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Uber hits brakes on talk of finding dirt on reporters

[SAN FRANCISCO] Uber chief Travis Kalanick on Tuesday took to Twitter to condemn an executive's suggestion to dig up dirt on reporters who write critically of the car-sharing service.

Kalanick's emphatic tweets came as Uber tried to undo damage to its public image - and to its relationship with the media - from comments made days earlier at an elite Manhattan dinner party by the startup's executive vice president of business, Emil Michael.

At a gathering held in the spirit of improving Uber's rapport with the press, Michael lamented that the company was picked on in the media and was quoted as proposing the creation of a team of researchers to investigate the lives of reporters.

The idea, in essence, was to give the press a taste of its own medicine.

"Emil's comments at the recent dinner party were terrible and do not represent the company," Kalanick said Tuesday in a series of tweets.

"His remarks showed a lack of leadership, a lack of humanity, and a departure from our values and ideals." Kalanick went on to note that Michael's duties at Uber in no way involve its communications strategy and that his view did not represent the company's approach.

During the dinner, Michael outlined a vision of spending US$1 million to hire opposition researchers and journalists to investigate the families and affairs of reporters as payback for critical coverage, according to news website BuzzFeed.

Kalanick was at the dinner, which was hosted by a former advisor to British Prime Minister David Cameron and was attended by actor Edward Norton and publisher Arianna Huffington, according to a BuzzFeed reporter who attended and broke the story of what Michael said.

As anger about Michael's comments grew over the weekend, he took to Twitter to apologize and said that neither he nor Uber would ever actually resort to the kind of tactic he suggested.

The San Francisco-based firm, which lets customers order and pay for taxis or private vehicles via smartphones, has been unofficially valued in the range of US$25 billion to US$30 billion based on funding rounds.

Its smartphone app connects users with local drivers and the company charges a commission for each ride.

Founded in 2009, Uber is now present in more than 200 cities and in 45 countries.

The company's rapid expansion has caused tensions with traditional taxi drivers, especially in Europe.