Mark MacGann - whistleblower of The Uber Files

Mark MacGann - whistleblower of The Uber Files

Agata Malik-Bosak |

Mark MacGann, a former lobbyist for Uber, is now better known as a whistleblower from Uber. He was responsible for promoting the company's interests in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. In 2022 MacGann revealed to the Guardian more than 124 thousand internal business files (18.69 GB) related to the company's controversial strategies from 2013-2017. MacGann decided to disclose his identity as he believed Uber intentionally violated laws in many countries and misled the public about the advantages of its gig-economy model for drivers. The leaked documents, called the "Uber Files", cast doubt on the intentions of one of the largest ride-hailing companies in the world. The management was to try to bribe the most influential political leaders in exchange for regulations favorable to the company.

The leaked records exposed the executives' efforts to transform transportation laws in unwelcoming markets all over the world, including France, the Netherlands and Russia. The Uber Files revealed the company's international lobbying activities and political support, involving world figures, like: Joe Biden (then-U.S.Vice President), Emmanuel Macron (then-French Economy Minister), Benjamin Netanyahu (then-Israeli Prime Minister), Enda Kenny (then-Irish Prime Minister), former EU commissioner Neelie Kroes and others.

I’m exposing a system that sold people a lie.
Mark MacGann

Breaking the law

MacGann admitted his involvement in the deceptive conduct and expressed his remorse. His revelations detailed the manipulative tactics of Uber to persuade governments to adjust taxi regulations and create a more conducive business environment. This testimony aimed to help correct the malpractices and encourage corporate accountability. Driven by guilt-stricken, MacGann provided insights into his complex role in the company's rapid European expansion. He also took responsibility for the company policy and described himself as the one who insisted on changing the rules for drivers and painted a rosy picture of economic opportunities for users and employees. He regretted his involvement in strategies to weaponize Uber drivers. Based on published internal documents, the company encouraged them to stage protests or strikes, potentially putting them in harm.

During the entry process of Uber into a new country, MacGann was navigating regulatory challenges and advising how to operate within the existing legal framework. In Russia he tried to introduce Uber to the market and paid Alfa Bank deputy chairman $300 000 to lobby on behalf of the company and influence federal taxi legislation. The unfair company practices were expected to help to gain new markets by disregarding the law, deceiving the police, using violence against drivers, and secretly lobbying governments. Additionally, there was also the issue of tax avoidance and hiring drivers for the lowest rates on contracts that did not guarantee insurance.

According to MacGann, it was a premeditated action to run a national business without permission, often against the law. Uber followed the rule that although unauthorized, once launched, the application would be associated with something great, when people started to use it. Uber was infamous for its aggressive approach and clashes with traditional taxi services, which sometimes resulted in violence. While the company was spreading around the world, it met with protests of licensed taxi drivers who turned against Uber employees threatening their cars and lives.

I think it's worth it. Violence guarantees success.
Travis Kalanick, in reference to participating of the Uber drivers in violent protests in France

Macron’s involvement in the Uber Files scandal

The Uber Files cover 2014-2016, when Emmanuel Macron, President of France, was the French economy minister. The revealed information shows his role in a lobbying campaign for Uber. Macron exchanged at least 50 phone calls, e-mails, and text messages and took part in meetings with Uber executives which unequivocally proves his support for this cab-hailing company. According to leaked files, the current French president tried to change French law and make the company’s life easier in his country. The Uber managers even asked Macron for help in dealing with tax issues.

Another significant situation related to the entrance of Uber into France is the general strike of French taxi drivers in 2016 in Paris. Uber intended to introduce a “person-to-person” UberPop service, which allowed private persons to offer rides in their own cars based on car-sharing rules. In France, such a model was considered a banned and unregulated commercial transport service. So far, to become a licensed taxi driver, everyone has had to work under regulatory requirements, undergo 300 hours of obligatory training, and get a taxi license for up to 250,000 €. Therefore it is not surprising that the proposed privileges for Uber drivers were equal to protests and violent taxi wars. Finally, Uber decided voluntarily to withdraw UberPop in exchange for easing its drivers to get a license. Once UberPop had been suspended, Macron passed a ministerial decree on a cut in the training required for a licensed driver.

Macron left his government post in August 2016 to focus on the presidential campaign. However, his opposition claims that the French government is very supportive for Uber, perhaps more than any other government in the Western world.

Relationship between Uber and tax authorities in the Netherlands

Leaked records have revealed Uber's close relationship with tax authorities in the Netherlands, Uber's central hub, where the company also has numerous subsidiaries. Dutch officials and lawmakers noticed possible favorable treatment given to Uber. Internal messages leaked within the Uber Files indicate that Dutch authorities were intentionally slowing down the sharing of information during a tax audit of Uber in five European countries in 2015. The Dutch tax authorities were accused of violating European legislation and lack of transparency. Dutch State Secretary for Finance Marnix van Rij has initiated an internal investigation into the matter.

It seemed that the Netherlands could have helped the company avoid millions in taxes. The Dutch tax office denies any wrongdoing and emphasizes its fair treatment of all companies. Uber claims it is a digital platform, not a transportation company, allowing it to avoid certain costs. Dutch officials allegedly gave Uber time to organize its affairs, and the company eventually agreed to share driver data to focus the authorities' attention on the individuals instead of its own taxes.

How MacGann became a whistleblower

After leaving Uber in 2016, MacGann did not decide to reveal the breaches immediately. He had plenty of time during the pandemic years to reconsider all the knowledge he possessed. That time he used to recall information got from Uber drivers about the increasing company commission and simultaneous loss of driver economics.

Mark MacGann

Mark MacGann - Web Summit 2022
November 2, 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal
/ ©Ramsey Cardy/Web Summit via Sportsfile (CC BY 2.0)

The crucial inspiration to become a whistleblower came from Frances Haugen and her revelations about Facebook.

There is no excuse for how the company played with people’s lives. I am disgusted and ashamed that I was a party to the trivialization of such violence.
Mark MacGann

The personal safety of MacGann was threatened even after he left Uber. It resulted in the company providing him with a team of bodyguards. However, threats against him continued, and in 2017 taxi drivers attacked him at a station in Brussels. He linked this hostility to the confrontational approach of Uber towards traditional taxi services. MacGann says his experiences at Uber, including fear for his safety, contributed to a subsequent PTSD diagnosis.

The outcome of the Uber Files

Uber continues to defend its treatment of drivers and disputes with MacGann.

After the announced revelation, Uber acknowledged past wrongdoings but maintained the company had evolved since 2017 under the leadership of its new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, who replaced Travis Kalanick - former CEO and co-founder of Uber. Today, the company declares its transparency and respecting the drivers’ rights.

Since 2016, MacGann has advised international companies and has been a member of many supervisory boards.

He has been in litigation against Uber to get paid a bonus he claimed to be owed for his work at Uber. The resolved lawsuit resulted in the company having to pay MacGann €550 000.

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