Method was used to deceive authorities worldwide.
It’s been a rough road lately for the ride-hailing company Uber. From its earliest days, the company came under fire for encroaching on the highly regulated taxi and car service industries, not paying its drivers as employees (thereby denying them retirement savings plans and healthcare), and the use of a certain little tool known as “godview” that allowed company employees to spy on riders and track their whereabouts. More recently, new information has come to light about sexual harassment in the workplace, sexual discrimination, hostile work environments, and more.
Those issues may end up looking like child’s play, though, in the face of the latest blow to the company’s reputation. According to a report from the New York Times, Uber has been using a software tool in some markets around the world that let them block anyone they think might be government officials, law enforcement officers, and more. Worse than just blocking them through the use of geofences, these “greyballed” individuals actually see a fake version of the Uber app on their phones. The information in the app is “ghosted” to make it look like their rides are on their way.
According to a report from News.Com.AU, an Uber spokesman replied via email to an AFP inquiry and stated, “This program denies ride requests to fraudulent users 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.”
Okay, that’s bad enough. But Uber has also admitted another purpose for the software: to thwart competitors who are in the area. The company claims that it was only a defensive move to stop competitors from hailing rides under false pretenses in order to tie up their drivers with bogus trips. Uber also claims that this software has not been in operation in any market where it’s illegal, and that it ran the concept past its attorneys thoroughly before implementing it.
As a publicly traded company with shareholders to keep happy, it will be an interesting year for Uber. It remains to be seen how many scandals and boycotts the company can survive before drastic changes take place, specifically in the leadership.