EDITORIAL: Uber Isn’t MLM, But It Sure Acts Like It

From a letter from Sen. Al Franken to Uber, Franken, a Democrat, is a member of the powerful Senate Committee on the Judiciary. He also is chairman of the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.

From a letter by Sen. Al Franken to Uber. Franken, a Democrat, is a member of the powerful Senate Committee on the Judiciary. He also is chairman of the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.

We’ll begin by pointing out that Uber, the popular ride-sharing company and darling of venture capitalists, is not an MLM firm. But it sure is acting like one, even briefly vomiting one of MLM’s most familiar and reflexive responses to critics: HatersGonnaHate.

Can MLM enterprises and MLMers in general learn from Uber’s bizarre missteps?

You see, both Uber and MLM have a common problem: a certain internal recklessness coupled with a tin ear for PR, one that serves up one spectacular gaffe after another. Uber’s latest self-inflicted wound now has the attention of Sen. Al Franken, the Minnesota Democrat. Franken wants to know why “Uber’s Senior Vice-President of Business Emil Michael recently made statements suggesting that Uber might mine private information to target a journalist who had criticized the company.”

As BuzzFeedNews reported on Nov. 17 (italics/bolding added):

A senior executive at Uber suggested that the company should consider hiring a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on its critics in the media — and specifically to spread details of the personal life of a female journalist who has criticized the company.

Put another way: make the lady sweat that some skeleton might surface and lead to her demise should she dare continue to write pieces Uber found unflattering.

One Uber executive, BuzzFeed reported, planted the seed that Uber could prove “a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.”

The journalist is Sarah Lacy, the editor-in-chief at PandoDaily and a Mom. Here we’ll mention that, in addition to the Uber thuggishness, she’s also had to deal with the sidebar contention that Pando just might be funded by the CIA.

As a journalist who has been accused by MLMers of being on the CIA payroll and told by MLMers that my supposed secrets dealing with my supposed homosexuality and supposed porn addiction will be outed even as “sovereign citizens” threaten me with $500,000 fines for alleged trademark infringement, it will come as no surprise to PP Blog readers that I’m more than a little sympathetic to reporters who encounter thugs.

This sympathy extends whether the thugs are in the Ivory Tower or operating from the sewers.

The BuzzFeed Uber revelation set off a media firestorm now in its fourth day, putting Uber’s name in the papers for all the wrong reasons. Now, at least one reporter has come forward to claim that Uber tracked her without her permission as she rode in a Uber car. The device Uber uses to perform this tracking is known as “God View.”

In September, venture capitalist Peter Sims wrote that he’d been tracked by Uber without his permission. Sims says he was in a Uber car in New York City and that Uberites in Chicago were monitoring his movements. What this means, in essence, is that Uber was using him as a stage prop without his knowledge and consent from halfway across the country while also invading his privacy.

This reminds me of two crackpot MLM schemes making the rounds in 2010. These “programs” were known as NarcThatCar and Data Network Affiliates. Both schemes bizarrely reimagined mass invasions of privacy as exciting new products — and then wrapped pyramid schemes around their creations for good measure.

The schemes worked approximately like this: Armies of MLMers would hit neighborhoods across the land and write down the license-plate numbers of cars parked on streets and the addresses at which they were parked. They’d also hit the parking lots of grocery stores, big-box retailers, restaurant chains, pharmacies, doctors’ offices, bookstores, libraries, theaters, video-rental companies and universities.

All of this information would be entered in a database, purportedly to assist the AMBER Alert system of locating abducted children. AMBER Alert purportedly would get the data for free, but clientele purportedly including banks and companies in the business of repossessing cars during the height of the recession would pay for it.

MLM recruits were told to try not to attract too much attention while writing down all these plate numbers. They also were falsely told they were helping the U.S. Department of Homeland Security track terrorists.

Yes. MLM went in the spy business, using the pretext that it was one’s patriotic duty to monitor license plates and that enormous profits would flow from neighbors keeping track of automobiles in their neighborhoods. As the story was told, the database could tell the police what cars were parked at a fixed address at the time a child was snatched. This information then could be compared to the next sighting of the tag as entered in the database from a different fixed address, thus purportedly providing clues as to where the kidnapped child was being held.

If anyone had the temerity to raise a stink or even make a polite inquiry about why a stranger was recording their plate number in a parking lot, the recorders were trained to respond that no one had anything to fear if they hadn’t done anything wrong.

Both Narc and DNA were filled with such Orwellian outrageousness (and were such obvious pyramid schemes) that reporters began to hound both “programs.” The Better Business Bureau was subjected to bizarre attacks from the MLM sphere for raising questions about the “programs,” and some MLMers got the idea that the reporters, rather than the companies pulling off obvious scams, should be investigated.

Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels couldn’t have imagined greater allies than the MLM Stepfordians.

By 2012, MLMer and Zeek Rewards Ponzi-scheme figure Robert Craddock got the bright idea of putting himself in the opposition-research business — the opposition being reporters who wrote anything bad about Zeek. One of his targets was Zeek critic K. Chang, who briefly lost control over his HubPages site because Craddock had filed a complaint alleging copyright infringement, trademark infringement and libel.

K. Chang eventually prevailed, but not without experiencing downtime while the Zeek scheme was still gathering cash. The SEC eventually shut down Zeek, alleging that it was operating a fraud that had gathered $850 million.

Still sensing there was money to be made in the MLM cottage business of harassing reporters or soliciting dirt on them, Craddock eventually established a website known as “InternetClowns” that purportedly would serve all MLM firms. The supposed “clowns” included the PP Blog and BehindMLM.com, two sites that report on MLM frauds.

At the beginning of this column I noted that perhaps MLM could learn something from the experience of Uber in the subject area of tracking reporters and soliciting dirt on them. It strikes me now that maybe it should be the other way around: that Uber could learn from MLM.

One of the things Uber could learn is not to do anything MLMish if it wants to maintain its standing as a venture-capital darling.

By MLMish, we mean something crazy and outlandish such as tracking reporters, bringing in opposition-research teams to menace them and telling a group of people in the Second City that you’re using your “God Machine” to spy on a venture capitalist in the Big Apple.

And perhaps Uber also might want to avoid the most recent practice associated with “defenders” of  outrageous MLM “programs” and HYIP schemes.

This would be the practice of trying to smear critics by using online forums to plant false stories about critics’ ties to Islamic terrorist groups and otherwise attacking human beings based on their Muslim faith.

Uber can read all about that one on RealScam.com, a site that concerns itself with international mass-marketing fraud. RealScam.com currently is being hectored by a person known as “Happy Customer” who is making outrageous claims against critics, filing bogus reports at RipoffReport and trying to keyword stuff the forum with words such as “Islamic Forum” and “haven for Islamic Terrorists !”

Happy Customer’s mind appears to be telling him (used presumptively) that, if only he can use the words “Islamic” and “Muslim” enough times — while mixing in words such as “terrorist” and “terrorism” — the eavesdropping and text-reading National Security Agency might just buzz by and turn off RealScam’s server.

Study the strange MLM circus, Uber. What you’ll learn should be more than enough to help make most unwanted headlines go away.

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6 Responses to “EDITORIAL: Uber Isn’t MLM, But It Sure Acts Like It”

  1. The problem is lack of accountability… they think they are untouchable, based on whatever delusion they built for themselves.

    Just ask Kevin Trudeau.

  2. I found this page after looking to see if there was some kind of a direct link between “sharing” businesses and MLMs, because I’ve had occasion in recent months to mention to people that the first time I ever heard of “sharing” businesses was at a party in 2009 that turned out to be a pitch for Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing.

    The other people at this “party” there were obviously into all sorts of MLMs, and a few of them were talking excitedly about “sharing web site businesses” they were eager to get involved in, describing them in a way I thought sounded like a match dot com for carpooling instead of dates, and also for subletting or house swapping of some kind. And I now realize they were probably talking about Uber & Airbnb.

    Needless to say I was shocked that what Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing was doing was legal. And in the end of course the law did catch up with them a few years later.

    Anyhow, I do see a similar business model in that it seems like many MLMs and many of these “sharing” services, base their operation strategy on regulatory avoidance to try to steal the economic rents out of existing businesses or markets, instead of actually starting an actual business & actually playing fair.

    I imagine that it’s just that these businesses appeals to a lot of the same people who think the shortest distance between two points is an angle.

  3. Quick note: Many of you likely are aware there is a hostage situation unfolding in Sydney, with concerns it could be an ISIS sympathizer.

    With people in downtown Sydney confused and startled by the situation, what does Uber do? Announce a price hike, of course.

    Then, according to the Washington Post, Uber unannounced the hike:

    Headline: “Uber backtracks after jacking up prices during Sydney hostage crisis”



  4. For anyone interested, the hostage situation is over following the storming of the coffee shop by police.

    As for Uber, may the fleas of a thousand camels infest their armpits and the court of public opinion condemn them.

  5. Talking of camel flea infested armpits:

    Judge Richard Bond briefly adjourned the case after being verbally abused, urged to “pass proper sentences” on Islamic extremists, and asked: “Any news on the Australian hostages?”

  6. The siege ended with the deaths of two of the hostages, the 34 year old cafe manager, Tori Johnson and barrister and mother of three, Katrina Johnson, who had been in the cafe for her morning coffee.

    The gunman, self styled Muslim cleric, Man Haron Monis was also killed during the rescue operation