back to article Uber execs charged, will stand trial in France

French prosecutors have charged two key Uber executives with deceitful commercial practices, operating an illegal taxi service, and illicit storage of personal data. The pair were collared as they visited Paris cops to discuss the ongoing protests in the city over the taxi-booking app. The charges relate to the Uberpop service …

  1. toughluck
    Facepalm

    Nice way of shooting yourself in the foot, or both

    If they're found guilty, they're guilty. No amount of pleading how their service is oh-so-great will help them.

    It's said that it's easier to ask for forgiveness than for a permission. They're about to find out that's not the case. They will be outlawed and fined, and it's guaranteed that le gouvernement will stonewall and never approve Uber or similar services.

    They could have started by talking to the govt. and asking for regulations and confirming that there's nothing illegal or illicit in their activities and then launching the service, to the astonishment and powerlessness of taxi drivers and local councils.

    They could have gone to the EU Commish and ask to regulate Uber EU-wide, then they'd have the backing of at least some directives that they could throw in the face of the French, and claim good will.

    Now, they've thrown good will out the window, they barged in, flying in the face of regulations and they expect a pat on the head? They'll be lucky if they avoid jail time and if their drivers don't get fined [too much].

    What will happen next? Uber will appeal to the EU, but since they demonstrated they're not above breaking the law to carry their point across, nobody will listen to them. That way, they really shot, nay, blew away, both their feet in this pointless exercise.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nice way of shooting yourself in the foot, or both

      Not the Califonicating way of doing things I am afraid.

      It is a common feature of the post-dot.com generation of Silly Valley companies to look at foreign governments, laws and traditions as scum and treat them as scum. Uber is not alone here. PayPal and Ebay tried the same until they were reigned in by the Eu a decade ago. Google continues trying to do the same and one day will hopefully get the massive bitchslap it really deserves. If, of course, its investment into lobbying Washington in favour of the "Transatlantic Trade Partnership" does not pay off first. Then, in cases like this, Uber, Google and co can simply sue the relevant foreign government which has the audacity to have local laws that do not match their business model.

      1. Edwin

        Re: Nice way of shooting yourself in the foot, or both

        This is true only because they owned the US government YEARS ago.

        But the audacity of Uber is pretty astonishing.

        Interesting question: will they throw their own staff under the bus? Will they cease and desist if these guys go to jail, or will they just hire some new execs and carry on?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nice way of shooting yourself in the foot, or both

      "They could have started by talking to the govt. and asking for regulations and confirming that there's nothing illegal or illicit in their activities and then launching the service, to the astonishment and powerlessness of taxi drivers and local councils."

      I can just picture Uber execs going to Le Gouvernement, hat in hand, and getting prompt action on their requests. The taxi drivers and local councils of 2040 will be astonished!

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Christian Berger Silver badge

      wrong assumption

      You seem to assume that Uber is about creating a sustainable business. Uber, like virtually all "Bubble 2.0" company strives to blow up a company as quickly as possible while cashing out wages and perhaps be bought by some big company for 23 phantastillions a bit later.

    5. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: Nice way of shooting yourself in the foot, or both

      "They could have gone to the EU Commish and ask to regulate Uber EU-wide, then they'd have the backing of at least some directives that they could throw in the face of the French, and claim good will."

      Or they could have simply set themselves up under the limo, hackney, minicab legislation that every other firm operates under in each jurisdiction.

      Instead Uber thought all that legislation was for losers and decided to ignore it completely. It turns out that some places have a serious problem with companies that break the law.

    6. fletch92131
      Unhappy

      Re: Nice way of shooting yourself in the foot, or both

      Unfortunately, that's the nature of dealing with a Socialist Government, true France

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    refreshing

    to see some execs who broke the law actually get arrested for once.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: refreshing

      to see some execs who broke the law actually get arrested for once.

      allegedly broke the law. The trial hasn't been held yet, it's a bit soon to pass sentence.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: refreshing

        "allegedly broke the law. The trial hasn't been held yet, it's a bit soon to pass sentence."

