Uber’s chief product officer is out

Uber Chief Product Officer Jeff Holden, who oversaw Uber Elevate, has left the company, Recode first reported. His last day was yesterday, TechCrunch confirmed.

On a day-to-day level, Holden was not that heavily involved. Manik Gupta, for example, is in charge of product, maps and marketplace at the VP level. There was also Uber Head of Product Daniel Graf, who left the company in March but was quickly replaced by former Amazon Alexa shopping lead Assaf Ronen.

Holden, instead, was more of a big-picture kind of executive, which entailed him taking ownership over Uber Elevate. Under his leadership, Uber brought on the CEO of flying taxi startup Zee Aero, Eric Allison.

Eric Allison at Uber Elevate in May 2018. (Photo by MRD)

“As demonstrated by last week’s Uber Elevate Summit, we’re incredibly bullish on the future of aerial ridesharing,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “Under the leadership of Eric Allison, the Elevate team is set up for success and will continue to chart the course for this growing industry.”

But it’s worth pointing out that Holden had a lengthy conversation with Federal Aviation Administration Acting Administrator Dan Elwell about regulation for uberAIR, the company’s upcoming aerial taxi service. That was just last week at Uber Elevate, the company’s two-day summit on aerial transportation. It seems odd that Holden was tasked with leading a conversation with the head of the FAA regarding what will arguably be the biggest hurdle uberAIR will face: regulation.

Prior to joining Uber, Holden served as Groupon’s senior vice president. It’s not clear what Holden’s next move is, but a source says Holden is pursuing another opportunity somewhere.

Pick up some moving insights into the future of mobility with Gett chief executive Dave Waiser in Tel Aviv

Dave Waiser has been at the forefront of the mobility technology revolution in Israel for the past eight years, ever since he launched Gett in 2010.

One of the last companies standing in the ultra-competitive global ride-sharing market, Gett has withstood competition from Didi Chuxing, Grab, Ola, Lyft and Uber and kept pace with those rivals as it claims a share of a worldwide market worth billions.

Through direct operations and partnerships with companies like the chauffeur and logistics business Carey International, Gett has managed to achieve a footprint of 1,000 cities that span the globe. It operates directly in 100 cities in four countries (including a competitive position in New York) and has raised some $640 million in venture funding — including a $300 million investment from the Volkswagen Group.

For Waiser, Gett’s success is only the latest in a string of endeavors which the enterprising entrepreneur has undertaken since the early days of the new millennium. One of Waiser’s first jobs, back in 2000, was to launch the Russian entity of the publicly traded early telecommunications software vendor, Comverse.

In Tel Aviv, Waiser will share his thoughts with us on the future of mobility, the peaks and valleys of the entrepreneur’s journey, and what’s next for Gett as it continues to drive forward in a highly competitive market.

It’s a perspective that no one would want to miss, and one that’ll be exclusively available to our audience in Tel Aviv. Tickets are on sale now. 


Uber’s plan to fly you around

Welcome back to CTRL+T, the TechCrunch podcast where Megan Rose Dickey and I talk about the stories we want to talk about and connect them to the culture in which we’re all trying to live.

We first tackled the flying taxi phenomenon that isn’t really a phenomenon anymore. It’s more like we’re all going to be ducking under the near-distant hum of electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles, or eVTOLs (really rolls off the tongue), sooner than later. You see, Uber already has deals with flying taxi manufacturers, electric vehicle battery and charger manufacturers and firms that want to build the “skyports” from which these things are going to have to take off and land. And the public learned all about it at Uber Elevate.

But before we talked about Uber, we spent some time discussing the inside of Megan’s mouth. Regular readers might recall a recent visit she made to Uniform Teeth to find out about the startup’s funding round. She tried out their 3D imaging tech and received some news she wasn’t quite prepared for. And recorded the audio.

It’s a rip-roaring episode, folks, so click play below to have a listen. Or better yet, subscribe on Apple PodcastsStitcherOvercastCastBox or whatever other podcast platform you can find.

Lyft also ends arbitration policy for sexual assault claims

Shortly after Uber announced the end of its forced arbitration policy for individual claims of sexual assault or harassment by Uber drivers, riders or employees, Lyft has done the same, Recode first reported. This means anyone who alleges sexual misconduct at the hands of Lyft drivers, riders or employees won’t have to argue their case behind closed doors. Instead, they can take the claim straight to court.

