For years, Uber has allegedly used a "worldwide program" to identify and ultimately bypass authorities in regions where their service had been resisted. The program consisted of an identification tool called Greyball, the New York Times reported Friday. Greyball, part of the VTOS (violation of terms of service) program, was reportedly used to "evade the authorities" in Paris, Las Vegas, and Boston. Additionally, the method was used in Australia, China, Italy, and South Korea.
In a statement to the Times, Uber explained the VTOS program as simply a way of denying rides to those violating their terms. The program denies rides to these users "whether that's people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret 'stings' meant to entrap drivers," the company said.
Current and former Uber employees, speaking anonymously, described Greyball to the Times and provided related documents. An incident involving a code enforcement inspector in Portland showed the Greyball tool in use as far back as 2014, with Erich England attempting a sting operation while hailing a car downtown. Some of the cars England and other authorities saw when using the app, the Times' Mike Isaac said, were actually fake:
And the Uber drivers they were able to hail also quickly canceled. That was because Uber had tagged Mr. England and his colleagues — essentially Greyballing them as city officials — based on data collected from the app and in other ways. The company then served up a fake version of the app populated with ghost cars, to evade capture.
Read the Times' full report, which also includes claims that Uber employees would supplement VTOS by scouring social media profiles for info, right here.
Unrelated (that we know of): Ed Baker, Uber’s vice president of product and growth, resigned today. "I have always wanted to apply my experience in technology and growth to the public sector. And now seems like the right moment to get involved," he reportedly wrote in a company email.