Leaked document suggests Uber wanted to “weaponize” taxi research

The latest development in UberGate comes, once again, from BuzzFeed, which got hold of an internal Uber document that outlines an investigative plan. In this case, however, the target is not journalists but the taxi industry.

The strongly worded sheet, which is part of a job application process for a “Director of Research and Rapid Response,” tells the reader to dig up facts on the taxi industry that can be “weaponized.” The applicant’s task is to develop a six-month research plan on Uber itself and on the opposition. Once hired, the candidate will work with the communications team to “disseminate” the information.

An Uber spokesperson told BuzzFeed that its definition of “weaponize” meant “distilling sometimes dense or lengthy information (e.g. 75-page research reports, political contribution reports) into factual, bulleted points.” That’s the first time I’ve heard the word weaponized used in that way, and it gives the entire document a tone of attack. Merriam-Webster’s definition for weaponize has nothing to do with bullet points:

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When proposing a plan to give journalists “a taste of their own medicine,” Uber VP Emil Michaels made it sound as if the company would stop at nothing, prying into a reporter’s family life and private affairs. Uber has since dismissed the remarks and denied any such plan is in the works.

In light of the recent scandal, the word “weaponize,” which occurs repeatedly in a document where the company is hiring a head researcher, is worrisome, but not damning. As BuzzFeed noted, opposition research is fairly common, especially in political circles.

The question for Uber is what constitutes the company’s oppo research. Some pointed out on Twitter that there’s a big difference between preparing for a taxi industry campaign against Uber and investigating personal details of a taxi leader’s life to use as blackmail. The word “weaponize” doesn’t help us distinguish between the two, but it, once again, gives a glimpse of Uber’s win-at-all-costs mindset.