Hassle CEO admits to misleading UK parliamentary committee in bizarre rant about Uber and Pando
Late last month, members of the British parliament’s Business, Innovations and Skills Committee convened a hearing to discuss the laws surrounding the sharing economy.
Amongst those called to testify were representatives of Uber, the London taxi industry and execs from other sharing economy companies, including local Handy.com rival, Hassle.com.
Of course, the committee’s toughest questions were reserved from Uber. At one point committee chairman Iain Wright MP challenged Uber’s Head of Public Policy in the UK and Ireland, Andrew Byrne, over the company’s behavior in other European markets. Wright accused Byrne of helping to run "just a seedy backstreet minicab firm."
“[Y]ou will be aware of the allegations from Sarah Lacy, the editor of Pando; she was talking about the Uber branch in Lyon in France, where Uber were offering to set up passengers with “hot chick” drivers. You are just a seedy backstreet minicab firm, are you not? This is not disruptive technology.”
A damning question. But before Uber’s exec had a chance to answer, something happened that is almost unheard of in an austere Parliamentary committee hearing: Hassle.com CEO Alex Depledge interrupted the chairman – literally began talking over him – launching into a bizarre rant about Pando and Sarah Lacy:
Sorry, can I interrupt? Sorry, Iain. Number one: this feels very much like a lack of disruptive technology and more about Uber. But secondly—
Mr Wright tried to regain control of the floor, saying “Actually it won’t be…” but Depledge continued to talk over the committee chairman, as Uber’s Byrne shifted awkwardly in his seat next to her...
I have read a lot of Sarah Lacy’s stuff and I know her well, and she is just as inflammatory on both sides, so that is very much a gossip blog and a piece of gossip—just to keep this intellectually credible.
Intellectually credible. I’ll get back to that in a moment.
The thrust of Depledge’s rant: Pando’s reporting on Uber’s behaviour in Lyon was unsubstantiated gossip, unworthy of a parliamentary hearing. And as someone who knows Sarah Lacy “very well,” Depledge was qualified to testify to the committee as to her character, and that of Pando.
To his credit, Wright patiently let Depledge finish before insisting that Uber’s Byrne answer the question. Which he did by acknowledging Pando’s reporting was actually entirely correct, and describing the Lyon incident as “a completely ill‑judged marketing stunt and is nothing to do with the operations in the UK.”
Given that response from Uber, Depledge’s outburst was even more bizarre. It was also an outright lie. In point of fact, Depledge doesn’t know Sarah “very well.” Sarah has never met Depledge – has never even heard of her, or Hassle.com. Uber has never disputed Pando's coverage on Lyon, or anything else. And, again, Depledge has absolutely no public affiliation with the company.
Things got even stranger still when Sarah asked Depledge on Twitter about her outburst, and her claim that Pando’s reporting on Uber Lyon was a “piece of gossip.” Depledge admitted that she hadn’t even read the story she was ranting about...
Hey Sarah apologies, my choice of words were poor. I meant to suggest that the line of questioning was not appropriate within the context of the hearing. I had not read your article and didn't mean to dispute its accuracy.
Compare: “I had not read your article and didn't mean to dispute its accuracy.”
Contrast:” I know her well, and she is just as inflammatory on both sides, so that is very much a gossip blog and a piece of gossip—just to keep this intellectually credible.”
By her own admission Depledge lied to a parliamentary committee about knowing Sarah, “very well” or otherwise, misled the committee about the substance of Pando’s reporting, and now admits to never having read it. As for her more general claim to “have read a lot of Sarah Lacy’s stuff,” a search of our subscriber database shows Depledge is not and has never been a Pando subscriber, nor does anyone at Hassle.com appear to have a subscription. Maybe she’s been reading all this stuff via unlocks?
I called Hassle’s press contact number to try to understand why Depledge misled Parliament, and why she felt driven to interrupt a question directed at Uber in order to attack Pando and Sarah. The number redirected to voicemail. I sent a follow-up email inquiry, but the company hasn’t replied.
As Buzzfeed reported last yeat, Uber has proposed the use of surrogates to smear critics, including Sarah specifically, safe in the knowledge that “Nobody would know it was us.”. And in fact they’ve been caught doing precisely that on at least two occasions.
Misleading MPs in a parliamentary select committee is illegal in the UK, carrying a potential penalty of imprisonment, or a substantial fine.
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