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A Look Back At Uber’s Hellish Year

A look back at Uber’s hellish year

We endured plenty of the drama Uber packed in for every five-hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes of 2017 — and what a year! From protests to a major sexual harassment probe, the ousting of co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick, the crowning of new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, the promising hints of that long-awaited IPO and an on-going lawsuit with Google over self-driving cars. Uber, out of any tech company, arguably kept us the busiest here at TechCrunch in 2017.

For those who just can’t get enough (or would like to remember just what happened when) we’ve compiled this nifty timeline to walk you through it all again. So buckle up and enjoy the ride down memory lane. This was Uber’s 2017.

Uber’s 2017 kicks off with protestors outside its SF headquarters

People were protesting Uber because the company’s now-former CEO, Travis Kalanick, was a member of Trump’s Strategic and Policy forum.

“As a company we’re committed to working with government on issues that affect riders, drivers and the cities where we operate,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Just as we worked with the Obama Administration, we’ll work with the Trump Administration, too.”

Kalanick ended up leaving the council in February.

#deleteuber takes shape during immigration protest at JFK

Following Trump’s executive order barring refugees and visa holders from seven countries from entering the U.S., people began protesting at JFK International and the NY Taxi Workers Alliance called for drivers to not pickup anyone from the airport.

Uber, however, said that riders could travel to and from JFK without surge pricing, which resulted in a public backlash suggesting Uber was taking advantage of the protests. This resulted in the #deleteuber hashtag on social media.

Uber late apologized, saying it did not mean to try to break up any strike. But Uber’s rider base was affected, with 200,000 customers reportedly deleting their accounts.

Susan Fowler accuses Uber of ignoring repeated reports of sexual harassment

Susan Fowler, a former engineer at Uber, accused the company of sexual harassment and human resources negligence in a bombshell of a post on Medium.

Her allegations entailed being solicited by a superior for sex, reporting the incident, and then ultimately being told by upper management that they didn’t feel “comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part,” she wrote.

“I was then told that I had to make a choice: (i) I could either go and find another team and then never have to interact with this man again, or (ii) I could stay on the team, but I would have to understand that he would most likely give me a poor performance review when review time came around, and there was nothing they could do about that,” Fowler further explained.

In light of Fowler’s allegations, Uber holds an all-hands meeting to discuss the company’s next steps

At the all-hands meeting, then Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, board member Arianna Huffington and Uber head of HR Liane Hornsey discussed the company’s next steps.

“I just joined Travis and Liane Hornsey, Uber’s recently hired Chief Human Resources Officer, for the company’s weekly meeting. We spent over an hour discussing women in the workplace — and talking about the review that’s underway by Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran into diversity and inclusion at Uber.”

Those next steps entailed launching an independent investigation to look into Fowler’s allegations. In order to conduct the investigation, Uber tapped former US Attorney General Eric Holder and Tammy Albarran, partners at law firm Covington & Burling.

Alphabet’s self-driving car technology unit, Waymo, sues Uber

Waymo filed a lawsuit against self-driving trucking company Otto and its parent company, Uber, alleging theft of trade secrets.

In the suit, Waymo said Uber “misappropriated” its trade secrets and infringed upon its patents. The lawsuit specifically said Waymo found evidence that Uber has been using parts of its self-driving tech related to Uber’s in-house LiDAR sensors.

The suit also alleged Otto founder Anthony Levandowski, downloaded more than 14,000 “highly confidential and proprietary files” from Waymo and brought them to Uber.

Travis Kalanick gets caught on video screaming at a driver

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was shown in a video to be arguing with driver Fawzi Kamel over Uber’s business model and what effect it has had on the driver’s pay.

Kamel told Kalanick in the video that Uber has cost him $97,000 and that he was now “bankrupt” because of Kalanick — something Kalanick shrugged off, telling Kamel his claims were, “bullshit.”

The tone of the exchange further added fuel to an already five-alarm fire at the rideshare company, fanned by the previous week’s accusations of intellectual theft, a sexual harassment claim from a former Uber engineer and a previous #deleteuber campaign — further confirming in people’s minds what they already may have suspected about the rumored “bro culture” at Uber, with Kalanick at the helm.

