Uber HK boss on mobility, cloud and disruption

Carol Ko/Computerworld Hong Kong
Computerworld Hong Kong

Car-hiring startup Uber's latest experience in Hong Kong may mean more than bringing in tech innovation to solve day-to-day problems and causing market disruption to an established industry in the city

Yesterday on August 11, five Uber drivers and three Uber office staff were arrested by the Hong Kong police for providing taxi service without a taxi license and suitable insurance.

Positioned as a technology company, Uber was founded in the US five years ago and was invited to expand into the Hong Kong market a year ago by InvestHK, a government body.

InvestHK's mission is to encourage overseas and Mainland companies to set up or expand their business in Hong Kong.

InvestHK did not respond to a request for comment this morning by Computerworld Hong Kong, but issued a public statement this afternoon to clarify its removal of Uber as one of the "success stories" in its website:

"There are legal ways in Hong Kong for companies to offer car rental services via mobile applications, but not all mobile car booking applications can meet the legal requirements in Hong Kong. As Uber is now being investigated for allegedly operating outside of the legal ambit, as a standard procedure InvestHK has removed the case study from its website," said an InvestHK spokesperson.

In response to the police arrests, particularly on the issue that Uber drivers may not be covered by third-party insurance, Uber issued a press statement this morning as follows:

"Hongkongers have made it clear that they want more, better transportation options in our city, and Uber is deeply committed to making sure they have unrestricted access to safe, reliable, quality options. Drivers who partner with Uber do so to take advantage of the flexibility and earning potential our lead generation technology allows. Uber ensures that all rides are covered by insurance, and all drivers on the platform undergo an extensive background check. We stand by our driver-partners 100% and welcome the opportunity to work closely with the authorities towards updated regulations that put the safety and interests of riders and drivers first."

In an exclusive interview with Computerworld Hong Kong yesterday afternoon, Uber Hong Kong General Manager Sam Gellman (pictured) shared his views on the latest protests against Uber by local taxi drivers, the role of smartphones and cloud computing adoption in running Uber's business, and how the company approaches personal data privacy as Uber riders pay by credit cards. Interview excerpts:

CWHK: How do you view the latest protests by local taxi drivers against Uber?
Sam Gellman: I think this happens a lot in technology. When you enter a space where you really create changes and, in our view, make things a lot better and more efficient, it's very frequently met with resistance.

Our goal is to work with the governments and the regulators who appreciate our technology,

and what that brings to cities. We know that consumers really want this product, and we know that drivers benefit from the technology of our platform. And that's really where we focus on.

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