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Uber faces criminal probe over software used to evade authorities (reuters.com)
883 points by techlover14159 224 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 559 comments



Seems like a lot of people are confused/have questions about why Uber is being criminally investigated by the Department of Justice.*

Here's why:

1. Uber is subject to the laws in the jurisdictions in which it operates. Evading authorities is textbook obstruction of justice. Not only did Uber build software that they used to evade authorities & break local laws in multiple states and countries, but they profited from it (which has a variety of other RICO implications.)

2. Sure, corporations are people too, but, nonetheless, only people engage in civil disobedience. Related, for courts, a company that profits from violating of local laws is not a protester or freedom fighter battling injustice, it is criminal enterprise.

3. Charging Uber under RICO would by no means be unusual or a stretch; this is a quite run of the mill application of these laws. (eg see Preet Bharara's RICO prosecutions: https://www.google.com/search?q=preet+bharara+rico+prosectio... )

4. This is unquestionably a federal matter, within the DOJ's jurisdiction. Uber operates across state lines--and used Greyball in multiple jurisdictions. That said, Uber could & likely will face criminal investigation in other jurisdictions.

5. Finally, this is definitely not Trump's revenge on Travis. Not only does it simply not work that way--USAs are independent & it'd be beyond illegal, but this specific USA was appointed by Obama. (There were two Trump didn't fire; USA Stretch is one of them)

(*And, yes, I am a lawyer. And, many years ago, I worked at the Department of Justice)


Forget software, here in Miami where Uber drivers were initially operating illegally (cited with violating 2 municipal ordinances each being a ~$1,010 civil fine, but escalates to criminal charge after the 3rd such violation) Uber sent emails to driver training them on avoiding detection (e.g. When at airport take down phone; have drivers sit up front; etc...). I imagine there are similar emails for every county, city that were actively citing drivers for legal violations.

Worse the drivers usually use a Lawyer selected and paid for by Uber, and guess what that lawyer isn't some independent traffic lawyer it's Uber's FL lobbyist. Though these charges are years old, last I check none were resolved and still $2M-$3M in fines owed to Miami.

To this day in Miami, it's not uncommon for drivers to allow undocumented immigrants without drivers licenses to use their Uber car/account.


I would hope the drivers always sit up front!


I think rider auto corrected to driver...here is a link to a copy of the alleged Uber email to Miami driver's [1].

I don't believe they misspelled anything but if you change the charge from illegal ride for hire to prostitution, drugs, etc... it's Fairly easy to see organized crime... some of our drivers/prositutes/dealers have got into legal trouble, while we work to lobby to change the law, you can hopefully avoid legal trouble by x,y,z but don't forget if you do get in legal trouble we will pay the fines and provide a lawyer (so you have no clue what's going on and we can cover our ass).

[1] https://uberpeople.net/threads/welcome-to-miami-internationa...


Wow. I read that link and they flat out tell their people how to get around the airport ban. They tell the drivers not to have the app in view, keep it in your cup holder, ask the passenger to sit up front and say your a friend if asked. Drop the passenger off as far away from the terminal door if possible. And if you do get caught they'll provide you with a lawyer and pay the 1100 dollar fine up to 3 times before deactivating you. That last one is messed up, like sorry you're fired for not being sneaky enough


Here is what's even worse:

1. The way it was working in Miami is drivers would get 2 tickets when they were stopped, I think a. No taxi license; b. Illegal ride for hire. Both are $1,010 so a total of $2,020 per stop;

2. The laws escalate from civil penalties to criminal charges upon the 3rd such violation (I.e. 2nd stop could be criminal)

3. This also means 2 stops and you are out from your Uber driving

4. I don't think Uber has actually paid anyone's fines, at least it appears all these years later articles say the fines are still outstanding.


This has actually happened to me. Can confirm.


I've had my share of back-seat drivers.



<it's not uncommon for drivers to allow undocumented immigrants without drivers licenses to use their Uber car/account> pulling an Uber on Uber


In Brazil, there are now Uber users, with fleets of cars, who no longer have to drive themselves, since these users rent the cars out to unemployed people (or those unable to have their own car) in exchange for a large part of the profits.


Its bad, but isnt it actually exactly the same why the current taximedalion and similar systems work today? A person or company buys the expensive right to drive a taxi service, and employs people to do just that?


same in Ukraine, street posts are plastered with ads for Uber drivers, meaning they give you a car and you get to keep ~50% of fees and ~10% of bonus


This is a good thing though, isn't it?


Not entirely. Adding more middle men isn't a good thing, and depending on the terms for renting the car, they can be obscenely predatory. I know Uber and Lyft's rental terms are pretty shitty.


> Adding more middle men isn't a good thing

Would the people who chose employment through them as a preferable choice to other options (or unemployment) agree with you?


>Would the people who chose employment through them as a preferable choice to other options (or unemployment) agree with you?

It's not just about them. These drivers are effectively working for 50% of what other drivers are making. This drives down the median wage for all other drivers, because more middle men will be able to step in and outcompete independent drivers. Overall, you get more people working longer hours for less compensation.

To what end? Who really benefits from this trend?


> Overall, you get more people working longer hours for less compensation

So then the solution to increasing wages is simply to ban hard-working, willing people from taking jobs! Brilliant. Let's force them to be unemployed just so that those who are allowed to work can make a bit more money.

The biggest flaw in your argument is that it completely leaves out the value of experience. Those lower-wage drivers are not signing up for a lifetime of low-wage driving, they are taking a job that they can leave after a few months after gaining useful/valuable experience.

The beauty of Uber is that it offers the opportunity of part-time commitment work to many people who have not had the option before.

Now, instead of pouring a stiff drink to reduce the stress of personal debt (for example) someone can hop in their car and make a few hundred dollars and actually do something about it. The impact of this on people's sense of being in control of their destiny is profound.


"So then the solution to increasing wages is simply to ban hard-working, willing people from taking jobs!"

Yes, when the job is a systemic arbitrage of labor that externalizes costs and consequences in a way that's bad for society.

You might as well say 'so the solution to increasing wealth is simply to ban enterprising, daring people from robbing houses, stores and banks!' We're talking about the ways capital is exchanged in a dynamic with a labor and an owner class. To blindly assume the owner class cannot arbitrage labor is… kind of unobservant, when we've already got what they call a 'precariat'.

I get that some people want to believe a job as a fry cook (or Uber driver) is a step towards being a CEO, but there's already a CEO. These are not 'ladders of opportunity'. Most likely being unemployed or a dropout has higher odds of ending up the CEO.


it still beats sleeping under the bridge, though

edit: what makes you so sure about what's good for society?


No, these drivers are effectively spending 50% of their revenue on their car. The other drivers have to buy and maintain a car themselves, which isn't free either.


are they? Because they are renting the capital equipment in order to do that job. Without it they'd have a car loan and maintenance payments (if they even qualify for a loan).


I've never given this argument any respect, and I'm not going to start now. Saying that being fucked over might provide a little bit of benefit is no excuse for fucking people over in the first place.


> is no excuse for fucking people over in the first place

Who is getting fucked over because of the job? Are you claiming that people choose those jobs over other, better jobs?

If I didn't own a car and was considering making a career as an Uber driver I'd happily accept a lower level of pay and rent someone else's car for a few months to get a sense of how much the job appealed to me and how hard I'd need to work to make money.

The person renting out the car is the one who has taken out loans and risk and now owns a depreciating asset. He or she must find someone to drive it, and depending on the supply of labor there will be a cost of hiring a driver (which is the driver's pay).

Who do you think needs to be stopped from doing business here? The one investing in renting the cars in hopes of finding drivers? Or the drivers who can't afford a car (or don't want to invest in one) but who want to earn a wage driving?

Or are you arguing that we need some wise arbiter of who can do what work, some sort of jobs minister or similar title?


Again, I have no respect for this line of argument. I don't care what you think about someone "risking" things. That's no reason whatsoever to screw people over simply because they have little other choice.


Given the reported strictness of the Uber rating system, are the actual drivers good? Isn't that what the rating system is supposed to solve?


I'm guessing it's part of the contract when the fleet owners hire, as well as something the owners watch like a hawk. Since the drivers wish to keep their job in order to keep earning, they theoretically need to worry about ratings as much as the next person. If we assume that finding a new fleet owner is easy, then jumping ship and finding employment with someone else may make the driver's need to maintain a good rating a fuzzy matter.

If anyone wishes to learn more, here's an article to throw into Google Translate:

http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/cotidiano/2016/03/1746900-motor...


Simple; all drivers register their own Uber account, and lose the car if their ratings are not good enough. Actually I wouldn't be surprised if the cars were rented out for a flat daily fee instead of depending on the number of rides.

Just a taxi company using Uber.


The Uber account becomes the new medallion.


No they are complete crap, worse than taxi drivers


You forgot to add Uber drivers stealing cookies from hotels on Lejune Road right across MIA (Miami International Airport). :)


I've recently noticed a huge decline in the quality of Uber drivers. In 2012, when I first started using Uber, most of the drivers were college educated millennials driving a brand new Toyota Prius. They were friendly and nice to have a conversation with while you drove.

Today, the drivers I get on UberX are almost universally bad. You get a 10 year old vehicle that is poorly maintained and unsafe (last couple rides have been a 2006 Ford Escape and a 2005 Chevy Bronco; both had bad tires and suspension and numerous dashboard warning lights lit). The drivers are immigrants with very poor english, who didn't have an EZ Pass for the tolls, and most likely were borrowing their friend or family member's car.

Unless I really have to now, I'm avoiding Uber and driving myself to the airport. Uber has proven they don't care about passenger safety, and only care about profits.


>In 2012, when I first started using Uber, most of the drivers were college educated millennials driving a brand new Toyota Prius.

Surely that's a historical oddity courtesy of the economy at the time.


> when I first started using Uber, most of the drivers were college educated millennials driving a brand new Toyota Prius

To pick on one point, I don't see educated people or millennials as likely to be better drivers.


I don't see educated people or millennials as likely to be better drivers

Maybe not, but they are people who have options, and if they pick "driving for Uber" as their best option, we can assume that the conditions are pretty good, vs people for whom this is the only "job" they can get.


> Unless I really have to now, I'm avoiding Uber and driving myself to the airport. Uber has proven they don't care about passenger safety, and only care about profits.

You do that. Me and the tens of thousands other riders will continue to use Uber for airport trips despite owning a car. I just wanted to counter your antecdote with mine.


> Uber sent emails to driver training them on avoiding detection (e.g. When at airport take down phone; have drivers sit up front; etc...).

This is literally my interaction with Uber drivers in Jordan. Originally just a convenience (available on demand, and that I don't speak Arabic), I've started getting nervous when using Uber because they aren't licensed in Jordan and drivers always have the discussion with me about sitting up front, telling the police that "we met in English class", etc.


If I wanted to sit up front. I would either drive myself or ask a friend. I am paying for a taxi :P


2. Sure, corporations are people too, but, nonetheless, only people engage in civil disobedience. Related, for courts, a company that profits from violating of local laws is not a protester or freedom fighter battling injustice, it is criminal enterprise.

