Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Government The Courts Transportation

Uber Has Been Using a Secretive Program To Identify Enforcement Officers And Prevent Them From Hailing Cars (nytimes.com) 218

Uber has been using a secretive program to evade authorities for years, particularly at times when city regulators were trying to block the ride-hailing service, according to a new report by the New York Times. From the report: Uber is using a tool called "Greyball" to work identify requests made by certain users and deny them service, according to the report. The application, later renamed the "violation of terms of service" or VTOS program, is said to employ data analysis on info collected by the Uber app to identify individuals violating Uber's terms of service, and blocks riders from being able to hail rides who fall into that category -- including, according to the report, members of code enforcement authorities or city officials who are attempting to gather data about Uber offering service where it's currently prohibited. The report claims that that Uber's "violation of terms of service" or VTOS program, briefly known as Greyball, began around 2014, and has sign-off from Uber's legal team.In a statement, Uber said, "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."

Journalists, putting things in context. Russell Brandom, a reporter at The Verge said, This is the kind of thing a DA would put in front of a judge if they wanted to subpoena Uber's business records for an entire city. Matt Rosoff, editorial director at CNBC Digital added, I've been a tech journalist on and off for 21 years and I can't remember any company having a worse month news cycle-wise than Uber is now.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Uber Has Been Using a Secretive Program To Identify Enforcement Officers And Prevent Them From Hailing Cars

Comments Filter:
  • Of course they do (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 03, 2017 @07:39PM (#53972891)

    Their entire business model is based on violating laws so it makes sense they would build tools to make that as easy possible.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by JoeyRox ( 2711699 )
      And the business model of Uber's entrenched competition is to pay off politicians to pass laws that unfairly protect their markets from upstarts like Uber. So one is engaging in blatant corporatism while the other is fighting it.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        So one is engaging in blatant corruption while the other is fighting the rule of law.
        FTFY

        Both parties can be in the wrong, you know. The best outcome for the public would be that some regulatory framework would be put in place to protect Uber passengers:

        sex offender drivers unable to pick up passengers of the violated sex for 5 years

        no licenses for violent criminals for 5 years

        passengers insured for liability like other taxi services are required to do

        taxi service license costs to be in line with the c

        • So get government out of rationing, to the greatest greaser of palms, the legal right to create a monopoly to sell you taxi service.

          All Americans are free, which is supposed to mean, among other things, the right to sell their services to you.

          These licenses and safety are red herrings for a limited licensing scheme. That is what must be destroyed.

      • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Saturday March 04, 2017 @12:04AM (#53974057) Homepage Journal

        Oh bollocks. In the vast majority of cases, the laws that Uber violates existed long before the Internet was ever a twinkle in Al Gore's eye. They exist for the most part to ensure accountability (licensing), fair and predictable service (published fares), and, in some cases such as NYC's medallion system, to prevent already clogged streets from being clogged with more taxis.

        Even those cities that passed rules Uber has problems with after Uber's creation did so because Uber was already causing problems with the above pre-existing frameworks.

        WIth the exception of cities with quotas (like the medallion system in NYC) the laws in question didn't preclude competition. It was easy to start up a new taxi company - you just had to follow the rules, which weren't hard.

        One can argue that the taxi system should have been modernized, but the argument that taxi regulations were created to protect taxis from Uber is utterly ridiculous.

        Uber was violating perfectly reasonable laws that existed for perfectly reasonable reasons.

        • Of course those laws existed long before Uber - they were originally passed to limit the supply of taxis by either placing artificial limits on the number taxis (medallions) or by creating licensing schemes to increase the barriers to entry. This scheme is repeated in many markets in the USA - look up the licensing and regulatory requirements for interstate trucking - those approach racketeering. Whenever a politician tells you he's endorsing regulations or licensing requirements for the public good or safe
          • Again, Congestion (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Tenebrousedge ( 1226584 ) <tenebrousedge@nOspaM.gmail.com> on Saturday March 04, 2017 @06:27AM (#53974941)

            We need a barrier to entry. We cannot afford to have unlimited competition in this market, because this market cannot price in congestion. Taxis are happy to bill you for their time even if you're sitting in gridlock. The system does not self-correct. Your further political arguments are uninteresting.

            • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

              because this market cannot price in congestion

              The market absolutely could price congestion if we had more private roads.

              • I'm trying not to view this as imbecilic. Perhaps you can convince me that there's some sense I'm not seeing. It's still Before Coffee here, after all.

              • by nbauman ( 624611 )

                because this market cannot price in congestion

                The market absolutely could price congestion if we had more private roads.

                You are free to build private roads in, say, Manhattan if you can convince the people who currently own the land to sell it to you.

                • Corp lobbies local govt to simply declare eminent domain. Then sell the roads to the highest bidder. Now we have private roads "to let the market work". Simple.

                  "Capitalism. It's what's for dinner."

            • by nbauman ( 624611 )

              We need a barrier to entry. We cannot afford to have unlimited competition in this market, because this market cannot price in congestion. Taxis are happy to bill you for their time even if you're sitting in gridlock. The system does not self-correct. Your further political arguments are uninteresting.

              I know from experience that if I take a taxi in midtown Manhattan between about 5:30pm and 8:00pm, I will be stuck in traffic that moves so slowly that I could walk faster.

              Adding more taxis will increase the traffic.

              And adding more highways will increase the traffic (that's what happened on Long Island).

              • I was touristing in Seoul once. Every time I wanted to go somewhere else in the city, I'd look at the well-regulated taxi stands. With a well-regulated line of 20-40 people. All the time, it seemed.

                We were young and healthy, so my friends and I ended up criss-crossing the city several times on foot instead.

                I think I remember there wasn't much congestion, if any.

          • by nbauman ( 624611 )

            Whenever a politician tells you he's endorsing regulations or licensing requirements for the public good or safety, grab your wallet.

            However, when a private entrepreneur like Travis Kalanick tells you that he will destroy the industry, and a new, efficient free market will arise from its ashes, and you will all be better off, and the greedier he is, the better off you will be -- you can believe him.

            Or, as Donald Trump says, "Trust me."

            • It doesn't matter what claims a private entrepreneur makes or whether his claims are truthful or accurate. The government is enforcing its claim through the power of the state, making alternatives impossible, whereas a private entrepreneur cannot.
      • by Uberbah ( 647458 ) on Saturday March 04, 2017 @12:22AM (#53974117)

        And the business model of Uber's entrenched competition is to pay off politicians to pass laws that unfairly protect their markets from upstarts like Uber.

        Oh, the horror of making drivers properly trained, licensed, compensated and insured. Instead we need a Ponzi scheme, except one doesn't make the first drivers rich, but merely dependent on a new crop of desperate suckers who will wear out their car for you before they figure out they'd make more money working the same number of hours as McDonalds.

        dl;dr pound sand, corporatist apologist

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          You kind of missed the bid where Uber was targeting people for denial of service attacks. Basically you would book and no one would turn up, hah hah. Uber goes Republican, watch out Democrats and vice versa depending upon which politician accepts there bribes. A public service can not target individuals for exclusion based upon arbitrary reasons.

        • "make more money working the same number of hours as McDonalds." FWIW, it'd have to be a good bump in the ol' pay envelope for me, if I was doing it. Lessee...

          Uber: more or less working for self
          McD: Under the supervision of that pimply faced youth drunk with power.

          Uber: Working in my very own customized "cubicle". Padded seats, stereo, air.
          McD: Standing behind a counter for 8 hours.

          Uber: Set my own hours.
          McD: Slave to schedule devised by aforementioned pimply faced youth.

          Yes, if I was in such a situation, I

      • I keep having to repeat myself on this issue. We don't want unlimited competition in the transportation market because that market cannot price in congestion. The point at which sitting in traffic becomes unprofitable is far past the point of gridlock. If you would like to see the results of this, go down to Panama City. There are thousands of taxis, and you had better just hope you don't need to get across the city after midday. Good luck even getting a driver to pick you up. They can't collude to do surge

      • So one is engaging in blatant corporatism while the other is fighting it.

