It’s a uniquely 2015 problem. On the one hand, Uber is one of the most convenient game-changing apps to come out of Silicon Valley over the last decade. On the other hand, it’s also probably an evil corporation hell-bent on crushing the rights and freedoms of innocent people. As Americans, we naturally love Uber because it let’s us call for a car anytime that we’re too drunk or too lazy to drive. Then someone comes and takes us where we need to go and we never have to do anything as anxiety-inducing as calling a cab service. However, Uber keeps trying to break our hearts by making terrible public statements about workers’ rights that make us feel like corrupt capitalist fat cats whenever we use the service. What’s a consumer to do?
Uber has been pushing its Chinese drivers to steer clear of protest areas, a sticking point between Uber and the Chinese government, which is concerned that the car-hailing service is being used by protestors and human rights activists to quickly organize. Uber sent drivers a stern warning that they were being tracked by GPS and that driving too near to a designated protest area could result in suspension. On the surface, this doesn’t sound so bad, until you read the statement released by Uber which sounds like it should be delivered by a Hunger Games villain.
“We firmly oppose any form of gathering or protest, and we encourage a more rational form of communication for solving problems.” That’s a pretty hefty statement coming from an American company operating in China. After all, the United States constitution specifically protects the freedom of peaceful assembly for U.S. citizens as a fundamental right. Uber doesn’t think that’s such a good idea and, to be fair, it’s not like the framers of the constitution ever invented an app, so what do they know about anything?
Uber considers its drivers to be independent contractors rather than employees, so it’s not really clear if they have the right to exercise this much control over their activities. Like its competitors, Uber is eager to keep operating in China, something it can only do if it stays on the good side of the local government. So far it’s been a tricky dance and Uber is obviously eager to make nice with the ruling party, what’s a little suppression of freedom compared to the massive cash influx Uber gets if it can crack the Chinese ride-sharing market wide open?