Why do people still argue that? It makes no sense to me, even as a non-lawyer (but I've watched People's Court :))

Otherwise El Chapo could be arguing the same, I believe in people's rights to use drugs so I'm breaking every law in the books and making billions "while fighting for their rights"


Most people don't know what civil disobedience is in the first place. Civics education in the United States isn't great; even landmark civil disobedience like in the Sixties often elides that these folks paid the piper for their actions. Hell, I never read the Letter from a Birmingham Jail until college.

(Goes without saying that Uber's attempts to make their VCs happy are weak tea in comparison, yeah?)


Indeed, I was taught very clearly that civil disobedience includes accepting punishment, and that this is a very, very important facet of it.

(Noted not to dispute your point about civics education, but to stress this to other people who may not have been taught this.)


I thought the same, and even had a post written... But then found a counter-example:

What about people in Nazi Germany hiding others? They were of course very secretive about it -- not being secretive certainly meant you and your charges being sent to a camp, and possibly outright death. Similar things happened with the underground railroad in the US. I would still gladly classify those people as civil disobedients.

Maybe there's a difference when you're protecting others? You can't risk being discovered, because then those who depend on you will also likely be discovered, and you won't be available to continue helping.


> Maybe there's a difference when you're protecting others?

I think the difference is that if you are disobedient in the (current) USA then you will be dragged through an actual justice system and get the chance to make a case for future law changes etc.

People persecuted in Nazi Germany did not get the chance to argue their case in a court of law or public opinion. They just got taken away.


I don't think that was ever true for the Underground Railroad. And yet, that was still operated in secret. So there's clearly more than the "immediate danger to self" aspect.


Nothing says that the civil disobeyer needs to go out of their way to turn themselves in to the authorities if the act of civil disobedience isn't known by the police. If I plan an act of civil disobedience like say sitting in the road to protest something, and it turns out no one drives on that road and the cops never come, I was still breaking the law. You have to accept the consequences of your civil disobedience, and I'm sure the people sheltering slaves/jews knew that if they were caught there would be consequences that they would have to accept.


I guess there's multiple approaches that depend on your goals.

The martyr approach works well if your goal is to get society to recognize an issue and fix it. It's like an extreme form of demonstrations; the entire point is to be seen and generate discontent. This discontent becomes the energy that changes the status quo.

But if you're not capable of (or uninterested in) changing the status quo, but just want to "do the right thing", then evading detection is a much better approach.


Here are a few: neighbor has terminal cancer. Giving him pot to ease his pain might be illegal but nothing else works or he has no money for expensive drugs. Now if you charge him $400 an ounce get ready for no sympathy.

Or you smuggle a persecuted across the US border it might still be illegal for you but you're breaking the law for a humanitarian reason. However, if you charge $5000 a person, any person from MS-13 to Isis to day laborers bring your toothbrush


While I am not a lawyer like you, I think there is reason to believe #1 may not necessarily as straightforward as it seems. At minimum, there can definitely be a case made to support Uber.

Evasion generally has to do with mandatory liabilities and provisions. For example - tax avoidance and evasion. It's legal to plan your activities to avoid incurring a tax. It's illegal to take an action that results in a tax liability and then not pay it or attempt to hide it.

For me, what Uber did is akin to avoiding roads that are known speed traps. Yes, Uber is required to obey the laws of the jurisdiction they are in, but they are also able to deny service to anyone for any reason so long as that reason does not fall under a protected class (age, race, gender, etc.). Refusing service for being a suspected member of law enforcement is allowed. Just as certain small businesses provide discounts to law enforcement in appreciation of their service, others can refuse to serve them.

The issue of whether or not what Uber did was illegal seems to hinge upon whether or not the underlying activity was illegal. It sounds to me (and has been stated elsewhere) that many of the jurisdictions where this was being used have unclear or incomplete ride-sharing and booking laws. This would make the activities by Uber up for legal debate, just like the Uber legal battle in CA on whether to classify drivers as employees or contractors. If there's not a consensus or existing legal precedent that a specific activity is illegal, you can't say that their activity is evasion because the activity they are trying to "hide" hasn't been ruled in court to actually be illegal because this situation is still relatively new and hasn't been adjudicated on yet. Once we have a decision by the courts on the underlying activity, then yes, using Greyball to avoid authorities would be illegal.


It is actually just that straightforward. In the jurisdictions where Uber has already admitted to using Greyball to avoid local authorities (eg Portland), they did so to evade laws that were directed specifically at their operation.

It is true that Uber consistently claims that laws that apply to commercial livery do not apply to them--whether it was ever true is debatable. Courts have not been sympathetic to this claim. But, regardless, now, years later, legislatures & city councils have added "ridesharing" to their laws.

Finally, regardless of Uber, there is no technicality that somehow makes obstruction of justice legal in any jurisdiction. And building a piece of software only makes it worse, as it immerses what is a criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice across many jurisdictions and involves anyone who built or used it.


Looking at the legal definitions of evasion and obstruction, I don't see anything that applies, especially considering the typical use cases. Obstruction charges usually stem from providing false testimony or evidence, tampering with evidence, or witness tampering.

Evasion - for Portland, they haven't been formally approved from what I read. Doesn't necessarily mean that because they aren't formally approved that the actions are illegal. But I also see that Portland passed a law in Dec 2015 to allow Uber and Lyft on a permanent basis under existing transportation laws that would require them to provide trip data to the city, conduct background checks, etc.

Trying to avoid contact in the course of an investigation or other formal proceedings is generally not illegal. Think about process servers trying to serve papers like subpoena's, decrees, or other court documents on behalf of the state. It's not illegal to avoid those people and try to hide from them. You don't get obstruction or evasion charges even if you are fully aware they are trying to serve you and make efforts to avoid them.


I don't know what you mean by legal definitions of evasion and obstruction. Legal definitions literally vary by jurisdiction, so how one jurisdiction defines a crime is legally different from others...because they pass different laws.

Re Portland: this is factually inaccurate. Uber admitted they used Greyball when they were operating illegally in Portland. Yes, Portland & Uber have since come to an agreement, but not even Uber claims they were operating legally when they used Greyball to evade law enforcement..

Kindly, the challenge with explaining this to non-lawyers is that you do not know what you do not know, but think you do, & use words differently than an officer of a court does.

The example of a process-server is simply not a relevant comparison. Proccess-serving has a lot of TV-created urban legendry around it. Yes, you can try to avoid being served & but, no, you can't ignore a court order or a subpoena by avoiding a process server. If you try to hide, they'll eventually just mail the summons to you.

Regardless, process-serving has nothing to do with what Uber already admitted to doing: building & using software in CA to evade law enforcement in, eg Portland, which is a jurisdictions where they knew they were operating illegally. This is obstruction of justice.


Ah, so Uber was using Greyball in Portland before the agreement was reached? I was not aware of that. It wasn't clear from what I had read. That would definitely make a big difference. If it can be shown that their activity was illegal and was known to be flatly illegal (not just "unapproved" or rubber-stamped by the local government) rather than merely untested in court, then there is a good case to be made for obstruction. I expect a hell of a defense if they actually levy charges, and I am eagerly waiting to see what that defense would be. I find this case very interesting.

Regarding process servers - yes, they will issue a substitute service and then mail it to you, sure. But my point was that you won't be arrested for trying to hide.

I do totally understand the challenge you face as a lawyer talking to a non-lawyer, lol. I thank you for your comments and additional information.


Yes, Uber was using Greyball in cities where it was not operating legally, Portland amongst them.

Uber publicly admitted they built it, that they were still using it, tried to defend its use (for driver safety), and then, a week later, reversed themselves & agreed to stop using it to evade law enforcement, "going forward."

I cannot imagine why Uber chose to admit all that. (Well, other than there were at least 50 people who worked on Greyball & who knows how many more knew, so maybe there was not much choice...lying wasn't going to cut it & lawsuits were already certain) Nonetheless, its a lot of admissions.

Here's the thing: there are legitimate uses for Greyball (driver safety, as they asserted), but evading law enforcement, which they've now admitted, is not one of them--and, as said over and over, is obstruction of justice.

Uber'll undoubtedly try to defend Greyball on this basis (that there are non illegal uses for it--and that was the overwhelming majority of what it was used for)...it wouldn't have worked but, now with their own reversal & public admissions, it'd be hard to even make such an argument)

anyway, here are a few links about Greyball & Portland:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/technology/uber-greyball-...

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/08/uber-halt...


You do not know how to do legal research, which is a large part of why you aren't finding anything.

18 U.S.C. 1001 is a great place to start, but doesn't necessarily tell you what the current interpretation of the law is. To determine what that is, you need to determine which cases are leading and how they were interpreted, then you need to go back and apply it to the facts. This is a weaker offence, but seems more likely to stick if raised.

From there you can move into RICO specific issues at 18 U.S.C. 1961-1968 (emphasis on 1961-1963). From 1961 you can find the offenses that trigger RICO. Check out section 1510 specifically. I think the RICO link here is weak, but I haven't gone through all the case law.

Spoilation is another good jumping-off point for understanding the relevant principles.

The concern with any of these one-off avenues, though, is that they're individually non-comprehensive. Note that the terms in each of these three segments are different despite the fact that they're talking about subtle variations on the same thing.


The issue of whether or not what Uber did was illegal seems to hinge upon whether or not the underlying activity was illegal.

That's not quite right. The issue of whether or not Uber tried to hide activities from authorities is separate from whether the activity was itself illegal. It's possible to face an obstruction of justice charge even if the investigation you are obstructing is looking at legal activity or ultimately does not result in a prosecution.

For example, Martha Stewart was convicted of obstruction of justice (and lying and conspiracy) even though she was not actually charged with insider trading.[1]

[1] http://coveringbusiness.com/2012/05/15/what-martha-stewart-d...


I believe what you said is a bit off - you can't get an obstruction charge for remaining silent or choosing (legally) not to cooperate.

What Martha Stewart did was lie to authorities during the course of a formal investigation in an attempt to convince them that she did nothing wrong and end the investigation. That's completely and entirely different. It's also, by the way, the reason you should never speak to authorities, especially if you are the subject of the investigation. Exercise your right to silence. She chose to speak up and lied. If she kept her mouth shut she might have been able to escape prosecution. Anytime you open your mouth to authorities you open yourself up to one of these obstruction charges. The easiest solution is to just not cooperate one iota with them. Because as soon as you stop playing ball and doing what they want, they will try to use any one of the gazillion laws on the books to try and screw you. Not saying Martha is/was innocent. That's just my take on how I view a person's options when in that situation.

Obstruction charges usually stem from providing false testimony or evidence, tampering with evidence, or witness tampering. None of those, nor any related actions, are applicable here.


> For me, what Uber did is akin to avoiding roads that are known speed traps

They operated in cities and other areas where they were explicitly prohibited from doing so.

They camouflaged their activities (e.g. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14270534) and shadowbanned regulators

So, not only did they not avoid the metaphorical "speed traps", it's more like they covered over the license plates and intentionally sped through them.


What you linked to talks about Uber drivers (not Uber corporate) breaking the law. Remember, there is a clear difference. Part of Uber's agreement with drivers is that driver's must obey local laws. The drivers are responsible for operating within the bounds of the law, not Uber.