        No. They are both engaging in blatant corporatism. Uber is not doing this to benefit you. Now, I do think what Uber is doing can benefit you, but that is not why they are doing it. This is why I sometimes root for Uber. The entrenched taxi companies are shit, and taxi licensing in America accomplishes exactly zero of the things it claims to do. In other countries, I might feel differently. Literally the only other country I've taken a taxi in was Panama. The cars were dirtier and less safe than they are her

  • There have been some very public blemishes on Uber of late, but it seems unlikely evading authorities is going to generate much outrage on this site.

    Indeed, this is much ado about nothing, and only newsworthy in the way the Oscar's became after the mistake.

    • There have been some very public blemishes on Uber of late, but it seems unlikely evading authorities is going to generate much outrage on this site.

      Outrage? Not really. But this is something that really could get them nailed to the wall for good. Pretending that they're serving those customers is a kind of fraud, and law enforcement has a reasonable right to use services available to the masses (does it take an account? sure. are they picky about who they give one to? not aside from things like this) to determine whether a service is operating legally. Their attempts to evade inspection are going to be a serious problem for them.

  • I think Ubers' 'Terms of Service' including 'circumventing laws' and 'evading law enforcement' tells you all anyone needs to know about Uber, even without all the legitimate news stories about Uber drivers committing acts of violence against passengers. Uber acts like something run by the Mob and should probably be shut down, permanently.
    • Re:ToS (Score:4, Interesting)

      by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Friday March 03, 2017 @08:54PM (#53973249)

      I am an Uber driver in the San Francisco bay area.

      And I can't speak for other cities, but Uber is so cheap and ubiquitous in my area, Uber is cheaper than public transportation in many cases, it works even during rush hour when most people can't get a taxi, plus it works when Bart is shut down after midnight, that I am quite certain that we're keeping tens of thousands of drunk drivers from driving on the roads each year.

      • Re:ToS (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SethJohnson ( 112166 ) on Saturday March 04, 2017 @03:55AM (#53974701) Homepage Journal
        Per this insightful article [vox.com], venture capital money is artificially subsidizing those rides to make them seem cheaper than public transportation.

        So why do people keep using and working for Uber? Money has a lot to do with it. Uber has used venture capital money to offer lower fares that attract more customers. Those subsidies also help Uber attract drivers despite often erratic corporate policies and a lack of job security.

        These subsidies create false perceptions about transportation costs such as the one you voiced. People think Uber is doing it right and the traditional taxi companies have been doing it wrong the whole time.

        The national taxi business is only worth $11 billion a year. Why is Uber so highly valued? Why is so much venture capital funding injected into Uber?!? Those investors are expecting to own a monopoly position in the transportation service market. Obviously, the intent of such a monopoly would be to ruthlessly squeeze as much money as possible out of consumers.

        • Obviously, the intent of such a monopoly would be to ruthlessly squeeze as much money as possible out of consumers.

          That is the intent of nearly every for-profit business. However, I don't think you've thought this "monopoly" thing through. If Uber achieves their goals, and actually invalidates existing licensing systems, then anyone else who can afford to deploy the same sort of service as Uber can simply waltz in and do that. This is what makes guessing the end game for Uber so confusing. Are the execs just planning to sell the name and run before the law closes its hand around their collective throats? Because if they

          • If Uber achieves their goals, and actually invalidates existing licensing systems, then anyone else who can afford to deploy the same sort of service as Uber can simply waltz in and do that.

            I used to think the same thing about Amazon when it was bleeding money in order to become the number one online bookstore. Essentially, I thought that since it was on the web, any other online bookstore could easily replace it, but I was completely wrong about that.

            Customers have come to trust Amazon (even its own employees/temps/affiliates have learned to distrust it). Customer reviews, usually low prices, quick refunds, a familiar interface. Those are some of the reasons many customers still use Amazon, w

            • Correction: I should have said "(even if its own employees/temps/affiliates have learned to distrust it)."

            • I used to think the same thing about Amazon when it was bleeding money in order to become the number one online bookstore. Essentially, I thought that since it was on the web, any other online bookstore could easily replace it, but I was completely wrong about that.

              Books are not cars.

              Customers have come to trust Amazon (even its own employees/temps/affiliates have learned to distrust it). Customer reviews, usually low prices, quick refunds, a familiar interface. Those are some of the reasons many customers still use Amazon, when they could simply be shopping on other websites.

              Uber is going to have to raise their prices sooner or later, and if they succeed in their legal battles then there's nothing stopping the automakers themselves (who already have significant customer contact) or some other party with a reputable trademark from doing precisely what they are doing.

              • I didn't say that Uber was necessarily going to win (especially worldwide). Right now, Lyft is actually profitable (unlike Uber), although it's much less aggressive. Plus, Lyft has China backing them, so because of that, I think it is still in the game.

                Whoever is going to win will need deep pockets backing them. For instance, in my area customers have come to expect rides to show up in less 5 minutes. To get that kind of response time, a competitor would need to completely saturate an area with cars. Also,

                • Also, Uber drivers are operating on razor thin margins. If an automaker gets into the fray, it will need to have the most reliable and the most fuel-efficient cars for city driving.

                  Which is why the premier candidate right now would be GM. They have an EV with good range, and they can produce a lot of them. Who knows who it will be by the time Level 5 vehicles become a reality.

        • These subsidies create false perceptions about transportation costs such as the one you voiced. People think Uber is doing it right and the traditional taxi companies have been doing it wrong the whole time.

          This is very true, but in my opinion, even when that money runs out, I still think that Uber and Lyft will be running far more efficiently than Taxis.

          Automated and reliable dispatching, LyftLine/UberPool (passengers sharing cars on the fly when they don't even know each other), crude but effective driver rating and customer reviewing system, destination filters for drivers when they want to go home (but not without passengers so they don't waste gas), elastic workforce for an elastic market,

          Those are a few

      • Everything you said is equally true of Lyft, but Lyft is nowhere near as scummy of a company as Uber.
        • With the exception of their $2,000 insurance deductible (which is the double of Uber's), I agree completely. Lyft is much less scummier company. No doubt about that. Thought, they've also be caught in undercover stings and it wouldn't surprise me if they did the same thing as Uber in this particular case as well.

      • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

        it works even during rush hour when most people can't get a taxi

        I don't buy I was in SF Bay area just a couple weeks ago for a full week. I used cabs all week because Yellow cab made it so damned easy!

        I called the first time talked to a person gave them address. Cab was there in less than 5 min. Called back their phone system remembered my previous pickup and destination address. Pressed a couple keys, cab was there in probably 5 min. Did this every day from the airport -> office -> hotel -> office -> hotel ..... -> airport. No probables fast reli

        • Did this every day from the airport -> office -> hotel -> office -> hotel ..... -> airport.

          I am very glad to hear that their system has been upgraded. I must admit it's been a very long time since I've taken an actual taxi. But just like me, the locals in SF have been conditioned not to depend on taxis during those hours. Plus, the fact that some taxis are now more reliable could be credited to Uber and Lyft relieving the pressure on taxi companies during those same hours.

          Traditionally, the best way to get a cab before Uber/Lyft during rush hour in SF was to walk to a nice hotel with a doorman. C

  • by Craig Cruden ( 3592465 ) on Friday March 03, 2017 @08:06PM (#53973029)
    If you are fine doing business with the mafia then you should be fine with Uber.... but if you should favour ethical companies (or more ethical companies)... Uber is a bad choice.
  • Uber Hit Squad (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Friday March 03, 2017 @08:06PM (#53973031) Journal
    I'm open to the idea that Uber is an evil company, but what's with all the Uber news lately? We've had story after story this week. It isn't normal, even for a company as bad as Oracle, to have news story after news story released like this. The whole thing looks like someone is leaking to the press at an opportune time, which raises the question,

    cui bono? I don't know the answer to that, but it must be somebody.
    • by ruir ( 2709173 )
      Inside stock manipulation?
    • Re:Uber Hit Squad (Score:4, Interesting)

      by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Friday March 03, 2017 @08:44PM (#53973211)

