Uber Used Secret Software To Illegally Operate In Some Cities While Evading Authorities

It’s fair to say Uber is in crisis. Its CEO was busted screaming at a driver over fare prices, it just had to fire a VP over covered-up sexual harassment charges, it was revealed the company had wasted millions because one executive refused to believe the state of California could decide what a self-driving car was, and that’s just what happened this week. Now Uber is likely facing even more trouble for software it used to help the company operate in cities illegally.

The New York Times has revealed, and Uber has confirmed, that when Uber was operating in cities that it was either banned in or had not been cleared to operate in yet, it just went ahead and did and “greyballed” city authorities and others to prevent them from getting rides on the service, i.e. proving that Uber was illegally operating in the city in question. Uber, which calls this Violation of Terms of Service, issued this statement to the Times:

“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.”

It’s more than a little worrying that Uber’s corporate culture values its terms of service over the laws that actually allow it to operate in the city in the first place. It’s also a bit questionable that Uber basically just admitted it was committing crimes on a regular basis. Uber found city authorities by tracking where the app was opened, in places like city hall, and whether payment methods were tied to local or state government. They also checked cell phone models for the cheapest ones to get around spoof accounts, and scraped social media accounts.

Uber claims this was to protect their drivers, which is logic that falls apart a little bit considering Uber could have also protected drivers by following the law in the first place. As it stands, the company may face obstruction of justice or even computer fraud charges.

(via The New York Times)