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Business Management

Uber-gate and Its Queasy Tragicomedy of Errors

The scandal surrounding Uber is, sadly, not completely new in the technology sector that has seen several companies caught hatching plans to track and sometimes smear journalists. Utterly wrongheaded and upsetting as these events have clearly been to the target, it’s the astonishing naivety that also hurts.

When the Uber executive Emil Michael reportedly suggested that the company would be justified in researching and somehow exposing US journalist Sarah Lacy, he did so not in some open field having first checked trusted confidants for listening bugs but at a party attended by a Buzzfeed journalist. Hilariously, according to the Buzzfeed article, he used a variant of the Hollywood B-movie phrase “nobody would know it’s us”.

This is snooping as played by straight-to-video actors who know nothing of the conventions of real-life snooping. Or maybe it’s Scooby Doo: “I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids… and the fact I disclosed all my thinking right in front of you.”

It gets better/worse. Uber attempted to cover up its dog-mess by saying that the conversation had been ‘off the record’, an excuse that will have been heard by many journalists over the years, often to be followed by threats of puling advertising or sponsorship or even hints at a legal suit. The reporter who broke the story says he had not been told the dinner conversation was off the record. And who in their right mind says stuff like that with the rationale that it’s OK because off the record?

Really, the whole thing would be comical if not so awful – and it goes on. Uber clearly needed to act decisively to make this go away. Apologise, remove the executive concerned from the scene and make it a case of “Uber and out”; take a course marked Media Training 101 or just don’t act like a jackasses. Instead the drama persists, like a bad screwball comedy in awful taste where the Exit doors have been locked.

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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