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Uber In Clandestine Operations Controversy

Ross Kelly


Uber spy scandal

Uber has been no stranger to negative press in the last 18-months, with a seemingly never-ending cycle of scandal and controversy. This weekend revealed yet more unethical business practices that could further damage the company’s image.

On Friday US courts published a letter that alleges Uber embarked on a campaign of clandestine activities, including undercover surveillance, corporate espionage and bribery of public officials.

The 37-page letter, written by a former security employee Richard Jacobs, details the company’s practice of spying. Jacobs describes at length the tactics of the company and the extent of the operations, stating:

“These tactics were employed clandestinely through a distributed architecture of anonymous servers, telecommunications architecture, and non-attributable hardware and software.”

In addition to accusations of hacking and invasions of user privacy, Jacobs goes on to detail the company’s practice of infiltration, which included employee’s accessing chat rooms to observe conversations on the company, wire-tapping and surveillance of rival executives.

Uber security employees are alleged to have tailed rival company executives in an attempt to gain greater insight into rival business practices. In addition to this, security employees are claimed to have posed as Uber drivers to access What’s App and Facebook groups.

Jacobs describes the culture within the company as “intelligence on a global scale”.

Competing Honestly and Fairly

Uber were made aware of the accusations in May of this year, and claim to have conducted a thorough internal investigation on the matter. A company spokesperson responded to the recent developments, stating:

“While we haven’t substantiated all the claims in this letter – and, importantly, any related to Waymo – our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology.”

This revelation comes during an intense legal battle with self-driving car company, Waymo, which has accused Uber of stealing its technology.

Jacobs left the company in February of this year following a dispute within the firm in which he claims he was unfairly demoted. He settled out of court with the company, and has since recanted certain accusations against Uber – namely the theft of Waymo company secrets.

Jacobs has been accused of falsifying several of the allegations made in his testimony and his statement has been described as “character assassination for cash” by Matthew Umhofer, an attorney representing members of the Uber security team.

Umhofer also described Jacobs as “nothing more than a failed Uber employee who under-performed and got demoted, and then retaliated against his supervisors”

Despite Jacobs’ testimony being disputed, these accusations are being taken seriously within the industry and by US courts. Given the previously questionable tactics and practices of Uber, this recent development merely stands to confirm the notion that Uber conducted business in a deeply unethical manner.

Uber has also been involved in other scandals including:

  • Illegally accessing medical records of a woman that accused a driver of sexual assault
  • The systematic deception of law enforcement
  • Spying on competitors
  • The ‘God View‘ scandal, in which the company tracked users’ locations and activities.

2017 also included the resignation of founder and CEO Travis Kalanick in June. The newly appointed CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, appears to face a near-impossible task to repair the image of the company.

Despite the scandals, the company still apparently maintains a strong position.

According to the Uber Statistics Report 2017, the company operates in 83 countries and 674 cities worldwide, where it fulfills over 40 million rides per month. Uber far eclipses its main industry competitor, Lyft, with an estimated value of $68 billion compared to Lyft’s $11 billion.

Uber continues to operate across the globe and is viewed by many as a valuable service and a staple part of city life.

In September 2017, Uber’s London operating license was revoked by TfL due to a lack of corporate responsibility. Although the move was welcomed by black cab drivers, trade unions and a series of politicians – including Mayor Sadiq Khan – since September the ‘Save Your Uber in London’ petition has drawn over 856,000 signatures.

The Uber appeal against the ban is set for April 2018 at the earliest.

Under Khosrowshahi’s leadership, Uber has stated it plans to repair its global image and cut out the malpractice witnessed under Kalanick. With a supportive global customer base the company is well positioned to ride out the storm of controversy.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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