According to a new report from the New York Times, Uber has been using a secret tool called ‘Greyball’ to deceive authorities worldwide.
The report notes that the tool is used in markets where the ride-sharing service is rendered illegal by law enforcement. The tool takes advantage of data from the Uber app itself, among other techniques, to identify and circumvent local officials.
The tool was used in multiple U.S. cities, including Boston and Las Vegas, as well as major cities around the world. The report notes that the Greyball program was approved by the companies legal team. Usage continues today, seen by Uber as a way to stop consumers from using its service improperly.
Such an operation is called a violation of terms of service, where the purpose of this ranges from addressing competitors planning to throw a curve along Uber’s business or law enforcement looking to catch those violating taxi regulations.
The company began using the tool as early as 2014 and it is being used primarily in countries outside the United States. It began as a way to resume or commence operations in locations where services such as Uber’s aren’t allowed.
The tool would appoint a manager in charge of Greyball who could gird a geofence around the locations of regulators. The manager would be on the lookout for users who open and close the app repeatedly.
The news comes at a time where Uber is being covered heavily by the media for its workplace culture. The most prominent is a sexual harassment claim that was made public by former Uber engineer Susan J. Fowler, whose lengthy blog post revealed a dysfunctional HR department who ignored and downplayed repeated instances of sexual harassment.
The company is also dealing with legal troubles as it is being sued by Google over design theft allegations.