Former Uber executive Mark MacGann traveled from Cambridge to Boston for a meeting last week at the Globe in a Lyft.
That is less surprising than it seems, given that MacGann is also the Uber whistle-blower who leaked 124,000 internal company files to journalists last year.
The files — including emails, messages, memos, and presentations — cataloged numerous misdeeds at Uber from 2013 through 2017, mostly from the time when MacGann was the company’s head of public policy for Europe, Middle East, and Africa. The revelations included secret messages with French president Emmanuel Macron when Macron was economy minister as well as with other top European politicians. They also documented Uber’s software that could erase evidence during police raids, hide the service from regulators, and allow employees to spy on the travels of famous customers.
Of course that was all during the reign of Uber cofounder Travis Kalanick, who was replaced by Dara Khosrowshahi in 2017. But MacGann has bad news for people still taking Ubers to get around and hoping new management has eliminated all the problems.
“Uber is still behaving like a corporate bully,” MacGann explained during his visit to the Globe, speaking with a slight Irish brogue. Even with all of the bad behavior behind the scenes that MacGann witnessed, the core problem at the company remains Uber’s relationship with its drivers, he said.
That’s what led him to leak the files in 2022, six years after he’d left Uber. “What triggered it for me was was how workers, ‘platform workers’ as we called them, were being treated,” he said.
MacGann also wanted to make amends for his own role in helping Uber expand without regard for workers’ rights, he said.
“I wasn’t some innocent bystander,” he said. “I was very much part of convincing governments, media, broader society, that Uber was good for cities, good for drivers, good for workers. And I realized that I’d been party to selling a lie to people.”
Reached for comment, Uber pointed to a statement it released last year when the Uber files were making headlines. “We’ve moved from an era of confrontation to one of collaboration, demonstrating a willingness to come to the table and find common ground with former opponents, including labor unions and taxi companies,” the statement said. “We are now regulated in more than 10,000 cities around the world, working at all levels of government to improve the lives of those using our platform and the cities we serve.”
Massachusetts voters are likely to have a chance to weigh in next year on the economic fate of drivers for Uber and other so-called gig services. Both sides filed proposed ballot measures in August — one to allow gig workers to organize, and one to maintain their status as independent contractors — that will go before voters next fall if OK’d by the Supreme Judicial Court.
MacGann predicted Uber would lobby hard against the worker rights measure. “Uber is going to fight tooth and nail because there is a direct correlation between the concept of basic rights for those workers and how much that’s going to add to Uber’s bottom line,” he said.