Uber executive ‘regrets’ suggestion that firm could expose media critics

A senior executive at Uber, the controversial technology firm, has said he regrets suggesting that the company could dig up dirt on its media critics.

Black cab and licensed taxi drivers protest at Trafalgar Square over the mobile app Uber

The Silicon Valley firm launched its private car hire service in Leeds on Friday, its third city in the UK behind London and Manchester.

It now operates in 223 cities at 45 countries. The phenomenal growth has triggered multiple disputes with taxi firms and regulators across the world.

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Its latest controversy came after the news website Buzzfeed reported comments by Emil Michael, a senior vice president at Uber, at an event in Manhattan.

According to Buzzfeed, Mr Michael outlined the notion of spending “a million dollars” to hire a team to help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into “your personal lives, your families” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.

He reportedly singled out the editor of Silicon Valley website Pando Daily who has been a prominent critic of Uber.

Mr Michael said the hired team could “expose” the editor and “could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life”, according to Buzzfeed.

In a statement, Mr Michael said: “The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner – borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for – do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach.

“They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.”

A spokesman for Uber added: “We have not, do not and will not investigate journalists. Those remarks have no basis in the reality of our approach.”

Jo Bertram, general manager in the UK, Ireland and Nordics, told The Yorkshire Post last week that Uber is “bringing competition to an industry that hasn’t been shaken up in decades”.

She added: “We think that competition is good thing, both for riders and drivers, but obviously it can also be uncomfortable for some of those in the industry.”

David Richmond, chairman of Leeds-based Arrow Cars, said the arrival of Uber in Yorkshire would have a substantial impact by causing unrest among riders.

The unrest will generate publicity, which will lead to more downloads of the Uber mobile app, he said.

Uber is valued at more than $18bn and backed by the likes of Google and Goldman Sachs.

It cuts out the middleman by enabling users to book and pay for a private hire car directly through the app.