Uber may be under a US federal criminal probe for its ‘Greyball’ tool

A doctored view of its app provided to certain riders reportedly helped it avoid local regulators

IDG

IDG

Uber Technologies is reportedly under a criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in the U.S. over its use of secret software, which helped the company avoid officials seeking rides to investigate the ride-hailing service, according to news reports Thursday.

Their accounts appear to tally with a report last month by the Portland Bureau of Transportation, which stated that the City of Portland was notified by the U.S. attorney of the Northern District of California that Uber is the subject of a federal inquiry. The city is cooperating with the on-going probe.

Soon after the use of the so-called “greyballing” technology in many countries was reported by the New York Times in early March, Uber said it would prohibit the use of the technology to target action by local regulators.

Uber’s Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan wrote in a blog post in March that Greyball had been used for a variety of purposes, including the testing of new features by employees, marketing promotions, fraud prevention, protecting its partners from physical harm, and deterring riders from using the app in violation of the company's terms of service.

Uber received a subpoena from a grand jury in Northern California, which has sought documents concerning how the software tool functioned and where it was deployed, suggesting that a criminal investigation is in progress, reported Reuters on Thursday, citing two persons familiar with the situation. Besides using fake versions of its app, Uber used other methods including using mapping technology to create virtual fences around government offices and looking for government-issued credit cards, The Wall Street Journal reported.

An investigation into Greyball technology would add to Uber’s existing woes including charges of sexual harassment by a former engineer and a lawsuit from Waymo charging that a former employee stole trade secrets relating to self-driving technology before quitting to set up a startup that was later acquired by Uber. The company has also run into issues with regulators in many countries.

The ride-hailing company did not immediately comment on the reported criminal investigation.

States have also investigated Uber’s use of Greyball technology. In April, the PBOT found that after Uber had illegally entered the Portland market in December 2014, the company tagged 17 individual rider accounts - 16 of which have been identified as government officials - using its Greyball software tool.

Uber had used Greyball software to intentionally evade the agency’s officers from Dec. 5 to Dec. 19, 2014 and deny 29 separate ride requests by its enforcement officers, according to the PBOT investigation initiated after the New York Times report on greyballing technology.

Uber ceased operations on Dec. 21, 2014 and the PBOT said there was no evidence of the company using the technology after it was granted a permit to operate in the city in April 2015, though it clarified that the lack of evidence did not prove definitely that the tools were not used.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?