Further, it's entirely possible to be cited for "illegal operation" in a jurisdiction that generally allows Uber drivers' activity. Certain areas are zoned for specific purposes. For example, my friend runs a limo service and there are areas that they are not allowed to pick up passengers for whatever reason, even though the ride is planned in advance. That friend has also been cited (incorrectly) for illegal pickups at the airport as if they were Uber, when they are not and the ride was planned days ago.

My point here is that Uber could still be allowed by law (in general) to operate in a district but a driver's specific actions may violate some smaller aspect of the local law with regards to livery/transportation rules.


> What you linked to talks about Uber drivers (not Uber corporate) breaking the law. Remember, there is a clear difference. Part of Uber's agreement with drivers is that driver's must obey local laws. The drivers are responsible for operating within the bounds of the law, not Uber.

Yeah, and if Uber had drivers breaking the law and making money for Uber it would be pretty naive to assume that a company like Uber doesn't know that this money was made in areas where Uber was not allowed to operate or illegal. That too, we are talking about a company which is an expert on location tracking. I don't think such an argument could even remotely fly in a decent court of law.


> What you linked to talks about Uber drivers (not Uber corporate) breaking the law

What I linked to says "Uber sent emails to driver training them on avoiding detection (e.g. When at airport take down phone; have drivers sit up front; etc...)"

That sounds like "Uber corporate" to me


The Uber operations folks communicated with the drivers to give them suggestions on how to evade the enforcers. If that is obstruction of justice (no lawyer on here has actually asserted this), then Uber ostensibly has conspired.


> 2. Sure, corporations are people too, but, nonetheless, only people engage in civil disobedience. Related, for courts, a company that profits from violating of local laws is not a protester or freedom fighter battling injustice, it is criminal enterprise.

This point seems out of place to me. To my understanding as a lay person, the law does not distinguish between a crime committed as civil disobedience and the same crime otherwise. Neither corporations nor private citizens can use a defense like, "it was civil disobedience," to avoid criminal liability. This has nothing to do with corporations being people or not. Could you please bring your lawyerly knowledge to bear and correct whatever deficiencies in understanding I have here?


I can understand the confusion/maybe I should have separated that into several points & or not sought to respond to the corporations are people comment I was certain I'd get before it was even said:) I'll try to unpack it but I may just make it worse..

1) People love to say corporations are people too (thanks SCOTUS), but the law doesn't actually always consider corporations as legal people. It depends on lots of things.

2) "The law" is also too vague. Sometimes intent is relevant, sometimes its not; it just depends on what the law itself says.

3) Civil disobedience is not (as far as I know-there's a lot of laws) a defense for law-breaking, but, it may mitigate punishment or liability for a human. This depends on many things, ranging from the law, to the jurisdiction, to the facts of the case.

4) The distinction I was trying to make was: unlike people, companies do not engage in civil disobedience and a court will not allow a company to claim otherwise, be it as defense or as liability mitigation.

Hope that answers your question?


I appreciate the point you're trying to make here but this isn't correct. Point 4 makes it sound as if courts do allow natural persons to claim civil disobedience as a defense. They don't. At the level of a general statement (i.e., subject to specific statutory context), natural persons and legal entities are in the same position. Either could argue that a given law is unconstitutional, and win or lose. Or, either could refuse to comply with a law on purely moral/ethical/whatever grounds. In the latter case, the legal consequence is the same regardless of natural person, partnership, nonprofit, forprofit, etc.: violation of law. Considerations of justice, motivations, etc. can impact sentencing for natural persons and legal entities alike. Legal entities may have their personhood revoked in some cases - that is one difference w/ natural persons.


No, civil disobedience is not permitted as a defense for humans in any jurisdiction that I am aware of. However, depending on the crime/charge, jurisdiction & relevant laws, it may be permitted to mitigate punishment for humans--but not for corporations. As far as I am aware, there is no court nor is there any case or any law passed, where a corporation is procedurally or statutorily permitted to introduce any claim that their liability or punishment ought to be mitigated by a claim of disobedience.

In other words, civil disobedience may be legally relevant (tho not as a defense) when a human is the defendant, but it is not relevant for a corporation.


I understand that's your view. I'm asking about its basis. Because what you're saying doesn't sound true, but the point matters (current context aside), so if you are right, I would like to know.

> it may be permitted to mitigate punishment for humans--but not for corporations

By whom or what, pursuant to what? Courts? Sentencing guidelines? Can you provide an example?


I understand what you are asking & why you think there is an easy answer that I'm not giving you, but unfortunately, there isn't one. There's no easy explanation that wouldn't require learning or understanding criminal & civil procedure first. I recognize that's not satisfying, but, well, law is overlapping, conflicting, and complicated.

But no, civil disobedience is not about sentencing guidelines, and its not statutory (legislatures don't create laws for breaking the law) nor is it a defense, but nonetheless, it may be relevant. Again, it depends on many things, like the case itself, the jurisdiction, local rules, applicable laws, the judge...and why any of this matters is hard to understand without a background in civil & criminal procedure.

Someone else asked similar here & I went into further detail about why. A short answer is that humans have have states of mind, intentions and motives, and corporations do not (maybe you think they do; the legal system does not--judges and juries determine them as elements of crimes for humans, but not for corporations.) https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14278589

Hope this helps; I wish I had a better way of explaining, but, I'm no sure what else to say other than that our laws distinguish between humans and corporations and so do our courts, because our democracy has determined that its best for public policy not to, for example, allow companies, whose legal purpose is to produce monetary profits for shareholders, to instruct their employees to break laws.


It's hardly pro public policy for natural persons to violate the law, either. Again we come back to this point: What can you point to as any kind of evidence that courts make the distinction you claim. If your answer is that you would need to teach me civil and criminal procedure first, I would note that I am a lawyer and aced those courses, so feel free to assume an advanced understanding in your response. I don't practice actively in criminal matters, hence my seeking to learn the basis of your position. But I understand enough to know that your position is one that, if true, it would have a basis that one could point to somewhere in some jurisdiction without saying "it depends on many things" and "you need to understand civil/criminal procedure". In other words, I see no reason why your view is automatic given the nature of corporations. It seems to me if civil disobedience matters, it matters as the reason for which the party acted. The law views corporations are capable of acting for reasons; how else could you make sense of things like punitive damages awards against corporations? Again, maybe you're right. If you are, please take advantage of the teaching opportunit and share a link. ;)


Yes, that's what I'm saying?

Hmmm. I'll try but maybe we are misunderstanding each other, because this doesn't seem debatable?

There are rules that define what kind of defenses, mitigating circumstances, evidence can be presented etc, are permitted for civil & criminal cases & what common law & evidence can be shared with the jury etc.. I'm unaware of any jurisdiction where corporations are considered equal to people or have a mens rea etc or were permitted to describe their corporate law-breaking as "civil disobedience" to a jury.

That's not how I'd say the law viewed corporations or punitive damages; guessing we use words differently & aren't understanding each other.

I am not sure what else to say; that different rules & laws apply to corporations & people seems to be a standard thing in my world. In my head its a given, so maybe my explanations are not as clear as I think. If I come across a link I'll share.


Thanks for sticking with the exchange. If courts apply different rules for how natural persons and corporations could speak to juries about reasons for noncompliance, that would indeed be interesting. Wasn't aware of that being the case.


Let's say that there is no Uber, per se, just an open-source ride-sharing app, which coordinates drivers and riders. Then drivers (and riders, I suppose) could claim that they were engaging in civil disobedience, right?

And with Uber, the board and owners could similarly claim that they were personally engaging in civil disobedience, right? In the way that they managed Uber. However, I suspect that limited personal liability for corporate actions is a better deal.


I'm not a lawyer, but I believe the point isn't necessarily that you'd use civil disobedience as an affirmative defense (like a self-defense claim would be). Instead, you'd make that argument to a jury that may or may not factor that into their decision (i.e. jury nullification). You're right that it's not a claim you'd make to a court expecting leniency. But you might be able to gain sympathy from a jury of your peers if they thought you were morally right.

I don't think there is anything that would stop a defense from making that argument. If that's all you had to argue, then that's the proverbial "pound the table", if you will.


I agree. Just saying that's available to corporations as well. Reason I mention is this: "companies do not engage in civil disobedience" is not only not true; we need and should expect companies to engage in civil disobedience.

Edit: To be clear, I am not talking at all about Greyball. I mean cases where civil disobedience would actually be justified.


I am not sure why you think that companies do or should engage in civil disobedience.

When companies want to change laws, they lobby the government, in part because telling one's employees to break the law is criminal conspiracy and very expensive, given how much power companies have & employees don't.

Sure, corporations sometimes do act in the public interest and sometimes act in the interest of justice. However, legally, courts & judges do not consider mitigating liability or punishment for their behavior on this basis. There are many reasons for this, but mostly because its just better public policy to limit any civil disobedience mitigation to actual humans.

Otherwise, eg, wouldn't coal mining companies be all about "civil disobedience"?


Take PRISM for example, or imagine a Muslim registry - or any other scenario where government requires companies to comply with a scheme and the company's appropriate ethical response would be refusal.

(1) Why should we not welcome civil disobedience then or call it anything other than "civil disobedience"?

(2) In a judicial context, what specifically do you believe would stop the same sentencing considerations from applying to corporations? Sentencing guidelines? Judicial precedent?

Criminal procedure is not my field, so there's a possibility I am making some basic mistaken assumption - please correct me if so.


You seem to be kind of conflating ethics & civil disobedience? And expanding civil disobedience to include, for example, refusing to work assigned to you?

The government does not require companies to comply with a scheme. Companies are free to contract with the government, but certainly aren't forced. PRISM & Muslim registries are also edge cases. There are many companies who choose not to do any work with the military, defense industry, or even gun, drug, or tobacco companies for ethical reasons. Most companies will allow their employees to opt not to work on projects that violate their ethics or values. However, a company would certainly be within their rights to fire an employee for refusing to participate in a project. (its not a smart move, nor does it help with retention of other employees) None of this is, by any means, civil disobedience--nor are ethics and civil disobedience interchangeable. (& it doesn't have to be illegal to be unethical--but civil disobedience is about law-breaking.)

As you may remember, the courts would not permit the government to force Apple to build decryption software to crack that iphone.

And we should not welcome all or encourage civil disobedience. We should just create just laws. Also, we should not redefine or expand the definition of civil disobedience.

Civil disobedience is not a "sentencing consideration." All of this is so inside baseball that it'd take explaining all of civil & criminal procedure in order for you to understand. It would take me a long time to make it both clear and accurate and the payoff would not be worth it. Sorry, but yes, you are making many mistaken assumptions:)

There are many public policy reasons why corporations do not & are not considered to engage in civil disobedience. Here's a few quick ones: we don't want companies to direct their employees to break the law or ignore health safety or environmental regulations, or to encourage the formation of criminal enterprises, most (99%?) are defined by a profit-making purpose & this undermines that (& create shareholder lawsuits.) and, despite Citizens United, the overwhelming majority of our laws do not treat corporations as people. For instance, corporations, legally speaking, are not considered to have mens rea or intentions.

TLDR: Citizens United aside, it is actually just not useful or accurate to consider corporations as people, because they aren't. As far as our legal system goes, humans have intentions & a state of mind and corporations don't.