“Lyft has a longstanding track record of action in support of the communities we serve, from our commitment to the ACLU to standing up for pay equity and racial equality,” a Lyft spokesperson told TechCrunch. “The #metoo movement has brought to life important issues that must be addressed by society, and we’re committed to doing our part. Today, 48 hours prior to an impending lawsuit against their company, Uber made the good decision to adjust their policies. We agree with the changes and have removed the confidentiality requirement for sexual assault victims, as well as ended mandatory arbitration for those individuals so that they can choose which venue is best for them. This policy extends to passengers, drivers and Lyft employees.”

As the Lyft spokesperson noted in their comment, Uber made the decision to drop mandatory arbitration about 48 hours before the company had to respond to a lawsuit filed by 14 women who alleged they were assaulted by their drivers. The women also asked Uber to waive its arbitration clause.

Uber ends policy of forced arbitration for individual sexual assault claims

In a major policy change, Uber has announced it’s ending mandatary arbitration for individual claims of sexual assault or sexual harassment by Uber drivers, riders or employees.

It is also ending the requirement that victims sign a confidentiality provision preventing them from speaking about the sexual assault or sexual harassment they suffered — saying survivors will now have the option to settle their claims with Uber without having to agree to being publicly silenced in order to do so.

Last month a group of women alleging sexual violence from Uber drivers sent an open letter to the company’s board asking to be released from the mandatory arbitration clause in the Uber app’s terms of service.

Former Uber engineer Susan Fowler — who was instrumental in highlighting internal problems with sexual harassment and sexism at Uber when she blogged about her experiences at the company last year — also urged CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to end the policy. And in a Twitter exchange in March Khosrowshahi signaled he was willing to consider ending forced arbitration. “I will take it seriously, but we have to take all of our constituents into consideration,” he wrote to Fowler then.

Concerns about safety and Uber’s attitude to reporting serious crimes were also among the reasons identified by London’s transport regulator for withdrawing Uber’s license to operate in the UK capital last September.

Also today Uber has announced that it will be publishing what it describes as a “safety transparency report” — which it says will include data on sexual assaults and “other incidents” that occur as a result of activity on its platform.

Announcing the moves in a blog post today, entitled ‘Turning the lights on’, Uber’s chief legal officer Tony West writes that the company has committed to doing “the right thing” under its new CEO — a new attitude which requires “three key elements: transparency, integrity, and accountability”.

Describing sexual violence as “a huge problem globally”, he continues: “The last 18 months have exposed a silent epidemic of sexual assault and harassment that haunts every industry and every community. Uber is not immune to this deeply rooted problem, and we believe that it is up to us to be a big part of the solution.”

Commenting on Uber’s policy changes to end mandatory arbitration, Jeanne Christensen, a partner at New York based law firm Wigdor LLP, which filed a class action lawsuit against Uber last year on behalf of women who said they were assaulted or raped by Uber drivers, described it as a critical step to “reduce future suffering by women passengers”.

But she also flagged Uber’s decision to not end forced arbitration for groups of victims acting on a class basis — saying this shows the company is “not fully committed to meaningful change”.

“Victims are more likely to come forward knowing they can proceed as a group. This is the beginning of a longer process needed to meaningfully improve safety,” Christensen added in a statement.

We’ve reached out to Uber for comment on why it’s not ending mandatory arbitration for group claims.

On the decision to end mandatory arbitration for individuals, West writes: “We have learned it’s important to give sexual assault and harassment survivors control of how they pursue their claims. So moving forward, survivors will be free to choose to resolve their individual claims in the venue they prefer: in a mediation where they can choose confidentiality; in arbitration, where they can choose to maintain their privacy while pursuing their case; or in open court. Whatever they decide, they will be free to tell their story wherever and however they see fit.”

On the changes to confidentiality provisions, he says: “Divulging the details of what happened in a sexual assault or harassment should be up to the survivor, not us.”

And on the new transparency report, West admits Uber struggled with the decision to publish data — saying this is “because data on safety and sexual assaults is sparse and inconsistent”, and there is no uniform industry standard for reporting it.

He also flags the problem of crimes of sexual violence being underreported.

However, in the end, Uber has decided it will go ahead and publish data. Although it’s not clear when the first report will go live (we’ve also asked about that).

“We’re working with experts in the field to develop a taxonomy to categorize the incidents that are reported to us,” adds West. “We hope to open-source this methodology so we can encourage others in the ridesharing, transportation and travel industries, both private and public, to join us in taking this step. We know that a project of this magnitude will take some time, but we pledge to keep you updated along the way.”

Update: Uber isn’t giving a timeline for publishing the first report at this stage but a spokeswoman emphasized the process will take time owing to complexities involved with categorizing reports of incidents, and the need to develop a methodology for reporting the data — working with external experts.