      I'm open to the idea that Uber is an evil company, but what's with all the Uber news lately? We've had story after story this week. It isn't normal, even for a company as bad as Oracle, to have news story after news story released like this. The whole thing looks like someone is leaking to the press at an opportune time, which raises the question,

      cui bono? I don't know the answer to that, but it must be somebody.

      It's a combination of coincidence and blood in the water.

      Uber has been a consistent source of negative stories for a long time, that a few would hit the same news cycle is hardly unexpected.

      But people are also paying attention to Uber right now. If you're Google now is a good time to take a shot at Uber, when they're too distracted to fight back. And if you're a reporter your Uber story is going to get a lot more traction, so it's time to start digging.

      • But people are also paying attention to Uber right now. If you're Google now is a good time to take a shot at Uber, when they're too distracted to fight back. And if you're a reporter your Uber story is going to get a lot more traction, so it's time to start digging.

        You're not wrong; there's definitely a bit of blood in the water.

        However Uber is unique in that they're managing to find new and exciting ways to fuck up, from the way they treat their drivers to how they interact with governments.

        To use the GP'

    • Perhaps, I can answer that question.

      Disclaimer: I'm currently an Uber driver and I do love driving for Uber (despite my pay being ridiculously low and which seems of getting cut every single week these past four weeks). But we're so cheap, ubiquitous, and we're run a thousand times more efficiently than taxis, that I am also quite certain that we're saving thousands of lives every day from drunk driving incidents.

      I personally think there are several reasons for the bad press.

      Reason #1: Our Uber CEO, Travis

      • Re:Uber Hit Squad (Score:4, Insightful)

        by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Friday March 03, 2017 @11:00PM (#53973823)

        But we're so cheap, ubiquitous, and we're run a thousand times more efficiently than taxis

        True, not having to pay tax, insurance, decent wages and expecting drivers to pay for vehicles makes it more efficient than a law abiding taxi company.

    • Re:Uber Hit Squad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by radarskiy ( 2874255 ) on Friday March 03, 2017 @10:04PM (#53973583)

      "all the Uber news lately"

      These stories were always there. What you are seeing is the collapse of the Uber hype bubble.

    • Uber have always been unethical pieces of shit. Remember when they had fake taxis on their maps? Prove that they don't still do that, even. What you're saying is that you ignored the previous indications that these were bad actors and got suckered by their propaganda stream. However, for those of us who have been paying attention, it's been pretty clear that the positive press has been bought and paid for, but now it seems that they can't keep a lid on things any more.

      You were too eager to believe in this c

    • Social Justice Warriors have had it in for Uber for a while. The standard tactic is to find a few things wrong and flood the news cycle with hate and loathing for the target, which they are doing now with Uber. I've seen the secondary attacks mass on Twitter and Facebook from some liberal friends.

  • Is to arrest and jail their execs first.

    Just like the mafia.

    Going after the low level never works.

    Arrest them, ship them to GITMO, and let them stand trial in a few decades.

  • "I've been a tech journalist on and off for 21 years and I can't remember any company having a worse month news cycle-wise than Uber is now."

    Not that Uber isn't evil, because they are. But it would be interesting to know who holds the most shorts [investopedia.com] on them.

    And, pay a lawyer enough, and they'll "sign off" on anything. Doing it for obstruction of justice seems to be a risky proposition, though. I'd think that would (or should) put the lawyers into a disbarring type situation, if not criminal sanctions.
    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      Before anyone jumps in, I know they're not publicly traded.
      • Before anyone jumps in, I know they're not publicly traded.

        Did you know they're not publicly traded?

