Uber and Lyft are engaged in an all-out war for dominance in the emerging ride-sharing market. And Uber is dealing some pretty low blows to stay ahead. Two weeks ago, Lyft accused Uber employees of ordering and canceling thousands of rides on its service in a deliberate sabotage attempt. Uber denied these allegations. So Casey Newton at the Verge did some more digging into Uber’s alleged tactics for destroying its competitors. From the Verge:
[O]ne Uber contractor The Verge spoke with said Lyft’s complaint had merit. “What’s simply untrue is that not only does Uber know about this, they’re actively encouraging these actions day-to-day and, in doing so, are flat-out lying both to their customers, the media, and their investors,” the contractor said. Until now, the canceled Lyft rides have been understood as a kind of prank call designed to keep competitors’ drivers off the road. But interviews and internal documents suggest another reason: Uber’s recruitment program has vastly increased in size and sophistication, and recruiters cancel rides in part to avoid detection by Lyft.
Uber has a name for this recruitment program: Operation SLOG. It hit the ground in New York just as Lyft was preparing to launch in the city:
With Lyft’s arrival in New York imminent, Uber said it was creating a “street team” charged with gathering intelligence about Lyft’s launch plans and recruiting their drivers to Uber. Contractors were then handed two Uber-branded iPhones and a series of valid credit card numbers to be used for creating dummy Lyft accounts. Uber assumed every contractor would be caught by Lyft eventually; the second phone, according to a contractor interviewed by The Verge, was issued so “you would have a backup phone if and when that happened so you wouldn’t have to go back.”
The Verge reports that contractors could earn $750 for each driver they recruited to Uber. The so-called street team used a private GroupMe forum to keep each other appraised of which Lyft drivers had already been pitched and had an online form they gave Lyft drivers interested in switching platforms to fill out. In one email obtained by The Verge, an Uber marketing manager ends a message to contractors with the hashtag #shavethestache. (Lyft drivers place a furry pink mustache on their cars.)
In a brilliant PR move that we cannot confirm but might assume was executed by Uber’s newest hire, David Plouffe, the company did not respond to The Verge for comment until it had pre-empted the forthcoming story with a post on its blog that introduced Operation SLOG (“Supplying Long-term Operations Growth”) as an aggressive but legitimate recruiting program. “We never use marketing tactics that prevent a driver from making their living—and that includes never intentionally canceling rides,” Uber wrote.
Perhaps. But the way the stories are shaking out, it will probably take a lot more than a hastily compiled blog post for Uber to dispel that claim.