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The Courts Transportation

Uber Admits Its Ghost Driver 'Greyball' Tool Was Used To Thwart Regulators, Vows To Stop (usatoday.com) 71

Uber has admitted it used a tool to thwart city regulators, and announced a review of its controversial Greyball technology. From a report on USA Today: Greyballing, a play on blackballing, was a way for Uber officials to remotely provide ghost driver information to a targeted individual. A March 3 report on the program in The New York Times cited a 2014 example where a regulator in Portland, Ore., a city in which Uber was operating without approval at the time, was unable to hail a car because of his Greyball-powered app. "We have started a review of the different ways this technology has been used to date," Joe Sullivan, Uber's chief security officer, wrote in a blog post. "In addition, we are expressly prohibiting its use to target action by local regulators going forward."
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Uber Admits Its Ghost Driver 'Greyball' Tool Was Used To Thwart Regulators, Vows To Stop

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  • by TimothyHollins ( 4720957 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @10:04AM (#54006013)

    Ahh yes, the classic "We promise to stop if you promise not to double-check".

    Who here will bet that the regulators won't get caught in some other filter instead, perhaps one sending a "certified" car for the pickup?

    • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @10:16AM (#54006063)

      I think it's obvious..... Regulators need to change their tactics, such as by posting a reward for citizens providing evidence of violation of regulations.

      Then they can increase the penalties, since they know Uber is taking actions to prevent the government itself from auditing.

      • I think it's obvious..... Regulators need to change their tactics, such as by posting a reward for citizens providing evidence of violation of regulations.

        Then they can increase the penalties, since they know Uber is taking actions to prevent the government itself from auditing.

        As well, a "mystery customer" approach. So some folks can get their side hustle going. This company defines sleazy.

      • by DrXym ( 126579 )
        More obviously, the regulators need to buy some burner phones and credit cards. And on a broader scale start looking at bringing some racketeering charges against Uber.
        • From TFA, Uber had an algorithm for detecting burner phones. Basically the $10 phones are all assumed to be burners. So it wasn't very sophisticated. But buying burners turns out not to be sufficient.
      • Just like how we should reward whistleblowers in federal government.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by roman_mir ( 125474 )

        Soviet era style tactics are the best, aren't they? Turn half of the population into informers, you don't even need that many people, you just need to seed the doubt in the people's minds that they are constantly being watched. Except that they are [nytimes.com] being watched constantly

        • by mysidia ( 191772 )

          Turning citizens into informers by offering compensation or reward or immunity from past crimes Is hardly unique to the Soviets or Soviet era. It's a time-honored tradition to post Wanted posters with rewards.

          Also, just because the Soviets used Tactic X, does not mean that it is Tactic X itself which was evil.

          The evil was the ends they were trying to achieve and the tyranny and sacrifice of human life.

        • I'm no historian but I think the way the soviets did it was a lot more witch-hunty then aiming to prosecute a corporation that clearly feels they are above the law and has demonstrated that they are willing to actively evade law enforcement in order to keep doing it. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
    • Drivers have the 1st Amendment right to association
      Right to association includes right to refuse to associate.
      If the drivers do not want to associate with one or more people, they should have the ability.
      If Uber provides a tool that the drivers can use to limit who they associate with, good for the drivers.
      So perhaps instead of blanket application of the "greyball" tool, there should be a checkbox in the Uber app that the drivers can use to turn it on or off.
      • by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @10:52AM (#54006297)

        Driver in a cab company is an employee of a public business. Public businesses do NOT have unlimited right of association - and are required to serve all members of hte public the same. It's called the Civil Rights Act.

        Companies are not people and do not have, nor should they have, the same freedoms as individuals.

        • The Civil Rights act does not say anything about associating with government agents. It's completely irrelevant to the discussion.

        • by mjwx ( 966435 )

          Driver in a cab company is an employee of a public business. Public businesses do NOT have unlimited right of association - and are required to serve all members of hte public the same. It's called the Civil Rights Act.

          Companies are not people and do not have, nor should they have, the same freedoms as individuals.

          Whilst I agree with the second sentence.

