Technology

Uber dinner chat causes massive row with journalists

Uber drivers do not need to do the Knowledge Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Uber drivers do not need "the knowledge" - a test all London black-cab drivers must pass

A row between Uber and the press has escalated after a senior executive at the lift-sharing company suggested it may hire a team to dig dirt on reporters who had written negatively about it.

Emil Michael's comments followed a series of articles questioning the ethics of Uber.

The company's rapid expansion in cities across the world has attracted critics.

After his remarks were written up on BuzzFeed, Mr Michael apologised.

"The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner - borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for - do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company's views or approach," he said in a statement.

"They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them."

Later, Uber spokeswoman Nairi Hourdajian said: "We have not, do not and will not investigate journalists.

"Those remarks have no basis in the reality of our approach".

There appeared to be confusion over whether the dinner chat had been "off-the-record".

While Mr Michael had clearly thought it was, journalist Michael Wolff, who organised it, later admitted that he had failed to tell others that.

Uber 'sexism'

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Media captionRory talks to Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick

The report was written up by BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith following the dinner in New York.

The article detailed how Mr Michael had mooted the idea of spending $1m to hire top researchers and journalists to lead a fight back against recent bad press.

Mr Michael reportedly said that team could look "into your personal lives, your families".

In particular the executive singled out PandoDaily editor Sarah Lacy, who had recently accused the firm of "sexism and misogyny".

In a previous article she had said that she had deleted the Uber app after a French promotion appeared to pair riders with "hot chick" drivers.

Mr Michael said it was more likely that women would get assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers. He added that Ms Lacy should be held "personally responsible" for any woman who deleted Uber and was later sexually assaulted.

Ms Lacy seemed to be in no mood to accept the apology.

"Uber's dangerous escalation of behaviour has just had its whistleblower moment, and tellingly, the whistleblower wasn't a staffer with a conscience, it was an executive boasting about the proposed plan," she wrote.

David v Goliath

A series of recent articles have raised questions about the way Uber does business.

Its practice of charging more at peak times has also been criticised.

The BBC reported an allegation from taxi app Hailo that Uber would only talk to potential investors if they agreed not to invest in Hailo or other rivals.

Recently chief executive Travis Kalanick hit back at criticism, likening his firm to David versus the Goliath taxi industry.

The firm has raised more than $1.5bn (£957m) in venture capital and expanded in cities across the US and Europe.

It faces opposition from taxi firms, which argue that Uber and rivals such as Lyft and Sidecar, do not face the same strict regulation as they do.

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