        Although strictly correct, Uber have been told by two courts that their business operation is illegal and those execs have continued to operate the illegal business. In most peoples books that's pretty cut and dried, even if there is still an appeal to see if Uber can convince everyone they are legal and cuddly. while awaiting the result of that appeal they have to abide by the law which says Uber are wrong.

  3. dan1980

    Good.

    Putting aside any comments about Uber as a service or about the drivers, I find their management to be very cynical and to be operating in bad faith.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      yep

      I agree. The whole ask for forgiveness instead of permission is bad enough when its on your servers (ala Facebook) but when its affects safety in the real world being a total douche nozzle besides is not he way to go. Oh well they got Arizona's new idiot governor to be their unofficial spokesman. So much easier for him to do that then fix the state's broken school system.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Now that was true understatement...

  4. asdf Silver badge
    Trollface

    illegal is often disruptive

    >New technology can be disruptive, especially for established industries

    Is that what that the owner of The Silk Road was saying?

    1. Keef
      Coat

      Re: illegal is often disruptive

      "Is that what that the owner of The Silk Road was saying?"

      I never said that. oops, best be going...

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. cyrus

    Economic Opportunities

    I always look sideways at this who use several syllables when one will do.

  7. astrax

    Screw Uber!

    I have no time for Uber what so ever. The fact that a few execs are being prosecuted is not necessarily a good indicator of Uber's disregard for following government protocol, but it does add weight to that argument when you consider the sheer volume of negative press the company has had across several countries. For me, when Uber put up the fares during the Sydney massacre that summed up the company in its entirety.

    They would have been better served pushing their tech to the established Taxi services rather than directly competing with them, thus avoiding a lot of the crap they've now become associated with.

    1. dan1980

      Re: Screw Uber!

      @astrax

      I am no fan of Uber (I don't use them) but the fare increase during the 'Sydney siege' is fully understandable - it's is called surge pricing and not only is it automated, it is a main component of the service.

      It is actually something they advertise - and the logic is that it should help equalise supply and demand so that when demand goes up, prices go up and so more drivers will sign on and head to the area, increasing supply.

      Taxis have different rates for different times of day and days of the week so what would you say if there was something like this happening at 11pm on a Saturday night and people taking a taxi were being charged the highest rate?

      Anger at the surge pricing was simply due to an ignorance of one of Uber's core mechanisms.

      Indeed, when some friends of mine who love Uber justify it by saying that it's quicker to get an Uber when it's busy than a taxi, which mechanism is responsible for that?

      I don't use Uber because I feel that it is unfair to the taxi drivers who have followed the rules and paid their registration fees, but I have no problem at all with 'surge pricing'. If you want a fixed price, use a taxi.

      1. astrax

        Re: Screw Uber!

        @dan

        Hi dan, you make some very valid points and I do agree with some of them, however there are two major things to consider here:

        1). Surge pricing is totally opaque to the customer and is subject to instantaneous alteration whereas a licensed meter is predefined and therefore consistent regardless of the rate. If the massacre happened at 11.00pm then you would be paying the identical fare if the journey was occurring at 11.00pm on any other day. This is not true of Uber.

        2). Uber made a public apology after the incident because they knew they messed up big time. In reference to my first point, Uber must have had a price controller think "Hmm, that massacre has really pushed up the client number, let's up the pricing and make another killing...". Someone had to physically push the buttons to increase the price and this is just plain disgusting.

        Anyway, kudos to you for supporting the legit Taxi drivers :)

        1. dan1980

          Re: Screw Uber!

          @astrax

          "Uber must have had a price controller think "Hmm, that massacre has really pushed up the client number, let's up the pricing and make another killing...". Someone had to physically push the buttons to increase the price and this is just plain disgusting."

          Actually no, that's not true - it's an automated system. The prices are based on an algorithm that kicks in without human intervention.

          There are, however, people monitoring this at the Uber control centre and certain managers do some discretion to lower the price below what the algorithm has set.

