Uber Is Now Under Criminal Investigation for Its ‘Greyballing’ Practices

6 May

By Anmol Sachdeva, The Tech Portal

With another massive trouble looming over its head, Uber is far away from taking a breather. The ride-hailing behemoth, as reported by Reuters, is now facing a criminal investigation into the application of its ‘Greyball’ software. It has been accused of using the piece of software to detect and deny rides to local law enforcement and transportation regulators, reports Reuters.

This development comes on the heels of several reports that Portland’s Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), led by Commissioner Dan Saltzman, was planning to subpoena the company for not dispensing details of the use of ‘Greyball’ software to them. And the same is now happening. Uber has been served with a subpoena from a Northern California grand jury asking the ride-hailing giant to disclose how the ‘greyball’ software functioned and how the practice was being deployed illegally.

While there had previously also been sightings that Uber was facing a federal probe into its ‘greyballing’ practices, the criminal nature of the request was unknown till date. Sources aware of the situation have confirmed the investigation and added that the ride-hailing giant has hired the services of an outside law firm, Shearman & Sterling LLP. They plan on conducting an internal investigation into the greyball program to counter the charger they’re accused of. Talking about the same, the report further mentions,

A subpoena from a grand jury is a formal request for documents or testimony concerning a potential crime. It does not, in itself, indicate wrongdoing or mean charges will be brought.

For those unaware, this investigation has transpired from the New York Times report that shed light on the existence of this ‘greyball’ software program. It also revealed the unfair usage of the tool, which prevented local authorities from hailing rides by detecting their location — especially when they were out conducting sting operations on drivers. The $68 billion ride-hailing giant has been accused of illegally employing the software to meddle with the state’s affairs when it was not even licensed to operate in Portland, Oregon.

While Uber has acknowledged that it ‘sparingly’ employed the software to track regulators before its service was legalized to operate in the region in question. But, PBOT launched an investigation of its own and published a full audit report of the Greyball scandal, which alleges that Uber’s sketchy Greyball software tagged 17 accounts within the state. The company has clarified that it forbids the usage of Greyball to track local regulators, instead —

[It is being] used to hide the standard city app view for individual riders, enabling Uber to show that same rider a different version. It’s been used for many purposes, for example — the testing of new features by employees; marketing promotions; fraud prevention; to protect our partners from physical harm; and to deter riders using the app in violation of our terms of service.

This is, however, just one of the numerous controversies Uber has been plagued with just recently. The ride-hailing giant is presently also meeting Google’s spin-off self-driving division Waymo in the court every so often to determine the fate of their own self-driving efforts. One of the major executives of Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group (ATG), Anthony Levandowski, who is a former Googler has been accused of leaving the company with over 9.7GB of confidential data in tow. So, after looking for arbitration, the company has sued Uber for patent infringement and is now looking to get its autonomous vehicles off road but the federal judge doesn’t seem to be impressed with their arguments.