An “Uber-ly” Ethical Dilemma


Picture this: you are in New York City. It is pouring and after a long day of work, you are hauling your commuting bags, simultaneously trying to balance your umbrella while hailing a taxi with your only free hand. In this modern day struggle, you wish a car would miraculously appear with the press of a button as you sit and wait in the nearest Panera, not only sheltered from the pouring rain but also surrounded by food. In a society that thrives on efficiency maximization and innovativion, it is no surprise that we now have a smartphone app that hail a cab by the swift stroke of a few key buttons. Strip away the layers and the concept at the heart of Uber is surprisingly simple yet effective; it effortlessly matches free-lance drivers with potential riders based on location and car capacity. It is no doubt that Uber is immensely successful- the firm has expanded itself to over 60 countries and 300 cities worldwide. A paragon of innovation, Uber saw a demand within the marketplace, created an artificial need, and supplied a solution. So, how is it that a company like Uber is just as equally controversial as it is successful?

Despite the convenience this app provides, there is a long-running list consequences associated with the Uber business model. The first criticism of Uber stems from the fact that it is another business that cuts corners and skims money from the economy by avoiding taxes. How does Uber play this tax-shell game? According to Fortune, “tax strategies such as the ones that Uber and Google and Facebook use are enhanced by the very nature of their business- the fact that so much value of companies like Uber is their intellectual property”. While technically legal, global tax authorities are beginning to scrutinize the games that corporations play with taxes and Uber’s corporate structure has slid under the radar until recent scrutiny.

In addition to the company’s questionable tax methods, the company has also been criticized for jeopardizing the security of passengers and drivers and aggressive lobbying practices. Unlike traditional taxi drivers, Uber drivers are not required to file for licenses or comply with other stringent regulations that your average taxi driver must follow. How does Uber pull this off one may ask? They accomplish this by provoking lobbyists and involving their customers in a plethora of petitions. So where does Uber fall in the realm of ethics? As we have discussed, the utilitarian or consequentialist theory stresses the importance of maximizing benefits to society and minimizing costs. In the case of Uber, are the costs of tax-cutting and maneuvering around stringent regulations outweighing the benefits? It is hard to say, but it seems that the answer is yes. I would say that, from a consequentialist perspective, putting riders in danger in order to cut costs and draining money from the overall economy by avoiding taxes would most definitely outweigh the benefit of convenience a rider gets from having a car pick them up from any location at the push of a button.

Deontology, the idea that the morality of an action coincides with the adherence to a rule or rules, more specifically in regards to duties/ obligations, would also raise Uber’s ethics into question. If Uber’s tactics were to be adopted on the universal level, no driving service would feel obligated to file licenses or adhere to fixed rate standards, making the roads extremely dangerous and allowing for the exploitation of customers. In addition, their corporate tax structure if implemented on a universal level would in no way be sustainable and would thoroughly deplete the US economy of resources. Therefore, in regards to deontology ethics, Uber’s practices are most certainly immoral.

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5 thoughts on “An “Uber-ly” Ethical Dilemma

  1. First – I love Uber. As someone who hates confrontation and inconvenience, Uber is definitely a great way to avoid all of that and has been my savior both in Boston when I needed a ride and abroad when I sometimes didn’t speak the language of the country. However, I think that you definitely raise great points and many that I’ve seen on the news. I’ve personally only ever had positive experiences with my Uber drivers and never felt unsafe, but that does not mean that their overall practice isn’t flawed. Another group that they’re also affecting are the taxi drivers -one of my best friend’s father drives a cab on the side and his income has definitely suffered as a result of ride-share services such as Uber, Lyft, etc.

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  2. Really nice topic choice. I know that Uber is causing a huge stir abroad, especially in France and the UK, as Uber is able to (as you mention) avoid taxes by operating abroad and their drivers do not have to pay licensing fees that traditional cab drivers have to pay. Over the summer, cab drivers in France started lighting tires on fire and blocking roads in protest of Uber. Considering consequentialism and the net effect of Uber, I think that the benefits accrued to the millions of people who are using the app might outweigh the loss to traditional cab drivers. Im not sure that Uber is intentionally acting unethically as much as their competition is just lacking in innovation (i.e. the regular cab drivers just need to stop complaining and find a way to catch up to Uber).

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    1. Brady, you bring up an interesting point regarding consequentialism. It is definitely hard to determine the cost-benefit analysis of Uber, especially as you mentioned because it such a large business and a tool that is a convenience to the masses. I think that shows the flaws of the consequentialist school of ethics— how can we accurately measure the benefit the app has on society as opposed to the negative consequences it has on taxi drivers? Which one is greater? I am not sure if even an extensive macroeconomic study could accurately depict the cost-benefit analysis because so many factors are involved.

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  3. Morgan, having written about uber in my post it is interesting that you’ve highlighted many issues that I did not even mention or know about. I completely agree with your criticism of uber. I think the company presented such a revolutionary idea that it began to grow unnaturally. The company’s massive expansion led to its aggressive lobbying policies as well as its rapid approval of drivers, who, sometimes were not qualified for the position. While comments on my post directed more the dilemma onto taxi drivers, I think it can be seen as an issue caused by both parties, with perhaps a larger number of faults on users end.

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  4. I agree with Brady. I do not see much wrong with what Uber is doing. They have found an easy way to convenience a lot of people. If taxi drivers are upset they can just become Uber drivers, why not? Ethically, Uber hasn’t done anything wrong and I only hope for a prosperous future for the company.

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