Uber’s Secret “Greyball” Program Allegedly Targeted Law-Enforcement Officials

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Uber reportedly has been using a secret program to help the company evade law-enforcement officers and transportation officials in markets across the globe where the legality of the ride-hailing service is under scrutiny or in question.

In developments first reported Friday by the New York Times, multiple current and former employees of the ride-hailing service said Uber maintained a program designed to identify people, such as code enforcement or police officers, who might be using the app to collect evidence of the company’s operations.

This included a tool called Greyball. When users tagged with the phrase in their profiles attempted to summon an Uber vehicle, the company could “scramble a set of ghost cars inside a fake version of the app for that person to see, or show no cars available at all,” according to the Times report.

Although multiple employees raised ethical and legal concerns about Greyball, Uber lawyers had approved of the program, according to the report.

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Uber acknowledged the existence of the program. In a response, an Uber spokesperson said, “This program denies ride requests to fraudulent users who are violating our terms of service—whether that’s people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret ‘stings’ meant to entrap drivers.”

Friday’s developments are the latest in a string of reports that depict a company culture that embraces boundary pushing, rule bending, and, in some cases, sexual harassment. Last month, a former Uber engineer wrote in detail about the hostile work environment she said female workers faced within the San Francisco–based company. Earlier this week, video surfaced of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with one of the company’s drivers over the introduction of lower-cost services that undercut drivers’ earnings.

Last week, Waymo, the company spun out from Google’s self-driving car project, filed a lawsuit against Uber, alleging that the company’s top autonomous-driving executive, Anthony Levandowski, stole more than 14,000 confidential documents that contained proprietary information and trade secrets, which he later allegedly brought to Uber.

In December, California Department of Motor Vehicles officials revoked the registrations of more than a dozen Uber self-driving vehicles that were testing on the state’s public roads without the required permit. More recently, Uber’s self-driving-truck subsidiary, Otto, has received more scrutiny from California DMV officials following reports the technology being tested may run afoul of the state’s autonomous-testing regulations.

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