Report claims Uber used a software tool, internally known as ‘Greyball,’ to undermine law enforcement

In order to protect its drivers from code enforcers and city officials trying to gather data about Uber, the company admitted to using a piece of software, at one point known as “Greyball,” to prevent those types of riders from hailing cars.

“This program denies ride requests to users who are violating our terms of service — whether that’s people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret ‘stings’ meant to entrap drivers,” Uber said in a statement.

Uber releases its first diversity report

Finally Uber sort of gets some good news – it was doing slightly better than Facebook and Apple when it came to female representation. It was also pretty solid in representation of people of color, in comparison to other tech companies.

Worldwide, Uber is 36.1 percent female and 63.9 percent male. In tech roles, women make up just 15.4 percent of the employee base.

Uber’s overall female representation is not great, but it’s not as bad as female representation at Facebook (32 percent female) and Apple (32 percent female), for example. It’s also not as good as female representation at Airbnb, which is 43 percent female, and Pinterest, which is 44 percent female.

Overall, Uber is 8.8 percent black, 5.6 percent Latinx and 4.3 percent two more or races in the U.S. In technical roles, however, those percentages drop to 1 percent, 2.1 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively.

At the leadership level, 22 percent of Uber’s employees are women, 2.3 percent are black, 0.8 percent are Latinx and 76.7 percent are white. Surprise! Uber’s leadership team is mostly a bunch of white men.

Uber’s Anthony Levandowski invokes his Fifth Amendment rights in Waymo suit

Uber executive and Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski’s lawyer invoked the Fifth Amendment in what appeared to be a precaution related to a document release by Uber. Uber’s lawyers claimed the company didn’t have the documents Levandowski allegedly stole from Waymo and therefore wouldn’t be handing them over as part of a scheduled document production.

Levandowski’s acknowledgement of his potential criminal liability was an interesting turn in what was already a dramatic court proceeding thus far between Waymo and Uber.

Waymo claimed that Levandowski stole thousands of confidential documents from the company (when it was still Google’s self-driving car project, during which time Levandowski was employed there), and then took steps to cover up the theft.

The tragic #undelete mural

A bunch of mostly male Uber employees decided to get together in early April to spray paint a wall in San Francisco, basically begging people to reinstall the app if they’ve deleted it in light of all the scandals at Uber. The employees painted “Undelete.”

You may recall “Undelete” refers to the days when we all freaked out (rightfully so) at Uber for its ties to 45, and then again following Susan Fowler Rigetti’s claims of sexual harassment at the company.

Uber faces a nationwide class-action lawsuit

Less than a month after Uber settled two class-action lawsuits in California and Massachusetts, another one popped up. This time, the suit pertained to all current and former Uber drivers in the United States, except for those in California and Massachusetts.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Chicago division, asked the court to classify Uber divers as employees rather than independent contractors, “recover unpaid overtime wages and compensation,” reimburse expenses, and pay the tips that “were earned but stolen by Uber or were lost” due to Uber’s communications and policies.

“Nearly 90 percent of drivers say the main reason they use Uber is because they love being their own boss,” Uber said in a statement to TechCrunch about the lawsuit. “As employees, drivers would have set shifts, earn a fixed hourly wage, and lose the ability to drive with other ridesharing apps—as well as the personal flexibility they most value.”

Uber fires Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski due to Waymo dispute

At the end of May, Uber terminated the employment of Anthony Levandowski, the co-founder of self-driving trucking company Otto and Uber’s former self-driving project engineering lead.

Levandowski had been at the heart of an ongoing legal battle between Uber and Waymo, the Alphabet company that resulted from Google’s self-driving car project. Waymo accused Levandowski of hatching a plan to use trade secrets related to Waymo’s in-house development of unique LiDAR tech to kickstart Otto’s and subsequently Uber’s own self-driving technology program.

