If it weren’t for Donald Trump, you would probably have seen a lot more of Uber in the news last year. Still relatively new, the game-changing ride-sharing service was exposed in multiple scandalous stories throughout 2017, earning them a negative reputation in the public eye.
Several members of Uber’s top brass, including CEO business boy Travis Kalanick, had to step down in 2017. Now with new leadership, Uber has no choice in 2018 but to forge a way forward.
2017 in Review
Where does one begin to tell the story of Uber in 2017? You’d be hard-pressed to find another company that damaged their public image so much as to inspire the #DeleteUber campaign. It appears their decision to eliminate surge pricing and continue operating after Trump’s travel ban — when taxi drivers went on strike in protest of it — didn’t get them the reaction they were probably expecting.
Turns out that Uber’s competitor, Lyft was waiting in the wings to make a $1 million donation to the ACLU, turning the proverbial knife — and that was just January.
Shortly after allegations that the ride company was trying to take advantage of the taxi strike, Uber’s name once again hit the news when they were sued by none other than Google. The tech giant accused Uber of stealing self-driving car technology from Google-owned Waymo. The legal battle rages on in courts, with only whispers making it to the media.
Public and Private Embarrassments
For his next act, Kalanick managed to get caught on camera giving his own Uber driver a hard time — and what were they arguing about? Prices, interestingly enough.
The fun didn’t stop there. A New York Times investigation revealed that Uber was using technology to avoid giving rides to government officials, and Uber’s disregard to privacy went a step further when it was found that they were violating FTC policy by leveraging phone data used to prevent fraud as a method of secretly identifying and tagging user iPhones.
Additionally, in November, information came to light about a data breach in 2016 that leaked the information of 57 million passengers and drivers. Uber didn’t disclose it when it actually happened.
What else might go wrong for the company, you ask? Well, the company was held up on allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace. In a year when women are making great strides towards greater equality at work and in society in general, this was another big strike against their already tarnished record.
In short, 2017 wasn’t great for Uber — to put it mildly — but could 2018 be better for the company? Former Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has stepped in and vowed to change things. Unlike Kalanick, Khosrowshahi has adopted a more humble approach, admitting that Uber is facing challenges — challenges he thinks the company can overcome.
The new chief executive isn’t arriving alone, either. He’s added two new members to Uber’s board — former Xerox executive Ursula Burns and former Merril Lynch E-team member John Thain. Even though Travis Kalanick has excused himself from the role as CEO, he maintains a seat on the board, and some see Khosrowshahi’s board moves as positioning some support for himself.
Uber is still betting the farm on their transition to self-driving cars, a move that could free up significant cash flow by relieving the company of the need to pay human drivers. Self-driving cars don’t need to take breaks to eat, sleep or go to the restroom, and they are hypothetically much safer drivers than their flesh-and-blood counterparts. However, until then, Uber has over 160,000 drivers on their roster, operating in over 500 cities throughout the world.
Frankly, it would be difficult for Uber to do much worse than they did in 2017. A year spent out of the spotlight, cleaning up the embarrassing mess of harassment allegations and privacy violations would do wonders for Uber’s public image. Even after the mass-exodus of #DeleteUber, there’s still an army of loyal app users who need rides, and Uber is ready to take their money.