Sarah Lacy — the target of a proposed $1 million smear campaign by a top Uber executive, who bragged about his idea of investigating her private life at a media dinner in New York on Friday night — was re-doing her home security last night.
She said she was scared that the transportation service Uber was spying on her, including possibly bugging her phone.
Lacy may have good reason to worry. She talked to me just hours after BuzzFeed released a disturbing report in which Uber senior executive Emil Michael spoke about his idea to build a team of four researchers and four reporters to dig up personal dirt on reporters who were critical of the company.
In a conversation with BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith, he aimed much of his vitriol at Lacy, Editor in Chief of PandoDaily, who has been very tough on Uber in a series of posts on her site.
Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick, a ferocious CEO who keeps a small bedroom in his headquarter’s “War Room,” was also at the dinner, which was held so he could meet a group of top New York media people. But days later, he has yet to make any comment about Michael’s remarks.
The company, though, did respond, noting: “We have not, do not and will not investigate journalists.”
That is little comfort to Lacy, who said she was appalled to hear about Michael’s plan. She also said she was scared. And she said that efforts against women and reporters in Silicon Valley will get stronger before they stop — that this is a seminal moment, but it’s not going to be the end.
“I’ve never heard a very high-ranking executive at a $20 billion company talking about a million-dollar budget to destroy my life,” she said. “I’ve never heard of a case where someone was bragging about it at a dinner, where it was considered totally socially acceptable.”
Michael, hours after issuing a statement that the remarks didn’t reflect how he really feels, apologized to Lacy over Twitter late Monday night. Lacy said she can’t understand why he’s still employed by Uber.
“They’ve known about this since at least Saturday; why hasn’t he been fired?” she said. “Maybe they’re scared to fire him, because they want to send a message that this is what you’re supposed to be doing.”
She sees it as indicative of a broader danger in using Uber.
“It’s really scary that there’s a company culture where objectification and violence against women is condoned,” she said. “And you run a service where women get into strangers’ cars alone at night.”
It’s not new that Kalanick and his company are being called out for aggressive bro-ness. But much of it seems to roll off his shoulders, even as he continues at the helm of Silicon Valley’s largest private company and garners ever-higher valuations from investors.
This is not acceptable, said Lacy.
“Paula Deen made racially insensitive comments and lost a show, lost very real money. Donald Sterling was forced to sell an NBA team,” she said. “And yet we believe that frighteningly misogynist comments like this, anti-First Amendments comments like this, are ‘boys being boys’ and that ‘they’re geniuses and this is what it takes to build a company.'”
Beyond Uber firing Michael, Lacy wants investors to stop funding Uber.
“The only investors who’ve answered it so far have said, ‘Well, this is bad, but we totally back Travis,'” she said. “How bad is the intimidation around this company? How bad is Silicon Valley when there are very real threats made to a woman and her family?”
Kalanick isn’t so important and could be fired, too, she argued: “Uber is a logistics company. They need him as CEO way less than Apple needed Steve Jobs or Facebook needs [Mark] Zuckerberg.”
But Lacy said that day of reckoning hasn’t come yet, and that things could escalate to violence against female reporters before it does. Many of the reporters who cover Uber critically — Valleywag’s Nitasha Tiku, Forbes’ Ellen Huet and San Francisco Magazine’s Ellen Cushing — are women. Lacy said she was worried about all of them.
“It’s going to keep escalating, and I don’t know what the line is, but there will be a line. Sadly, I don’t think it’s this, I think it’s something scarier,” she said. “It starts to get into the realm of physical harm and physical threats.”
She said she thinks Uber’s campaign to silence reporters will only grow because — despite the current outcry — reporters will now think twice before crossing the company, which knows their credit card information, home addresses, phone numbers and travel patterns.
“First, they’re going after really harsh critics. Then, they’re going after people who don’t reprint the press release right,” she said. “If Uber proves this is a very good use of $1 million, then they’ll keep going.”
Added Lacy: “Are we at a point now where it’s okay to take out journalists if they disagree with you?”
But what Lacy came back to was just how cavalier the comments had been, in the absurdity of the public setting.
“If this is what they’re proud of — like, ‘It’s totally cool, guys’ — then what are they talking about in that War Room?” she said. “Honestly, every woman using Uber should be scared. Every journalist should be scared.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.