Levandowski was terminated following months of Uber attempting to have him comply with and assist its own internal investigation into the matter, and had set a clear deadline for him to do so.

Bozoma Saint John heads to Uber from Apple

Bozoma Saint John left her head of consumer marketing for Apple Music gig in June to lead Uber’s brand efforts as chief brand officer in June.

As chief brand officer, Saint John’s job has been to revamp the public’s perception of Uber and help turn it into a company people feel proud to be involved with, and proud to use. Her role is essentially to tell a new narrative about Uber.

Saint John’s employment at Uber came in the midst of the company’s scandals around sexual harassment, management issues and toxic culture.

“You can’t control everything,” Saint John told TechCrunch at Disrupt SF 2017. “I was very aware of what I was walking into – or as much as I could know. There are obviously certain things that I couldn’t know…but for me, the important thing was figuring out how to manage this brand and the storytelling of it.”

Top Uber exec Eric Alexander steps down after violating rider’s privacy

Uber’s president of business in Asia Pacific Eric Alexander was fired after obtaining medical records of a female passenger who was raped during a ride in India.

The incident involved a 26-year-old female passenger who was assaulted and raped during a ride in Delhi in late 2014. The violent crime resulted in the immediate ban of the Uber service in Delhi; the ban was lifted several months later. The driver was arrested and later sentenced to life in prison.

Though the company was publicly remorseful at the time, saying in a statement that it would “work with the community, with government and the technology industry to find more ways to promote safety in transportation, particularly for women,” Alexander was meanwhile reportedly on his way to India seeking the medical records of the victim in an effort to come to his own conclusions.

Alexander later shared the records with CEO Travis Kalanick and SVP Emil Michael, according to the report. The executives reportedly began to discuss the idea that Uber competitor Ola was behind the incident in an effort to damage the company’s operations in the country.

Uber’s board votes unanimously to adopt all recommendations of Holder report

Uber’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to implement all of the recommendations contained within a report it commissioned from former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his legal partners Tammy Albarrán. The board met over the previous weekend to discuss the recommendations, which reportedly included a suggestion that Uber SVP Emil Michael, a trusted confidant of CEO Travis Kalanick, be asked to leave the company.

Another report claimed that Kalanick was considering at least a temporary departure from the company in the wake of recent revelations over sexual harassment, a tech bro culture, privacy concerns and a Google lawsuit involving Uber’s self-driving car tech.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick takes a leave of absence

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced he was taking a leave of absence from his San Francisco-based ride-hailing juggernaut —  without naming an interim CEO or disclosing a return date.

Instead, Kalanick told employees, the company would be run by his direct reports. Meanwhile, owing to the results of a probe led by former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder — who was hired to look into allegations of harassment, bullying, and discrimination at the company — employees were told some of Kalanick’s responsibilities would be shared or given outright to other senior executives when he was supposedly returning.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigns

Uber’s embattled CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down from the ride-sharing company he helped found in 2009 following a “shareholder revolt” led by some of Uber’s most prominent investors.

Previous to Kalanick’s resignation, five of Uber’s most prominent investors, including Benchmark, wrote a letter titled “Moving Uber Forward,” which recommended that the CEO step aside immediately. After hours of discussion, Kalanick agreed to resign.

“I love Uber more than anything in the world and at this difficult moment in my personal life I have accepted the investors request to step aside so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight,” Kalanick said in a statement.

With Kalanick’s resignation, Uber was now missing a CEO, COO, CFO, CMO and a host of other critical high-level positions following months of seemingly endless executive departures.

Waymo drops most patent claims in Uber lawsuit

In July, there were a few big breaks in the case between Waymo and Uber over self-driving car technology. As a result, the scope of the case started to come into focus as both companies began preparing for a trial set to begin in October.

Waymo, the self-driving technology arm of Google parent Alphabet, filed the lawsuit in February, alleging theft of trade secrets that Uber planned to use in its autonomous vehicles. The on-going case centers around engineer Anthony Levandowski, who Waymo claims stole 14,000 documents before leaving the company and founding Otto, a self-driving trucking company, which Uber later acquired.

