Home » ‘I want to destroy them’: Court examines Uber’s conduct as the tech giant gained a foothold in Australian market

‘I want to destroy them’: Court examines Uber’s conduct as the tech giant gained a foothold in Australian market

Uber has admitted breaking Australian laws when it launched its ridesharing app, a court has heard, as the founders of a rival company seek hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Victoria was told Uber had made concessions that its UberX app operated at a time when peer-to-peer ridesharing was illegal in several states.

The admissions were contained in a statement of agreed facts, jointly provided to the court by Uber and GoCatch, the taxi app company who is suing the tech giant.

“Ridesharing was unlawful and criminal and they facilitated it occurring,” GoCatch’s barrister Michael Hodge KC said.

GoCatch is suing Uber and alleges the tech disruptor gained an unfair competitive advantage and intended to “injure” their business about a decade ago, as both tried to capitalise on the emerging transport app market.

‘I want to destroy them’, Uber boss wrote

Uber is accused of using spyware to scrape data from GoCatch’s servers.

The information was used to obtain contact details of GoCatch’s drivers, who Uber allegedly tried to recruit.

GoCatch also claimed its fleet of licensed taxi drivers were pitted against Uber’s unaccredited drivers who flooded the roads and flouted transport laws in NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia.

Australian ride booking start-up GoCatch was backed by billionaire James Packer and hedge fund manager Alex Turnbull.(Supplied)

Internal Uber emails obtained by GoCatch during legal discovery revealed the hostility between the rival companies in 2012 and 2013.

“I want to destroy them before they get too legit,” Uber’s former Australian general manager David Rohrsheim wrote to a colleague.

“I just got my hands on something game changing — phone numbers for all GoCatch drivers. Haven’t decided how to use that. Don’t want them to know.”

In other emails, Mr Rohrsheim talks about using the information to hire GoCatch drivers to work for Uber instead.

“This is very clever stuff but something we must never talk about to anybody outside Uber,” Mr Rohrsheim said.

“It’s kosher, but wouldn’t look good in public. Remember, we do lots of cool stuff at Uber that we can’t boast about.”

Exactly which laws Uber has admitted to breaking remains unclear for now, with the statement of agreed facts only filed with the Supreme Court on Monday night. The document is yet to be released by the court.

Uber vows to defend itself ‘vigorously’ in months-long trial

Mr Hodge said it was the first time in the case that Uber had conceded it had acted illegally.

However he accused Uber of continuing to hide key details, including who the directors were of several sub-companies.

“How can they not know who their own directors are?” Mr Hodge asked.

The civil trial between GoCatch and Uber is expected to run for about 10 weeks before Justice Lisa Nichols.

Uber’s lawyers are expected to make their opening remarks to the court later in the trial.

In a statement, Uber said it denied claims that it negatively impacted GoCatch’s business “and will defend the matter vigorously”.

The company then released follow-up remarks, saying it rejected any suggestion it should be “liable for the failure of other P2P businesses to adapt to an emerging competitive landscape”.

“Uber is a fundamentally different business today than we were a decade ago. Since then, we have made significant changes to our leadership and how we conduct business, taking seriously our responsibility to be a collaborative, contributing industry leader,” a spokesperson said.

GoCatch continues to operate as a private car and taxi booking service.

However the company, which began as an Australian start-up backed by billionaire James Packer and hedge fund manager Alex Turnbull, has failed to match the success of Uber.

GoCatch co-founder Andrew Campbell said he was glad to finally have his day in court to face Uber.

“They used any means necessary to destroy GoCatch,” he said.

In a separate case last month, Uber agreed to a $272 million class action payout to Australian taxi drivers and operators for loss of income and licence values.