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.