New reports tracing Uber’s history under Travis Kalanick are damning, and not only for the company.
Over a dozen government leaders and former Uber executives are mentioned in the Uber Files, a collection of thousands of documents obtained by The Guardian detailing Uber’s attempts to lobby policymakers and push growth by breaking rules. Former Uber exec Mark MacGann is the whistleblower behind the files and is also partly implicated by them.
MacGann, who founded Moonshot Ventures, told The Guardian, “I am partly responsible.”
The documents mention several high-profile former Uber executives, politicians and organizations. Here’s a look at some of the biggest names implicated in the report, how they were involved with the company’s operations and where they are today. More documents are expected to be released from the Uber Files during the course of the week; this story will be updated as additional information is published.
Uber founder Kalanick, who served as the company’s CEO until he was forced to resign in 2017, appears to have been the brains behind it all. To grow Uber’s empire, he privately lobbied government officials while the company broke laws and taxi regulations in cities around the globe. He also dismissed concerns about driver safety, pushing a growth-at-all-costs business model. Since leaving Uber, Kalanick has turned his attention to CloudKitchens, a ghost kitchen company with locations across the U.S.
MacGann, Uber’s former head of public policy in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, lobbied Emmanuel Macron — currently France's president, but at the time its Minister of the Economy — to change a police official’s decision to ban an Uber service in Marseille in 2015. Macron responded that he would “look at this personally.” MacGann was the whistleblower who released the trove of 124,000 documents to the press.
Nairi Hourdajian Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Gore-Coty, head of Uber’s operations in Western Europe until 2016, was involved in the company’s “kill switch protocols,” an internal practice to cut off access to the company’s data systems to prevent police from collecting evidence against it. The technique was likely used at least 12 times during raids in Europe and India. Gore-Coty now sits on Uber’s executive team, where, since 2021, he has been the head of Uber Eats.
Hourdajian, Uber’s former head of global communications, bluntly said in a message in 2014 that the company’s efforts to resist shutdowns in Thailand and India were “just fucking illegal.” Hourdajian left Uber in 2016 and is currently VP of communications at Figma.
When Macron was the economy minister of France, he gave Uber direct access to himself and his staff. Macron went far to help Uber, including telling the company he made a “deal” with Uber’s opponents in the French cabinet. MacGann also sought help from Macron in 2015 when a French police official tried to ban one of Uber’s services. “I will look at this personally,” Macron texted MacGann. Macron became president of France in 2017.
While Osborne was the chancellor of the Exchequer, he and several other policymakers met with Uber execs at Davos in 2016. He was described as a “strong advocate” of the company coming out of that meeting. The Guardian found that six U.K. Tory cabinet ministers met with Uber but did not disclose the meetings. Osborne left the government in 2017.
Uber’s meeting with Osborne at Davos also included Israel’s prime minister at the time, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Enda Kenny, then prime minister of Ireland.
Files showed Uber’s attempts to lobby other political leaders, but the impact of those efforts is unclear. After Biden — at the time, as vice president — met with Kalanick, he changed his speech at Davos, according to the files, to say the company gives millions of workers “freedom to work as many hours as they wish, manage their own lives as they wish.”
When Macron was the economy minister of France, he gave Uber direct access to himself and his staff. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
In an effort to grow and spread a positive message about Uber in Germany, the company invited Axel Springer, the owner of the German newspaper Bild, to become a strategic investor in the company. Along with the $5 million investment came proposals to collaborate with Bild. (Disclosure: Axel Springer owns the POLITICO Media Group, Protocol’s parent organization.)
“Having [Bild parent company Axel] Springer [on our] side is very valuable if we are to make progress in Germany,” Uber’s former head of comms, Rachel Whetstone, wrote in a 2015 email. “I believe they will actually do things proactively to help.”
A spokesperson for Axel Springer told The Guardian the investment was “economically insignificant” and that Springer’s editorial divisions work separately from its business side.
The Daily Mail owner Jonathan Harmsworth, Fourth Viscount Rothermere; Ashley Tabor-King, the head of a commercial radio group in Europe; and Italy’s L’Espresso’s Carlo de Benedetti also bought stakes in Uber. Company leaders asked L’Espresso to help connect Kalanick with former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Whetstone, SVP of communications and public policy at Uber until 2017, took part in getting Uber the support of Axel Springer and Bild editor Kai Diekmann. She believed he could help expand the company’s high-level connections and that a partnership with Axel Springer could be beneficial due to Axel Springer’s connection to the taxi industry. She attempted to recruit Diekmann for a top communications job at Uber, but he declined, later becoming the publisher of Bild. Whetstone is now chief communications officer at Netflix.
After his tenure at Axel Springer, Diekmann joined Uber’s advisory board in Germany, where he helped the communications team frame news coverage. Diekmann told The Washington Post there is no conflict of interest between his positions at Axel Springer and Uber, and that his role at Axel Springer was to “advance digitalization at Bild and the company in general.”