The not-so-great press continues for Uber, this time with the launch of a criminal probe. The U.S. Department of Justice kicked off one such probe into Uber Technologies Inc. this week, CNBC reported. The investigation centers on Uber's use of a software tool known as "Greyball," which helped the popular ride-on-demand service identify and ultimately avoid government officials in areas where the service hadn't been approved for use.
Greyball's use was limited following publication of a New York Times story about its controversial capabilities earlier this year. In March, in a piece by Mike Isaac entitled "How Uber Deceives the Authorities Worldwide," the Times described a program involving Greyball in which evasion methods were employed in cities including Paris, Las Vegas, Boston, and Portland. In now-public letters to Portland officials from Uber attorneys, the company asserted that Greyball had been used "exceedingly sparingly" in Portland prior to the service's eventual approval in 2015.
Also revealed in the Times piece was the potential legality issues surrounding Greyball. The tool, Wayne State University law professor Peter Henning said at the time, could potentially be considered a federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act violation, or possibly worse: an intentional obstruction of justice. "We all take our foot off the gas when we see the police car at the intersection up ahead, and there's nothing wrong with that," Henning explained. "But this goes far beyond avoiding a speed trap."
In a separate Times report in April, Uber was alleged to have secretly identified and tagged iPhones even after the app had been removed from the device. The "fraud detection maneuver" was a violation of Apple's privacy rules, prompting Apple CEO Tim Cook to call a meeting with Uber boss Travis Kalanick in 2015. Cook demanded Kalanick put an end to the methods, or risk being banned form the App Store altogether. Kalanick honored Cook's request.
Uber did not immediately respond to Complex's request for comment.