As if the decision by Transport for London (TfL) not to renew the operating licence for driver and rider matching service Uber were not bad enough for the company, it is now becoming clear that the petition to reinstate that licence has run into serious trouble, not least over its credibility. This matters, because the number of signatures bolsters the pre-determined narrative that three and a half million Londoners use Uber.
Given that there are probably no more than 25,000 Uber drivers out there - the claim of 40,000, like so much of the company’s propaganda, is a significant exaggeration - many of those three and a half million may have downloaded the app, but are either very occasional users of it, or don’t use it at all. Moreover, the idea that more than half a million signatures have been garnered for the petition is also proving questionable.
While Uber’s new boss Dara Khosrowshahi, who has the unenviable task of disinfecting the CEO’s quarters after the departure of the deeply unsavoury Travis Kalanick, says he and his company are sorry, and asks his customers to “work with us”, it has become clear that some old Uber habits are not yet dead - like playing fast and loose with the rules.
Uber’s use of customer data to fiddle the figures on its petitions had been known about for around two years, as Dan O’Connell pointed out on Twitter. But it took some actual experiences to show the world what they were up to with their London campaign. First, a Tweeter called Ms Jane Austin observed “I've just had a post from #change.org added to my Facebook page saying that I'd signed a petition in support of #uber. I didn't sign”.
And then she joined up the dots with the company’s earlier efforts: “It’s looking like #uber is orchestrating a campaign of falsified petitions. Get on this @guardiannews”. That prompted London taxi driver Paul Madden, a green badge holder for more than thirty years, to do a little investigating of his own. And what he found was that the Uber petition was not at all particular who signed it, or their declared motives.
Having signed it as “Jack the Ripper”, along with a matching Cod email address, he Tweeted out his findings with the comment “Well that’s the #Uberpetition signed!! Can’t wait to get back in the Prius”. And there was worse to come.
The petition to “Save Uber” in London is available not just to Londoners, and indeed not just to those living in the UK. Moreover, one does not even have to have used Uber at any time in the past. Anyone in the rest of the world can sign it.
To say that this leaves the exercise open to widespread abuse is one of the great understatements of the decade. Besides, as Matthew Black has pointed out in reply to Uber’s protests over the loss of service to its “3.5 million customers” and “40,000 drivers”, which the company claimed didn’t work for it in the first place, “All you need to do is comply with your industry regulations, surely?”
Uber's London petition is a fiddle. And doesn’t address the real issue. No change there.