Ever ridden in an Uber car? I do this rather a lot, in fact will be using an Uber service provider later today to take me from San Francisco airport down to Silicon Valley. I use Uber frequently, and have always been very happy with the service.
But some government regulators don’t like Uber. They are trying to crack down on Uber, and Uber is fighting back. Good for them. Excerpt:
As Uber faces some public relations problems right now connected to complaints of sexual harrassment and mistreatment of its drivers, The New York Times has what it apparently thinks is an expose of sorts. It doesn’t. Or at least it doesn’t from the perspective of the lives of ordinary people.
The way journalist Mike Isaac has approached this story betrays a type of media bias that seems to naturally assume that government regulators are in charge of us all, and those who are trying to find ways to work around them are up to no good.
To wit, Uber uses a tool called “Greyball” to circumvent officials. It’s a tool that Uber says is designed to help it deny ride requests to people who violate their terms of service, disrupt the system, or threaten their drivers. They also have been using it to operate in places where government officials have been trying to shut them down.
The story of the technology itself is genuinely fascinating, but it’s caught up in this concept that Uber’s behavior is villainous, possibly even illegal, though the expert Isaac consulted, a fellow Times contributor, could only make vague claims.
This tool essentially creates a fake ghost version of Uber. People who are “greyballed” could order cars via Uber’s map and could watch them travel around. But the Uber drivers always canceled when the customer ordered a pickup. The cars were not actually real. They were fabricated by the app to trick the user into wasting time, without the user realizing they had been secretly been banned and maybe starting a new account.
Uber used this tool to operate in Portland, Oregon, as regulators attempted to use sting operations to catch them and shut them down.
The nerve of Uber! Assuming that people should have the ability to enter into a completely voluntary transaction with another person for a ride to the airport, or to dinner, or home from a bar – without government permission!
In most places it’s not just overbearing bureaucrats trying to shut Uber down; it’s the taxicab companies, who are using the Aristocracy of Pull to try to preserve their outmoded business model. I’ve ridden in plenty of taxis as well; they tend strongly towards dirty, smelly cars and rude drivers. Uber cars are clean – why? Because their drivers own them.
This is cronyism of the worst sort. Good on Uber for defying these overreaching bureaucrats. I will continue to throw them my business in support.