Uber is the company many love to hate. Whether it’s using your low battery to get you to agree to surge pricing or bailing on cities that try to hold it more accountable for its employees, the company has a fairly regular PR problem. And it’s one that’s about to get a lot worse now that it’s been revealed they’re sending former CIA agents after anybody that ticks it off.
The Verge has a very in-depth report on Uber’s current legal problems, where it’s accused of improperly investigating Spencer Meyer. Meyer has alleged in a suit that Uber and its CEO, Travis Kalanick, are violating anti-trust statutes by, essentially, using their app. Because potentially thousands of drivers can sign on and agree to surge pricing, that might in theory break the law. The suit is generally seen as a long shot, one of those nuisance suits that any company has to deal with.
Uber, however, decided to take a scorched earth approach to Meyer that may have burned the company instead. It hired an investigative firm called Ergo to look into Meyer. This is fairly standard practice, but it’s usually just a search of publicly available information such as court records and internet search pages done by any run of the mill private investigation firm. Ergo is a firm staffed by ex-CIA agents and other former intelligence personnel that’s generally brought in to perform detailed investigations on governments and corporations to assure private companies their partners are legitimate. And they went a lot further than a typical gumshoe, calling 28 of Meyer’s friends and colleagues while misrepresenting why they were gathering information. They promptly got caught, and now Uber is facing a parallel lawsuit accusing it of fraud, thanks to that investigation.
That’s an even bigger deal than it sounds. Uber, like any company, goes to court fairly often, and it appears that they had a steady working relationship with Ergo. So this could be a much bigger scandal, and not helping matters is the fact that Uber comes off as bizarrely paranoid for a taxi company. For example, one of the executives involved in the case, Mathew Henley, is the chief of the company’s “Global Investigations” department (which is separate from its security department), Ergo is a private detective firm generally hired for high-level corporate investigations, and once their encryption failed, Uber and Ergo switched the conversation to a chat service that automatically destroys their messages.
Pairing that with the tendency of Uber’s executive suite to threaten digging up dirt on journalists who cover it unfavorably, and it’s easy to wonder just what else Uber might be doing that we haven’t found out yet. Maybe they should start delivering more puppies.
(Via The Verge)