own is the marketplace and some of the bits needed to exploit is own labor and capital.

        • Brett

          More like seasonal farm labor. The laborer comes on, does the job, and leaves – to come back again if the pay was alright and the work still there next time.

    • Except here’s the problem with the basic ideas. What they boil down to is: let’s turn a whole bunch of people into casual laborers and/or let’s get people to turn their property into illegal hotels, and then demand a big cut of the money for being the middleman. The same communication technology could be designed that actually directly connected drivers and other vendors to customers without putting a third party in the middle.

      In a way, it’s an extremely old business model – it’s basically taking in boarders and/or a livery cab company, but with an app instead of newspaper adverts or phone lines. And at least in the old model, people renting out rooms weren’t giving a percentage to some middleman, and the livery cab drivers were at least employees.

      And this leads me to another problem – supposed inefficiencies are often necessary to ensure a non-exploitative industry. The reason there’s a cap on medallions is to ensure that each driver has enough customers to earn a living wage (the major problem is that the medallions are sold to non-drivers and sold more than one per driver) – flood the labor market with a bunch of people earning supplemental income who won’t demand a living wage because this isn’t their real job, and you’ll tank wages.

      • Brett

        The same communication technology could be designed that actually directly connected drivers and other vendors to customers without putting a third party in the middle.

        I don’t see how it’s any different from what people would already do to advertise a spare room, like putting up notices in online classifieds. You’re paying for access to the aggregated marketplace in lieu of doing all the work of advertising and promoting the opportunity yourself.

        The reason there’s a cap on medallions is to ensure that each driver has enough customers to earn a living wage (the major problem is that the medallions are sold to non-drivers and sold more than one per driver) – flood the labor market with a bunch of people earning supplemental income who won’t demand a living wage because this isn’t their real job, and you’ll tank wages.

        It’s only a problem if you think the Taxicab sector should be a neatly cordoned off area where a smaller number of full-time drivers can earn good wages without competition for years on end. I don’t think that – a market with mostly part-time drivers more loosely affiliated with the central company (such as with UberX and Lyft, where there’s also low capital investment since you’re driving your own car) works fine as well. Not every aspect of work needs to be the foundation for a lifelong career.

        • Aimai

          The medallions don’t protect the drivers but the companies. The cost of the mediallions is so inflated that individual drivers can’t get into the market at all. The companies lock up the medallions and then pay the drivers a low wage by forcing them to “rent” the taxis and the right to drive them–IIRC.

          • Brett

            I agree. It’s appalling that a system allowing the medallions to be held by outside parties ever arose, and the consequences weren’t surprising. It’s even made punishing infractions of taxi law much more difficult, since the medallions are worth so much that regulators are hesitant to pull them for violations – the article I linked to below mentions that despite 12,000 complaints a year, the total amount of medallions pulled in the past eight years was a grand total of five.

            I know someone is going to say, “Well, but how is that different from Uber/Lyft/etc?”. The difference is that the latter don’t control the only way to operate a cab in the city. It’s a lot easier to jump from one ride-sharing service to another if the former is treating you badly than it is to jump from one taxicab medallion owner’s lease to another.

          • ThrottleJockey

            Yes, that’s right.

            The Nelson-Nygaard study also found that by far, the biggest cost for drivers are their vehicle leases — accounting for nearly 40 percent, on average, of gross income. The lease burden increased dramatically for drivers under the 2012 reforms, when the City allowed cab companies to increase the maximum amount they could charge drivers for the use of their vehicles.

      • ThrottleJockey

        I don’t think this is as much about safeguarding the incomes of taxicab drivers as much as it is about safeguarding the incomes of taxicab owners:

        “I’m already at peace with the idea that I’m going to go bankrupt,” said Larry Ionescu, who owns 98 Chicago taxi medallions. That might be overly dramatic; after all, Mr. Ionescu also compared Chicago’s pro-Uber mayor, Rahm Emanuel, to Nicolae Ceausescu, the reviled ex-dictator of his native Romania. It’s likely Mr. Ionescu remains a very rich man. In November, Chicago medallion sale prices averaged $298,000, well below the $357,000 price that was typical this spring, but far up from the $50,000 price of a decade ago.

