An article by The New York Times outlines how Uber has been using a tool called Greyball to evade detection by authorities in cities and countries worldwide where local governments have been against the use of the ride-sharing app or have banned it completely.
Four current and former Uber employees provided details of Greyball, as well as documents detailing the program, to the New York Times. Greyball uses data collected from the Uber app such as credit card information to avoid sting operations and elude detection by officials. The program has been used in Boston and Las Vegas, as well as outside of the United States in countries such as Italy, France, Australia, and South Korea.
Greyball is one part of a larger program called VTOS, or "violation of terms of service," and is, according to the employees who contacted The New York Times, still in use today. Implementation of the program was noted in 2014 when a code enforcement officer in Oregon, Erich England, attempted to hail an Uber as part of a sting operation against the company, which had illegally started the ride-sharing service without obtaining legal permission in the city of Portland. England, and several other officers, attempted to hail rides but had their rides cancelled as the Greyball tool identified the officers as authority figures.
In a statement, Uber said the following about the program:
“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.”
Reports of this program come at a time when Uber is experiencing several controversies including the CEO being recorded arguing with a driver, allegations of a sexist and hostile work environment at the company, and a lawsuit being brought against it by Google's parent company, Alphabet.
Source: The New York Times