A former top Uber lobbyist revealed himself on Monday as the source of the Uber Files leak, a huge trove of internal records that reveal how the ride-hailing giant built a massive influence machine to pave the road to global domination.
Mark MacGann, a 52-year-old Irishman, served as Uber’s chief lobbyist for Europe, the Middle East and Africa from 2014 to 2016 and oversaw government relations and public policy in more than 40 countries. He was tasked with managing the company’s chaotic global expansion, which was rife with violations of local transportation laws.
MacGann earlier this year handed more than 124,000 emails, text messages and internal company documents to The Guardian newspaper, a media partner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. To effect a global investigation in the public interest, The Guardian shared the records with ICIJ, which organized a journalism collaboration that grew to include more than 40 media partners in 29 countries.
The documents show how company executives lobbied politicians around the world for favors; deployed a kill switch, far more extensively than previously reported, to prevent authorities from accessing documents; negotiated investment deals with now-sanctioned Russian oligarchs; and exploited violence against Uber drivers to push for favorable regulations.
“There is no excuse for how the company played with people’s lives,” MacGann said. “I am disgusted and ashamed that I was a party to the trivialisation of such violence.”
MacGann, referred to as “MMG” in leaked emails, said in an exclusive interview with The Guardian that he decided to leak the documents, more than five years after resigning, to expose the company’s wrongdoing. In claiming to governments that changing rules in Uber’s favor would benefit drivers economically, “We had actually sold people a lie,” he told The Guardian.
MacGann said he never had time to question the overall effect of how the company was doing business until after he left and had time to reflect.
He added: “In most of the countries under my jurisdiction Uber was not allowed, was not authorized, was not legal.” He said the company’s mantra was “don’t ask for permission, just launch, hustle, enlist drivers, go out, do the marketing and quickly people will wake up and see what a great thing Uber is.”
But, MacGann acknowledged, he also participated in that misconduct. And it’s evident in the Uber Files: he brazenly asked political leaders for favors, was involved in discussions about deploying a so-called “kill switch” to cut access to Uber data during police raids, and cultivated ties to Russian oligarchs.
“I am partly responsible,” he told The Guardian. “I was there at that time, I was the one talking to governments, I was the one pushing this with the media, I was the one telling people that they should change the rules because drivers were going to benefit and people were going to get so much economic opportunity.”
There is no excuse for how the company played with people’s lives. I am disgusted and ashamed that I was a party to the trivialisation of such violence.
In response to questions from ICIJ, Uber spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said MacGann is not in a position to speak about Uber’s business today.
“Mark had only praise for Uber when he left the company six years ago,” she said. “Since then, however, Mark has been in litigation against the company in an attempt, among other things, to get paid a bonus he claimed to be owed for his work at Uber. That lawsuit recently ended with him being paid 550,000 euros. It is noteworthy that Mark felt compelled to ‘blow the whistle’ only after his check cleared.”
Hazelbaker said MacGann doesn’t “understand Uber’s current business model or our relationship with drivers in countries like Spain, Italy, and the UK.”
“There is real economic and social value to flexible and independent work arrangements,” she said. “Drivers agree, which is why tens of millions of people choose flexible work over other available work options.”
MacGann responded to Uber’s claims, saying the company has “unsurprisingly chosen to ‘play the man, not the ball.’”
“I first contacted Guardian journalists in December 2021, five months before Uber chose to settle my legal dispute,” he said. “I placed no restriction on when journalists could use the data I shared with them. It is not correct that I have been paid 550,000 euros – my lawyers are still fighting for me to receive the full payment.”
Hazelbaker later challenged MacGann’s account, providing documentation showing that Uber had paid more than 550,000 euros as part of an agreement with him. A lawyer for MacGann responded, “While Uber has paid most of the settlement amount, a sizable portion remains outstanding while issues related to tax are resolved.”
