Uber ‘co-opted democracy’, Irish whistleblower tells EU Parliament

26 Oct 2022

Mark MacGann at the annual meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China in 2017. Image: Sikarin Fon Thanachaiary/World Economic Forum (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Former Uber lobbyist Mark MacGann told lawmakers that the ride-sharing company ‘weaponised’ its drivers and customers.

Irish MEP Grace O’Sullivan has said it is “time to show Uber the door” as she called on the EU and the Irish Government to clamp down on tech companies that break European labour and privacy laws.

O’Sullivan, who is a member of the Green Party, made her comment following a speech given by Uber whistleblower Mark MacGann to the European Parliament yesterday (25 October).

Speaking to lawmakers, MacGann called out the ride-sharing service for its “growth at all costs” approach to business, saying it “co-opted democracy” and “weaponised” drivers and customers.

Irishman MacGann is a former head of public policy at Uber. He was one of several speakers to address the parliamentary hearing amid negotiations on a proposal to force companies to pay gig economy workers a minimum wage and provide access to other workers’ rights.

The former lobbyist’s speech was met with a standing ovation.

“He revealed the massive range of dirty tactics employed by Uber, which has a large subsidiary in Ireland with a turnover of around €1m,” said O’Sullivan. “Academics paid to present skewed datasets, aggressive union-busting, the wholesale of personal user data.”

Uber ‘co-opted democracy’

Earlier this year, MacGann revealed Uber’s aggressive lobbying practices between 2013 and 2017, exposing the ride-hailing tech giant’s sometimes ruthless techniques to expand globally.

Called the Uber Files, this information came from more than 124,000 documents that were leaked to The Guardian and shared to media internationally via the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

MacGann led Uber’s efforts to lobby governments in the EMEA region between 2014 and 2016, a time during which he claims Uber exploited its influence to underpay drivers.

“When politicians tried to stop us or slow us down, we co-opted democracy itself by leveraging consumers’ political power, putting very public pressure on elected officials to back off, drowning them in millions of driver petitions,” he said at yesterday’s hearing.

“We told politicians that we would agree to stop the controversial, illegal UberPOP service if they changed the law in the way that we wanted. We weaponised our drivers and we weaponised our customers. They were ours to use in the service of the mission.”

MacGann also claimed that the EU was “complicit” in Uber’s unethical practices because it allows “member states to compete against each other to attract these foreign companies” to their countries. “I think there has to be greater intellectual honesty within the member states.”

Politicians lobbied by Uber in the period in question include current US president Joe Biden, former Taoiseach Enda Kenny, former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former UK chancellor George Osborne and current French president Emmanuel Macron.

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Mark MacGann. Image: Sikarin Fon Thanachaiary/World Economic Forum (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic