The NewYork Times has reported that Uber has for years engaged in a worldwide program to deceive the authorities in markets where its low-cost ride-hailing service was resisted by law enforcement or, in some instances, had been banned.
The program, involving a tool called Greyball, uses data collected from the Uber app and other techniques to identify and circumvent officials who were trying to clamp down on the ride-hailing service. Uber used these methods to evade the authorities in cities like Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, and in countries like Australia, China and South Korea.
Greyball was part of a program called VTOS, short for “violation of terms of service,” which Uber created to root out people it thought were using or targeting its service improperly. The program, including Greyball, began as early as 2014 and remains in use, predominantly outside the United States. Greyball was approved by Uber’s legal team.
In a statement, Uber said, “This program denies ride requests to 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.”
Uber’s ‘Hell‘ Program Tracked Lyft Drivers
In a related issue, a former Lyft driver is filing a class action lawsuit against Uber less than a month after The Information exposed its controversial “Hell” program. Between 2014 and 2016, the software program allowed Uber to track how many Lyft drivers were available and where, as well as which Uber drivers also worked for Lyft.
The Information reported that Uber created fake Lyft rider accounts and spoofed their location, thereby allowing them to gather data on available drivers. The company reportedly tracked individual Lyft drivers and cross-referenced their movements. If they were found to also work for Uber, the company targeted them with special bonuses to encourage them to abandon Lyft.
This class action lawsuit alleges four counts of privacy invasions. The defendants allege that Uber violated the Electronic Communication Privacy Act by “intentionally collecting, gathering, [and] intercepting” their electronic communications. Uber hasn’t confirmed the existence of its Hell software. Read more