In an interview with Axios on HBO, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi called the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia's government a "mistake.”
"It's a serious mistake,” Khosrowshahi said. “We've made mistakes too, right, with self-driving … So I think that people make mistakes. It doesn't mean that they can never be forgiven."
Khosrowshahi then scrambled to walk back those comments in a phone call with Axios an hour later, issuing the following statement: “I said something in the moment that I do not believe. When it comes to Jamal Khashoggi, his murder was reprehensible and should not be forgotten or excused.”
Khosrowshahi was referring to a self-driving Uber car that hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona because it wasn't programmed to recognize jaywalking pedestrians. His response echoes Trump’s defense of Vladamir Putin. In 2017, Trump excused the Russian President's reputation as a ruthless authoritarian by saying the United States is not innocent either.
In both cases, they’re saying the quiet part loud and accidentally calling attention to the fact that wealthy and powerful individuals or states are held to different standards. Uber is implicated in the deaths of drivers in Brazil, suicides of taxi and app-based drivers in New York City, and a pedestrian jaywalking in Arizona. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince ordered the assassination of a journalist. And yet, those are “mistakes” others pay huge prices for.
It doesn’t really matter what statements Uber puts out—its amazing PR team is a huge reason why the company is still alive despite its reckless and illegal business practices, fundamental unprofitability, exploitative labor model, and culture of misogyny and sexual harassment. Look at what the company does, instead.
Khosrowshahi said he “didn’t know” if he would attend Saudi Arabia’s investment conference. The reality is that Saudi Arabia is not only Uber’s fifth-largest shareholder with an underwater investment of $3.5 billion, but the largest backer of Uber’s larger investor—the SoftBank Vision Fund, where the Kingdom has invested $45 billion. It doesn’t matter if he does or doesn’t go to the conference, he has gladly taken Saudi Arabia’s money.
On Monday, #boycottuber began trending on Twitter in the United States. The last time this happened, the #deleteUber hashtag was trending after the company tried to break taxi strikes at New York City airports in response to Trump’s Muslim Ban. The company lost hundreds of thousands of passengers in the process, but still hasn’t seemed to have learned anything. Let’s see what happens this time.