The tech industry is full of interwoven allegiances and short-lived romances. But no corporate relationship is as interesting — or as potentially flammable — as the one between Uber and Google.
For most of its five-year life, Uber has been hugely dependent on Google — in particular, on its vast troves of mapping data, which makes it possible for its riders and drivers to get from point A to point B. And Google, which was an early investor in Uber, has profited handsomely from the company’s kudzu-like growth.
But things change, and as time has worn on, Uber and Google have gone from lovestruck partners to teeth-clenched rivals. Here’s an abridged history of how we got here:
October 2010: Uber (then known as UberCab) raises its first big fundraising round, which includes a sizable investment by former Googler Chris Sacca.
August 2013: Google Ventures pumps more than $250 million into Uber, the firm’s largest-ever investment. At the same time, Google chief legal officer David Drummond joins Uber’s board.
May 2014: Google adds Uber integrations to its Google Maps app, allowing users to easily hail a car from inside the app and tossing lots of extra business Uber’s way. Separately, Google co-founder Sergey Brin tells a tech conference that the company “possibly” plans to include Uber among the partners in its self-driving car program.
July 2014: Bill Maris, the managing partner of Google Ventures, praises Uber effusively, saying it could one day be worth $200 billion or more. ““I am confident in Travis and his team,” Maris tells Bloomberg. Google also teams up with Uber to offer free wifi in cars in select cities.
October 2014: Google chairman Eric Schmidt heaps even more praise on Uber. “Uber is changing our world, changing our lives,” he tells a Boston crowd. “It’s literally one of the greatest business ideas of all time.”
January 2015: In one of the first public signs of looming tension between the companies, Google announces it is adding third-party support for a number of apps inside Google Now, its personal-assistant service for Android phones. Lyft, Uber’s main competitor, is on the list of partner apps. Uber isn’t.
February 2015: Uber announces it is building a lab in Pittsburgh to start exploring the use of self-driving cars, putting it into direct competition with Google’s self-driving car project. Later that same day, Bloomberg reports that Google is “preparing to offer its own ride-hailing service,” and that Uber is considering whether or not to allow Drummond to remain on its board. The Google ride-sharing app has Uber executives “deeply concerned,” according to insiders. And Google’s official Twitter account posts a cryptic reply to Bloomberg’s story.
March 2015: Uber announces it has acquired deCarta, a mapping start-up. The move is taken as a signal that Uber is building its own mapping product, and perhaps trying to wean itself away from Google Maps.
May 2015: The New York Times reports that Uber is making a bid for Here, the Nokia-owned Google Maps competitor. Buying Here would allow Uber to leave Google’s mapping system without suffering a significant quality drop. And it would erode the last major partnership remaining between the two companies.
Throughout all of this, Uber and Google have remained diplomatically cordial, containing their bickering to the boardroom. (“Uber has a strong relationship with Google,” Uber’s head of communications told the Times in March.) But backroom tensions are spilling into public view. And given the billion-dollar stakes, it’s only a matter of time before something erupts.
Regardless of who wins the car wars, Google and Uber can no longer be said to be partners in any long-term sense. Google wants to own the entire self-driving car ecosystem — from the cars themselves to the software that shuttles them around — and Uber, one of the more ambitious and aggressive companies in recent memory, isn’t satisfied being a mere bystander while Google defines the future of transportation.
We don’t know yet how the feud will end, but one thing is increasingly clear: Uber and Google are never, ever, ever getting back together.