(Feel argue they do, but, as far as the US legal system goes, they don't. And shouldn't. Because they actually don't. So, please, don't. Or, just don't expect my response).


I won't expect a response but here are a few observations:

You seem to view civil disobedience as a concept inherent to legal procedure as opposed to being by definition outside of law. That seems to me a very unorthodox definition of civil disobedience.

What I mean by civil disobedience is any legal agent (natural person or otherwise) refusing to comply with valid law for reasons of conscience. If you are subject to a law, you can engage in civil disobedience. A company that refuses for reasons of company principles to comply with a legally valid order to comply with a Muslim registry is engaging in civil disobedience. The ethics of corporate civil disobedience is complicated given obligations to shareholders and need to respect autonomy/views of dissenting employees. But groups of people are indeed capable of having shared principles, and that has nothing to do with Citizen United. Fine if you disagree.

Of course those are edge cases. Instances where civil disobedience is relevant usually are. Those are precisely the cases worth talking about.

Creating just laws and violating unjust ones still in effect are not mutually exclusive.


I just meant I wouldn't respond to a comment about how actually corporations totally have state of minds and intentions. Sure, one could write laws where they did (just like you could write a law that says anything), but that is not presently the case in any jurisdiction I am aware of and there's not much of a reason to think it'll ever change. Because corporations are not people.

I am not sure what you mean. I do view civil disobedience through a legal lens, but its inherent in its definition-its action taken in opposition to law. Its not civil disobedience unless the law is being broken.

From Wikipedia: Civil disobedience is the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power.

I am not sure I understand your definition, but it is broader than mine.

I do not understand what you mean here: "A company that refuses for reasons of company principles to comply with a legally valid order to comply with a Muslim registry is engaging in civil disobedience."

What is a “legally valid order”? The US government doesn't & can't order companies to work for it. (Again, consider Apple & San Bernardino--the Court refused the DoJs request) It cannot arbitrarily demand data. (Obviously court orders for discovery, subpoenas,etc are not the same thing) And our Constitution & many very settled SC precedents, along with many other laws, make it illegal for the government to discriminate on the basis of religion.

Similarly, the US Government cannot compel Palantir or Facebook to make a Muslim Registry, but, leaving the Registry aside, either could fire an employee for refusing to work on a project for the Trump administration, (though it'd be a dumb thing to do). Any public attempt the Trump administration makes to create a Muslim registry will be challenged & enjoined in federal court.

If the Trump signs an executive order creating a Muslim Registry, it will be immediately challenged in court, and, a TRO or an injunction, will be granted for the same reasons.

Groups of people are absolutely capable of having shared principles & working together (its even common), but that is not how corporations are defined by laws made by legislatures or how courts interpret & apply those laws. Law is all about definitions, overlapping jurisdictions, and knowing which rules apply. I

However, the government cannot compel or order a company to build a Muslim Registry let alone anything else. Google & Facebook aren't ordered around at their whim. Plus our Constitution also forbids discrimination on the basis of religion. There are many more layers to this than I can explain.

My point about PRISM & the Muslim Registry was that they are on the edge because they are easy….since both are widely viewed as illegal and/or unconstitutional. As have US courts. Laws don't have to be changed; PRISM already violates them. Same with the Muslim Registry; if Trump orders it, a court will enjoin it before it is made. Neither the government nor Trump can order a company to build anything, let alone something that is facially unconstitutional. Neither is as much about civil disobedience as they are are about challenging laws in courts.

I don't think creating just laws and violating unjust ones are mutually exclusive at all. However, the purpose of a company (leaving B corps aside-rooting for you Etsy) is to make profits, regardless of who works there.

A company's BoD may believe that environmental regulations are deeply unjust because climate change is myth, but that doesn't mean that the company can order their coal miners to violate laws.

Last try: companies have fiduciary duties to their shareholders. Not breaking laws is implicit. When a company wants to change a law, it is cheaper & less risky to lobby for change than liability for breaking them. And a broader definition of civil disobedience undermines it, eventually into meaninglessness. Which is great for folks who don’t think words should have meaning, I guess?

Final comment on this: Though civil disobedience is defined by relation to law, ethics are not dependent on or related to law. Seems like our definitions vary more than we disagree.


For examples of legally binding orders, see the transparency policies of major tech companies (disclosure: I worked for one). Government routinely submits binding information requests, together with gag orders. The pleadings in Microsoft's recent lawsuit challenging the orders gives a sense of the extent. The fact that actions can be challenged doesn't mean corporate civil disobedience is irrelevant. What if a challenge fails? Yes, corporations can lobby. So can humans. Yes, obligations towards stakeholders make the matter complicated. I don't think it's true that fiduciary obligation requires absolute compliance with laws (what about late filing penalties that it makes economic sense to incur?), so context matters. I disagree there's a slippery slope towards meaninglessness. But I appreciate your comments. I have a good sense of where you are coming from. Thanks.


Binding information requests are court orders, which can, as you note, be appealed in court. I am unaware of any instance where a company has lost an appeal in court & refused to turn over information to the court in an instance where civil disobedience would be relevant. And yes, fiduciary obligation does not require absolute compliance, but it certainly does demand that corporation do not direct employees to violate the law. Indeed, context does matter--that's also why agreed upon definitions of, eg, "civil disobedience" are so important. Otherwise, among other things, its very hard to understand each other. Glad that we found a way:)


Civil disobedience is rooted in ideas of justice. E.g. a corporation could engage in civil disobedience by refusing to have separate black and white seating areas. But our society does not generally recognize any "justice" angle to economic regulation. It's not "civil disobedience" for a company to skirt laws as part of a profit-making enterprise just because it wants to second-guess the government's idea of what those regulations should be. Nobody will write history books about how the noble unicorn startup evaded unjust regulations of its day to maximize its market capitalization.


No disagreement here on that. I'm not defending Greyball.


Just for the sake of discussion:

What about Silk Road? I would say that's a legitimate case of a company (of sorts) engaging in civil disobedience. Ross Ulbricht was ideologically motivated.

I've heard some rumors about Travis' ideology. Maybe he's similar. (He named his company Uber, maybe he's some sort of Nietzschean?)


You would be incorrect. Humans, not companies, engage in civil disobedience.

Regardless, whether its Ross, Travis or anyone else, why would or should ideological motivation be relevant to whether or not any given act is legal or how it should be punished?

When libertarians, for whatever reason, choose to start businesses in CA, they are explicitly consenting to our government & to obeying our democratically enacted laws. Ideology is not a shield for consequences--and, for both Travis & Ross, using Ayn Rand to justify their behavior only makes them less sympathetic to judges, prosecutors & juries.


I was under the impression that Silk Road wasn't a company but a private website run by Ross. Reading over the Wikipedia article and the indictment I can't find any mention of it being incorporated.

Although the indictment mentions at one point that he had an employee, but he may have been paying him privately and not as part of a corporate structure.

Does that change anything vis-a-vis the argument you're making with regards to civil disobedience?

My reading of your comments is that a corporation doesn't have certain rights private individuals have. That makes sense, but does your argument still hold if Silk Road is a purely private website without any corporate structure?

1. https://ia600406.us.archive.org/17/items/gov.uscourts.mdd.23...


Aka "I'm not a businessman, I'm a business, man."

No, it changes literally nothing. Criminal enterprises tend to be lean on corporate structure and paperwork for a variety of reasons.

There is also no such thing as a purely private website where everything is legal and there is no liability.


Right, but let's say for example that some guy X publishes embarrassing classified information on a protest sign that he's holding in front of the White House, this could be construed as civil disobedience, right?

But it couldn't if Google had the same information and published it on its front page, since it's a corporation.

1. But what if guy X publishes it on his personal blog?

2. What if he occasionally sells used goods via his blog?

3. What if the main point of the blog is to sell those used goods, with a small "notes from the author" section where the information is published?

4. What if it's purely a commercial enterprise & isn't incorporated?

5. And then if it's incorporated it should be clear-cut, since as you said "only people [and not corporations] engage in civil disobedience".

My question is when civil disobedience stops being a defense. Your original comment points out that Uber can't use that because it falls into #5, but then you're saying it wouldn't apply to Silk Road either which as far as I can tell falls into #4.

How about #1-3?


" this could be construed as civil disobedience, right?" "when civil disobedience stops being a defense."

This is the core of your misunderstanding - 'civil disobedience' is never a 'defense'. At best, a judge can take it into account come sentencing time. There is no such thing as a generic 'if you are ideologically motivated, you're off the hook' rule. Private or legal person, doesn't matter.


I misphrased that, I shouldn't have said defense but when a defendant could expect leniency on that basis.

With that caveat my question still stands, `gotothedoctor` is , if I understand him correctly, saying that corporations like Uber can't expect that sort of leniency, but what about other not-quite-just-a-person entities?


a business is a business and a person is a person. there are no "not quite a person entities" (those are businesses) and there are no technicalities here that transform an economic exchange into a personal one.

AKA: no, Ross is not Silk Road. And, yes, the Silk Road is a business that took in millions if not billions.

Simply put: when there is material benefit or an economic exchange, it is a business, whether you are selling lemonade, drugs, guns or even personal services. There is no loophole.


Thanks for that clarification. When you said "companies" I thought you meant that in the sense of incorporated entities. But if it's just whether you're engaging in business or not that's pretty clear-cut.


Again, just for the sake of fun/discussion. Not trying to make any significant point here.

> You would be incorrect. Humans, not companies, engage in civil disobedience.

Is this a point of observation ("I've never heard of a company doing this"), law ("Companies have no legal grounds to claim civil disobedience"), or logic ("companies cannot act, only its constituent humans act")?

If it's the first, I'm claiming to give you a contradictory observation. If it's the second, you yourself said that civil disobedience has no legal significance anyway (just a possible source of sympathy when it comes time for the judge's discretion) so in this sense I don't see why a human's civil disobedience is any more real than a company's. If it's the third, fair enough, but it wasn't clear to me that this was your point.


It is relevant for humans in a legal setting; it is not relevant for corporations.

I did not say that civil disobedience has no legal significance for humans--I said it has no legal significance for corporations. Nor did I say it was a source of sympathy--I said it could mitigate liability or punishment.

While it is not a defense for law-breaking by humans, asserting civil disobedience can mitigate punishment or liability for humans; it cannot be used to do the same for corporations.

Jurisdictions, laws and rules make it difficult to generalize (eg some courts accept some mitigating factors but not others), but I've never come across or heard of any case where a corporation could or did claim "civil disobedience" as a mitigating factor for liability or punishment.


> "cannot be used to do the same for corporations"

What is the basis of that "cannot"? Sentencing guidelines? Inference from cases where it was asserted but rejected because it came from a corporation?

Edit: Not asking for a citation. Just want to understand the basis for your view, because the point is an important one (current context aside) and your responses thus far about it feel circular (e.g., doesn't apply because it's irrelevant).


Got it. When you had said that it would mitigate punishment, I assumed you meant in a purely unofficial subjective way. Thanks.


could, not would. There are many variables. My comments are not intended as official or objective:)


>why would or should ideological motivation be relevant to whether or not any given act is legal or how it should be punished? When libertarians, for whatever reason, choose to start businesses in CA, they are explicitly consenting to our government & to obeying our democratically enacted laws. Ideology is not a shield for consequences--and, for both Travis & Ross, using Ayn Rand to justify their behavior only makes them less sympathetic to judges, prosecutors & juries.

