Uber Used Fake Apps, 'Ghost Cars' To Thwart Sting Operations

Uber's bad year got worse this afternoon, when The New York Times reported that the company went to extraordinary lengths to circumvent investigations into its ride-hailing service.

Uber reportedly developed "Greyball" software, which flagged government officials (and their agents) who may have been trying to gather evidence against the ride-sharing company. Uber then Greyballed those officials -- a process that involved serving them "a fake version of the app populated with ghost cars," according to the Times.

If an Uber driver somehow picked up a rider who had been flagged as law enforcement, the company sometimes told the driver to end the ride, the Times reports.

Uber reportedly looked at data like social media profiles and credit card information (including whether the credit card was connected to a police credit union), when determining which people to Greyball. 



The ride-hailing company, currently valued at around $70 billion, used the technique in the U.S. in cities like Boston, Las Vegas and Portland and abroad, according to the Times. In the last several years, Uber expanded aggressively -- often by entering markets without first seeking permission from government officials. Some cities cleared Uber after it had already launched, while others, like Portland, forced it to shut down after it had started operating.

The company isn't denying that it used the program. On the contrary, an Uber spokesperson tells MediaPost that Greyball "denies ride requests to fraudulent users who are violating our terms of service," including "opponents who collude with officials on secret ‘stings’ meant to entrap drivers.”

This latest report about Uber comes on top of engineer Susan Fowler's well-publicized allegations of sexual harassment, and the posting of a video showing CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with a driver over fares.

In early February, Kalanick was pressured into quitting President Donald Trump's advisory panel after more than 200,000 Uber customers deleted their accounts as part of a protest against Trump's travel ban (which has since been halted by the courts).

Uber also faced criticism several years ago over its privacy practices, including its use of the "God view," which allowed employees to track the precise locations of passengers who are using the car service.

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