Uber Faces Criminal Probe Over Software To Distract Regulators

Uber’s troubles just do not seem to be ending; in fact they are increasing by the day. The ride-sharing company is now facing a criminal investigation by the United States Justice Department for allegedly designing software called Greyball to dodge transportation authorities, according to Reuters.

Greyball software to dodge regulators

Uber’s Greyball first came to light in March when The New York Times revealed it. This deceptive software allegedly helped hide cars which did not have a license to operate in a particular region. The software was used in areas such as Portland, Oregon. After The New York Times reported about the software, Uber stopped using it, saying that it had been created so that fraudulent ride requests could be identified and also protect drivers.

In a March blog post, the company said that Greyball helped it tag some users so that they had a very different version of the standard app. Uber maintains that the software masked the location of its cars in various circumstances such as physical threats or simply to test new features.

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Meanwhile, current and former employees of the company stated that the software was part of Uber’s Violation of Terms and Service program that tracks credit card, device identification, locating data and various other factors to identify whether the ride was legal or not, notes The Guardian.

Uber has received a subpoena from a Northern Carolina grand jury asking for documents explaining how the software tool functioned and where was it deployed, a source aware of the development told Reuters.

No end of troubles for Uber

As of now, there have been no comments from the company and the Justice Department. However Uber’s lawyers stated in the letter to Portland authorities that Greyball was used “exceedingly sparingly” in the city before it was approved in 2015, notes Reuters. Uber’s board has hired the law firm Shearman & Sterling LLP to carry out its own internal investigation of Greyball. There have been no comments from the law firm either.

If the ongoing criminal probe turns out to be true, then Uber, which is already under a lot of allegations and legal issues, will face a severe blow. For now, there have not been any charges made, as the investigation is still in its early stages, notes Reuters.

Uber, which is valued at $68 billion has often been considered as aggressive startup. The company has lived up to its image. Over the last few years, it has been involved in various controversies raising questions about the integrity of chief executive Travis Kalanick.  In March, a leaked video showed Kalanick getting into a brawl with one of Uber’s drivers. However, later he apologized to the driver publicly and stated that he needed “leadership help.”

Another lawsuit has been filed against the company by Waymo, which accuses the ride-sharing firm of stealing its trade secrets to develop autonomous vehicles. The judge presiding over the case is expected to release a decision soon and might even ask Uber to stop work on autonomous vehicle technology.