Uber: To Boycott or Not to Boycott?

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Uber’s position as the tech-industry’s most embarrassing example of out-of-control bro culture, tolerance for sexual harassment, and growth-over-ethics tactics has sparked a new debate: What can, and should, its customers — that is, most of us — do? In The New York Times, Farhad Manjoo urges readers who are upset by the company’s behavior to stop using its convenient services and find alternatives. He doesn’t use the word “boycott,” but that’s essentially what he’s advocating.

The same digital tools and networks that power Uber itself could be turned against it, but that hasn’t happened yet in any effectively organized way. A #deleteuber campaign last winter raised some noise but apparently did not put a dent in Uber’s growth, writes Brian Feldman in New York. Ride-sharing is a commodity business; Uber and its largest competitor, Lyft, charge roughly the same prices; and Uber’s size gives it the edge on wait times.

More important, Feldman argues, since Uber loses money and subsidizes its low prices with investor cash, customers’ leverage is at best indirect. Sure, slower growth might dismay investors, but it won’t drain the company’s coffers. And telling people to “just don’t use Uber” may be unrealistic in the many marketplaces where alternatives are few, mass transit is limited or nonexistent, and people still need to get from point A to B.

Feldman urges readers to apply political pressure to get Uber to reform itself — “voting with your ballot, not your wallet.” But surely we can do both.


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