        That run up from $50K to $298K is the equivalent of a 20% annualized return for 10 years running! Somebody better call the Whaaaa-ambulance, Ionescu is worth only $29M instead of $35M. This is nothing but a case of regulatory capture and pigs who got too fat at the public trough.

        • Brett

          Yep, that was in the article I linked to. The medallion owners weren’t really worried about the impact on passengers – they were annoyed at the possibility of their drivers seeing a better deal and going for it.

          Which is not to say Uber’s a saint here. I’ve had issues with their UberBlack service, which pushes their drivers to buy more expensive cars and then gives them little warning on rate changes and rules that drastically reduce their income. UberX and Lyft don’t have that problem, since people are driving their own cars – if the UberX rates get cut too low, people just go do something else.

      • LeeEsq

        That’s my thought about AirBnB. When I first learned about I thought it was just taking in boarders updated for the Internet. The only reason why people think its revolutionary is that very few young people know anything about taking in boarders.

    • Brett

      The organizational side of that can be trickier than it looks from the outside, though. It’s like pointing to Facebook and saying, “Oh please, you aren’t special. MySpace was doing what you’re doing years before”.

  • Srsly Dad Y

    Talking Points Memo published a really good & long reader email about Uber this week. It confirmed my sense that I want nothing to do w/Uber.

    • Pat

      You beat me by 2 minutes, but my post is higher.

      • Gregor Sansa

        That’s because you were able to disruptively leverage market inefficiencies in order to save time for comment-thread readers who only wanted to see that comment. We should be paying you for this.

        • Pat

          If you want people to comment on your comment, it has to have only one point and be placed high enough in the column. Otherwise everyone ignores you.

    • Nutella

      And here’s a link to that excellent article: link

      What I expect to happen is that the Uber bubble will burst in a year or two, leaving a lot of economic wreckage behind but permitting a few already rich people to keep their ill-gotten gains.

      The only lasting good to come of it will be some improvements in the way taxis are hailed/reserved by their competitors who spend some effort keeping up with the Uber app’s somewhat better reservation features.

      • Gregor Sansa

        I’m sold. So how do I short Uber?

        (Just kidding. I know of course that I’d probably get burned even if I’m right and the bubble pops. But man, when horrible people are making boatloads of cash, it’s hard not to fantasize about being on the side that takes it back from them.)

  • Mike G

    Big Money Attracts Big Assholes.
    It’s as true in Silicon Valley as it is on Wall Street.

    • Pat

      +$1,000,000,000

      • drkrick

        In context, does that work out to a compliment or not?

        • Pat

          It’s worth as much as their valuation!

  • MobiusKlein

    FYI, determining if an Android phone has been root’ed is not all that sketchy. No special permissions are needed, and it’s used by various bug monitoring tools out there. (Crittercism, Bugsense, etc)

    If an app can read SMS / MMS logs without permission, that is a major security flaw in the Android OS. If Android really allows that, then you should never run any Android app.

    See https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ubercab&hl=en and click on the ‘permissions’ link to see what it asks for.

  • Latverian Diplomat

    Not to expend too much energy to defend Uber, but here’s a better explanation of what’s going on and why:

    http://thenextweb.com/apps/2014/11/27/ubers-app-malware-despite-may-read/

    The short version is that Android’s security model sucks, it requires sweeping permissions to give an app useful capabilities, and most apps probably ask for surprisingly broad permissions for that reason.

    Uber is not necessarily honest about what they’re collecting, but the Android security model provides no easy way to tell an honest app with cool features from a dishonest one.

    iOS may have similar issues, but this article doesn’t claim to investigate those.

    • Murc

      I would submit that Android’s security sucking is no excuse.

      If I buy a house with doors that do not lock, it is still not my fault if I am robbed.

      • Latverian Diplomat

        It remains to be seen that Uber is pulling data inappropriately, they could be, or not, and so could a lot of other apps.

        From the article, “I couldn’t find any instance of Uber sending back any further detailed information than this, certainly not the SMS log or call history.”

        It also remains to be seen that Uber is breaking the rules for asking permission. More likely, user’s are just oblivious to what they regularly give apps access too.

