Uber’s stalling in Asia is its own fault

An Uber motorcycle taxi driver waits for customers next to a shopping mall in Jakarta, Indonesia September 20, 2017. Source: Reuters/Darren Whiteside

WHILE it’s difficult to make statements regarding the prospects of companies with global reach, the last year has seen the US-based ride-hailing giant Uber stumbling from disaster to disaster.

Local issues have a habit of becoming global PR shitstorms, not only because it’s the Internet’s nature to spread bad news quickly, but also because most of Uber’s particular malfeasances have struck a chord with people wherever they might happen to live.

Companies in some market segments seem to largely escape widespread public vitriol simply by dint of what they do being less understood by the public (or being generally less interesting) than the act of ride-hailing: everyone uses cabs, very few invest in Felda.

SEE ALSO: India: Woman sues Uber for breach of privacy in 2014 rape case

A Go-Jek driver shares jokes with his colleague while waiting for customers along a street in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Dec 15, 2017. Source: Reuters/Beawiharta

The data breach cover-up (as revealed recently) was perhaps made worse because the act of covering-up was one of a series of bad decisions made high up in the company which all point to a lack of the skill and finesses required to pilot a large multinational data enterprise.

Data breaches are not matters to be taken lightly, of course, but there is a certain resignation that these things will happen – any IT security professional will quite rightly state that it’s a case of when a serious cybersecurity incident takes place, not if.

The level of naivety shown by Uber, however, makes one question its executives’ skill levels: firstly paying the paltry US$100,000 “ransom” (surely it must have known it was dealing with bit players?) and then following that by assuming both the breach and the payoff could be concealed.

The data breach comes on the heels of a torrid litany of events:

Sexism, lawbreaking and the dismantling of national institutions worry everyone, but departures of key personnel worry shareholders.

A photo illustration shows the Uber app on a mobile telephone, as it is held up for a posed photograph, with a London Taxi in the background, in London, Britain November 10, 2017. Source: Reuters/Simon Dawson/File Photo

SEE ALSO: Malaysian government body denies links to Uber bribery allegations

In the last year, Uber has seen the departure of its CEO, his second-in-command, the policy & communications vice president, and the chief financial officer.

In 2016, Uber decided to sell its China operations to Didi Chuxing after its attempts to break into that market led to estimated losses of US$2 billion and more than a little bad feeling from the Chinese government.

However, despite its setbacks, the disparate nature of the rest of the Asian market could mean that Uber could try to get a greater share of the market in the region in 2018. Asia’s affluent citizens are tech-savvy, fluent app-users, and therefore, represent a lucrative cash pile.

Any further moves by Uber would be against the best efforts of Grab, Southeast Asia’s dominant force in the sector. The company has raised close to US$2.5 billion in 2017 and seems to respond better to local market forces and consumer tastes.

Payments in Uber cars, for instance, are by credit card only, a feature which turns off the sizable number of riders who want to pay cash or prepay.

Additionally, Grab’s decisions to install in-cab CCTV and feature live journey-tracking have allayed many concerns of lone female passengers – especially those riding while browsing the news on-the-go about Uber’s apparent culture of sexism, lawbreaking and harassment.

Sun Chanthol (R), Cambodia’s Minister of Public Workers and Transport, greets near a Grab car during a launch ceremony in Phnom Penh, Cambodia,  on Dec 19, 2017. Source: Reuters/Samrang Pring

SEE ALSO: Here’s what ride-hailing app Grab thinks about rival Uber’s alleged spying

According to a study by Temasek and Google, the Asian ride-sharing market will be worth US$13 billion by 2025, a six-fold increase from today.

If Uber is to make inroads into APAC, it needs to work out a strategy that will stop it coming over as an old-school colonial power, imposing its high-tech systems and flakey ideologies from above on populations which are quite capable of growing their own, more sympathetic (and cheaper) versions.

After all, if even McDonald’s can produce “Samurai Burgers” and “[Seaweed] Shaker Fries”, surely Uber should be able to at least try to adapt, in order to succeed in Asia in 2018 and beyond?

This article was originally published on our sister website Tech Wire Asia

Categories: All of AsiaChina
Tags: asiaGojekGrabRidesharingsoutheast asiatechnologytransportTravelUber