Uber bulldozes ethics, demolishes decency to pull ahead

The red-hot ride-sharing service is no stranger to controversy, but its recent targeting of a journalist is both telling and indefensible

Uber truck drive vehicle
Flickr/Alan Levine

It’s hard to write when you’re drooling. A few hours ago, my dentist overloaded me on Novocain following an unfortunate meeting between my oft-troubled teeth and a slice of meat lovers' pizza. However, my teeth aren’t alone in their erosion, he said, coming to a painfully anesthetic-handicapped analogy -- so is freedom of speech on the Internet.

We’ve talked long and fruitlessly about the NSA and the seemingly endless parade of spooks, government bodies, and large corporations vacuuming every bit and byte of our personal data, from where we go to what we buy to who we know and certainly to what we post. I figured a digital police state was bad enough, but surprisingly, we've managed to take one more turn for the worse. Not only is it open season on all your life data, dippy grumblebunnies out there want to actively punish you if they don’t like what you’re saying.

Witness: A small and ugly incident from never-sunny England via a low-rent heartbreak hotel in the aptly named town of Blackpool. These yo-yos think it’s permissible to charge another £100 for guests who post a negative review about them on the Web. Sure, they’re now being investigated by some Brit regulatory agency or other, and after all the viral bad press they promised to refund the money to the poor couple they tried to screw over, but the fact that they thought they could get away with it is both so astonishing and depressing it had me considering a short bath with my electric toaster -- because it’s not an isolated incident.

Uber ethics: If you can't stop 'em, smear 'em

Far worse and directly aimed at my (and probably your) profession is another evil, vile, and downright depraved idea from Uber exec Emil Michael. That’s right, Uber is ramming its foot in its mouth once again, but this time it’s not Tyrant Travis getting lippy.

Michael recently sat at a private dinner that, unbeknownst to him, included a working journalist. Amid the proceedings, he blithely mentioned plans to drop a million dollars or so to form a digital hit team that would dig up dirt on any media maven who writes a negative take on Satan’s taxi service. Uber could then respond to nasty articles (which by now must number in the thousands) by dragging authors through an orgy of public muckraking, which I guess Michael believes would somehow vindicate Uber and frighten everyone from journalists to Twitterati into posting only positive wordss.

Who do these guys think they are? Apple? At least today’s batty Apple PR reps, much like the Microsoft mafia of the '90s, only blacklist you from future press materials if you have the temerity to pen anything other than suck-up fanboy articles. They don’t try and dig up your tax returns to expose gray deductions or steal your medical history hoping to find evidence of venereal disease.

Michael didn’t describe exactly how he’d drag an unfortunate reporter’s rep through the wringer with such information. Maybe he’d tattle to our parents about our browser history or post embarrassing swimsuit pictures on Reddit.

Either way, malignant growths like Michael need to be stopped. The Web is supposed to be free. Too many evildoers, from government stooges to corporate shills, are ripping away at the Web’s soft, white underbelly with only greed on their minds. If I want to write my honest opinion of Uber -- namely, it’s a vile organization and its business practices stink worse than a urinal cake -- then I should be free to do so without fearing for my life. Going after our private data so that you can coerce us into toeing your nutbar line is so obviously wrong it makes me dizzy simply reading about it. Plus, such tactics are usually illegal in meatspace, so I can’t fathom how you malevolent mollusks think it’s OK in cyberspace.

Mr. Travis's wild ride

Travis, I know you’re a nasty piece of work and you seem to hire execs with the same bent, but for God’s sake, stop for a second and think about what you’re doing. Do you really want to set this kind of precedent considering all the insane bile that spews out of your mouth every couple of weeks? Go this route and everyone from Congress to the Boy Scouts will be doing the same to you in a less than a month.

Instead, consider employing a PR staff that understands proactive speech coaching or filter your mouth farts through someone with a hint of a conscience. That’ll stop the Uber hatefest a lot more effectively than obliviously throwing your weight behind what seems to be a global program to devolve the Web from a free community into a fascist digi-state. Then again, maybe I shouldn’t expect that kind of rationality from someone who names his company Uber.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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