I didnt work for the Justice Department, but this appears to not be consistently logical. If ideology doesnt matter, why does valuing liberty negatively influence a judge's or prosecuter's actions towards you? That doesn't seem right.

Also, if ideological motivation should not play a role in prosecuting crimes, then why does our justice system sometimes do the opposite (consider hate crimes, or other cases where motivation is considered when prosecuting crimes, i.e. different versions of murder charges.)


I did not say that ideology does not matter. I asked why it should be relevant to the definition of a crime or whether or not it ought to be punished. (my words could've been tighter here: ideology, like civil disobedience, may be relevant to mitigation--or it may increase liability & punishment.)

I also did not say that "valuing liberty" has a negative influence. That is not how I was using the word "libertarian"

Nor did I say ideological motivation should not or does not play a role in prosecuting crimes. Whether it should or not is probably not important--because ideology does play a role prosecution, particularly in jurisdictions where they're elected.

As you know, motive (mens rea) is an element of some criminal charges, including murder. Motivation matters basically for public policy reasons--for example, we punish hate crimes more harshly because we, as a society, decided crimes motivated by hate are more damaging to society & harsher punishment is a deterant. Similarly, sometimes "crimes of passion" are punished less harshly, because society has decided that harsher punishment would not be a deterrant or effective.

What I said was: ideology is not a defense. And, in Travis's & Ross's cases, such ideology is more likely to increase, rather than mitigate, liability.

And, what I meant was: neither Uber nor the Silk Road would, could or should attempt to assert a defense based on not consenting to CA law, democracy, and/or denying the legitimacy of federal courts. Not only will it irritate the humans whose legitimacy is being questioned, but such a defense is not procedurally permissible in any court that I am aware of. Basically, it won't help either of them--its more likely to increase liability than anything else.

My sense is that we define words like libertarian quite differently, so I'm going to leave it here.


I understand you. We do disagree on some matters--Libertarianism really is just about liberty. Though much public misunderstanding exists regarding it.


I see as much connection there as I see between Scooters' "Hyper Hyper" and, say, "some sort of" ancient greek philosophy.

Just look at these superfluous! They acquire riches and yet they become poorer. They want power and first of all the crowbar of power, much money – these impotent, impoverished ones!

I can't tell you what exactly "Nietzschean" would be, but I think that in this and any neighboring contexts it's like talking about having lit fire underwater; some may have confused some sort of reflection with actual fire, but Nietzsche never set and never will set foot in any of these parts. Having been discerned and discarded by him is the only sort of business Nietzsche and any random shareholder value maximizing CEO will ever have. I don't pretend to know or understand Nietzsche at all, but the "worst" that could happen is that someone proves me wrong with Nietzsche quotes, so I'll just claim it and see what happens.


I would completely disagree. The silk road was motivated by money. That's it. Hence why Ulbricht tried to hire a hit man to kill people when his criminal empire was threatened.


For what it's worth, Ross Ulbricht also paid to have 5 people killed. (They of course were not killed, because it was part of the larger sting, but that's irrelevant to his repugnant behavior)


From the story I've vaguely heard, he considered them ideologically defensible. But, at that point I guess it's not particularly civil. (or maybe I missed the meaning of the word "civil" here)


No, he didn't pay. It was a fake chatlog created by the investigators to make him look worse than what he did.


Do you have any actual proof that it was fake? I wasn't aware of any, and I can't find any, so this just looks like wishful thinking on your part.


The investigators scamming him doesn't change the fact that he did it. Additionally, there were two instances where he paid to have someone "killed". While the second case is rather sketchy, the first case is much clearer. They even staged the murder for him.


It didn't work out well for Ross but then drug trafficking is a whole different thing from providing a taxi service.


The key is not that your motivation is simply ideological but that it's rooted in widely-acknowledged concepts of social justice. And it's not even "are you a corporation or are you human?" but "are you fighting for social justice or to line your pockets with cash?". We can distill that down further to "who benefits more: society or your wallet?".

To steal an example from rayiner elsewhere in this thread, let's say you're a restaurant in the segregation-era south in a jurisdiction that requires restaurants to have separate seating areas for white and black people. Let's say you decide to break the law by having a single seating area for everyone. That would be civil disobedience because you're going out of your way to improve conditions for marginalized people at considerable risk, not just of prosecution but of being boycotted by racists. In other words, you breaking the law benefits society more than it benefits you.

This isn't what Uber is doing. Sure, let's say that Travis is ideologically motivated because he feels he has a fundamental natural right to make money using any and every means he sees fit. So that means Uber is breaking the law because they feel the law gets in the way of their natural right to line their pockets with as much cash as they can however they can. It's a purely selfish motivation.

And moving on to Ross, it's the same thing. He was raking in bitcoins hand over fist from what he was doing. He can say "selling anything should be legal" all he wants, but if the end result of him breaking the law is that he gets rich, then he's ultimately doing himself a favor more than he's doing society a favor. And he really shot himself in the foot with those attempted hits. That took all the wind out of the sails of his "I'm not hurting anyone; I'm just helping connect people to each other". He tried to kill people. Worse, he tried to kill people because they stole money from him. There was no ideological motivation for the attempted hits. It was just "this guy stole from me, he has to pay". There goes his entire defense.

And ultimately, "civil disobedience" isn't a defense against conviction. It's an argument for leniency in the sentencing phase. It doesn't exist on paper, either: the only reason the concept exists at all is because judges and juries have broad discretion in sentencing. It's just like how first-time offenders tend to get off easy: there's no law saying "if the convicted has no priors, you have to give them a lesser sentence", it's just based on the logic that someone with no priors is probably someone who made a stupid mistake and not a career criminal. Going back to civil disobedience, the upshot is that if you can convince the judge and/or jury that you breaking the law had a net benefit to society, you might get away with the minimum punishment mandated by law. But if the main consequence of you breaking the law is that you got rich, why would any judge or jury care enough to let you off easily?

Edit: Just to make this clear, IANAL & TINLA.


Way more clear now. Thanks for taking the time.


Note the Supreme Court has explicitly expressed reluctance to apply RICO if it could be interpreted as a weapon against civil disobedience: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2003/02/27/us/supreme-court-voids...


That's not my read of that case & I don't think it applies here regardless. as per above, Uber is a company, so it can't engage in civil disobedience--thus there need be no concern that RICO "could be interpreted as a weapon against civil disobedience."

Basically, in 2003, a very different SCOTUS said sorry Planned Parenthood, but, actually Operation Rescue, as awful & harassing as they are, are not committing EXTORTION, so no RICO for you & overturned their damages award.

Here's the part of the article I'd guess you are referring to:

"The decision, Scheidler v. National Organization for Women, No. 01-1118, did not appear to reflect any particular attitude on the court toward abortion, but rather a concern over the implications of invoking the federal racketeering law as a weapon against political protests. In a concurring opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the court was ''rightly reluctant, as I see it, to extend RICO's domain further.'' She noted that in the argument in the case, Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson, who supported the clinics in their interpretation of extortion, acknowledged that the definition might have applied to the sit-ins of the civil rights movement."

Ginsburg's concern was, if SCOTUS accepted that definition of extortion, others could use RICO to prosecute citizens for civil disobedience. Conseqently, she ruled against Planned Parenthood.


I'm not arguing that it applies in this case, I'm just responding to parent's statement that "To my understanding as a lay person, the law does not distinguish between a crime committed as civil disobedience and the same crime otherwise." I'm saying that many penalties take motive into consideration, and SC expressed concern about expanding motive in RICO cases in a way that could be applied to civil disobedience.


OK. I replied the parent comment to explain that issue above.

Regardless, SCOTUS did not, as you claim, "express concern about expanding motive in RICO cases".

On a very different court, RBG wrote a concurrence, explaining that she voted against Planned Parenthood because she was concerned with the precedent of charging Operation Rescue with extortion, under RICO. Motive is not the issue (nor was it relevant in that case)--RICO...& charging the defendants with extortion, as a basis for RICO prosecution is.


If a law is "bad" there are essentially two ways to overturn it. One is to go through the legislative body and have it amended. This is difficult and time consuming, and hard for one person to do. The other way is to go to court, and argue that the law is bad. But about the only way to do that is to break the law. This is where civil disobedience comes in. It isn't a get out of jail free card, it is an opportunity to overthrow the law. If course, if you lose, you can go to jail.


Courts can't overthrow bad laws, they can only overthrow unconstitutional laws (or state laws that violate federal laws).


There is room. No law can usurp things like freedom of speech. All sorts of apparently illegal acts find safe harbour if tied to free speach. A protest rally cannot be stopped simply be because the protestors are jaywalking or loitering on the sidewalk. Companies do have speech rights but they are very different. I can join a protest rally marching down mainstreet, but uber cannot hire people to do the same because the people violating the law are not enguaged in speech but in employment. So flesh persons can get away with acts that corporate "persons" cannot.


Wikipedia can help maybe: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_disobedience#Legal_impli...

> Governments have generally not recognized the legitimacy of civil disobedience or viewed political objectives as an excuse for breaking the law. Specifically, the law usually distinguishes between criminal motive and criminal intent; the offender's motives or purposes may be admirable and praiseworthy, but his intent may still be criminal. Hence the saying that "if there is any possible justification of civil disobedience it must come from outside the legal system."

See also the Necessity Defense (the above mentioned "political necessity") [0] and Jury Nullification [1].

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necessity_(criminal_law)

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_nullification_in_the_Unit...


(IANAL) The law doesn't, but juries do.

See, the whole point of civil disobedience is this: under the Constitution and the precepts of common law, bad laws don't have to be followed. So civil disobedience is making a show of deliberately breaking a bad law in order to call attention to the fact that the law is bad, risking your own liberty in the process. Then when it goes to trial, a jury may decide that though you broke the law, you are in the right and acquit you. This power of "jury nullification" is also recognized in common law and while it may not actually nullify laws, it makes them more difficult to enforce and when they're not enforced they are effectively void. A lot of the fun-fact ridiculous laws like "it is illegal to kiss in public on Sundays" are old laws which the local authorities can't be bothered to enforce and so are not really in force.

But back to civil disobedience: it is an assertion through deed of human rights. Corporations lack human rights, and furthermore if you are making money off your violation of the law you are less likely to be smiled upon by a jury.


Hi, what does USA stand for in this case?



United States Attorney.

from Wikipedia: United States Attorneys (also known as chief federal prosecutors and, historically, as United States District Attorneys)[1][2][3] represent the United States federal government in United States district court and United States court of appeals.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Attorney


US Attorney.


Just looked up RICO on Wikipedia and it has indeed been used in some dioceses to prosecute the Roman Catholic Church for the pedophilia and coverup that has occurred within the Church's clergy! The relevant excerpt:

"Catholic sex abuse cases[edit]

In some jurisdictions, RICO suits have been filed against Catholic dioceses, using anti-racketeering laws to prosecute the highers-up in the episcopacy for abuses committed by those under their authority[citation needed]. E.g. a Cleveland grand jury cleared two bishops of racketeering charges, finding that their mishandling of sex abuse claims did not amount to criminal racketeering[citation needed]. Notably, a similar suit was not filed against Cardinal Bernard Law, then Archbishop/Emeritus of Boston, prior to his assignment to Vatican City.[11][12] In 2016, RICO charges were considered for cover-ups in Pennsylvania.[13]"

So RICO can be used for both criminal and civil charges?