      • MobiusKlein

        If Android OS allows apps to read SMS without permissions, that’s Google’s fault.

        • The Temporary Name

          Yes, it’s a technical problem. If a n00b programmer makes an Android app, apparently the default setup in your programming tools is to access EVERYTHING.

          Not good at all.

          So it led to this:

          http://www.howtogeek.com/198846/no-your-iphone-flashlight-is-not-spying-on-you/

        • Latverian Diplomat

          There seems to be some confusion about this. Apparently, the app asks permission to send and receive SMS messages, this does not give access to the SMS log.

          That said, the permission system and the way user’s are informed about app permission requests at install, seems to be a mess.

    • cpinva

      Uber is not necessarily honest about what they’re collecting, but the Android security model provides no easy way to tell an honest app with cool features from a dishonest one.”

      what legitimate Uber business purpose, for the benefit of the rider, is served, by their rider app collecting your call data? I can understand the GPS data (getting a correct fix on your location, vs depending on your probably in error location description), this makes sense, but some of the others strike me as strictly data mining, for data mining’s sake. and kind of sleazy. of course, the utterances of Uber exec’s, made public recently, strike me as just plain sleazy.

      • Latverian Diplomat

        No one has caught them collecting all of the data that it was originally claimed they are. My impression is that the original “security expert” blog post was not entirely accurate, and the press reports have just amplified this problem.

  • ThrottleJockey

    I don’t have a problem with Uber or Lyft disrupting the taxicab market. The way I see it that market has profiteered off of regulatory capture for decades. All this shit its surreptitiously doing on your phone, however, is a big fucking deal. And not at all necessary for it to succeed at its business!

    • cpinva

      yes, mine in a condensed form.

    • Brett

      The way I see is that existing markets with over-friendly-to-incumbent regulators often need to be shaken up a bit by new competitors pushing the limits of existing regulations to get them to make any necessary changes. If it wasn’t for Uber and its counterparts in Chicago, for example, the city transportation authorities would have likely let the existing cab industry drift along as it has for years – medallions accumulating in value, 12,000 complaints a year but less than one medallion pulled a year on average, and so forth.

  • MPAVictoria

    Just remember that big business views all of us as “inefficiencies” to be “streamlined”.

  • Linnaeus

    A Facebook acquaintance of mine linked this article from Medium on the topic of “why people hate Uber” in the context of his argument that most criticism of Uber is unwarranted and even if it were, Uber is being singled out in a way that we don’t do for other companies. While I have my disagreements with that argument, the article was pretty interesting. Here’s the quote that more or less sums it up:

    And that, in the end, is the real reason so many people hate Uber: Because whatever we do, we can’t stop ourselves from making it bigger and more successful and more terrifying and more necessary. Uber makes everything so easy, which means it shows us who, and what, we really are. It shows us how, whatever objections we might say we hold, we don’t actually care very much at all. We have our beliefs, our morals, our instincts. We have our dislike of douchebags, our mistrust of bad behavior. We have all that. But in the end, it turns out that if something’s 10 percent cheaper and 5 percent faster, we’ll give it all up quicker than we can order a sandwich.

    In other words, we hate Uber because we like it and that makes us uncomfortable. Setting aside the question of how much Uber is “hated” (given the very positive press it has gotten until recently), I think this position is a bit glib (and not all that new as an insight), but I don’t think it can be dismissed out of hand, either.

    • The Temporary Name

      Because whatever we do, we can’t stop ourselves from making it bigger and more successful and more terrifying and more necessary. Uber makes everything so easy, which means it shows us who, and what, we really are.

      Sounds like a guy who pays a lotta cab fares.

    • Aimai

      waay too glib. comparison shopping and ease of transactions are perfectly reasonable things to “like” and not an indictment of the human race. Wanting to see a market properly regulated while still enjoying the occasional bargain is not the same as, for example, publicly decrying indecency while secretely consuming porn.

      • Pat

        I’m with you. I think people hate Uber because they instinctively recognize that its valuation is a scam.

      • Bruce B.

        This. I have a really deep annoyance with too many glib statements about what “we” are really up to, feeling, etc., when it’s clear that what the writer really means is “all you sods”. And yes, wanting straightforward easy access and such are not terrible things; what’s terrible is when terrible people prey on those desires to end up screwing over people.

