Between 2014 and early 2016, Uber employed an internal software program to track critical information about drivers for competitor Lyft, according to a report from The Information.
The program, known as “Hell,” tracked the number of available drivers and their locations, and use that information to identify people who drove for both Uber and Lyft. The Information reports this gave Uber an edge over its competitor because the program could help Uber figure out how to lure drivers away from Lyft.
Uber has not returned a request for comment. Lyft released this statement: “We are in a competitive industry. However, if true, these allegations are very concerning.”
Here’s how the program worked, according to The Information, which cited sources familiar with the program in its reporting: Uber made up fake Lyft accounts and made the Lyft system think those riders were in a particular area. Those accounts could then learn about eight available drivers nearby. Uber reportedly set up these rider locations on a grid so it could view networks of Lyft drivers throughout a city.
Uber was able to track drivers habits over time and determine which drivers were working for both Uber and Lyft. Uber could then use financial incentives in order to lure drivers away from its competitor.
Drivers are currency for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. In order to keep users on their apps, the companies need to have a large enough roster of drivers to be able to quickly pick people up no matter where they are.
Only a select few Uber employees supposedly knew about the program, including CEO Travis Kalanick. The company’s general managers, the people in charge of particular regions or cities, were not privy to the program, according to the report.
The Information reports that this program could open Uber up for lawsuits from Lyft for things like unfair business practices and misappropriation of trade secrets.
Uber and Lyft have been competing for control of the ride-hailing industry for several years, and Uber boasts a larger global footprint and more funding. But Lyft isn’t backing down and may have the opportunity to gain some ground in light of Uber’s recent controversies.
The ride-hailing giant has been dealing with issues that range from lawsuits over self-driving car technology, to executive departures, to sexual harassment claims and more. Uber plans to bring in a chief operating officer to help run the company, and board member Arianna Huffington pledged to hold Uber’s “feet to the fire” to improve gender and diversity issues in the workplace.
Uber held a press conference last month focusing on diversity, its treatment of drivers, and the company’s leadership. Uber also touted its growth, saying that in 2016, the number of Uber employees doubled and in the week prior to the press conference riders in the U.S. took more trips with Uber than ever before..
Lyft earlier this week announced a $600 million round at a $7.5 billion post-money valuation. Lyft is picking up momentum in other ways — last month it was labeled as the “light side ridesharing alternative.” Lyft has launched in 131 new cities thus far in 2017.