          Unfortunately, this may mean that less drivers log on and so the purpose of the price increases (to get more drivers) is defeated and the situation worsens because supply isn't increasing with the demand.

          In the instance of the 'Sydney Siege', therefore, their options were to leave the algorithm alone (which is what they did at the start), reduce the multiplier (which would have reduced supply) or to keep the multiplier for the drivers but reduce it for the customers (which would leave them out-of-pocket).

          The key point is that Uber doesn't get to control how many drivers are available - that's left up to the drivers themselves. This is a major part of Uber and intrinsic to their very point of differentiation. In order to keep up with demand, Uber has to incentivise drivers to log on and take jobs and the way they do that is to offer them higher rates which, unsurprisingly, is paid for by higher fares.

          It's the very heart of Uber - it's a flexible system that is dictated by the basic principles of supply and demand and this is the main way that it is different - in function - from a taxi service.

          If Uber didn't have surge pricing, imagine how difficult it would have been for Uber customers to get a ride during the siege? Do you really think drivers would have flocked to the city - the place people were being told to leave - in the middle of the day if they were only going to get normal rates?

          1. astrax

            Re: Screw Uber!

            I'll concede I'm not 100% sure that Uber do not have the capacity to manually up the charges, although I would be suprised if they didn't. In any case, from an ethical perspective, whether they put up the charges or refused to lower them, the result is ultimately the same.

            Imagine the NHS was totally privatised back in 2005. When the London bombs went off, also imagine the public response if NHS staff turned around and said "We're serverly understaffed, we have no choice but to increase our costs in hope more Doctors and Nurses will come in...". Yes, Uber and the NHS are entirely different beasts. Yes, the staffing systems used are entirely different as well. In fact, it's a poor comparison by all accounts. What I'm trying to illustrate is when you mention the phrase "we need more money" in the context of a life and death situation, as an external observer you have to ask yourself "did you really exhaust every avenue to deal with the situation?".

            Uber could have: a). reduced the surge pricing when the event happened, b). offered an incentive to drivers (i.e. zero/reduction in commission payable to Uber) c). offered partial refunds to customers later on down the line. Option b would have increased the number of drivers on the road, and the other two options would have been the decent thing to do. Instead, option d, the "higher fares" option was used. If you think the surge pricing was to the benefit of the customers/victims, I think you are a little naive.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    About time

    Impressive. When a company, or person, with money violates the law they only get a slap on the wrist. When an individual violates the law, they get jail time (assuming no violation of Rule [1]).

    It appears that France is the only jurisdiction with enough guts to apply the laws equally without concern for the prejudicial influence of money or power. We do not yet know if the charges will stick, and what and if a jury will find them guilty [of], but to have a corporate officer arrested for responsibility to legal violations of their business, is certainly a great start.

    Go France! (?)

    1. boltar

      Re: About time

      "to have a corporate officer arrested for responsibility to legal violations of their business, is certainly a great start."

      No, its not. Forget about Uber for a second - do you think a company employee should be arrested for the policies of the company itself even if he had may have had nothing to do with their inception or even their implementation and was simply doing his job? If you do then you're setting a very VERY bad precedent. This sort of thing already happens in countries where the law is basically whatever the people in charge decide it to be such as in Russia and its simply scares business away.

      There's a number of reasons companies have a legal existence - one of the reasons is to protect the people who work for them. However it seems the French are only too happy to ride roughshod over this de facto international agreement.

      I'd be interested to see how the French react if other countries suddenly started arresting random Airbus employees for the alledged bribery incidents there have been in the past. Badly I'd imagine.

      1. Andrew Moore Silver badge

        Re: About time

        The problem is, unless you start making senior execs culpable to the illegal actions of the companies they serve, then you risk creating an marketplace where other companies will flaunt laws based purely on the fact that none of their employees will be held accountable.

        And I don't agree with arresting random Airbus employees, but I do agree with arresting Airbus top execs.

      2. Swarthy Silver badge

        Re: About time (@ boltar)

        Errm, there's a bit of a difference between "employee" and "General Manager".

