Yet another stunning example of Uber’s willingness to break the rules comes to light, in a New York Times scoop detailing how Uber deceived Apple’s engineers by making it so the Uber app would be invisible to them. From the Times: “The reason? So Apple would not find out that Uber had been secretly identifying and tagging iPhones even after its app had been deleted and the devices erased—a fraud detection maneuver that violated Apple’s privacy guidelines.”
This meant Uber could still identify an iPhone even after the device was wiped clean—a way to prevent drivers from scamming Uber’s incentive program by using the same phones to make it look like they were accepting new rides from new passengers.
In 2015, Apple learned of the program and its CEO, Tim Cook, requested a meeting with Travis Kalanick, the Uber CEO. “Cook believed that wiping an iPhone should ensure that no trace of the owner’s identity remained on the device,” the Times wrote. And Uber, faced with the prospect of its app being removed from the Apple app store, agreed to discontinue fingerprinting.
Today, the episode is a reminder of how, in a “quest to build Uber into the world’s dominant ride-hailing entity, Mr. Kalanick has openly disregarded many rules and norms, backing down only when caught or cornered.”
April 12, 2017
The Information, a tech news website, reveals the existence of a secret software program called “Hell,” which it said Uber used to track which drivers were working for both Lyft and Uber. (“Hell” is a reference to the nickname “Heaven,” or “God View” which Uber uses to describe its dashboard of Uber drivers.) Uber reportedly used the software as part of a larger strategy to undermine Lyft, a key competitor, and lure away its drivers.
If another company had built a secret program to track its competitors the way Uber reportedly tracked Lyft drivers, it might have been praised as savvy in a fiercely competitive industry—even if a little creepy. Not so much with Uber. (I mean, come on, did they really have to call it “Hell”?)
“Hell” could pose legal trouble for Uber. From The Information: “Revelation of the program could open up Uber to possible civil legal claims by Lyft, according to lawyers from two law firms that have represented Uber on other matters. Such potential state and federal claims could include ‘breach of contract’; ‘unfair business practices’; misappropriation of trade secrets; and a civil violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act because of the way Uber allegedly accessed information from Lyft.”
March 20, 2017
Uber’s head of maps, Brian McClendon, becomes the latest high-profile employee to resign. Other departures included: Uber’s president; Uber’s senior vice president of engineering; Uber’s vice president of product growth; the head of Uber’s artificial-intelligence lab; the head of Uber’s self-driving-car group; several self-driving-car engineers. An Uber spokesperson told the tech website Recode that McClendon was “departing amicably from Uber and will be an adviser to the company.”