          Taxi's are under no obligation to pick up anyone and everyone. They can refuse to pick up drunk people for example, this is discrimination but not illegal discrimination. What they cannot do is discriminate on protected attributes like race, religion, social class, tax bracket, so on and so forth. A taxi cannot refuse to pick up someone because they're black, have ginger hair, is catholic or wants to go somewhere that is predominately occupied by blacks or gingers.

          • Yes, I'm aware of that subtlety - though I didn't bother with the fine details since they didn't matter to the point I was making.

            That said -you chose a terrible example. Drunkeness is generally NOT considered a valid reason to refuse service when you're a taxi-driver. We WANT drunk people to take taxis, anything to keep them from driving (or even walking home - too high risk of stumbling in front of some innocent driver).

            When you make drunk driving illegal (which is a good thing don't get me wrong) you rea

        • That's nice sentiment - too bad the US Supreme Court disagreed with you.
          • You mean the supreme court that affirmed the civil rights act in 1965 ? That supreme court ?

            How exactly did they "disagree" with me ? When they affirmed the validity of a law that says EXACTLY what I just said ?

      • by SirSlud ( 67381 )

        Uh, no.

  • I went to the fine article and I still can't tell what is being argued over. What's a ghost driver? What does Greyball do, exactly and how does it thwart oversight? None of that is clear anywhere! I'm used to figuring things out given context but the context is so dense or missing I can't tell what is going on or why.

    BTW: The second link is not germane to the conversation. It's bringing up the CIA leak from earlier this week, not the Uber article.

    • by gnick ( 1211984 )

      What does Greyball do, exactly and how does it thwart oversight?

      From the linked summary:

      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.

      Still don't know what a "Ghost rider" is or why the CIA leaks link is relevant, but that's how they're skirting regulators.

      • by msmash ( 4491995 ) Works for Slashdot
        My apology to both of you. USA Today now changes the link of the article and the body of the article as you scroll down, or hit arrow keys. I accidentally linked to a different story. Have fixed it. Thanks for pointing it out, both of you.
      • by H3lldr0p ( 40304 )

        Still don't know what a "Ghost rider" is or why the CIA leaks link is relevant, but that's how they're skirting regulators.

        Okay. That's starting to make some sense. I missed the bit you pointed out. Given what you found + ghost rider it sounds like the app was putting fake people into cars and directing the driver elsewhere.

        Now, how they knew when a sting was happening or when an assault was being planned are different questions that should also be answered. Because if they have some nifty prognostication software I'd like to look. Otherwise, they were outright spying on people, somehow.

        • by gnick ( 1211984 )

          Now, how they knew when a sting was happening...

          A simple check box when hailing a ride: "Are you a cop? If you are you have to tell me."

          ...or when an assault was being planned...

          Another simple check box: "Are you planning to discuss politics?"

        • by gnick ( 1211984 )

          ...it sounds like the app was putting fake people into cars and directing the driver elsewhere...

          To further confuse the issue, here are a couple [telegraph.co.uk] of articles [theguardian.com] on Uber "Ghost Drivers" that give us a definition that doesn't really work here. In those articles, "ghost drivers" are people that post gruesome pics on their profile to scare customers into canceling. That can't be right unless Uber has gotten weird.

          You're probably right, although that's not very subtle. I assume the regulator would book a ride and then the ghost driver just wouldn't show or would cancel?

      • by thomn8r ( 635504 )

        Still don't know what a "Ghost rider"

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    • I went to the fine article and I still can't tell what is being argued over. What's a ghost driver? What does Greyball do, exactly and how does it thwart oversight? None of that is clear anywhere! I'm used to figuring things out given context but the context is so dense or missing I can't tell what is going on or why.

      BTW: The second link is not germane to the conversation. It's bringing up the CIA leak from earlier this week, not the Uber article.

