Uber, it’s probably fair to say, is a pretty controversial company.
It’s product has disrupted the taxi industry in untold cities around the world, it has raised huge amounts of capital ($8bn and counting) on the promise of disrupting it in more in the years to come (and other industries too) and is often beloved by its users.
But, it also has an incredibly aggressive approach to its competitors which some have argued is unethical, has been accused of not taking customer safety seriously*, has seemed to threaten to harass journalists, is rumoured to have major problems in its biggest market and has an “ask forgiveness not permission” approach to regulation, which could leave passengers at risk of being uninsured in the event of an accident and drivers with no workers’ rights.
This last point is the one that is probably causing the biggest ripples around the world, as local and national governments struggle with the challenge of how to update decades old regulations to ensure that their citizens can be relatively sure that if they get into a cab, it is safe to do so. The most recent example of this has seen Transport For London issue a consultation process on how to regulate taxis which has caused uproar on all sides.
Uber, repeating a successful tactic from New York, has encouraged its users to publicly show their support, often in the form of a tweet, with the wording:
Let @TFL know riders and drivers com first #UbermovesLDN.
And that’s where this starts getting interesting.
Because one of those tweets, by an individual, was then retweeted by the official account of Mindshare, thereby, in my opinion at least, seeming to back Uber and take a position in an incredibly complex political issue.
So, leaving aside the rights or wrongs of the consultation itself, a couple of questions that we, as an industry, might want to consider:
- Do we feel that organisations should take political stances? Have we all bought into the “money = free speech” direction that the US has taken?
- Should they do so on highly complex issues like transport regulation and urban traffic?
- Should they, in doing so, openly support what is, at its heart, a massive corporation which ultimately has its own interests at heart?
- And should they do so when doing so puts them in a position of opposition to an organisation which spends large amounts on paid media (as well as being one of the largest owners of outdoor media sites in the UK) and could, presumably, be a potential client in the future?
I used to work for Mindshare and have managed some of their official blogs and Twitter accounts; they’re a company I love and respect. I also used to work on the TFL account and think that there is a serious conversation to be had about how an incredible company like Uber can be brought into a modern regulatory framework (this strikes me as making a good first stab).
But that conversation is likely to take a lot more than 140 characters and I just wonder whether Mindshare, or any agency, really ought to be part of it.
*That list of reported incidents is on a website maintained by a taxi interest group: that doesn’t make the stories it links to any less accurate (or otherwise) and this post isn’t meant to be a critique of Uber, merely seeks to highlight what a complex company it is, as are the issues that surround it.