Entry type: Single project
Country/area: United States
Publishing organisation: The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Guardian (United Kingdom, Australia), elDiarioAR (Argentina), Infobae (Argentina), La Nación (Argentina), ORF (Austria), PROFIL (Austria), De Tijd (Belgium), Knack (Belgium), Le Soir (Belgium), CBC/Radio Canada (Canada), Toronto Star (Canada), CONNECTAS (Colombia), Eesti Päevaleht (Estonia), YLE (Finland), France Info (France), Le Monde (France), Radio France (France), NDR (Germany), Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany), WDR (Germany), Direkt36 (Hungary), Indian Express (India), Irish Times (Ireland), Shomrim (Israel), L’Espresso (Italy), Daraj Media (Lebanon), Siena.lt / OCCRP (Lithuania), Proceso (Mexico), Quinto Elemento Lab (Mexico), Le Desk (Morocco), Het Financieele Dagblad (Netherlands), Investico (Netherlands), Trouw (Netherlands), Gazeta Wyborcza (Poland), RISE Project (Romania), istories (Russia), El País (Spain), La Sexta (Spain), Deutsche Welle (Turkey), BBC (United Kingdom), The Washington Post (United States), ARIJ (Yemen, Lebanon)
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 2022-07-10
Language: English, Spanish, German, French, Finnish, Hungarian, Italian, Arabic, Lithuanian, Dutch, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Swedish, Turkish
Authors: Journalists from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Guardian and more than 40 media partners in 29 countries.
A full list of journalists and media partners can be seen here:
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is a global network of reporters and media organizations who work together to investigate the most important stories in the world. Over the years, ICIJ has released dozens of investigations—including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Panama Papers—and has won many awards for its work.
A full list of media partners can be seen here:
A cross-border journalistic collaboration revealed how Uber stormed into markets around the world, how it used technology and evasive practices to thwart regulators and law enforcement in at least six countries and how it deployed a phalanx of lobbyists to court prominent world leaders to influence legislation and help it avoid taxes.
The investigation is based on a leak of sensitive texts, emails, invoices, briefing notes, presentations and other documents exchanged by top Uber executives, government bureaucrats and world leaders in nearly 30 countries. It provides an unprecedented look into the ways Uber defied taxi laws and upended workers’ rights.
The resulting impact was far-reaching, fueling angry protests in Italy, where taxi drivers blocked roads, a political scandal in France, where Emmanuel Macron came under fire from political opponents over a secret deal he forged for Uber’s lobbyists when he was economy minister, and controversy in the United States over the role played by two former White House aides in facilitating Uber’s global lobbying efforts.
Revelations about Uber’s use of a “kill switch” to prevent police and regulators from accessing sensitive data during raids in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, India and Hungary made headline news across the world. So too did revelations about Uber’s lobbying efforts in Putin’s Russia, where its executives, in a bid to win political support, courted several now-sanctioned oligarchs perceived as close to the Kremlin, and paid a political operative despite corruption concerns over the risk of bribery.
In Brussels, revelations about former EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes’s role in Uber’s lobbying efforts triggered an investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud agency and sparked a wider debate about the revolving door and lobbying of EU institutions. Responding to the disclosures, Ireland’s Taoiseach, Michéal Martin, said there should be “full transparency” about how businesses lobby EU governments.
Reverberations from the Uber files continue to be felt. As the EU considers legislation to reclassify millions of digital platform workers as employees, Politico observed how the disclosures have emboldened lawmakers to push for tighter regulation of digital platforms. Mark MacGann appeared before a committee of MEPs debating these proposals. Speaking alongside the EU Commissioner for jobs and social rights, the ex-lobbyist warned lawmakers that “giving disproportionate power in legislation to huge tech platforms risks shattering social justice” across Europe.
The Uber Files records were mostly emails, which comprised 83,000 of the leak’s 124,000 files. After receiving the files from The Guardian, ICIJ uploaded them onto its research platform, Datashare, allowing journalists from more than 40 media partners in 29 countries to search and review the documents. Datashare also converted the text of some files that were in French to English.