      • DonN

        This is so right. We want public transport to be safe and regulated. That doesn’t mean the current cab model in most cities is right nor does it mean the Uber model. For example, if the Curb based dispatch was as reliable as Uber then I could arrange a taxi and expect it to arrive whether I am in Austin or Cupertino. Uber can do that. It isn’t magic. I would rather I could be sure the ride was insured, for example, by using Curb. I would rather not give money to a kooky libertarian. However, there is something that makes it easier for Uber to deliver the drivers reliably. I just don’t get it.
        DN

      • Srsly Dad Y

        secretely, heh heh heh

  • BubbaDave

    I think we’re conflating two different issue here:
    Is the taxi medallion market a mess of regulatory capture? I think in some markets there’s a very good case that it is, and it should be cleaned up. (My off-the-cuff thoughts– make a medallion a 2-5 year nontransferable permit and auction them off at regular intervals, with more to be issued automatically scaled to population growth.)
    Do I want to take part in a market where there is no regulatory agency checking for things like insurance, vehicle maintenance, and so forth? Nnnnnnnope.

    If I’m riding in an Uber car, and my driver screws up and we get into a devastating accident, what are the chances my driver has insurance that covers my debilitating injuries? Slim. Odds are s/he is driving with nothing more than personal auto insurance, which explicitly excludes commercial carriage. So now I’ve got two+ years of rehab ahead, six figures in lost wages, a whole lot of pain and suffering and quality of life issues, a house that needs extensive modification to make it wheelchair-friendly, and nobody who’s on the hook for the money (because Uber figures that’s between me and my driver). Sure am glad I saved $18 on a $60 cab ride, aren’t I?

    • Bruce B.

      Yes! Most of us want regulation that works more or less as it should, not Libertopia.

    • ThrottleJockey

      I think your consumer beware warnings are spot on, but since that’s rather straightforward risk, should the state intervene to block consenting adults from hooking up as it were?

      • Malaclypse

        since that’s rather straightforward risk

        How many people do you think know how much insurance their taxi carries? Should we expect people to need to know this?

        Keep in mind, your argument also applies to the state inspecting meat.

        • BubbaDave

          +1

          • BubbaDave

            In addition to insurance, think about maintenance. When you hail a cab, do you stop to check the tread on their tires and ask them about the level of wear on the brake shoes? In NYC the owner of the cab is responsible for maintenance, not the driver. Who’s responsible in the Uber situation? The driver who’s moonlighting with his/her personal vehicle. Who’s checking to make sure regular maintenance is being performed? In NYC the answer is some combination of the government and the insurer. For the Uber independent contractor, you’re counting on his/her judgement. The list goes on…

  • shah8

    Okay, dudes…that TalkingPointsMemo thing is just incredible. Take the time, be patient about the length, and READ it. This goes WAAAAAY beyond Uber in some senses.

    Two things:

    1) Uber exemplifies just how frothy Internet 2.0 has become. 18 billion bucks isn’t anything that’d take down much. However, it’s just the among the most famous and fast moving. Just how deep does that fuckery goes within the broader ecology?

    2) Uber also exemplifies the synergy between corporations and media in a way that I think is pretty new, in terms of brazen glory-hogging and intimidation. It’s not that new–it’s a pretty similar company/corp culture to Enron, for example. However, Enron was a lot more focused in its media communications effort in creating that aura of inevitability in its mission to disrupt energy distro. It also wasn’t so open about being assholes. I wonder if this might not become more of a trend, with cults of personality a bit more…diverse than Steve Jobs?

    • shah8

      Hmmm…should clarify, I’m saying that those who have not read it and were content to just read the user comments here, no, you really should read it. It’s excellent incidental internet journalism that’s highly digested and served, and even though I understood most of this before reading that link, it’s still highly clarifying.

  • Barry Freed

    Also, Uber has ruined the word “uber”. Pretty low down on the list of their transgressions but it’s something.

  • Ronan

    Here, Loomis, this should be right up your street

    http://www.thenation.com/article/192545/socialize-uber#

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