|Uber Vs. Waymo Lawsuit Depiction|
Waymo is the self-driving car company spun from Google, responsible for its profound LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology allowing cars to use sensors to see the world and safely transport without the functioning of a human operator. The investigation into potential trade-secret theft began in 2016 when Waymo received an email accidently from a supplier containing an attachment that detailed Uber's LiDAR circuit board. Waymo said that the designs received in the email looked very familiar to their own. They started a lawsuit against Uber claiming Uber stole their trade secrets and successfully used the information to assist in keeping up with Waymo in the race to creating and stabilizing self-driving cars. It all started with a man named Anthony Levandowski who used to work for Google’s self-driving car project but decided to leave and try to start his own company called Otto. This was a startup company making self-driving trucks, which Uber decided to purchase for $680 million just six months after the company was founded in 2016. Waymo believed this purchase was a disguise to cover up Levandowski’s betrayal and Uber’s tactics to achieve such a promising technology. During the trial, Waymo revealed that Levandowski downloaded fourteen thousand Google files relating to the self-driving car technology and illegally downloaded 9.7 gigabytes of confidential information and then proceeded to transfer it to an external hard drive before he installed a new operating system on the computer to try and delete any evidence of his actions. This occurred right before he decided to part ways, while negotiating with Uber, and then created Otto. Waymo claims that Uber knew of Levandowski’s actions and decided to continue with the deal. This serves as Waymo’s reasoning for the lawsuit since Uber performed an injustice acquiring Levandowski who had eight trade secrets mostly pertaining to this LiDAR technology. Uber claims that it is normal that engineers download company files and that none of the files went public. During the first couple of days into the trial, Waymo decided not to state their claims regarding the substantive legal section in which Uber knowingly stole and used Waymo’s trade secrets to further their own projects. The judge, William Alsup, forewarned Waymo’s lawyers about the lack of stride on their injustice claims against Uber. Levandowski was expected to plead the 5th Amendment during the process of the trial, if not for the case dismissal, which would raise even more suspicions against Uber. The judge dismissed the case and both companies agreed on a settlement which The Wall Street Journal and Buzzfeed reported that Uber and Waymo agreed on a settlement as of February 9th, 2018 in which Waymo accepted .34% of Uber’s equity at $72 billion. This means that Waymo just received $245 million after asking for the maximum damages of $1.8 billion, shocking the entire court room, seeing how $245 million is substantially lower than the desired $1.8 billion by Waymo. These two companies are now committed to developing their own research and design process to hopefully bring self-driving cars into the 21st century. Waymo will receive .34 percent of Uber’s equity, about $245 million. CEO of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi confirmed the settlement and stated “To be clear, while we do not believe that any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber, nor do we believe that Uber has used any of Waymo's proprietary information in its self-driving technology, we are taking steps with Waymo to ensure our liDAR and software represents just our good work”. The previous CEO during the time of the controversy Travis Kalanick stated, “We hired Anthony because we felt that he was incredibly visionary, a very good technologist, and he was also very charming,” noting that the goal was to “make driver-less cars a reality”. Uber’s newest CEO stated, “While I cannot erase the past, I can commit, on behalf of every Uber employee, that we will learn from it, and it will inform our actions going forward”. Uber decided to fire Levandowski on May 28th, 2017 to avoid further questioning of their company’s ethical values.
The stakeholders involved during this controversy are Uber and Waymo’s upper management, their supervisors, customers, stockholders, employees, suppliers, community, and the environment. Each C-suite member is involved to make an executive decision on how to handle the controversy, whether they are part of Uber or Waymo. This means that all the Uber supervisors must get together and discuss their plans to use or not to use the technology and while Waymo’s supervisors need to figure out ways to avoid such a dilemma that they are facing right now. Customers of both companies are still waiting for the full unleashing of self-driving car which means they are affected after whether an Uber user or a Waymo supporter. Stockholders must decide whether to trade or sell their stocks based on the future for both companies and whether they are able to overcome to legal fees and settlements to remain on track to maximize their shareholders wealth under the law. The suppliers of equipment, community members waiting for such technology for a safer future, and the environment that will perhaps reap the benefits of less human operated car pollution and construction.
According to Individualism Theory, a business must use ethical practices when it generates a profit and maximize stockholders wealth. This means that all business actions that transpire must pertain to the law in every way, whether societal law or constitutional law, and respect all human rights. This theory really stresses the independence of humans and the importance of individual self-reliance and liberty, excluding all outside interference regarding an individuals’ choices. Applying this theory to the Uber vs. Waymo case completely exposes Uber of using unethical practices within their business of self-driving car technology known as liDAR. Uber’s Levandowski broke the law by stealing confidential information from his previous employer while erasing all possible evidence to successfully steal the self-driving car technology. Breaking the law is already ethically impermissible under this ethical theory. Every company is supposed to benefit their business and maximize their stock price in a legal manner only using original ideas, in which case Levandowski and Uber did not follow. Because Uber hired Levandowski, they too took part in unethical business practices by accepting Levandowski designs and not being certain whether the liDAR technology was Levandowski’s original idea or not. If they were certain and decided not to hire Levandowski, Uber would have avoided this lawsuit and continued with their own research, following ethical actions in pursuit of the self-driving technology. Intellectual property is so valuable that any means of stealing it is immediately unethical. Yes, business most likely have done so in the past to acquire the competitive edge that is necessary to become successful, but all ideas must be from within the individuals of the company. Uber used external information, whether on purpose or accident, and therefore deserves to pay back the damages to Waymo. Public opinion of Uber was on the high side before all of this occurred. Now that the case went public, people most likely have negative perceptions of Uber's business practices but will remain reliant of their business because so many young people are oblivious as to what transpired and still need easily accessible transportation right off their smartphone Uber application. Uber remains profitable but did take initial financial losses after the lawsuit settlement.
