The Uber-ization of Activism: How Tech Giants Wield Their Power Can Make or Break Equity

07 Aug 2015 | Samuel Sinyangwe
The Uber-ization of Activism: How Tech Giants Wield Their Power Can Make or Break Equity
Above: Flickr/Creative Commons - Nick Harris

Uber has won the battle against policies to limit its service in New York, but not by conventional means. As a recent New York Times op-ed, "The Uber-ization of Activism", rightly points out — the company often critiqued for passing many of the costs of business onto their drivers has now used its customers to fight its political battles for them. In lieu of traditional, expensive political tactics (ads, lobbying), the company spawned an online grassroots campaign by adding features to the app to make it easy for riders to petition de Blasio and offered free rides to a protest at City Hall.

This article highlights the power of some of these tech giants to influence policy. Google, Facebook, Twitter, AirBnB, Yelp, Uber, and a few other companies control the interfaces that we experience for hours every day. For many of people in the younger generation, these interfaces are the primary means by which we interact with the world and access its resources. The way that that online real estate is used, or misused, will have a profound impact on equity. And if these companies decided to use their influence to lift up messages and causes that matter, it would be a game-changer. If Yelp decided to prioritize black-owned businesses and add that filter to its search function, it would increase economic opportunity in so many communities. If Google and Facebook prioritized or subsidized advertisements that pertained to equity and used their analytics to target those messages to key persuadable audiences, public opinion would be shifted.

What we are currently seeing is the opposite, however, whereby these companies use information about your spending habits to essentially redline people — showing white people ads about vacation destinations and people of color ads for high-interest loans and bail bonds.

More likely than not, these companies are led by progressive minded people who want to change the world. They just need guidance for how to use their influence to be part of the solution.