Uber’s Competitive Intelligence group used surreptitious practices to communicate with others in Uber in order to avoid creating digital records that could be used in future legal disputes.
Some employees used the Wickr service, which automatically deletes communications after a preset period.
Some employees used special devices for hiding communications. These “non-attributable” devices could not be easily traced back to Uber. Reporting from a hearing, a Tweeter reported Judge Alsup asking who supplied these devices to employees. An ex-Uber employee explained that Uber used third-party vendors so that the expense would stay off of Uber’s books.
The ex-employee confirmed the purpose of these methods: “to evade, impede, obstruct, influence several ongoing lawsuits against Uber.” He said email was a last resort because the messages could be used in litigation. He continued: “There was legal training around the use of attorney-client privilege markings on written materials and the implementation of encrypted and ephemeral communications intended to destroy communications that might be considered sensitive.”
A letter from an attorney representing Richard Jacobs, a former Uber security analyst, alleged that Uber had assembled a “Market Analytics” unit to acquire “trade secrets, code-based & competitive intelligence.” The New York Times reported that the Market Analytics team “frequented the code-sharing site GitHub, searching for private material that may have been accidentally revealed by competitors.” The Times also said Uber recruited employees of competitors “to steal trade secrets.”
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 Hellother Sullivan efforts including surveilling competitors and certain employees, as well as vetting potential hires.
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 surveilling 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 that 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.
Confident that it would prevail in trade secret litigation alleging that Uber stole Google information, Google proposed that Uber pay $1 billion of damages, issue a public apology, and appoint an independent monitor to assure that Uber does not use Google technology in the future.
Reuters interpreted Google’s proposal: “Waymo’s tough negotiating stance, which has not been previously reported, reflects the company’s confidence in its legal position after months of pretrial victories in a case which may help to determine who emerges in the forefront of the fast-growing field of self-driving cars. The aggressive settlement demands also suggest that Waymo is not in a hurry to resolve the lawsuit, in part because of its value as a distraction for Uber leadership.”
Uber rejected the proposal.
Waymo v. Uber litigation docket
News site The Information in April 2017 reported that Uber built a program it called “Hell” to track how many Lyft drivers were available, where they were located, and whether they drove for Uber also. Uber then targeted these drivers with special promotions to encourage them to use Uber only.
By all indications, Uber collected data for “Hell” by connecting to Lyft’s servers in a manner prohibited by Lyft’s Terms of Service.
The Information reported that Uber then-CEO Travis Kalanick personally praised the Hell team, saying that they demonstrated Uber’s culture in their willingness to “hustle” in order to win.
In September 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported the FBI investigating Uber’s “Hell” practices.
Bloomberg reports that Hell was overseen by Joe Sullivan, Chief Security Officer of Uber, through a team formerly known as Competitive Intelligence.
See also the “Surfcam” program whereby Uber tracked data from Grab.
In a February 2017 lawsuit, Google alleged that Uber stole proprietary Google technology for autonomous cars. Google reported that Anthony Levandowski, an original member of Google’s self-driving car project, downloaded over 14,000 confidential files (9.7GB) pertaining to Google’s designs and testing, and used this information in Otto, a self-driving company that Uber later acquired. Complaint.
When Levandowski refused to testify or otherwise cooperate with litigation, invoking the Fifth Amendment to refuse to incriminate himself, Uber fired him.
Litigation brought by Benchmark Capital indicates that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick knew, before acquiring Otto, about the likelihood that Levandowski had Google materials. In particular, in March 2016, a month before Uber acquired Otto, Uber retained an investigator to assess whether Levandowski and others had Google materials. Benchmark Capital further alleges that Kalanick never shared this information with Uber investors.
Waymo v. Uber litigation docket
Austin, Texas, voters in May 2016 chose to retain an ordinance that required fingerprinting of Uber’s drivers, among other regulations. Rather than comply, Uber and Lyft ceased operations in Austin, leaving a void filled by smaller competitors.
Uber banned aggregators from comparing Uber’s prices with competitors. Details. July 2017 news coverage of Uber’s threats against comparison shopping tool Ride Fair.