Uber’s Been Using A Secretive Tool To Avoid Detection By Predatory Regulators

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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Uber has reportedly been evading authorities and skirting regulations imposed by local and national governments by using a secretive proprietary tool called Greyball.

The ride-sharing tech conglomerate would use data gathered from its Uber app to identify and sidestep officials who sought to catch it in the act of providing its services, according to The New York Times.

Uber used the elusive methods in cities like Boston, Las Vegas, Portland, and Paris and countries like Australia, Italy, China and South Korea. Such places have at one point imposed rules that restrict, or altogether, ban the ride-sharing services, usually due to the respective officials favoring the local, well-established (and sometimes cozy) taxi companies. (RELATED: Dem Who Tried To Kill Uber Took Bundles Of Money From Taxi Industry [VIDEO])

The Greyball tool, which was created and approved of internally, was part of a larger program called VTOS, or “violation of terms of service.” 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.

“This program denies ride requests to users who are violating our terms of service — 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,” Uber said in a statement, according to The NYT.

The program appears to be successful. Erich England, a code enforcement inspector in Portland, Oregon, reportedly did not catch a single Uber driver operating illegally, because the company tagged England and his colleagues’ accounts. If a driver was connected with England, it would cancel soon after. And Uber would even create a phony app for people marked as potential problems, which would feature ghost cars that were never actually available for its services, according to The NYT. (RELATED: Uber Is Tracking Your Location Even After The Ride Is Over)

The VTOS program includes several other techniques. Called “eyeballing,” Uber will draw a digital perimeter around a location, like a government building, and watch certain users to see if they constantly open and close the app. Doing so is a sign that the user could be associated with an official city office, while also ensnaring drivers. (RELATED: Google’s Self-Driving Car Company Is Suing Uber For Allegedly Stealing Laser Sensor Tech)

Another technique includes looking at user’s personal credit card information to decipher if it is linked to an institution like a regulatory agency or a police department. (RELATED:Is This Anonymous App Helping Fuel An Insurrection At Uber?)

The latest reports at The Times are simply the most recent link in a long chain of bad news for the ride-sharing company. Uber has been dealing with so many debacles, e.g., allegations of sexual harassment, systemic sexism, rampant lewd behavior, and cutthroat work culture.

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