Uber Used Software to Target Portland Officials, Evade Regulation

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Uber Used Software to Target Portland Officials, Evade Regulation

UBER TARGETS PORTLAND OFFICIALS USING PROGRAM TO HIDE FROM REGULATORS

Last March, the New York Times revealed that Uber had been using a software program called Greyball that enabled the company to deceive and evade law enforcement officials in several American cities.  The reporting brought to light the disturbing lengths that the program would go for Uber to hide from regulators.  Then the city of Portland launched an investigation which showed both how and how much it was used to evade its regulators’ oversight.

16 PORTLAND OFFICIALS TARGETED FOR FOUR KEY MONTHS AS UBER SUCCESSFULLY GAINS CITY APPROVAL

It turns out that Uber was using the program to hide activities from 16 different regulators whose work involved the governance of its ride sharing service in Portland.  Portland’s investigation learned that Uber “used Greyball to block 17 rider accounts, 16 of which belonged to government officials, and deny 29 ride requests by city transportation enforcement officers,” Reuters reported.  Greyball was used in Portland for four key months back in December, 2014 thru April, 2015. Uber discontinued its nefarious conduct after successfully getting approval to operate in Portland after evading regulatory review.

 

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“They want to profit in Portland without playing by the same rules as existing cab companies,” City Commissioner Steve Novick said in a statement in December 2014. “People who pick up passengers for Uber in Portland should know that they are operating illegally and could be subject to penalties.”

CONSPIRACY INVOLVED 50-60 UBER STAFF, USED IN 4 US METROS AND SEVERAL COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD

For the uninitiated, Greyball is a secret internal program that about 50 or 60 employees knew about, according to the Times report, and was used in a number of cities, including Portland, Boston, Las Vegas, and Paris, Oregon, and also a few countries outside the US. According to the Times, Grayball showed officials “ghost cars” in a fake version of the app in an attempt to dodge regulators and also allegedly created geo-fences around potential investigative areas. If Uber noticed a user was repeatedly opening and closing an app in one of those regions, they were flagged.

GREYBALL MONITORED USER CREDIT INFORMATION, SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS TO IDENTIFY POSSIBLE FUZZ

The ride-sharing service also reportedly traced user credit card information and searched social media accounts in an effort to track down potential investigators. And when Uber figured out that officials were using burner phones, employees looked up the device numbers of the cheapest ones on sale at local electronics stores, “which were often the ones bought by city officials, whose budgets were not sizable.”

“In using Greyball, Uber has sullied its own reputation,” the Portland Bureau of Transportation wrote in its report, Reuters reported. The program is one of numerous controversies that New CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has inherited since the former Expedia chief joined the company at the end of August.

In addition to the Portland investigation, the Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation in May into Uber’s use Greyball. And the Greyball investigation is just one of many issues plaguing the company. It is also grappling with the ongoing Benchmark Capital and Waymo lawsuits, as well as a federal investigation into another Uber program—“Hell”—that allegedly spied on competitors.

Damn. It’s been a busy first month for Dara.

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