THE TAXI-HAILING company Uber has been caught using software to fool authorities that have been trying to curtail its service around the world.
The software included a feature nicknamed “Greyball” that identified regulators who were posing as passengers while trying to collect evidence that Uber’s service was breaking local laws governing taxis.
Uber used a fake version of its app to make it appear that the undercover regulators were summoning a car, only to have the ride cancelled. It analysed the data that it collects through its real app to pinpoint the agents.
The New York Times revealed Greyball’s existence based on information provided by current and former Uber employees. Uber acknowledged it has used Greyball to counter regulators working with the company’s opponents to entrap its drivers.
Greyball is part of a broader program called VTOS (“violations of terms of service”) that Uber says it developed to protect its business.
“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,” Uber said.
The software determines whether the user has links to a law enforcement agency by collecting geolocation data, credit card and social media account information.
Uber has targeted regulators in several US cities, as well countries including Australia, China, Italy and South Korea, The New York Times reported.
Uber is valued at $60bn but is coming under increasing scrutiny from regulators worldwide and has become embroiled in a series of controversies.
The company has faced lawsuits for classifying its drivers as independent contractors.
Recently the company was accused of sexism by a female former employee. This week, Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive, was forced to apologise after a video surfaced of him swearing at one of his drivers.