Has another consumer tech company with any visibility ever been charged under RICO?


This looks like a simple & potentially enlightening question, but, its more complicated than it appears & examples may only be more confusing:)

Companies (tech & other) are sued literally all the time under RICO (which is now over 40 years old), though mostly as civil rather than criminal offenses. Success rates vary. Often there are better ways than RICO. And, also, most cases never make it to court.

Basically, prosecutors choose the charges they seek to prosecute based on their judgement of the likelihood of conviction; RICO can effectively multiply the number of charges...which some judges are less keen on. There are many factors at play with RICO, but they won't clarify anything, so I'll leave it there.

It is certainly not clear that the DoJ will even prosecute Uber under RICO. Its a possibility, but perhaps not the most likely approach, for a variety of reasons. That said, its far from impossible. And, some USAs use RICO more than others (eg Preet Bharara).

Long story short: criminal investigations & charges are the issue, more than whether they are charged under RICO. Being criminal investigated is rare in most businesses (less so on Wall St? Idk, speculating) and being prosecuted, even rarer.

Hope this helps.


In criminal scenarios, is it common for a company to accept a plea bargain involving cooperation with Federal Government agencies in various ways such as providing user data or acting under order in select situations?


I'm not sure I understand what you are asking but, plea bargains do not involve providing unrelated user data to the feds or cooperating in future unrelated matters..



Here's a better metaphor. If a local city inspector is looking to catch a pizza shop selling liquor without a special license, and calls to order beer, the shop owner recognizes the caller ID, lies, and says he doesn't sell beer right now but he should call back tomorrow. But then later, the town votes to remove the special license requirement. Did the pizza shop obstruct justice?


In order for this metaphor to work it would have to be a chain of pizza parlors in many states, and it wouldn't have been the owner who answered the phone, but any number of employees trained by the company to react this way to their local city inspectors.


Why is it okay for the owner to do this, but not an employee? Why is it okay if you have just one shop rather than a chain?


For the latter, because that indicates a criminal enterprise. The idea of a coordinated group of people all breaking the law is deemed worse than one individual.

I can reconcile this with my own values.

Practically, an enterprise of criminals is more likely to be effective, and thus would create more negative costs.

Legally, it allows prosecution of the organizers of a crime group, who are likely the most dangerous and more difficult to catch in the act, as they contract others to do their work.


I am not a lawyer but in jurisdiction there may be a slight difference between crime and organized crime like between selling drugs on the street and leading a drug smuggling cartel. And training your employees how to break law could be also prosecuted.


Uber is being tried federally because their crimes cross state lines, which wouldn't be the case with one pizza parlor operating locally in one state engaging in the same behavior.


Uber is the subject of a federal criminal probe to see if they have committed crimes. Lets not get ahead of ourselves.


I'd think it would be more involved: They have an answering system that recognizes the caller ID. The IVR is set up to have an automated announcement report that the store doesn't sell alcohol or even that they are closed, and then produces a special ringtone, if the call goes through at all.

They claim it is to circumvent fraud (folks ordering pizza and not paying) and bad payments and the like as a cover. And it isn't just a local pizza place: This is a nationwide chain doing such actions.

Edit: Addtionally, employees would be trained to avoid such situations.


Well I hope some one goes to jail. Though my hopes aren't high after 2008.


Time Machine: "Uber settles with DOJ. While admitting to no wrongdoing, Uber agrees to pay $1.2 million fine and $232 in investigation costs."

Until people that OK'd, knew and /or executed a certain action go to jail, nothing will change. Lawyer fees and fines now are a tiny cost of doing business for big corps.


This is the sad state of hypernormalism we're now in. We acknowledge the rich get a different standards of justice, but feel powerless (and rightly so) to do anything about it.


Now? When was the golden age where that wasn't the case?


French Revolution? /s


The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

A century this year.


"kill the rich" is still a different standard of justice.


Probably Billions but they'll get a settlement to be the only company to operate nationally with immunity.

Except Google pays way too much in lobbying for that.


No court has the power to grant Uber or any company the ability to operate nationally, let alone with immunity.

There are many overlapping laws, in cities, states & counties. Uber is subject to all the relevant laws in any area it operates--but, eg, Portland's laws only matter in Portland, Austin's in Austin, etc. So, for example, Uber chose to leave Austin because Austin passed laws that Uber already obeys in NY, but did not wish to in Texas.


What happened in 2008?


I'm guessing financial crisis precipitated by corporate crime/fraud on massive scale, going unpunished?


Oh that seems reasonable. I'm not really sure it was so obvious that I deserved down votes.


I gave you an up-vote.. it makes sense that "2008 means financial crisis" but on the other hand many things happened in 2008 and not all of them had to do with that crisis. Especially if you are not in Financial Services. One would argue that the crisis started a lot earlier, or that in many countries the actual crisis became apparent in 2009-2010-2011.

Not everyone in this forum lives in the USA and people should remember that :)


In addition 2008 was 9 years ago. There are people here today that were 7 or 8 years old at the time. They might know that things were rough if a parent lost a job - but are unlikely to have the wider context.


I also up-voted you, since asking for clarification to understand an implied connection (to an unmentioned event) is a completely reasonable thing to do. I would have done the same if I didn't see the connection, and everyone should be encouraged to post questions if something is not clearly stated.


In 2008 there was a global financial crisis that was caused, in part, by criminal actors in the financial industry yet there were no criminal convictions.

http://www.businessinsider.com/why-wall-street-execs-werent-...


the great recession.

he/she is talking about bankers.


I don't really understand why people say this.

2008 was really the popping of an investment bubble due to business incompetence and exuberance among many actors. I don't really see that as a criminal act. If that were the case, then all VC employees should be arrested for causing the 2001 bubble. The only argument that really has any merit is the one that rating agencies misled investors, so I can see some action being done there.

Whereas here with Uber, there are clear laws being broken - very different in my opinion.


If you are still confused about the criminal acts that occurred, read more about REPO 105:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repo_105


That is a pretty weak example since it even says in the article that the window dressing maneuver was probably within the GAAP principles and the regulatory bodies were aware of the practice.

It kind of goes to my point that it seem to be more of incentive and business failure than a criminal one. Being aggressive with your company and then failing isn't a crime.


I'm not sure criminal is the right word here. The suit was settled for $10M, and there are conflicting interpretations as to whether that accounting maneuver was actually illegal or not. Given that the case never went to trial, it still remains up in the air.


Incompetence can be criminal


Much more rarely than some people seem to think, though.


But remember, UBER was playing in an unfair world. A world in which the existing Taxi companies had entrenched monopolies and yearly contracts with airports and city councils. And UBER does provide a valuable service to its users. I hate to go back to the days of having to call a yellow taxi cab to take me to the airport and then wonder if they would show up in time or not.

//corrected a typo


Playing in an unfair world doesn't justify making it significantly more unfair by throwing out the rulebook.


How does that justify the alleged obstruction of justice?


Morally, it is a question of if the legal system is delivering justice or not. Obstructing the legal system when it fails to provide justice is not obstructing justice in a number of moral or ethical views.

Consider a case where the legal system was attempting to enforce property rights involving slavery and an individual obstructed the system. Many would consider this justified obstruction of justice because they are morally opposed to what the legal system is trying to do. (I'm not trying to say what Uber is doing is anything like the example I gave, I was only trying to give an extreme example where many readers would at least see how people would feel it justified the obstruction of justice.)

Legally, it doesn't at all.


the U.S. is a constitutional republic and is governed by the rule of law. if a law is unfair, the constitutional remedy for it is the legislative process, not breaking the law.


Last weekend, I visited Hamburg with my wife. I was surprised when I was told that I couldn't catch an Uber. However, on each German taxi (you know, the beige ones) there was a sticker prompting me to download the "EUTaxi" (or similarly named) app, which I did.

Brilliant. I was able to summon a car within minutes, and this app also allows for paying via the app.

Uber's biggest threat is, IMO, the creation of a well-working "push to ride & pay" taxi app by other countries that are as similarly well organised as Germany.

For me as a consumer, I could care less if I download Uber or EUTaxi. As long as I get my ride on time, and with a professionally licensed driver.


I generally agree with your sentiment, but just to give another perspective I thought I should point out that there's a significant difference between those that can afford to travel to Europe and hail a ride from a "professionally licensed driver", and those that can afford to spend $3.41* to pool home from Boston to Cambridge at 2:30am on a Thursday night, with a guy returning home from work looking to make a few extra bucks, and three pickups along the way happy to get home affordably. Those of the latter type are far more numerous, and far more harmed by the increased prices due to regulation of ride sharing markets, than the typical financially well-off hackernewsian would generally be aware of.

* VC dollars still subsidize Uber, but even as an operational whole to < 20% of the true cost of rides. On the other hand, the equivalent taxi would cost at least $12-15.


> with a guy returning home from work looking to make a few extra bucks, and three pickups along the way happy to get home affordably

Sounds nice, but I never had a single Uber driver that was doing it as a "casual" thing, or just to cover his fuel expenses and make some money on the side. It's a fulltime job for the vast majority of Uber drivers.


Most of the Uber drivers I've had, only do it part time. With a few saying it would be impossible to do full time because they wouldn't make enough money.


I notice a big difference based on where I am.

NYC, Bay Area: full-timers. Mid-west, PNW: "casual" part-timers


Casual Uber driver here who works full time in sysadmin/software engineering. Hello!

>It's a fulltime job for the vast majority of Uber drivers.

This statement is unsupported and contrary to every driver I know. It also runs contrary to Uber's own advertising.


I used to work at Uber and heard anecdotally that despite the advertising, something like 50% of Uber rides in the Bay Area are done by the top ten percent of drivers. And they do work a lot. So the vast majority might be part time but they don't do most of the work.


> regulation of ride sharing markets

You misspelled taxi markets.

> with a guy returning home from work looking to make a few extra bucks,

I don't know the local regulations, however isn't it still allowed to drive them at cost? Allowing the guy returning from work to cover the fuel cost by driving others? Sure its not the latest illegal getting rich quick scheme.


Well, there's nothing stopping you from doing this in Germany. You just need taxi insurance. It's pretty lame that Uber can't accommodate this.


Does UberPool really profitably work at 2:30am? Boston experimented with late night public transit and basically couldn't make the numbers work.


Routinely spent $40 on a taxi from Boston (Logan) Airport to Cambridge (Central Square) as a student. Couldn't really afford it but redeyes often leave one lacking for options. To your point of regulation and pricing, I'd happily accept less "professionalism" for a sensible discount—say $10-15 rides.


And yet, there's a way to get from Central Square to Logan for about $2.25 for those who are cost sensitive.


Bus, I'm guessing?


Subway to dedicated-lane bus line. (Red Line to Silver Line)


Additionally, in smaller American markets, Uber is simply where the drivers are. Lyft's are almost always 15 minutes away, and because of that, they will always have surge pricing where Uber might not.


Not defending Uber in particular, but another feature of the taxi apps is instant feedback about the driver.

