How Will Uber Be Affected From The Immigration Ban Chaos?

The anti-Uber campaign is going viral as more and more people are posting “delete Uber” screenshots on their Facebook or Tweeter accounts. Estimations are now in that dozens of thousands of accounts have been deleted so far, but the big question is whether Uber will continue to see the campaign grow on Monday, or whether it will disappear at the same rate it started.

It all began last Saturday during the protest gathered at JFK International following the order barring refugees and visa holders from seven countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen) from entering the U.S.

In solidarity with the protest, the NY Taxi Workers Alliance called for a stop on pickups from the airport for one hour between 6 and 7 PM. It seems that Uber, an old rival of taxi driver unions, didn’t join the ban and continued business as usual. Moreover, Uber tweeted that riders could go to and from JFK without surge pricing, thus attracting fire that it was taking advantage of the situation. The result was a viral campaign for users calling to delete Uber’s app and switching to Lyft, adding the hashtag #deleteuber. Celebrities such as Lena Dunham and Adam Messinger joined the campaign and helped lead it.

Uber’s nemesis in the U.S., Lyft, gained a better reputation during the immigration crisis this weekend, declaring it will donate $1 million to ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union, to be provided over the course of the next four years. Lyft’s founders, John Zimmer and Logan Green also came out with a message decrying Trump’s actions.

The #DeleteUber Effect

So, how will Uber be affected by the #deleteUber effect?

1Uber was fast to respond, apologize, and deny any intention to make profits from the taxi drivers’ strike. As its biggest alibi, Uber says that the infamous tweet was released about 45 minutes after the one-hour strike has already ended. If that is indeed the case, Uber can claim that it was helping the protest by not surging prices at the congested hours following the strike. Uber continued to carry passengers when all taxi drivers stopped to do so, thus carrying many of the protesters rallying in support of detainees to the airport.

A few hours after that, an email statement gave an apology: “We’re sorry for any confusion about our earlier tweet — it was not meant to break up any strike,” the company said. “We wanted people to know they could use Uber to get to and from JFK at regular prices, especially last night.”

Kalanick also promised Uber would provide lawyers and immigration experts to drivers banned from entering the country using a $3 million company-created legal defense fund. In fact, already on Saturday, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick promised in a memo that the order will affect about a dozen employees and said the company would compensate the drivers that are barred from entering the country and help their families.

Having said all that, it is now only a matter of public reaction. Will Kalanick’s apologies and claims convince users to stop deleting Uber’s app from their phones, or will the viral campaign will be stronger than anything else?

2. People identify Uber CEO Kalanick with the Trump administration after he joining the President’s 19 CEOs advisory forum. Kalanick sits at the same table with CEOs of giants such as GM, PepsiCo, Disney, and J.P. Morgan. He is one of the two Silicon Valley CEOs in the forum, together with Elon Musk, who provide economic advice to Trump, and they are the only two of the entire advisory team that has been calling vocally against the immigrants’ ban. Kalanick now says he will use the position in the forum to urge the government to reinstate traveling rights immediately. If he’s successful in the mission and can prove it, chances are high that the anti-Uber campaign will dissolve.

3. Uber is making giant steps in the Middle East, and at the same time has a stake in the complicated web of interests in the region. First and foremost, Uber is a company that operates under the influence of the Saudi royal family. It raised its latest round of $3.5 billion dollars from the Saudi Arabian royal government’s investment arm in what is considered as one of the largest investments ever in a private technology company. This investment brought Yasir Al Rumayya, managing director of the Saudi public investment fund, to join Uber’s board.

It’s unreasonable to think that Uber’s managers got a call from Mr. Al Rumayya, who then told Uber to skip the strike – but, Saudis are not totally against Trump’s immigration and visa ban. In fact, some of the Sunni states such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan supports steps against Iran or Iran’s allies such as Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. From their perspective, Trump is strengthening the Sunni axis at the expense of the Shiite.

It would be unwise to think that Ubersecretly likes the recent immigration ban even from a Muslim point of view. As with Lyft, Uber’s has a lot of immigrants drivers. Uber is making strong efforts to grow in wealthy gulf cities such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Doha, and is also strongly active in other Muslim countries in Southeast Asia (Malaysia and Indonesia), where it is fiercely battling with Singapore-based Grab, a local ride-hailing app. Uber probably doesn’t need a clash with the Muslim world at the moment. If the #deleteUber backlash arrives in those countries, that’s not something Uber can ignore.

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Assaf Gilad

An ex-journalist from Calcalist, a leading business and tech news outlet in Israel, I'm now writing about startups for