Uber Used 'Greyball' to Dodge Sting Operations
Secret software identified possible law enforcement agents
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 4, 2017 9:11 AM CST
An Uber driver sits in his car parked near the San Francisco International Airport parking area.   (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

(Newser) – Yet more bad press for Uber: For years, the company has been using a secret tool called Greyball to avoid law enforcement in cities where it was banned, the New York Times reports. Uber used information like geolocation data and credit card details to pinpoint users that might be involved in sting operations in cities like Portland, Ore. Those users were then "Greyballed" when they tried to get an Uber car, with the app either showing no cars available or displaying "ghost cars" in a fake version of the app, Uber sources tell the Times. The insiders say the program, used in US cities including Boston and Las Vegas and in countries including Australia and China, is still being used to dodge regulators today.

If a driver did pick up somebody the system had identified as a possible law enforcement agent, Uber would call to cancel the ride, according to the sources, who say some people in the company worried that the program might be unethical or illegal. Uber did not deny the program existed, the Guardian reports, but said it "denies ride requests to fraudulent users who are violating our terms of service," including"opponents who collude with officials on secret 'stings' meant to entrap drivers." Business analysts tell the Washington Post that the exposure of Greyball adds to a "really bad month" for Uber and that the company will need better management for its reputation to start recovering. (Earlier in the week, video of CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with a driver surfaced.)

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