My father took a traditional taxi back home from the airport (SeaTac). The driver was on his cell phone the entire time and driving erratically. When my father went to the taxi board to report his behavior they told him "You have an appointment to stand before the board and make your case. It is Wednesday at 3:00PM". I don't know if the time exact, but the point it is during the day when most people are working. My father couldn't get that time off. The body responsible for overseeing drivers wasn't willing to take his complaint if he couldn't come and give it in person during the working day. It was an absurd policy that protected dangerous drivers. It is outrageous to me that the existing framework was clearly designed to protect bad drivers like that.

With apps these days, you can give feedback right away inside the app. No need to go downtown to meet with bureaucrats. I think there is obviously a balance to strike here, but I don't think the current system has found it.


This, 1,000,000 times over. There are shitty cabbies the world over. They are constantly trying to scam me. In markets I'm familiar with I catch them and call them out. In markets I'm not, how do I know?

Long way around or poor route selection, made up surcharges, putting a higher amount into a payment app than was on the meter, horrible riding experience due to BO, refusing to take me somewhere because it's too close, poor driving, or poor car condition. There is no feedback loop for these drivers.

Contrast with Uber, when I have a bad ride, I complain and usually get my money back, or at least part of it. I also feel pretty confident those drivers won't be allowed on the network after a few of those.

I realize there's another side to this, which is the drivers are overly penalized by poor reviews and some riders abuse that, but this seems a natural overreaction to the current situation of zero accountability. Uber, Lyft, or something else, whoever is providing the most pleasant riding experience at the cheapest price with convenience should win. From my experience, Taxi's are at the bottom of any list today.


That's a problem with the local taxi organisation. In Istanbul if I have a problem with a taxi (or any other public transport vehicle/agent) it's enough to call 153 and report or fill out a form online. AFAIK they also accept SMS messages. Also, we have BiTaksi app here where we can give instant feedback and also see star-ratings about the drivers. So if your infra is bad, that does not necessarily mean the means is bad also.


It's a huge difference when travelling. I really learned to appreciate Uber when I was in a foreign country, and could, _without local knowledge_, summon a car for a reasonable price and high confidence that I wouldn't get scammed.

Interestingly, the Uber was also consistently way cheaper (think "half or less") than unlicensed local bike taxis, so I suspect that it does provide a value to the drivers too (maybe not having to stand around on a corner hoping for a customer for hours).

Meanwhile, in Germany alone, you'd need to have multiple apps depending on which city you're in with little consistency between them.



I think they mean http://www.taxi.eu/. It's a single app used by large taxi dispatchers all over Europe; in Hamburg, at least HansaTaxi uses it, the largest and IMHO best dispatcher.

As far as I understand it, taxi.eu is an infrastructure service for dispatchers, while MyTaxi is a bit more Uber-like in that it provides a virtual dispatcher for non-affiliated (but still licensed) Taxi drivers.


Me too. During a 3-day visit to Austin TX I used RideAustin maybe 10 times. It was flawless. The app works just as well as Uber's, the cars and drivers were just fine.


This is how uber works in the UK. All cabs are licensed for private hire


I do care whether or not my drivers are forced to purchase a medallion and abide by other silly regulations, because it affects the cost and quality of the service.


> drivers are forced to purchase a medallion

In Germany: while taxis are required to have licenses, we don't have such things as taxi drivers renting their medallions for a day.

> and abide by other silly regulations

Regulations usually exist for good reasons. Let's just take the common complaints about the German ones:

- cab drivers have rigorous tests on their knowledge of the city's streets: you don't want to have drivers which are stuck on the side of the road if their GPS fails and also you don't want them spend a minute idling and typing the destination in the GPS. Furthermore, it makes for a more professional experience.

- cab drivers have to know lots of tourist info (this applies at least for Munich, Berlin and Hamburg): you don't want to have cab drivers unable to at least explain a bit about the city. Cab drivers are, airport staff aside, the first point of contact for tourists.

- cab drivers have to keep their car clean and maintained: once again: Cab drivers are, airport staff aside, the first point of contact for tourists. Which means that an unclean, falling-to-pieces cab will leave a negative impression on the city as a whole. Also, not properly maintained cabs are a safety risk.

- cab drivers from city A may drive passengers to city B, but not pick up passengers in city B. Once again, this is not just to protect taxi drivers in city B (because the meter in taxi A may have lower tariffs), but also to ensure a competent driver for passengers in city B.

Uber didn't grab much of a hold in Germany because the cabs here are not the total desaster that is found in other countries. Especially, we have the Beförderungspflicht, which means that a cab driver must transport you inside the licensed area, no matter how short or long the route, and especially discrimination on race or the 'hood where the passenger is hailing the cab is forbidden. The only reason for a cab driver to deny you transportation is if you're too drunk/drugged or armed/aggressive (both of which are a danger to the cab driver) or the destination is outside the licensed area (the cab driver still may set his/her own price for such routes, but very well deny you transportation if it's too far away).


I haven't verified this for Germany, but I'd venture that cab drivers are probably required to have adequate insurance (which would be the most important thing to me).


As I recall, one of the things Uber got in trouble for in Germany was not meeting the insurance requirements.


> you don't want them spend a minute idling and typing the destination in the GPS

And yet this happens to me in probably one in four rides in Berlin (which adds up to a lot of rides), and not really anywhere exotic: Tegel to Kollwitzplatz for instance.

(I agree with all your points and I use MyTaxi which I find good enough, but I think the street map knowledge of Berlin taxi drivers has radically decreased in the last ten years. No idea why.)


> And yet this happens to me in probably one in four rides in Berlin (which adds up to a lot of rides), and not really anywhere exotic: Tegel to Kollwitzplatz for instance.

Obligatory BER joke: Taxi drivers think they're at BER and are a bit confused why it says TXL? ;)


Some regulations are fine. Like requiring that your drivers have insurance. Or even requiring that your drivers pass some sort of test which demonstrates that they are actually skilled drivers, if you want. But I actually don't like any of the regulations you mentioned.

The most egregious is this one:

cab drivers from city A may drive passengers to city B, but not pick up passengers in city B. Once again, this is not just to protect taxi drivers in city B (because the meter in taxi A may have lower tariffs), but also to ensure a competent driver for passengers in city B.

This is almost always a rule to protect cab drivers in city B. And it's horribly inefficient as it means the cab spends 50% of its time empty. If driving between cities is common, fares have to be much, much higher to compensate drivers for this.

Knowledge of local roads is close to ok, it ties into being a good driver. The other items on your list are nice-to-haves, but at what cost? If tourists really want all this stuff, they can take the cab at the stand outside their hotel or at the airport instead of calling an Uber. But, speaking for myself, I'd prefer to save 10-20 euro on a trip from the airport.

Disclaimer: the closest I have come to Germany is flying through the airports. So feel free to critique my lack of local knowledge.


> This is almost always a rule to protect cab drivers in city B. And it's horribly inefficient as it means the cab spends 50% of its time empty. If driving between cities is common, fares have to be much, much higher to compensate drivers for this.

Most of the time, that rule doesn't hit at all - the major exceptions are the Berlin and Munich airports, which are located outside of the city borders. The remainder that gets hit by this policy are fares crossing regional boundaries on the countryside where it doesn't really matter anyway if a cab goes 5km empty.

All the major cities are in one regulation zone exactly to avoid this - which has the downside that in the mega-urbs Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Berlin the amount of knowledge required for taxi drivers is immense, and it doesn't really help that there are often enough more than 2 streets of the same name in Berlin (mostly, an aftereffect of the DDR/BRD split and reunification).


> Regulations usually exist for good reasons

It's just a very small group of people telling everyone else what's good for them. I have a better idea - create regulations that "protect the innocent" but at the same time allow people to opt-out from such "protection" and use whatever transportation service they fucking please (but at their own risk).


It sounds fine at first glance, but it's actually ignoring two important points.

1. In this case, there's no opting out of personal protection without endangering innocents - as long as you're using public transportation infrastructure (i.e. roads), an unmaintained and/or uninsured car is a danger to others. There is public interest in ensuring such cars do not drive alongside regular traffic.

2. Such "protection" through enforcement of some minimal standards is a cost; if you remove that floor, the market will push straight down. What you intend as a voluntary opt-out mode will become involuntary, as prices adjusts to reflect the added costs of those standards. In other words, it's not just those who're willingly opting out that will be using "unprotected" services, but also those who can't afford the "protection" but need the service.

Point 2 can be also restated as: safety standards are a cost, the market will happily get rid of it (by externalizing them onto society at large) if you allow it to.


an unmaintained and/or uninsured car is a danger to others

In most jurisdictions, it is illegal to drive a car without a specific level of insurance or with safety-related maintenance issues independent of whether it is being used for some commercial purpose.


Commercially used cars have different insurance and maintenance standards; this was one of many issues with Uber - drivers lacking proper insurance.


Most personal insurances will not pay out if they discover that you were driving for commercial purposes, as there is a different risk profile for commercial drivers.


How would this work with taxis? Do I need to research every taxi I hail to find out if they meet reasonable safety standards?


And we end up with almost every single contract including the opt out language. The majority of people don't read contracts, and many of those who do have no access to recourse to do anything other than walking away from the entire field of services. (While in theory the market should fix this by having service offers without those clauses that people who read their contract and walk away from bad ones can use, the total number who are willing to walk away are far too smaller.)

For example, look at arbitration in the US.

Want a retirement account? Arbitration clause.

Bank account? Arbitration clause.

Cell phone contract? Arbitration clause.

Insurance? Arbitration clause.

Online video game account? Arbitration clause.

And most people don't realize how one sided these are until they end up on the wrong end of the legal system.


> the total number who are willing to walk away are far too smaller

Because people are too lazy to walk away from a bad deal or simply don't want to read the contract they're about to sign is a really poor justification.


My point there is that so few do that the market doesn't respond to capture those who do so. The justification isn't about why, it is about the money in capturing them. Making an offer for people who want to buy cell phones without arbitration, and advertising it so those people know about the option, won't cause a positive return on investment and as such doesn't happen. It is a comment on why 'just go buy from someone who doesn't do it' isn't a solution.


Look at th5dv, who doesn't have any Apple or Google accounts, or use a major U.S. mobile phone carrier. Otherwise, he has agreed to a binding arbitration clause.


Is it really being lazy to not want to go without a bank account?


if you think it's about being too lazy that says a LOT more about you than them.


Making a personal remark on someone just because (presumably) they have a different opinion on certain matters is pretty low.


German taxis actually allow that.

Services that are technically "rent a car with a driver" can operate like taxis, but not do on-street pickup.

Only regulations: Needs driver license, needs insurance.


That doesn't work. It's been tried, some people are just too stupid and they'll hurt themselves and complain about it.

By your logic we shouldn't regulate smoking or guns or a million other things we regulate, for good reason.


> some people are just too stupid and they'll hurt themselves and complain about it

It's not just about stupid people. It's also about people who get deceived by marketing (i.e. all of us, in some way, at some point). It's also about the market adjusting prices so that the unsafe option will be the only option available for some people, while true costs are externalized onto society.

But the point still is, as you say, we regulate a lot of things for good reason.


