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 hired a private investigator to interview friends and colleagues of Stephen Meyer, plaintiff in class action litigation against Uber, as well as Meyer’s attorneys. Interviewing acquaintances and professional colleagues, the PI falsely claimed to be “profiling top up-and-coming” leaders and conducting “real estate market research.” When plaintiff’s counsel learned about these inquiries and asked Uber’s counsel whether Uber had hired a PI, Uber attorneys claimed “Whoever is behind these calls, it is not us.” But as evidence mounted, Uber eventually admitted to having initiated the investigation.
In criticizing Uber’s decision to “hire unlicensed private investigators to conduct secret personal investigation of both the plaintiff and his counsel” as well as the “blatant misrepresentations” and “false pretenses” of the investigation, federal judge Jed Rakoff found “sufficient basis to suspect that Ergo had committed fraud in investigating plaintiff through the use of false pretenses” and that Uber’s instructions had furthered the fraud. Uber paid an undisclosed sum to plaintiff and plaintiff’s attorneys to resolve this misconduct.
Rakoff’s decision indicates that Uber’s investigation of Meyer and his attorneys was initiated by Uber then-General Counsel Salle Yoo who sought assistance from Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan.
Private investigator’s report. Uber staff communicated with private investigator using Wickr, a self-deleting messaging app, though some messages were recovered during subsequent litigation.
Meyer v. Kalanick – litigation docket