      It sounds like Uber has drivers in locations where it is against the law to do so. In order to "hide" them from regulators (turn them into ghost drivers), it looks like they created a list of regulators and government employees that was then used in the app to filter out who could get ride sharing service. For example, if John worked for the transport department he wouldn't be able to hail an Uber through the app. However, if Mary was a regular person standing next to John, her ride hail would go through

  • by msauve ( 701917 )
    "Please, please, please don't prosecute our execs for obstruction of justice."
  • some should some hardtime for that!

  • Give me a break (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    They know *precisely* how it has been being used. This company just continues to define unethical and creepy in the 21st century (no mean feat, when they are competing with the likes of Facebook and Google for that disctinction). Enough, already. Somebody, please, regulate the living **** out of them.

    • We need a law stating that enforcement of EULAs and TOS must apply across the whole userbase. Shadowbans, Greyballs, etc would only be applicable if they effectively shut off the whole system. There's no reason some politically-driven company in the butthole of the world (San Francisco) should be allowed to inflict their policies on others, if they gain a market share they have a responsibility to treat users equally without regard to politics, jobs, or anything else. If a user breaks the law using their
      • the butthole of the world (San Francisco)

        You've never been to Fresno, have you?

        There's actually scads of towns in California which are better candidates. Ever heard of Firebaugh?

        • The world would be better off without the southern half of California, but the Silicon Valley area is by far the worst for tech.
          • The world would be better off without the southern half of California, but the Silicon Valley area is by far the worst for tech.

            San Francisco isn't in the Silly Valley, though. It's in the Gay Area.

      • You would not believe what you are signing half the time with those "contracts" because most people don't read them. And a lot of them are vaguely worded. Wait till the abuse of sighing them comes back at you!!
  • by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @10:34AM (#54006173) Homepage

    "expressly prohibiting its use to target action by local regulators going forward"

    But they're not going forward now are they? That's exactly what the app prevents them from doing. /sarcasm

    Regardless, the statement is overly specific and pretty much meaningless as a result.
    Why not just state you won't be operating without a license any more?
    They effectively promised to continue operating without a license but use different tools to obstruct regulators with local responsibilities.

    The focus shouldn't be on this tool, it's that they were knowingly and willfully breaking the law.

  • Uber Admits Its Ghost Driver 'Greyball' Tool Was Used To Thwart Regulators, Vows To Stop

    "We didn't do it and we promise never to do it again!!"

    Or maybe, "You caught us and we'll be more careful not to get caught next time! Ain't I a stinker ha ha ha!"

  • Since they were not wishing to comply in good faith, it would be proper to presume that they had something to hide.

  • by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Thursday March 09, 2017 @07:21PM (#54009811) Homepage Journal
    Never have your city/state staff meet in any government building.
    Be aware of your staff been followed digitally and in person near government buildings.
    Set up any groups of staff away from government buildings, parts of the city with other government workers using a front company near lots of other private sector workers.
    Ensure no contact between staff and other government workers. Undercover gov staff sitting down with their gov colleagues over lunch can be mapped out digitally.
    Run your staff like an Embassy in a nation that has a lot of digital systems and workers for counter surveillance.
    Ensure gov staff stay off all social media. If they have past social media with a photo that lists any gov work, don't use them for such tasks.
    Facial recognition will detect any and all gov workers accounts.
    Never talk of ongoing government work on any digital network or with other government workers.
    Do not request any support or provide any ongoing comment on any city, state, federal or private digital network, phone or random government worker.
    No gossip, no support calls, no funding, no meetings, no updates, no emails, no calls into a government building from any type of phone.
    Use private cars. Do not drive around government buildings with the same cars.
    Use paper, a filing cabinet until the gov work is done.
    When meeting workers who are undercover, don't have a phone with you and beware that private detectives been used to track senior gov staff.
    Sitting next to any other person with a phone will get them added to a tracking database.
    Use trendy phones and call in pattern that match normal private sector hours. If most people work 9 to 5, call as a normal person would be expected to.
    Never over use a phone too many times or call at strange hours using different staff with the same cheap phone.
    Pattern matching will show all errors made when using phones. Be a normal user, using a trendy phone in expected hours a few times a week, blend in with all the other users.
    Some basic ideas would have prevented all this. Any police force in the world could have offered such simple tips to gov staff.

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