The Uber Files is an investigation into the ride-hailing giant’s massive lobbying efforts from 2013 to 2017, years pivotal in its global expansion. It reveals intimate details about how the company won access to world leaders, including then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, then-French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then-Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and others; struck deals with Kremlin-linked businessmen; and sought to deflect attention away from its own tax avoidance by helping authorities collect taxes from its drivers.
The leaked records shed new light on Uber’s relentless efforts to transform transportation laws in unwelcoming markets around the globe, including those in France, the Netherlands and Russia. They also depict strategies of thwarting law enforcement far greater than previously reported.
A career policy and communications specialist, MacGann earned political science degrees from Kingston University London and the Paris Institute of Political Studies, eventually winding up as head of European government affairs and public advocacy at the New York Stock Exchange Euronext. He went to Brussels-based consulting firm FIPRA International and worked on the Uber account before moving to Uber itself in 2014, eventually becoming the company’s public face in Europe.
While at Uber, the Uber Files show, MacGann took part in the company’s efforts to win access to political leaders, often in secret, and to thwart government probes, upend workers’ rights and cozy up to influential Russian elites as it barged into new markets in the face of fierce resistance.
MacGann himself described Uber’s approach to entering new markets as a “sh*itstorm,” according to the documents. He lobbied Macron to swing a regulatory decree in Uber’s favor. MacGann also championed the company’s relationship with former Dutch cabinet minister and European Commissioner Neelie Kroes, who pressed Dutch politicians “to force regulator and police to back off” from investigating Uber.
He also took part in discussions about the company’s use of a so-called “kill switch” to cut access to company servers and prevent authorities from seizing evidence during raids on Uber offices in at least six countries. “Access to IT tools was cut immediately, so the police won’t be able to get much if anything,” MacGann texted at one point.
MacGann was among Uber executives working to cultivate prominent Russian investors in a failed bid to win that lucrative market. One of them was Mikhail Fridman, co-owner of LetterOne, a holding firm, and Alfa Group, a multinational Russian conglomerate. Uber paid Alfa Bank’s deputy chairman $300,000 to lobby on behalf of the company and influence federal taxi legislation. One Uber executive said the company’s lawyers were worried that the payment would be seen as bribes to “grease the skids.”
In response to questions from ICIJ, MacGann said that he did not believe Kroes violated any laws in her interactions with Uber. He said that he was acting on orders from management whenever he was part of kill switch discussions. MacGann added that he had concerns about Uber paying the Alfa Bank executive. He didn’t respond to questions about asking Macron for help with regulators.
Uber spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker also told the consortium that Uber acknowledges its past “mistakes” and “missteps.”
“We have not and will not make excuses for past behavior that is clearly not in line with our present values,” she said.
Hazelbaker said that Uber has not used a kill switch to thwart regulatory actions since 2017. The company dismissed any suggestion that it received special treatment from Macron or his cabinet and emphasized that no one who works at Uber today was involved in building relationships with Russian oligarchs.
In an interview with The Guardian, MacGann said he grew frustrated with what he called the company’s inadequate response as he faced increasing harassment from the taxi industry in various countries.
After a while, he became the target of public harassment.
“I started getting shouted at at airports, train stations,” he told The Guardian. “They were recording where I lived, they were banging on the door, they were posting pictures online of me with friends, with kids of my friends. And I started to get death threats on Twitter.”
Uber assigned MacGann a team of bodyguards. Even after he left Uber, the harassment continued.
After becoming increasingly concerned with his safety and the safety of his family — as well as Uber’s toxic work culture — he left Uber in August 2016. He pursued legal action against the company, eventually reaching an out of court settlement. The terms were not disclosed. He provided no further details.
MacGann later took a top policy and communications job at the Russian-owned telecommunications company VimpelCom, which had recently agreed to pay $835 million to settle U.S. and Dutch bribery charges. Fridman’s LetterOne was a major shareholder at the time.
UPDATE: This story has been updated with quotes from Uber spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker, and responses from Mark MacGann and his lawyer.