In Google’s lawsuit against Uber as to alleged theft of self-driving car technology, Uber sought to hold a hearing in camera, closed to the public. Judge Alsup concluded that Uber sought confidentiality not for any proper purpose permitted udner law, but to avoid embarrassment. From the court transcript for March 26, 2017:
Mr. Gonzalez (for Uber): Your Honor, the reason why we wanted it in chambers is because of the adverse impact that we think it would have on our client. If ther’s a headline tomorrow saying this guy is asserting the Fifth Amendment —
The Court: Listen, please don’t do this to me again. There’s going to be a lot of adverse headlines in this case on both sides. And I can’t stop that that.
[T]he public has a right — in fact, this whole transcript, I’m going to make it public.
Details in The Verge
Uber’s attorneys are investigating the possibility of improper payments in Asia, including what Bloomberg calls “suspicious activity” in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea.
In one incident in Jakarta, Indonesia, an Uber employee is said to have “decided to dole out multiple, small payments to police in order to continue operating there.” The company’s head of Indonesia approved the expense report — and was later placed on leave and left the company.
In another instance, Uber contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre, a government-backed entrepreneur hub. Soon thereafter, the Malaysian government passed laws favorable to Uber. Lawyers are assessing whether this was a quid-pro-quo or otherwise improper.
In a 30 minute podcast on Legal Talk Network, Uber then-General Counsel Salle Yoo remarked:
I tell my team, “We’re not here to solve legal problems. We’re here to solve business problems. Legal is our tool”
She continued: “I am going to be supportive of innovation” — broadly indicating prioritizing innovation ahead of compliance with the law.
In summer 2016, Uber then-CEO Travis Kalanick sought to acquire a startup called Otto which specialized in self-driving vehicles. According to Bloomberg, then-General Counsel Salle Yoo “expressed reservations about the deal” and insisted on hiring Stroz Friedberg (cyber investigators) to assess any impropriety including the possibility, already known to her and Kalanick, that Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski was bringing files from Google, his former employer.
Bloomberg reports that Uber’s board wasn’t aware of these concerns, the Stroz findings, or Levandowski’s retention of Google files.
Bloomberg reports that Uber’s board hired an external law firm “to question security staff and investigate activities” overseen by Joe Sullivan, Uber’s Chief Security Officer. Bloomberg says the investigation specifically included COIN, the Competitive Intelligence program whereby Uber collected information about drivers and activity at Grab (via a system Uber called Surfcam) as well as Lyft (via Hell).
Bloomberg describes other Sullivan efforts including surveiling competitors and certain employees, as well as vetting potential hires.
Bloomberg reports that Uber’s Chief Security Officer, Joe Sullivan, was also assigned the title of deputy general counsel. Bloomberg notes the importance of this designation: it “could allow him to assert attorney-client privilege on his communications with colleagues and make his e-mails more difficult for a prosecutor to subpoena.”
Bloomberg reports that Uber hired private investigators to monitor an employee, China strategy chief Liu Zhen. It seems Uber’s concern was that Liu’s cousin Jean Liu is president of ride-hailing competitor Didi Chuxing.
Bloomberg further reports Uber surveiling competitors, and conducting “extensive vetting on potential hires.”
The use of private investigators was overseen by Joe Sullivan, Uber’s Chief Security Officer, through a team called Strategic Services Group.
Uber sought information about the drivers and activity of Grab, Uber’s major competitor in Southeast Asia. To do so, Uber’s Surfcam program connected to Grab servers to figure out how many drivers were connected and where they were.
Bloomberg describes legal concerns associated with Surfcam:
Surfcam raised alarms with at least one member of Uber’s legal team, who questioned whether it could be legally operated in Singapore because it may run afoul of Grab’s terms of service or the country’s strict computer-crime laws, a person familiar with the matter said.
Nonetheless, Bloomberg reports, the creator of Surfcam is still working for Uber, having moved from Singapore to Uber’s European headquarters in Amsterdam.
See also the “Hell” program whereby Uber tracked data from Lyft.
As then-Genreal Counsel Salle Yoo pushed for Uber to comply with the law, then-CEO Travis Kalanick reassigned her from General Counsel to Chief Legal Officer. Kalanick styled this as a promotion, but Bloomberg says his “true intention was to sideline her from daily decisions” (based on assessment from two employees who worked closely with them).
Bloomberg reported that then-CEO Travis Kalanick encouraged then-General Counsel Salle Yoo to create a legal department with what Bloomberg called a “spirit of rule-breaking.” In a performance review, Kalanick told Yoo she needed to be more “innovative.” Bloomberg reports that Yoo considered herself “liberated” by not having to follow “best practices”, being allowed “to do things the way I think things should be done, rather than the way other people do it.” But Bloomberg says Yoo failed to challenge Kalanick and his deputies, or raise objections to Uber’s board.