According to Utilitarianism theory, the happiness of the greatest number of people and stakeholders is the most important aspect to being ethical. This means that an action is ethical if it results in overall happiness and unethical if it causes overall unhappiness. Happiness is the only real value that people have in the eyes of Utilitarians so anything that consequently results in the happiness of the majority is deemed ethical by these standards. Uber used stolen intellectual property to generate overall happiness for their upper management, supervisors, customers, stockholders, employees, suppliers, community, and the environment. This would be considered ethically impermissible under utilitarianism because Waymo already developed liDAR technology as the basis for self-driving cars and Uber stole the idea rather than creating their own. If Uber created their own technology and delivered a self-driving car to their customers, then they would have maximized the overall happiness of all stakeholders in this case. Uber also could have offered Waymo contractual agreements to combine the two self-driving car divisions and generate most of these cars into the general public’s everyday lives, maximizing the happiness of both company stakeholders. Because Uber’s actions of stealing resulted in the unhappiness of Waymo stakeholders, a larger part of the population due to the massive size of Google’s business operations, their actions are considered unethical. Uber’s stakeholder’s happiness does not outweigh Waymo’s stakeholder’s unhappiness. The cost of Uber’s actions was $245 million of the company’s equity which lowers shareholders wealth and promotes bad business that is detrimental to Uber’s company and image. From a universal standpoint, mostly focusing on the communities using automobiles as the main source of transportation, the exposure of the liDAR technology would promote all Automobile companies to pursue the same self-driving car technology which could very well be the future of driving. If every car used this than the safety of the masses would be much more secure and that would bring happiness to almost everyone in the world. Not only that but other forms of transportation might be able to pursue the same goal to maximize the safety of every who needs to travel, no matter how far. The environment would benefit as well due to the decrease of natural resources that self-driving technology consumes. If Uber created their own technology, their actions would be considered ethically permissible because it results in a healthier planet and safer transportation methods along with bringing our world to higher levels of technological advancements. The cost of these actions would be Waymo losing business due to the abundance of self-driving tech, creating more competition, which ultimately results in a better economy. In the end, Uber’s actions are deemed ethically impermissible under Utilitarianism due to the overall unhappiness generated from stealing liDAR technology.
According to Kantianism, the number one rule to being ethical is following the formula of humanity. This means that everyone has the obligation to treat other rational people with respect as another human being, rather than treating them as objects. Kant wanted people to do the right thing for the right reason, having the will to do something just because it is the right thing to do, while fulfilling their duties as rational humans and always refrain from lying. People are ends, not means, so they can do whatever they please, but they must follow the guidelines of Kant’s rules to be considered ethical. When examining this controversy through a Kantianism lens, Uber did fulfill their duties and work towards methods of safer transportation, an important breakthrough for companies of this nature, and had the best interest of their stakeholders in mind. Uber did neglect to do the right thing though which is developing their own self-driving technology and not using another company’s ideas in the process of improving their own business. Another unethical mistake made was acting irrational and using Waymo’s liDAR without telling them which is classified as lying due to the secrecy of the actions behind Waymo’s back. These actions break Kant’s formula of humanity because they are treating them as an information database rather than fellow humans with feelings and principles. By doing so, Uber did not show Waymo any respect for their hard work and technological advancements. If Uber had told Waymo Levandowski stole their ideas and respected their intellectual property, Uber would be viewed as an ethical business under Kantianism and avoided an expensive lawsuit. Telling Waymo the truth as soon as they received the confidential information from Levandowski, Uber would have been ethically permissible because it is the right thing to do as humans. Because of Uber's actual actions, the business is deemed ethically impermissible under Kantianism.
Virtue theory is derived from the four basic characteristics of human being: courage, honesty, temperance and justice. When a business entity uses all four of these virtues for any action performed, they are viewed as ethical under the virtue theory. Businesses with courage take necessary risks and embrace all rewards or consequences that occur because of their actions They must fight for what they believe in because it is who they are. Uber lacked the courage to explore their own path to creating self-driving car technology, so they stole the rewards Waymo received from their hard-working employees and intellectual discoveries and cut out the sacrifices made to achieve such success. Uber had the opportunity to be courageous by turning down the stolen liDAR, fire Levandowski, and discover their own self-driving car. Next, the business must be honest to all stakeholders, including themselves, so that each decision is based on trust and wholeheartedness. Uber completely failed to perform honestly which is why they were tangled up with this lawsuit settlement in the first place. Uber secretly used Waymo’s tech and would have kept the secret until exposed, which ended up happening due to the accidental email sent to Waymo with the stolen ideas. The fact that Uber self-driving car technology was going to remain a secret if not for that email, all profits and benefits to their stakeholders would be based on a lie. Uber needed to admit to their wrongdoings to be honest and ethical. The third characteristic businesses must acquire is temperance, or self-control. Uber did not demonstrate temperance while losing their self-control by indulging in the stolen technology of Waymo’s liDAR instead of abstaining from Levandowski’s secrets. The last part of the virtue theory is justice. This is the idea of fairness and everything being equal. Yes, people can say that Uber only used Waymo’s liDAR so both companies have the same opportunities to create self-driving cars, but how is it fair that Uber did not have to design their own technology using their own finances when Waymo did. Failing to meet all four of these characteristics means that Uber is ethically impermissible under virtue theory.
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