Uber, On A Collision Course With City Officials Around The World, Doubles Down On Politico Hires

The company is suddenly on the defensive, with shutdowns imminent from China to New York.

Uber, with its operations facing suspension in cities around the world, is marshaling a small army of policy staffers to do battle with local authorities. India and Spain banned the on-demand taxi service last year, France followed suit, and today China announced that it would be cracking down on unauthorized private cars, less than a month after Uber inked a $600 million deal with Chinese search engine Baidu.

The challenges come amid a politically oriented hiring spree that started last summer with the recruitment of former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe. There are 60 policy and communications jobs now open on the Uber website, based in cities ranging from Amsterdam to Warsaw.

The company’s recent activities in New York are indicative of its headaches and tactics. In the last week, the company has hired two well-connected political insiders to join its New York policy and communications team: Matthew Wing, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s former press secretary, and Michael Allegretti, a failed congressional candidate and former director at the Partnership for New York, the city’s most influential business association.

Wing and Allegretti can’t start soon enough. Last November the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission adopted new rules that require Uber and other ride services to regularly report operational data, including trip dates, times, locations, and license numbers. The new guidelines have yet to go into effect because the commission needs to work with the city’s 400-plus dispatch bases—many of them mom-and-pop shops—to establish data formats and tracking mechanisms. But when they do, Uber is in trouble if it continues to refuse to share trip data for fear of revealing trade secrets and private information.

In the past, the commission requested data from base operators on a one-off basis. Indeed, it requested trip data from 16 high-volume bases last October, including five Uber bases that were at the time the only ones owned by the company. Uber refused to comply, citing “an individuals’ [sic] reasonable expectation of privacy,” and as a result the commission suspended all five of those bases earlier this week.

It was an ironic response, given that New Yorkers have their own reasons to question the company’s motives and integrity around data tracking. Last fall Uber took disciplinary action against Josh Mohrer, its top executive in New York, after BuzzFeed disclosed that he had tracked a reporter’s whereabouts without her permission. The company also faced criticism after Forbes revealed that executives had identified specific users’ whereabouts on a real-time “God View” map during its Chicago launch party.

The company is currently dispatching rides in NYC from its one remaining base, which it acquired after the October request. It has until early next week to appeal the commission’s ruling.

The future looks bleak elsewhere in the U.S. as well. Uber recently agreed to suspend operations in Portland for three months while local officials update city rules to accommodate ride-sharing technologies. It has also shut its doors in Nevada, pending regulatory changes.

[Photo: Flickr user dennis crowley]


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