ICIJ built several databases using Apache Tika, Python, Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel. In the leak there were calendar files as well as message exchanges that pointed at potential meetings between Uber and public stakeholders such as politicians. ICIJ extracted details of scheduled meetings, then reviewed thousands of internal emails and messages to confirm that the meetings took place. Additionally, ICIJ explored public records in countries and institutions where officials are required to declare their meetings and schedules.
ICIJ also used public databases such as the European Union’s transparency register, the disclosure logs for the U.S. Senate, and the French lobbying registry.
ICIJ extracted the email addresses as well as names and domains linked to them. The information was organized on a spreadsheet to help identify key people that Uber executives contacted.
The team gathered information on correspondence between academics and Uber and later explored publicly available databases of academic papers to identify additional publications funded or supported by Uber.
ICIJ identified spreadsheets in the leaked records that contained information about what the company called potential “stakeholders” that could be of interest for Uber. ICIJ combined the information in one master spreadsheet and organized it by country to help partners’ reporting.
ICIJ and The Guardian used the WaybackMachine from the Internet Archive to analyze previous versions of Uber’s website and gather historical reports in a spreadsheet about how the location of the company’s operations grew and changed over time.
Context about the project:
The Uber Files is based on a collection of more than 124,000 records, including 83,000 emails and other files created between 2013 and 2017, a period when the U.S. ride-hailing giant was expanding across the globe. The files were leaked to The Guardian and shared with ICIJ. After publication, ex-Uber lobbyist Mark MacGann came forward as the source of the leak.
Like all leaks, the documents represent only a small slice of a larger reality. Not all countries where Uber had operations were mentioned in the records. The files covered only through 2017. As always, additional research and reporting was necessary.
The effort involved mining thousands of records that were shared securely and made searchable through ICIJ’s research platform Datashare.
An important part of the more than 124,000 records were emails. There were also calendar files, documents and some spreadsheets. The team had to organize the information to make sense of it and connect it with public records as well as reaching to different sources across countries as part of the reporting effort to identify the stories of public interest for the audience. The collaborative effort involving journalists from more than 40 media partners in 29 countries was central to address the complexities of the data and the reporting effort.
ICIJ also encountered a discrepancy between what the company said in its financial statements and what it told users on its website about how many markets it was in. The team had to check for methodological differences in the two figures. Uber eventually told ICIJ that “with respect to city counts, the way we calculated that number changed in 2020.”
ICIJ had to parse countries’ varying lobbying and meeting-disclosure records, accounting for variations in the type of data available and its quality. Not all countries have lobbying regulations or public lobbying records and not all require politicians to report the meetings they hold as part of their official responsibilities.
Despite the existence of a calendar, the files sometimes would suggest that a meeting might have taken place, however, it was not possible to know whether they happened or not or if an aid attended instead of an elected official. The team did additional reporting through public records and sources to confirm this information and expand the information on Uber’s tactics in trying to gain access to markets around the world.
Regular meetings and sharing findings and information across countries through ICIJ’s communication platform Global I-Hub, was also important to coordinate efforts and help connect the dots about Uber’s lobbying efforts and practices across countries.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
Keep in mind that having a centralized place to share documents securely and to communicate powers up a collaboration. For the Uber Files the team used ICIJ’s research tool Datashare (which is Open Source) and the Global I-Hub for communicating and coordinating efforts.
Remember to connect leaked data with public records. This helps with validation efforts and provides additional information that can be valuable for analysis.
Understand the limitations of each dataset, its structure and quality, and which questions can or can’t be answered through data analysis.
Review regulations across countries and how they affect data gathering and analysis. Talk to experts to get perspective of how regulations are applied in the real world.
When structuring data and performing different types of analysis, document the process and leave plenty of time for fact-checking. All data gathering and analyses performed by ICIJ for the Uber Files was fact checked.
Believe in the power of collaboration: through the contributions from journalists around the world it is possible to advance the reporting and connect the dots across borders. A collaborative approach where all team members have access to records as well as ongoing reporting findings is key while investigating corporations that operate across borders, and helps identify patterns and practices that repeat themselves in different countries.