Uber uses secret tool to evade authorities
Published: 2017-03-04 11:58:32.0 BdST Updated: 2017-03-04 12:08:45.0 BdST
Ride services company Uber for years has used a secret tool to avoid authorities in markets where its service faced resistance by law enforcement or was banned, the company confirmed on Friday.
The New York Times first reported the existence of the programme, called Greyball, which uses data from the Uber app and other methods to identify and circumvent officials who aimed to ticket or apprehend drivers in cities that opposed its operations.
Rides hailed from a location near a city enforcement agency suspected of launching a sting to trap Uber drivers could be ignored or cancelled, for instance, the Times report said.
The tool allowed Uber to show images of "ghost" Uber cars on the app or show that no cars were available, according to the newspaper, in order to deceive authorities. Officials in certain cities without a legal framework for ride services have aimed to ticket, tow and impound the cars.
A spokesperson for Uber said Greyball was still in use, though scaled back. It grew out of an effort to protect the app from disruption by competitors and drivers from abuse and, in more rare cases, was also used where there were enforcement stings, she said.
Meanwhile, Uber's best-known security researcher and vice president of product and growth resigned on Friday, without giving reasons. It was unclear if the departures were connected to Greyball.
Ubers says the tactic had been scaled back considerably as it won right to operate in more places. Reuters file photo
Those include allegations of sexual harassment that prompted an internal investigation at the company, a video of Chief Executive Travis Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver that led him to make a public apology and pledge to "grow up", and a lawsuit by Alphabet Inc's self-driving car unit, Waymo, accusing Uber of stealing designs for technology for autonomous cars. Uber has said Waymo's claims are false.
In an email, Uber said the Greyball programme "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."
The tactic had been scaled back considerably as the company won the right to operate in more places, a spokesperson added.
The programme is still being used when drivers are under threat of arrest or other legal punishment in some cities within 15 US states without clear ride-sharing laws, she said, adding that she did not know in which other countries the system is being used.
A source earlier on Friday had told Reuters that the programme had not been in use in the United States for more than a year.
The New York Times said Uber used the methods to evade authorities in cities including Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, and in countries such as Australia, China, Italy and South Korea.
The software works by collecting geolocation data and credit card information to determine whether the user is linked to an institution or law enforcement authority. Reuters file photo
“We take any effort to undermine our efforts to protect the public very seriously,” Dylan Rivera, a spokesman for the Portland, Oregon transportation bureau, said in a statement. “We will closely examine the evidence presented in this investigation to see if it warrants changes in our approach to consumer protection.”
Boston police Lieutenant Mike McCarthy said his department would also review the allegations and Philadelphia Parking Authority spokesperson Martin O’Rourke said his agency was aware of Uber’s attempts to evade local inspectors and the activity was covered by a settlement agreement that the authority and the company signed last year, in which Uber paid a $350,000 fine.
Greyball, which began as early as 2014, was part of a programme called "Violation of terms of service" (VTOS), aimed at finding people the ride-hailing company thought were using the app improperly, the New York Times reported.
Two high-level departures on Friday added to Uber's woes. Ed Baker, Uber’s vice president of product and growth, is leaving the company after nearly four years, an Uber spokeswoman said, declining to provide a reason.
Also announcing his departure Friday was the best-known security researcher at Uber. Charlie Miller, who won fame beyond the security industry for hacking into a Jeep as it was driving, said on Twitter that he was leaving after a year and a half of working on security for autonomous driving. He said he would announce where he was headed next week.
Any unauthorised use or reproduction of bdnews24.com content for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited and constitutes copyright infringement liable to legal action.
- Bose headphones spy on listeners: lawsuit
- Inspired by Pokemon Go, Facebook pushes augmented reality
- Facebook shareholders propose reports on 'fake news', pay equality
- China live streaming: Would-be internet stars boost billion-dollar market
- Cyber attack on Union Bank of India similar to Bangladesh heist: WSJ
- Google promises to open merchant account in Bangladesh
- Computer hack sets off 156 emergency sirens across Dallas
- YouTube tweaks ad strategy to curb content stealing
- The World’s Most Innovative Research Institutions – 2017
- Facebook will not be blocked, says telecoms state minister Tarana
- Govt picks 285 colleges, 40 high schools for nationalisation
- Messi's 500th Barcelona goal sinks Real Madrid in thriller
- Before heavy rains, fog-like clouds dazzle Dhaka
- Bangladesh, Poland agree to work on migration and maritime economy sectors
- Saudi Arabia restores perks to state employees, boosting markets
- Jatiya Party presidium member Bablu marries Ershad’s niece
- Bangladesh to introduce rota virus, HPV vaccines in 2018
- Beware of dengue, chikungunya in intermittent rains
- Chevron announces sale of Bangladesh operations
- Man beaten to death in front of Dhaka’s Sakura bar