Waymo decided to drop its claims on U.S. Patent Nos. 8,836,922, 9,285,464 and 9,086,273, noting that they were related to an earlier version of Uber’s autonomous lidar design nicknamed “Spider” that the company was no longer using. The remaining patent claim targets a newer version of lidar technology called Fiji, which is still in use by Uber.

Shervin asks Benchmark to step down from the board

Shortly after a group of Uber shareholders asked Benchmark to relinquish its spot on Uber’s board of directors, Sherpa Capital’s Shervin Pishevar petitioned Benchmark via to remove itself from Uber’s board.

The petition also asked Benchmark to sell at least 75 percent of its stock so that the firm would no longer have rights to appoint members to Uber’s board of directors.

“We have investors ready to acquire these shares as soon as we receive communication from Benchmark that they are willing to withdraw their lawsuit and sell a minimum of 75% of their holdings,” the petition stated.

In December of this year, Pishevar stepped down from the board of Hyperloop One and from his position at Sherpa Capital.

Uber board offers CEO role to Dara Khosrowshahi

This is the first hint we had that Uber’s board had reached a decision to offer someone the CEO role. Later, we confirmed from a source that this person was Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Expedia.

Both Meg Whitman and Jeff Immelt had been considered for the top job, but both publicly tweeted that they didn’t want it. Some reports suggested that Whitman was still in the running anyway.

The Uber CEO seat had been vacant since June, when co-founder Travis Kalanick resigned. His departure came after former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder completed an investigation into the company’s culture. Lawsuits and allegations of sexism are what prompted the investigation.

According to a Glassdoor survey based on employee feedback, Khosrowshahi was ranked 39th among the highest-rated CEOs, with more than 2,200 employee reviews combining to assign him a 94 percent approval rating.

DOJ starts looking into Uber for possible foreign bribes

The drumbeat of Uber news just never let up (and there was so much more to come).

On this day in 2017, the Department of Justice started evaluating whether Uber managers breached the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which relates to bribing foreign officials. Though they were just taking “preliminary steps” and it didn’t mean it would lead to a full-fledged investigation.

The report didn’t say if the inquiry related to one country or multiple countries. Uber’s business spans six continents and the company often faces stiff competition from local operations. It effectively had to give up in Russia and China, joining forces with the enemies.

Uber told us they were cooperating with the investigation.

Waymo asks to postpone trial with Uber

In light of a federal circuit ruling that Uber must hand over the due diligence report (the Stroz report) it conducted ahead of its acquisition of Otto, Waymo requested Judge William Alsup postpone the trial. The trial was scheduled to begin October 11.

For months, Waymo had argued this report, conducted by cybersecurity firm Stroz Friedberg, likely contained information pertinent to its allegations that one of its former engineers, Anthony Levandowski, stole thousands of files and brought them to Uber.

Uber loses license to operate in London

London’s transport regulator, the TfL, concluded Uber was not “fit and proper to hold a private hire operate licence” due to a number of issues. Some of the issues cited described Uber’s approach to reporting serious criminal offenses, its obtainment of medical records, how it conducts background checks and how it explained the use of Greyball in London.

The following month, Uber filed an appeal so that it could continue operating in London.

“While we have today filed our appeal so that Londoners can continue using our app, we hope to continue having constructive discussions with Transport for London,” an Uber spokesman told us. “As our new CEO has said, we are determined to make things right.”

Uber CEO says company will go public in 2019

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi provided some more detailabout the company’s plans to go public. Though former CEO Travis Kalanick was adamant an IPO was nowhere near on the horizon, Khosrowshahi mentioned to the press that the plan is for Uber to IPO in 2019.

In remaining private, he said Uber “has all the disadvantage of being a public company, with the spotlight on us, with none of the advantages.”

Uber hopes to finalize that Softbank investment deal

After months of talks, SoftBank was close to finalizing its investment in Uber mid-November. Multiple sources told TechCrunch that the deal was expected to be signed then. Part of that deal included Benchmark Capital dropping its lawsuit against former CEO Travis Kalanick.