        When a company's business model is illegal in the country, and the GM continues to implement it, then, yes they should face jail time. By your logic, had Silk Road incorporated, Ulbricht would be a free man.

        1. boltar

          Re: About time (@ boltar)

          "When a company's business model is illegal in the country, and the GM continues to implement it, then, yes they should face jail time"

          How did they continue to implement it? Its an app with servers based in the USA.

          "By your logic, had Silk Road incorporated, Ulbricht would be a free man."

          And by your logic any company that carried out something potentially illegal in some territory - though as yet untested in court - could expect their employees arrested and slung in prison. Nice one. Russia did that with Khodorkovsky and it ended up with Amnesty International getting involved.

          But oh ok , uber are taxi company that a lot of vested interests don't like so instead of taking the company to court lets arrest some management and strong arm them, right? Well ok, if France does this then expect more of it around the world. Why bother going to court if you can just abuse the human rights of its employees instead. Welcome to 3rd world justice...

          1. Swarthy Silver badge

            Re: About time (@ boltar)

            Untested in court?! This is the same UberPop that was found unlawful in court, and then again on appeal. I don't see how Khodorkovsky is related: that was a witch hunt to separate a man from the wealth that the state wanted to acquire, and the charges were against the man himself for things the state said he did.

            Charging Executives for illegal business practice/policy that they decide and implement, even after being aware that it is illegal, is nothing like the above, it is implementing some accountability.

            Also, did you miss the part where Uber was taken to court, told to stop running UberPop in France, appealed, were told to stop again, and have continued operating UberPop in France (by continuing to have France as a service area)?

      3. strum Silver badge

        Re: About time

        >do you think a company employee should be arrested for the policies of the company itself even if he had may have had nothing to do with their inception or even their implementation and was simply doing his job?

        If he's broken the law - yes. "I was just following orders" ceased to be an acceptable excuse 70 years ago.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "I was just following orders"

          "I was just following orders" is a perfectly good excuse in most circumstances because of the legal principle of "mens rea" (though that particular term is not applicable to French law). For example, if your boss tells you to take a parcel to the post office you're not automatically guilty when the parcel turns out to contain a bomb. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the senior people in Uber are found to have committed crimes, but I also wouldn't be surprised if they manage to escape criminal convictions. Unfortunately, there are many precedents for company executives not getting punished for what looks like criminal behaviour by their companies.

      4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: About time

        "one of the reasons is to protect the people who work for them."

        Enron? Guiness? Guess what? "random" employers were not arrested and charged. Just people at the top who broke the law. Two French courts have ruled Ubers business model illegal so now two top execs have been arrested for continuing to run the business. At the very least that's contempt of court and most courts take that VERY seriously. See the AssangeTM debacle for how courts treat contempt.

  9. ratfox Silver badge

    Bound to happen

    When you create a service that is against current regulations, hoping that the popularity of the service will force the government to change the law, you risk something like that happening…

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bound to happen

      I thought that it got popular first. THEN the govt tried threats to kill it, then passed a law to kill it (a few weeks ago), and now are arresting and charging people with that law. It seems the French Government really wants Uber dead, for some reason.

  10. boltar

    As usual the french make up the law as they go along

    I'm not fan of Uber, but you don't arrest individual members of staff of a company for the policies and activities of the company itself even if those policies might be in a grey area of commercial law. Joking aside, would they have arrested Bill Gates with the MS bundling controversy in the 90s or Larry Page and Sergey Brin because of the recent dispute with Google? I don't think so. But because their militant unions are kicking up a fuss about Uber - with some justification - as usual the french government bend over and keep the baying crowd happy. Still, weak and pathetic is what you get in french government whether right or left wing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: As usual the french make up the law as they go along

      "you don't arrest individual members of staff of a company for the policies and activities of the company"

      Yes you do, because if you didn't all criminals would avoid prosecution simply by incorporating themselves.

    2. Velv Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: As usual the french make up the law as they go along

      "you don't arrest individual members of staff of a company for the policies and activities of the company itself even if those policies might be in a grey area of commercial law"

      Yes, yo do. Company directors are legally accountable for the actions of the "company", that is one of the joys of being a company director.