> It's also about the market adjusting prices

Yes, but it'll work the other way around - the "safe option" will become cheaper, otherwise services that provide it will go out of business. What makes you think that "unsafe option will be the only option available for some people". Feels a bit like you're demonising the free market.


> some people are just too stupid and they'll hurt themselves and complain about it

stupid people will hurt them self, one way or another. You can't protect people from their own stupidity by introducing more and more regulations. Soon, you won't be able to purchase a kitchen knife.


Just to give an example that kind of goes against what you were saying: cars were invented and at first there were not that many regulations.

Now we have:

- speed limits

- car making regulations

- fuel regulations

- ...

And 99% of those rules are good for society as a whole.

Regulation isn't bad in and of itself, abuse of regulation is. Focus on the real target ;)


At first, it seemed like legitimate software to assess spam until:

> For example, it mined credit card information to see if the owner was affiliated with a credit union used by police and checked social media profiles to assess the likelihood that the person was in law enforcement.

Yikes. I know people who have the mentality that this sort of thing is ok. Whether you're a startup that never makes it, or one worth billions, at some point this kind of stuff surfaces. You can't run a successful company and get away with this stuff, especially as a start up when everyone is out to get you even moreso.

I'm still waiting for the big one that makes me quit using Uber though.


Switched to Lyft following the Susan Fowler blog post, haven't noticed any difference in service at all. Great replacement, at least in a major metro.

Sometimes I'll chat with the drivers about what they prefer and most seem to like getting Lyft work more, but Uber has more demand.


Part of why they like working for Lyft more is that it gives them a bigger cut. Paying workers better is a positive mark in my book.


Don't both services take 25%? I'm confused.


The cut may be the same but the rates for ride may not be the same.

Also Lyft do not take a percentage out of your tip compare to Uber.

-- once upon a time lyft driver


But.. uber doesn't support tipping in the app. How would they take a cut of a cash tip?


> I'm still waiting for the big one that makes me quit using Uber though.

The app stopped working for me. That got me to install Lyft. Then I wondered why I hadn't earlier.

Around the time Uber started tracking users _after_ a ride, their "search for destination" feature stopped working for me. After I tapped my destination from the list of results, the app would hang indefinitely with a terrible bouncing progress bar along the top. I couldn't even summon an Uber to speak with the driver.


Why haven't you quit yet? There's been more ugly stuff coming out about Uber over the past few years than basically the entire of the rest of the tech industry combined.


I mean, we can say "It's wrong for you to keep using the thing on your phone that's installed and works," but all that will do is make people conceal that they still use Uber.

A better approach might be an anecdote: My friend actually made the switch to Lyft, and apparently it's just as quick and effective as Uber. She hasn't had any complaints as far as I know.


I switched to Lyft a couple of years ago and have never looked back. The straw for me was when Uber sponsored a police militarization conference in Oakland (http://valleywag.gawker.com/uber-is-now-sponsoring-a-police-...).


I've had ethical qualms about Uber for a long time, but I've always gotten good service.

Unfortunately, I had a Lyft experience that really turned me off. They matched me with a driver who was 5-10 minutes away (I believe he was at Millbrae BART). He messaged to ask where I was going, and then once I responded he moved his car slightly farther away from me, and then parked it. We waited ~10 mins. He was unable or unwilling to cancel the ride that he wouldn't give us, wouldn't respond back to me, and Lyft customer support didn't seem to care.

It was infuriating. Either do a better job matching, lower the penalties for drivers canceling, or enforce the same/worse penalties for refusing to pick up. If the driver's best course of action is to ignore your customer, you have a problem. Maybe that's changed since then, but it's not necessarily a good thing for consumers that drivers say they prefer Lyft.

I use both, infrequently, and rationalize it because my rides are being subsidized by investors. I think short of dramatic leadership changes, Uber can't fix their corruption. I'm hoping they run out of investors willing to give them cash, or they're disrupted by something even better. As long as they have the best product, I think they'll continue to grow.


I've used the service a thousand times without this issue and I just cancel the ride (without a fee) if its taking too long. No reason to blame the platform for one driver especially given that you'll use Uber instead who probably hired the exact same driver.


Why didn't you just cancel?


I should have canceled sooner. I thought it was possible he was filling up gas, or some other sort of bio break. Which in retrospect is kind of dumb


I believe after 5-10 minutes, there is a fee.


If you're cancelling because the driver isn't showing up, there's no fee. I've definitely cancelled rides after waiting 10 minutes and I've never ever been hit with a fee. My vague understanding is if it's clear the driver isn't going to get to you within the ETA, then cancelling is ok, but since I've never been presented with a fee in the first place, I've never sought clarification on that.


Almost everyone I know has switched (myself included), and we haven't had any issues. The fares are sometimes higher for long-distance pools, but that's pretty much the only difference I've noticed.


You have look at microsoft to get a comparable amount of BS.

At least microsoft had the civility to only screw over other software shops (and occassionally tinker with government lobbying and standardization bodies). Uber has sexism, anti-police conspiracies, oppression of its own workforce, blatantly illegal operating procedures, etc...

I have no reason to believe this, but I am waiting for the story were the uber CEO makes of with all the investors money.


Yikes. I know people who have the mentality that this sort of thing is ok.

I don't see a big problem with it. If it's OK to do the original illegal thing, then why wouldn't it be OK to try to avoid contact with law enforcement while doing it? If it's not OK to do the original thing then that rather than trying to avoid being punished for it is the fundamental issue.

I find it a little odd people are upset over this if they weren't similarly upset over Uber skirting regulations to begin with. Uber has been guilty of some other bad behavior toward employees, drivers and competitors that I find unacceptable, but Greyball seems fundamentally reasonable.


> If it's OK to do the original illegal thing, then why wouldn't it be OK to try to avoid contact with law enforcement while doing it?

Because law enforcement might need to do an investigation to determine if you're doing an illegal thing or not. Impeding such an investigation is ipso facto illegal, regardless of whether the thing they're investigating is itself against the law. That's why we have a crime called "obstruction of justice", to disincentivize people from covering up their illegal activities by any means necessary.


Obstruction of justice generally require more active behavior than simply refusing service to someone you believe is investigating you. Most obstruction of justice statutes I found and read in 5 minutes of google searching required specific acts like destroying records you know to be part of an ongoing investigation or making false statements to officials, not simply any act intended to avoid the attention of law enforcement.


> Obstruction of justice generally require more active behavior than simply refusing service to someone you believe is investigating you.

You're right, but as other people in this thread have mentioned, Uber wasn't simply refusing service to the suspected investigators (which probably would've been fine): they were actively wasting their time, making them think a ride was on the way when it wasn't. That tips it into obstruction of justice.


Can anyone comment if this would fly in Europe? AIUI, you can only use information for the purposes for which it was taken. Taking someone's credit card number is for processing payment. Filtering it for fraud seems like it would be okay, but "checking if they're a narc" seems like it would cross the line.

(Yes, I asked about this in the last thread, but my question and the replies were about credit card/PCI agreements, not privacy laws.)


No, it would be illegal according to EU data protection laws: "Article 8 prohibits the processing of personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade-union membership, and the processing of data concerning health or sex life"[0].

As you've mentioned, basically you can only use user's data for purposes stated in EULA (and they can't be overly abstract i.e. "we do anything we like with your data"). Though, sadly it's rare to see enforcement of data privacy laws except few show-off trials.

P.S. currently data protection laws vary a little country by country, but even more strict, EU-wide data protection laws will enter into force next year that also applies (on paper) to non-EU companies that serves EU citizens[1]. See more at http://www.eugdpr.org/

0. http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/data-collection/... 1. http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/reform/index_en....


So if supported allegations of rampant corporate sexism and sexual harassment[1][2], legally suspect actions during corporate events[3], the "Greyball" toolkit[4], departure of at least seven high-level executives in recent months[5], a tone-deaf and self-aggravating CEO[6], financial analysts pointing out the massive scope of investor subsidies and lack of profit opportunities[7], and questionable classifications of their own (unacknowledged) employees[8][9], not to mention a history of all sorts of other anti-competitive and marginally legal activities[10], aren't enough to sway you to stop using Uber, what will?

---

[1] https://www.susanjfowler.com/blog/2017/2/19/reflecting-on-on...

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/22/technology/uber-workplace...

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/22/technology/uber-workplace...

[4] http://uk.businessinsider.com/uber-greyball-app-vtos-authori...

[5] http://www.businessinsider.com/uber-in-crisis-timeline-2017-...

[6] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-02-28/in-video-...

[7] http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/11/can-uber-ever-deliver...

[8] http://money.cnn.com/2016/08/11/technology/uber-lawsuits/

[9] http://www.govtech.com/applications/uber-bans-drivers-from-c...

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/apr/13/uber-laws...


For me, it was the redesign. Travis talking about how picking a corporate colour scheme was a "process of self discovery" was just too much SV nonsense. Atoms and Bits indeed.

Also didn't help they ran a big article about leaving Postgres because they couldn't assume their engineers understand DB transactions. Their example, IIRC, was a dev sending an email inside of a DB transaction​ and not knowing this would consume resources and cause contention. Normalising that kind of incompetency isn't positive.

But hey, in Guatemala I've got no alternative and Uber works great and is far safer than a taxi, so hey...


    > But hey, in Guatemala I've got no alternative and Uber works great and is far safer than a taxi, so hey...
No local upstart competitors that are worth supporting?


Not that I've heard about. A local taxi company has an app that doesn't install properly and won't respond to emails about it. But they are running huge ads talking about how they're so "friendly" and "trusted". At the same time, the taxi drivers are threatening violence if the government doesn't boot Uber.

Uber in Guatemala actually visits the drivers' houses, in addition to requiring police backgrounds on them and so on. It's far safer. The prices are far lower, too. Drivers make more than they'd make working in a call center, where unskilled English speakers can make $600-$700.

It's also providing some investment opportunities. Use Uber's fleet management system to buy a bunch of cars and rent them out to drivers that don't own their own car.

On the whole, Uber, in Guatemala, seems entirely positive.


In that case, I hope that Uber in Guatemala is run as a subsidiary that survives should it's corporate parent cease to exist.


Susan Fowler's blog post was what caused me to go from freely alternating between Uber and Lyft (and slightly favoring Uber because Lyft encourages Waze, and I refuse to ride in a car with Waze running) to using Lyft 95% of the time and only using Uber when Lyft is in a surge and I need to leave now.


Okay, I'll bite. Why do you refuse to ride in a car with Waze running?


Has there ever been a "big one" that caused you to stop using a product on ethical grounds?


> Whether you're a startup that never makes it, or one worth billions, at some point this kind of stuff surfaces.

But if you're a startup that fails early, it doesn't. The thinking is that you do whatever it takes to make it, and that if your nefarious deeds ever come to light it just proves that you've made it big enough to cop some scrutiny.

I don't agree with it, but many do.


> I don't agree with it, but many do.

Ugh. What happened to ethics? Does no one at Berkeley teach that course anymore?


> Yikes. I know people who have the mentality that this sort of thing is ok

I do find it amusing the Government of the US does this to basically every person and company, all the time, but if one company tries to do it back.. well, then, that's really bad and shame on them!


Do you need proof they are killing people? Just the exploitation of their drivers was enough for me to quit them.

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