Economy

Uber uses 'secret program' Greyball to hide from regulators

Uber uses 'secret program' Greyball to hide from regulators

Greyball is part of a broader program called VTOS, shorthand for "violations of terms of service", that Uber says it developed to protect its service.

Uber reportedly has been using a secret program to help the company evade law-enforcement officers and transportation officials in markets across the globe where the legality of the ride-hailing service is under scrutiny or in question. If the authorities try to hail a ride through Uber's app, the company will show ghost cars, which aren't really in the area, or show no cars in the area at all.

Uber said in a statement that it was simply targeting people who are "violating our terms of service - whether that's people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret "stings" meant to entrap drivers".

According to the New York Times' Mike Isaac, who spoke to current and former Uber employees, Greyball tries to identify authorities through a number of vectors.

According to the article, the tool started as a way to protect drivers from violent opponents like taxi companies and unions in other countries, and Uber told the paper that that remains the primary objective of the Greyball tool. The program was used in locations like Australia, China, Italy, South Korea, and France.

NFL Combine results: Watch John Ross run record-setting 40-yard dash
"It helped a lot because he showed me how to control my speed, how to calm down and just relax and have fun", Ross said . Is he that much better than me or are we on the same playing field? Only Ross can say for sure. "I'm going to try".

The cat-and-mouse game with regulators is the latest example of the aggressive tactics that Uber has adopted while upending the heavily regulated taxi industry. Google's self-driving vehicle company Waymo has also filed a lawsuit against Uber over the alleged theft of trade secrets.

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.

Code enforcement inspectors like Erich England tried to use Uber and catch them red-handed, but somehow Uber drivers never picked him up.

Ars has contacted Uber about Greyball but has not received a response. Uber launched with city approval in April 2015.

And in Florida, Hillsborough regulators coordinated with taxi and limousine companies on an undercover operation that lured out Uber drivers so they could be assessed US$700 fines. It also had employees conduct searches for social media profiles to confirm certain users were indeed members of local regulation enforcement teams, the report claims, in order to add them to the Greyball list. Oregon Live reported at the time that officials with the City Commissioner's office couldn't seem to book a ride, leading them to theorize that they'd already been blocked by the ride-haling provider.


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