Greyball, Uber’s secret software to avoid the police

Uber, already blamed in several cases in recent days, confessed Friday the existence of secret software intended in particular to prevent his drivers are controlled by the authorities.

That should not fix Uber’s damaged image after the grumbling of his drivers and the excesses of his CEO, Travis Kalanick. According to the New York Times, the California startup has admitted that it uses secret software, nicknamed “Greyball”, which has allowed it to circumvent the regulations that the company Car Transport with Driver (VTC) deemed hostile to his activities.

Spot the police in the cities where Uber was banned
First to reveal the news, the New York Times reports that Uber used, among other things, information collected through its application to identify law enforcement officials charged with taking its drivers in the act in cities where its activities were prohibited. or bridles.

The races ordered near a public building could be ignored by the Uber application, or even canceled, explains the New York daily. The hidden device allowed the application to reveal ghost vehicles or to reveal none to prevent the police from boarding the VTCs.

A spokeswoman for Uber said the device, dubbed Greyball, was still used, albeit on a smaller scale.

For Uber, it’s about protecting yourself against malicious competitors
According to a car-driver reservation service release, this tool was used in cities where it was not banned, and its main purpose was to protect drivers against malicious competitors using their smartphone to annoy them, rather than book real races.

“This program prevents applications from fraudulent users who violate the terms of service, whether it is people who want to physically attack drivers, competitors who want to disrupt our operations, or opponents who come together with the authorities for secret operations to trap our drivers, “said an Uber spokesman in an email to AFP.

Uber pointed out that the software was mostly used in places where drivers feared for their safety, but only “rarely” to avoid dealing with law enforcement.

Ghost cards and cars for unwanted people
According to the New York Times, the software is used in several countries. Accepted by Uber’s legal department, it raises ethical questions.

It works thanks to user data: for example, people working for regulatory authorities are targeted and have their shopping canceled. The software shows these people a false application on their smartphone, with map and fake ghost cars in motion, according to the New York daily. The software also puts out of bounds some government buildings.

Another way to oust the controllers is to check that the credit card number attached to a customer is linked to a personal card, not a government account or police, says the New York Times.

The announcement comes as Uber struggles to control the damage after revelations about the sexist and violent culture that reign in the company. And the founding boss of the service Travis Kalanick has also been involved in polemics. He apologized earlier this week after having an altercation with an Uber driver, even confessing that he had to “become an adult” and needed help in running his business.

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