On class actions, the spokeswoman said the vast majority of the claims Uber receives are from individuals, saying it believes that a modified confidentiality option and choice of venue are the core issues for individuals, whereas law firms themselves can be incentivized to drive class actions for a profit motive.

Realtor claims Uber and Lyft erode the premium homebuyers pay for good public transit links

Leonard Steinberg, a longstanding New York City luxury property broker, claims that the existence of Uber and Lyft has blunted the premium that buyers were willing to pay to live in neighborhoods with good transit links, because they can afford rideshare cars and use the commute time to work, meaning that commutes are less of a factor in calculating the quality of life (because your day starts when you get into the car, not when you get to your desk). (more…)

Didi Chuxing can now test self-driving cars in California

Quite a number of companies — 53, to be exact — have received permits to test self-driving cars with a safety driver in California. One of the more notable companies that has received such a permit is China-based Didi Chuxing, which officially opened its U.S.-based research lab last March.

Also on the list of permit holders is Udacity, which partnered with Didi last year to host a contest for the development of an Automated Safety and Awareness Processing Stack.

In April, the California Department of Motor Vehicles introduced some new regulations and permit application processes for self-driving car companies. The new system entails three autonomous vehicle permit options: testing with a driver, driverless testing and deployment. Most of the new elements of the regulations are around driverless testing and deployment.

For example, in order to conduct driverless testing, companies must have previously tested the vehicles in controlled conditions. The vehicles must also, among many other things, meet the definition of an SAE Level 4 or 5 vehicle. With deployment, companies need to ensure cars can detect and respond to roadway situations, meet best practices to detect cyberattacks and more.

Another notable permit holder is Apple, which in January expanded its fleet to include 27 cars. Missing from the list, unsurprisingly, is Didi rival Uber.

Last week, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said Uber will bring back its self-driving cars “within the next few months, I don’t know.”

To be fair, Khosrowshahi didn’t sound 100 percent confident in his answer. That’s just to say I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes Uber longer than a few months. He went on to say that when Uber does bring its cars back on the road, “it’s going to be in as safe of a way as possible.”

Uber pulled its self-driving cars off the roads following a fatal crash in March. Later that month, Uber decided not to reapply for a self-driving car testing permit in California. Uber’s previous permit expired March 31.

If Uber wants to continue its tests in California, it will need to apply for a new permit, as well as “address any follow-up analysis or investigations from the recent crash in Arizona,” DMV Deputy Director/Chief Counsel Brian Soublet wrote in a letter to Uber in March. Uber may also need to set up a meeting with the DMV.

I’ve reached out to Didi to learn more about its plans for self-driving cars in California and will update this story if I hear back.

ConsenSys Ventures invests in six companies and launches its Accelerator

ConsenSys Ventures, the venture arm of the ConsenSys Ethereum blockchain powerhouse, has invested in a new round of five companies and is today formally launching its Accelerator.

The five companies were invested in with a “combination of equity and tokens together. It was a unique termsheet created by Consensys Ventures in accordance with the SEC rules,” according to Kavita Gupta (pictured), the founding managing partner of ConsenSys and the lead on their Blockchain focused fund which is investing in an Ethereum powered “Web 3.0” startups.

She went on to elaborate to me on the thinking behind these investments: “It’s very important for us to invest into companies that both embody the ethos of decentralization while also pushing the Ethereum ecosystem forward. In this crop of investments, you can see projects that represent the globalization of financial systems on blockchain (Cryptomarket), create innovative solutions to bring institutions into the space (Virtuoso) bring power and monetization back to artists (Dada), democratize the ability to participate in the proof of stake (Rocket Pool) and show the bright minds of traditional tech who are now choosing to bring Ethereum mobile (Vault).”

ConsenSys’ Accelerator is also coming out of the gate too, as, Gupta says, to “connect the traditional Web 2.0 world with the technically complex Ethereum ecosystem.”

The 8week accelerator program will see a cohort of 8-10 projects work towards building an MVP and work towards raising a successful round of pre-seed/seed funding.

The program will bring on advisors from traditional 21st-century technology unicorns like Google/Uber/Fb/Salesforce etc. and combine their expertise with the talent and Ethereum know-how at ConsenSys. The program will feature hands-on education, mentorship, open office hours and will feature demo days both in the US and Europe.

Here’s quick overview of next 5 companies Consensys Ventures has invested in, in their own words:

“Founded by the team behind TrueEx – the leading electronic interest rate swap platform – Virtuoso is building a cryptocurrency exchange that will support ether futures, creating a more robust Ethereum trading market for institutional investors.”