Softbank, however, had other plans.

Uber discloses massive data breach from 2016

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi disclosed a massive data breach that affected 57 million riders and drivers back in 2016. The breach happened long before Khosrowshahi joined the company. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it happened under the leadership of former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

Uber did not notify the attorney general’s office until November 21, 2017, more than a year after Uber first discovered the breach. And before Uber reported the breach, the company paid off hackers to destroy the data.

“As Uber’s CEO, it’s my job to set our course for the future, which begins with building a company that every Uber employee, partner and customer can be proud of. For that to happen, we have to be honest and transparent as we work to repair our past mistakes.

I recently learned that in late 2016 we became aware that two individuals outside the company had inappropriately accessed user data stored on a third-party cloud-based service that we use. The incident did not breach our corporate systems or infrastructure.

Softbank offers to buy Uber shares at a 30 percent discount

In what has been called a “low blow,” SoftBank Group offered to buy Uber’s shares in a tender offer that would value the company at 30 percent less than Uber’s last private valuation of nearly $70 billion.

SoftBank’s share price offer landed at $32.96 compared to the $48.77 per share that Uber was valued at in its Series G round in 2016. SoftBank’s offer valued Uber at less than $50 billion.

Meanwhile, Uber continues to bleed money — it’s losses grew to $1.5 billion in the last quarter.

Uber settles lawsuit with woman accusing execs of obtaining medical records after she was raped

Uber settled its lawsuit with a woman (Jane Doe) who accused its now-former CEO Travis Kalanick, president of business in Asia Eric Alexander and SVP of business Emil Michael of improperly obtaining her medical records after she was raped by an Uber driver in Delhi, India. Michael was dropped from the lawsuit about two months ago.

“A settlement has been reached and the Parties anticipate the case will be dismissed on or around January 2018,” the document states. Specific terms of the settlement were not disclosed in the filing.

In the lawsuit, Doe’s attorneys said “Uber executives violated her a second time by unlawfully obtaining and sharing her medical records from that vicious sexual assault and have failed, as of the date of this filing, to apologize to her for this outrageous conduct.”

Doe had previously sued Uber in 2015 for negligence and fraud for failing to do a thorough background check on the driver. In that case, the driver was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Uber accused of espionage, bribery and hacking in the “Jacobs letter”

The $1.86 billion legal battle between ride-hailing giant Uber and Alphabet’s self-driving unit Waymo reached a pivotal moment today as the judge in the case released a damning letter based on the account of a former Uber employee. The letter alleges that a special division within Uber was responsible for acts of corporate espionage, the theft of trade secrets, the bribery of foreign officials and various means of unlawful surveillance.

The “Jacobs letter” was written by the attorney for Richard Jacobs, who previously worked as Uber’s manager of global intelligence before being fired in April. The highly detailed account brought about accusations of systematic illegal activity inside Uber’s Strategic Services Group (SSG), which allegedly sought to surface other companies’ trade secrets through eavesdropping and data collection. The letter alleged that some of the information gathered was relayed to then-CEO Travis Kalanick.

Uber appoints former Orbitz CEO as chief operating officer

The long search was finally over for Uber’s chief operating officer. Ex-Expedia exec and former Orbitz CEO Barney Harford formally accepted the position of COO, making him the second-highest ranking exec in the company.

In early March, former CEO Travis Kalanick disclosed he would be searching for someone to fill the position amidst allegations he had fostered a culture of sexism and achievement at any cost.  The company continued to suffer a number of setbacks in the months following, including Kalanick’s resignation, a lawsuit from Alphabet’s self-driving car company Waymo and a Department of Justice investigation.

In June, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his law firm, Covington & Burling, recommended major management changes, advocating for a COO who would “act as a full partner” and run “day-to-day operations.”

This is a critical role as Uber looks to stave off company losses, which grew to $1.5 billion last quarter.

Uber is still on the hunt for a chief financial officer to help shore up losses and turn the company profitable enough for a potential IPO in 2019.

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