Friday May 05, 2017

Uber Faces Federal Criminal Probe over Transportation Regulation Evading Software

Greyball is the name of Uber's software that allowed it to deceive and evade local transportation regulators in cities that Uber wasn't licensed to operate in. This has brought the wrath of the Department of Justice upon the company as the DOJ has launched a probe into the company's practices. Local officials would fine, impound, and use other tactics to keep Uber from operating in unauthorized cities. So Uber designed the Greyball app to mine the credit card information of a potential rider to see if was issued by a credit union used by police and scanned social media contacts to detect if the potential fare had friends in law enforcement. If any of these red flags were present, then the customer was sent a false version of the standard Uber app and wouldn't be picked up. Uber was able to evade 16 Portland Bureau of Transportation officials in December of 2014 alone by denying them dozens of rides using this technology.

According to the company blog, Uber started off with noble intentions for the software. Their drivers were receiving physical threats and this software allowed them to avoid detection. Uber used it to test new features and protect its drivers from fraud and harm. If a fare was determined to be fraudulent or in violation of their terms of service, then they would not be picked up. It will be interesting to see who authorized the nefarious uses of the software and what type of fine or jail time will be associated with these cat and mouse games that Uber played on public officials such as local law enforcement. Do you think they will get a slap on the wrist or properly punished?

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Uber said it used the Greyball technology in December 2014, while it was operating without approval, because it was "deeply concerned that its driver-partners would be penalized financially" or otherwise for their driving. The program was part of a broader Uber system, called Violation of Terms of Service, that analyzed credit card, device identification, location data and other factors to predict whether a request for a ride was legitimate, current and former employees said. However, the Greyball technique was also used against suspected local officials who could have been looking to fine drivers, impound cars or otherwise prevent Uber from operating, the employees said.

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