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Emails between Google and Uber show how the tech giants became enemies

Uber was suspicious that Google was going to launch a competing lift-sharing service.

THE MORE UBER’S CEO heard rumours about Google’s plans for its self-driving cars, the more he begged to get a meeting with Google co-founder Larry Page.

Emails disclosed in a court filing on Thursday show Travis Kalanick’s suspicions and reaction as it became clear that Google — an early investor in Uber — was exploring launching a competing lift-sharing service using the self-driving cars it was developing.

The two companies are bitter enemies today, with each racing to develop competing self-driving car technology. Google’s self-driving car spin-out Waymo has also sued Uber, alleging theft of intellectual property and patent violations.

Before all the bad blood, though, Kalanick, who resigned last month, sought to partner with Google on self-driving cars instead of competing, according to the emails, dating from 2015. A high-ranking Google executive appeared to see the value of a partnership as well.

‘I hope I’m wrong here’

However, Kalanick’s distrust and fears about Google’s motives were inflamed as he suspected Page — a Google co-founder and the CEO of its parent company, Alphabet — was purposefully avoiding him and that Google was secretly plotting to move into his turf.

“A meeting with Larry could calm this down if it’s not true but he has been avoiding any meeting with me since last fall,” Kalanick wrote in an email in March 2015.

“Without any dialogue we get pushed into the assumption that Google is competing in the short term and has probably been planning to do so for quite a bit longer than has been let on,” Kalanick continued.

I hope I’m wrong here, just need to do a meeting with Larry ASAP to get clarity and a mutual understanding of how to do a proper partnership here.

The emails document how the relationship between the two tech giants unravelled, and how the brewing sense of mistrust and betrayal ultimately led to an acrimonious legal feud that has captivated Silicon Valley.

Here’s one of the emails in Thursday’s filing:

screen shot 2017-07-06 at 21908 pm Travis Kalanick wanted to meet Larry Page about a possible partnership Source: Court filing

Kalanick’s emails were sent to David Drummond, Google’s head of business and an Uber board member at the time. Drummond agreed that the “value of a partnership now far outweighs concerns about an uncertain future”.

A Google Calendar invite, also in the court filing, shows that Page, Drummond, Kalanick, and Emil Michael, who was then Uber’s head of business, met for lunch three days later at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.

What happened next, though, is what Uber wants to question Page about in a legal deposition. In the company’s argument for why it should be able to depose Page, Uber said that not only did the Alphabet CEO attend the lunch meeting to discuss the idea of a partnership, but he “has knowledge about why Waymo rejected that avenue and instead chose to compete with Uber”.

“Any such competitive business decisions are relevant to the issues in and motivations behind this lawsuit, and to damages,” Uber’s lawyers said. Now it’s up the judge to decide whether Page has to answer Uber’s questions about why the partnership was falling apart from the beginning.

14,000 company files

The lawsuit revolves around Waymo’s allegations that one of its former engineers downloaded 14,000 company files relating to self-driving car technology and took them with him when he joined Uber.

An Uber spokesperson sent Business Insider the following statement about the latest emails: ”There is no substitute for these depositions, which would resolve some key unanswered questions. For instance: why, after Google learned of the alleged downloading of 14,000 files, did Mr Page not alert Uber’s then-CEO to that fact when they spoke?

“Simultaneously, Google was rejecting a partnership with Uber, choosing instead to compete. This—and the lack of evidence supporting Waymo’s case—begs the obvious question: was this lawsuit actually motivated by the downloading of the files, or was it an attempt to slow down a competitor?”

Waymo disputed Uber’s complaint about the lack of evidence supporting its case to Business Insider.

“Uber continues to mischaracterise our claims in order to distract people from the bottom line: that Uber is using stolen Waymo trade secrets in their technology,” a Waymo spokesperson said.

“We look forward to presenting our evidence at trial and respectfully await the Court’s ruling on Uber’s deposition requests.”

- Biz Carson, Business Insider 

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Business Insider
Business Insider is a business site with strong financial, media and tech focus.

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