Uber’s reputation is getting totaled in a full-scale pileup.
In the latest damning report, the New York Times claims Uber has been using a tool called Greyball to systematically evade law enforcement in regions where the service’s legal status is murky.
Greyball was allegedly designed to block requests from riders with a history of violating Uber’s terms of service. Those offenders see a mock version of the app with no drivers or with the locations of drivers scrambled. But, according to the report, Uber has also been using the program to prevent law enforcement from conducting sting operations or catching the service operating where it shouldn’t be.
Uber reportedly appointed managers to identify authorities by examining credit card info and behavior in the app, comparing user locations to official buildings, scanning social media accounts, and even looking up the device numbers of cheap mobile phones at local electronics stores — which law enforcement sometimes purchase for sting operations.
“In all, there were at least a dozen or so signifiers in the [Greyball] program that Uber employees could use to assess whether users were new riders or very likely city officials,” the Times’ Mike Isaac reports.
Uber says Greyball’s primary function is protecting the safety of riders in regions like Paris, where they have been subject to violent attacks from members of the taxi industry.
The New York Times identified Portland as one of the regions where Uber used its technology to skirt law enforcement. The transportation service launched in Portland without the City’s permission in 2014 and officials immediately responded with sting operations.
The report is the latest in a series of scandals that have tarnished Uber’s reputation — including allegations of sexual harassment, mistreatment of an Uber driver by the CEO Travis Kalanick, and controversy over the company’s perceived ties to President Trump.