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Greyball: Uber’s Super Cool App to Subvert Trolls

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What can a company do about trolls who use their technology to hurt the company and other consumers? It’s a tough problem for a technology company like Uber because anyone can download the app and summon a car and get picked up. Some of these accounts, inevitably, will belong to bad actors who are up to no good.

Reputation data for individual users are fantastic, but there’s still the problem that users can make new accounts. What can you do?

A primary use of the trick: prohibiting wicked sting operations.


Several years ago, reveals the New York Times, Uber had a fantastic idea. For a suspected malevolent troll who used the service, the company dropped an extra layer on their smartphone application. The passenger would call a car, someone would answer the query, but then the ride would be canceled. This happened repeatedly. The beauty of this strategy is that the person doesn’t know it is happening and the process discourages the creation of new user accounts.

It’s not blackballing. It’s about being “greyballed,” which is the name of the application.

Peacefully Blocking Bureaucrats

Awesome right? It is especially valuable when you consider a primary use of the trick: prohibiting wicked sting operations by transportation authorities who were seeking to shut down consumer access to an alternative to municipal cabs. If the software sensed that the account was plotting an attack, Greyball would go into effect.

If the data points to a problem passenger, Greyball goes into effect.

There is nothing illegal about refusing rides to anyone, for any reason.

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