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )

      "I've been a tech journalist on and off for 21 years and I can't remember any company having a worse month news cycle-wise than Uber is now."

      Funny how the tech journalist forgot about Enron and later a few dozen companies that some very bad press around 2008. Exxon, Union Carbide and so on had their bad press a bit more than 21 years back, I suppose, and TEPCO (Fukishima) are in Japan.

  • If I lived a little closer to their headquarters, I'd start a private RICO lawsuit. Even if the feds pick it up (and they should), I'd still get a cut of the billions in penalties. I wonder if I could crowd-source the legal fees to get that going?

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Friday March 03, 2017 @08:37PM (#53973177)

    Post a story about how the FBI/CIA/NSA are sniffing around your phones or e-mail and watch the Slashdot community scream about jack-booted thugs. Uber manages to implement a system that warns of potential law enforcement encroachment into their affairs and everyone gets righteous.

    If Uber could spin off Greyball as an independent service, I could think of a few people that would buy it.

  • What's Greyball and how does it work?

  • Since when does Uber give two shits about what happens to their drivers?

    They act like they could not care less if the drivers are murdered by passengers, are hijacked, or caught up in a sting operation of some kind. Uber has made it clear the drivers are on their own in such cases and don't call them for bail money.

    There is NO way they ran this filtering app to benefit drivers when they don't give a shit about the drivers. They've got so many new drivers begging to sign up, existing drivers are of no con

  • This is the kind of thing a DA would put in front of a judge if they wanted to subpoena Uber's business records for an entire city

    Uber seems to be one step ahead of that too. Uber's office in Australia was raided by tax officials but they came away without even a list of drivers because according to Uber that information is only available to the head office in the Netherlands.

  • by manu0601 ( 2221348 ) on Friday March 03, 2017 @10:07PM (#53973595)
    Do we know how that information fallen into the hands of journalists? It seems Uber also has insider foes.
  • After interviewing with them recently, now I'm kinda glad that Uber didn't extend an offer to me; the company seems to have been involved in a *lot* of tricky shit lately, not the least of which is that the CEO appears to be a gigantic flaming asshole.

    Writing an app specifically designed to help them break or flout the local laws isn't anything to be proud of. I gotta wonder how many man-hours went into building that, and how many programmers ignored their conscience to make it happen. Didn't ANY of them st

  • by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Saturday March 04, 2017 @12:54AM (#53974269) Homepage Journal
    Understand how all your best local and state workers are been discovered and tracked digitally.
    Walking into and staying in a gov building kind of shows that on average a person might work for a gov but its not 9 to 5 but way more than a normal private sector person needing something from their gov as a one time visit.
    People who report back to a gov building for a few hours per week might be undercover. That sorts most of the private sector visits and normal gov workers.
    Some low tech ways to counter such easy tracking.
    Hire new staff and ensure they never enter a city, state gov building. A private sector front company to work from.
    Use a trendy phone and app like as average person would. The brand of device matches the average call rate and cost of the service.
    Using a service at 10am or 2pm more than average from a very cheap phone is not normal in a nation of workers at work.

    South African law enforcement faced such issues in the 1990's. Its older generation of expert undercover officers faced public comment.
    Its new officers lacked decades of undercover skills. So teams got created that never went near any gov/police buildings. Skill sets got protected, teams trained and tracking such people who never showed any connection to law enforcement was difficult.

    The way the CIA gets its staff into the US state department and ready for missions under US diplomatic cover in Russia.
    Russia is able to look back over the entire public and private digital life of all US embassy staff using US public and very expensive private sector methods.
    How does the CIA get its best into Russia? The CIA creates the perfect US government worker that finds an embassy job. Their past does not link back to some fancy US college, mil or in any way with anything that could be CIA. Such generational CIA teams can then move around Russia with Russia thinking they might really just be normal embassy staff. Just a normal worker walking around Russia. No CIA skill sets on show.
  • What does Uber have to hide by avoiding the law?

What good is a ticket to the good life, if you can't find the entrance?

Working...