      And they aren't breaking commercial law. Uber is breaking criminal law, a criminal law which was largely put in place to protect the innocent public. There is an arguement the law may be outdated, but that never gives anyone the right to break it without being subjected to judicial investigation.

      1. Lyndon Hills 1

        Re: As usual the french make up the law as they go along

        This isn't something only the French have done. I remember some senior management of one of the gambling firms being arrested in the USA, on the basis that they took bets from Americans. Personally I think what Uber are doing in France is far more reprehensible.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: As usual the french make up the law as they go along

          "I remember some senior management of one of the gambling firms being arrested in the USA, on the basis that they took bets from Americans."

          Yes, IIRC it was a Brit operating an online gambling site from Costa Rica and he was just "passing through" the US when he was arrested for the crime of allowing US residents to place bets. None of the operation was on US soil (I think). There have been other similar cases, it's neither new nor unique to one jurisdiction.

    3. User McUser
      FAIL

      Re: As usual the french make up the law as they go along

      you don't arrest individual members of staff of a company for the policies and activities of the company itself

      Right, well as soon as you figure out a way to arrest and imprison corporations, you be sure and let us know.

      Meanwhile we'll all just have to settle for the next best thing; arresting the people who *carried out* those company policies.

  11. Vector

    “We are keen to continue talking to the French government about the regulatory framework for services like Uber"

    Meanwhile, we'll just do whatever we damn well please regardless of the framework currently in place.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How dare those regulated and licenced taxi drivers who have probably had to pay quite a bit of money for the privilege complain about a company coming in and taking their livelihood, do they not know that Uber is American and they don't follow other countries laws? sacre bleu.

  13. DrXym Silver badge

    "New technology can be disruptive"

    Which may be true but in this case is utter bollocks. There are lots of taxi hailing apps that work just like Uber but which summon an actual taxi to your location, a taxi that is licenced, insured, inspected and driven by someone who has undergone all the necessary background checks and tests.

    So its nothing to do with technology or disruption so much as with Uber running an illegal taxi service. Their service might be a bit more high tech than some dodgy mini cab drivers but it's largely no different.

    1. Sykobee

      Re: "New technology can be disruptive"

      But but but those taxi drivers paid loads of money for their anti-competitive market-size restricting taxi token. Seriously, I saw figures of two hundred thousand euros being bandied about. The tokens were originally free from the government.

      What are they going to do when self-drive vehicles actually work well? What taxi firm is going to think "hey, let's have the overhead of an actual physical driver in the taxi"? A (self-driving) car isn't going to molest a passenge, doesn't need years of route knowledge (it has GPS), isn't going to break the law. And so far, it looks like a car is unlikely to be the cause of an accident, so the insurance aspect is going to be very interesting.

      Obviously, France will have quite different insurance rules for self-driving cars, to protect the taxi driver cartel.

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Re: "New technology can be disruptive"

        It's not "anti-competitive". There are in the order of 20 or so taxi firms around my current location. They manage to compete with each other just fine.

        And yeah getting a licence probably is a big investment and probably there should be rules that govern how a licence is transferred. But that's not argument for ignoring the system entirely just because a company doesn't feel like it. An unlicenced mini cab operation would be shut down as soon as its discovered. I see no reason that the same doesn't apply to Uber.

  14. Andrew Moore Silver badge

    But, but, but...

    I thought Uber were going in to lecture the French authorities on their (the French legal system's) "misunderstandings"

  15. big_D Silver badge

    Disruption?

    New technology can be disruptive, especially for established industries but Uber is helping to create tens of thousands of new economic opportunities--as well as a reliable, convenient way to get from A to B. There is a way forward, with regulation that is focused on the needs and safety of the public, while also allowing more people to take advantage of these new opportunities.

    New technology can disrupt, no problems there. But they are not disrupting, they are flagrantly breaking the law. If they want to disrupt, they should ensure they either do so within the law, or get the law changed before "disrupting"...

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