Korea Threatens To Put Uber's CEO In Prison For Offering An 'Illegal' Taxi Service
from the you're-not-in-the-us-any-more dept
Uber, the “hail a ride from your phone” company, has faced quite a few challenges lately, many of which it’s brought on itself. Questions raised about its practices, its approach to privacy and its way of dealing with the competition are all worth exploring. Frankly, some of the criticism seems well-deserved, while other parts are clearly blown way out of proportion. Many of the problems seem to stem from the fact that Uber is a company that grew insanely fast and hasn’t quite realized that people no longer view it as the scrappy startup it was not too long ago.
As we’ve pointed out for years, one of Uber’s best marketing strategies was to enter a market — have regulators freak out — and then use the controversy as a marketing opportunity to drum up interest, and create enough public support to get regulators to fix the laws, allowing a useful service to thrive. And, in fact, most of the time, the regulations that Uber runs up against are really silly. They’re often much more focused on limiting competition and keeping taxi fees inflated, rather than things like consumer safety.
However, while this tactic worked really well when it was small and scrappy, as a giant company (with a variety of scandals, overblown or not), it seems this strategy is having some trouble these days. Regulators have been pushing back much more strongly — such as with new lawsuits, and it appears that regulators in other countries are taking the fight to a different level. Over in South Korea, prosecutors have now indicted Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick for “operating an illegal taxi service.”
Of course, it’s plainly ridiculous to make this a criminal offense. Whatever you think of the company’s practices, you’d be hard pressed to find people who don’t recognize that it and related services have actually made it much easier and cheaper for people to get around urban areas. The ability to quickly get a car (and to pay for it automatically) via a phone really does change the way people can get around. It also has been shown to decrease things like drunk driving by offering a very easy alternative. While some have said what Uber has done is “nothing new,” like many great innovations the truly powerful part is in the little details: Uber made it super convenient. Whether or not it was new, that convenience made it powerful.
It seems that regulators would do well to figure out ways to adjust the laws to make sure that offerings like Uber can operate. Perhaps that requires safety/background checks and the like, but to outright declare the operations illegal — even with the threat of prison time — suggests serious problems with the regulations, rather than with Uber.