“Ink is a decentralized reputation and payment protocol looking to bring transferrable reputation to P2P marketplaces founded by Gee Chuang. It is live on the Listia platform and plans to expand to other P2P marketplaces where lack of reputation is a major driver for centralization.”

“Vault is a secure wallet and dApp discovery platform for your mobile device, founded by ex-Facebook employee John Egan and his team. The team launched Vault after looking into wallet options, and feeling frustrated from a usability standpoint, specifically as they explored mobile options. Vault is focused on building out two primary features in the short term: 1) the best and most user friendly mobile wallet and 2) a dApp browser.”

Rocket Pool
Rocket Pool is a next-generation Ethereum Proof of Stake pool for Casper, currently in Alpha and based in Australia. Started by David Rugendyke, Rocket Pool allows individuals and businesses to stake as little as .1 ether and avoid extensive withdrawal times and gain exposure to Ethereum’s move to Proof-of-Stake.

“CryptoMKT is a Latin American based Ethereum exchange and leader in Chile and Argentina, and are expanding to be a leader in other South American markets. Founded by Rafael Meruane and Martin Jofre, the team has bootstrapped to-date and have traded over $30M in ETH over the last year.”

“DADA is a social network for digital art where people interact with digital drawings founded by Beatriz Ramos. Currently, DADA offers a collection of 100 limited edition digital drawings (all made within the DADA platform via the provided drawing tools) which is available for purchase with Ether via the MetaMask wallet. Each digital artwork available for purchase is tokenized, with each token representing ownership over a copy of the drawing. DADA’s goal is to allow artists to have full control over their work and earn a universal basic income from their work.”

Uber to pop up a service in Spain’s Costa del Sol in time for summer

Uber is expanding its presence in Spain by launching a licensed service on the country’s southern Costa del Sol coastline — ahead of the summer season when the region draws in millions of international tourists.

Last year the tourist hotspot pulled in some 12.5M visitors. Clearly Uber wants to cut itself a chunk of that business, as well as be able to cater to any existing users when they go on holiday to the region.

The company says some 150,000 people have opened its app in Spain’s Costa del Sol region over the past three years, illustrating how location-based app services can also generate freebie business intelligence.

“With the launch of UberX in time for the busy summer season, we are thrilled to bring on-demand transportation to the Costa del Sol,” an Uber spokeswoman told us. “We are committed to being a true partner to the cities of this famous tourist region for the long term.”

The UberX professional licensed driver service will launch in early June, and will cover more than 60km — including the coastal cities of Marbella, Malaga, Torremolinos, Benalmadena, Fuengirola and Mijas.

The company also confirmed the service will run year round, though presumably driver numbers are likely to fluctuate to reflect seasonal demand. Uber has previously used local jobs startups, such as Jobandtalent, to recruit local drivers for its services.

Elsewhere in Europe Uber also already offers ride-hailing services in the Portuguese tourist region of the Algarve, Split/Dubrovnik in Croatia, Nice in France and Zandvoort in the Netherlands.

The Costa del Sol expansion comes a few months after Uber returned to Barcelona, the capital of Spain’s Catalonia region — offering a licensed taxi service there after buying up private hire vehicle licenses from a local operator.

Barcelona is a year-round tourist hotspot, and also pulls in scores of tech industry and business visitors thanks also to generous conference facilities — making it another attractive location for Uber to ply its trade in Spain, in spite of local taxi industry hostility.

Indeed, it was a 2014 legal challenge by a Barcelona taxi industry association to Uber’s unlicensed UberPop service that led to Europe’s top court to rule last year that Uber is a transport service, meaning the company has to comply with EU Member States’ individual transportation regulations — and can’t simply claim it’s a technology platform to circumvent regulators as it did in its early expansionist phase.

In recent years Uber has been reconfiguring where and how it operates in Europe, with a series of market pauses or exits — such as in Greece, Norway and Denmark. While last year in Finland it suspended its main UberPop service to wait for a new law to come in. Earlier this year it also parked a service in Morocco. But new service launches in Spain show it’s not retreating everywhere.

While Uber is only offering a professional licensed driver service in Spain — also relaunching with this service in the country’s capital city Madrid, two years ago — taxi drivers argue that local regulations continue to be flouted because there are more licensed vehicles on the road than the official ratio allows.

The ratio is supposed to be 30 taxis to every licensed vehicle but the National Markets and Competition Commission has encouraged a relaxing of licensing rules. So Uber continues to be a target for taxi industry action, including co-ordinated strikes in major cities over what drivers dubs unfair and exploitative practices.

Ride-hailing rival Cabify has been another target for local taxi industry ire.