In order to protect its drivers and service from local regulators and authorities, Uber reportedly used a secretive program called Greyball, which would identify regulators or local authorities posing as ordinary passengers.
Essentially, the program collected data from smartphones and used it to identify police officers and other officials from cities that had banned Uber from operating within their jurisdictions.
According to the New York Times report, the Greyball software would add "ghost" cars to the Uber app's map display when blocked individuals viewed it. But Uber, which has long broken laws and regulations in its quest to dominate the market, seems quite equipped to afford such risks. Uber subsequently confirmed the program's existence, but claims that it was primarily used to prevent angry taxi drivers from stalking Uber drivers to harass or beat them.
Once the Greyball tool was put in place and tested, Uber engineers created a playbook with a list of tactics, which included looking up city officials on social media and obtaining phone numbers of cheap phones that Uber calculated enforcement officials were likely to buy, the Times said.
Uber's use of Greyball was recorded on video in 2014, when a code enforcement inspector in Portland, Ore., tried to hail an Uber as part of a sting operation, according to The New York Times.
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.
On Friday, Uber's best-known security researcher resigned without stating any reasons why, leading to speculation over whether there had been a link to the Greyball tool.
"Uber is an incredibly disruptive cyber technology, so it's not surprising that it also skirts the boundaries of legality", Geers said in a statement. If officials hailed these imaginary cars, the ride would mysteriously get cancelled before they got picked up. That manager could draw a geofence around the offices of regulators, watching for users who might open and close the app frequently - actions that could signify that the user was a city employee tasked with keeping an eye on Uber. Uber takes advantage of Greyball in US cities as well, including Boston and Las Vegas. Additionally, Uber even visited phone shops to trace handsets purchased by officials setting up multiple accounts in an effort to catch the company's drivers.
Uber's awful, horrible, no good, very bad 2017 just keeps getting worse.
Current and former Uber employees, speaking anonymously, described Greyball to the Times and provided related documents.