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Uber Cops to Using 'Greyball' Tool to Avoid Public Scrutiny

06 March, 2017, 00:08 | Author: Paula Vaughn
  • Uber, then operating illegally, used software to evade Portland code enforcers

A statement released by Uber said the program denies rides to "fraudulent users who are violating our terms of service". It alarmed privacy watchdogs late past year by eliminating an iOS setting that let users grant the company access to their location only "while using" the app. Users are now forced to choose between letting Uber track their location "always" and "never". The tool has been used in cities, countries, and regions where local rules blocked or impeded Uber's service, including Portland, Boston, Las Vegas, Paris, Australia, South Korea, China, and Italy. When blacklisted officials logged into Uber, they would be shown a fake map populated with cars that didn't actually exist. Uber subsequently confirmed the program's existence, but claims that it was primarily used to prevent angry taxi drivers from stalking Uber drivers to harass or beat them. Uber had started operating in Portland without permission from the city.

Whenever someone tagged in that manner tries to call a vehicle, a fake version of the app would show a set of ghost cars that can not be booked, or the app would show no cars at all.

The Greyball program, which was reportedly approved by Uber's legal team, remains in use today and is part of a global operation to stop people from, in Uber's eyes, using its service improperly. By using a tracking tool known as Greyball.

The program makes booking a ride hard for users whom Uber suspects of carrying out sting operations aimed at busting drivers in jurisdictions where its legality is unclear.

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The bottom line is: make sure the unwanted individuals can't catch a ride.

Uber's awful, horrible, no good, very bad 2017 just keeps getting worse. Geofencing certain municipal offices and watching who frequently opens and closes the Uber app is an option.

Uber would look at the credit card information from registered users to see if that card was linked to an institution like police credit unions and searched social media profiles to identify if a person was involved in law enforcement. Uber is a privately held company that partially compensates employees via stock that they can purchase at discounted rates; however, it only allows 30 days for employees who quit to buy said stock before they forfeit the right. In fact, just a few minutes before the Times story about greyballing, another former employee accused Uber management of sexism and harassment. The program would help the company detect and avoid undercover law enforcement officials, as well as pinpointing competitors who were trying to disrupt its platform. The 2014 video shows a code enforcement officers trying and failing to hail an Uber after the company launched its service in violation of city code.

Ars has contacted Uber about Greyball but has not received a response.

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