Against the advice of then-General Counsel Salle Yoo and without support from then-Chief Business Officer Emil Michael, Uber then-CEO Travis Kalanick pushed forward with the acquisition of Otto, a startup for self-driving trucks.
Bloomberg reports multiple reasons why Kalanick could have been concerned about the deal and Levandowski’s tactics.
One, Otto consisted primarily of ex-Google staff, and Uber’s acquisition of Otto angered Google leaders, including co-founder Larry Page.
Two, before the deal closed, Uber’s investigators learned that Levandowski had possessed five disks of data from Google’s driverless effort including “source code, design files, laser files, engineering documents and software related to Google self-driving cars.” Uber’s investigators also knew that Levandowski’s claims to have destroyed the disks could not be verified. Kalanick said he did not read the investigators’ report.
Three, Levandowski asked Uber to protect him from legal attacks from Google, and Kalanick agreed to do so.
Even when Google sued Uber over the acquisition, and Levandowski invoked the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination to decline to cooperate with litigation, Kalanick continued to support Levandowski, claiming he would eventually be vindicated.
Bloomberg further reports Kalanick calling Levandowski his “brother from another mother.”
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 under 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 there’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.
[T]he public has a right — in fact, this whole transcript, I’m going to make it public.
Details in The Verge
Waymo v. Uber litigation docket
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.
Forensics firm Stroz Friedberg investigated the information Anthony Levandowski allegedly took from Google and whether or how it was destroyed. Stroz’s report conveys Levandowski’s admission that he had five discs of Google information which he says he destroyed (a claim Stroz was unable to verify).
Stroz found about 50,000 Google work emails on Levandowski’s personal computer, and there was evidence that he accessed some of the emails at about the same time he left Google, making it “difficult to believe” that he could not remember having those emails, as he claimed when interviewed.
Stroz found that Levandowski accessed certain Google files after his departure, then deleted them. Stroz also found evidence of Levandowski searching for instructions on secure file deletions, and telling coworkers to delete messages from him. These deletions are consistent with an attempt to destroy confidential Google information that Levandowski should not have had, but also consistent with a cover-up of information previously received and used.
A Google spokesperson said in a statement: “The Stroz Report unequivocally shows that, before it acquired his company, Uber knew Anthony Levandowski had a massive trove of confidential Waymo source code, design files, technical plans and other materials after leaving Google; that he stole information deliberately, and repeatedly accessed it after leaving Waymo; and that he tried to destroy the evidence of what he had done. In addition, Mr. Levandowski used his smartphone to take thousands of covert photographs of computer screens displaying Google confidential files. Knowing all of this, Uber paid $680 million for Mr. Levandowski’s company, protected him from legal action, and installed him as the head of their self-driving vehicle program.”
Accused of stealing driverless car technology from Google (his former employer), Uber executive Anthony Levandowski invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify.
In response to Levandowski’s refusal to cooperate in Uber’s response to Google (Waymo) litigation alleging that Uber stole Google/Waymo secrets, Uber fired Levandowski.
In a letter to Levandowski, Uber terminated him for cause. Uber noted its requirement that he cooperate with the litigation, which he did not do. Uber also noted that his employment agreement warranted that he had returned or destroyed all property and confidential information from any prior employer, but said that Levandowski’s actions gave Uber grounds to allege breach of these commitments.
See also Uber’s May 15, 2017 letter to Levandowski demanding that he comply with a court order, waive his Fifth Amendment protections, and cooperate with Uber’s defense of Google’s lawsuit. See also Levandowski’s May 18, 2017 motion asking the court to modify its order to avoid compelling Levandowski to waive his Fifth Amendment rights.
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