A previous report by The New York Times claimed that Uber has used a secret tool for years to deceive regulators in markets where its ride-hailing service is prohibited or banned. The tool, named Greyball, utilized data acquired by the Uber app to identify and avoid local officials.
The allegations have been proven to be true, with Uber admitting the existence of Greyball. The ride-booking company has now released a statement on the shady tool and what it is now planning to do to move forward.
Uber Responds To Greyball Report
In a statement uploaded to the Uber Newsroom, the company's Chief Security Officer, Joe Sullivan, explained the intended purpose of the Greyball tool.
According to Sullivan, the Greyball tool hides the standard city app view from individual riders, allowing Uber to show a different version to customers. There are many applications of the tool, including testing new Uber features by the company's employees, launching marketing initiatives, preventing fraudulent activities, protecting drivers from physical harm, and deterring riders from using the Uber app in ways that violate Uber's terms of service.
In response to the report by The New York Times, Sullivan said that the company has launched a review on the different applications of the Greyball tool. In addition, Uber has expressly prohibited the use of Greyball in deceiving local regulators.
Sullivan, however, noted that due to the way that the systems of Uber are configured, the full enforcement of the prohibition will take some time. Uber, once it finishes its review on Greyball, will then respond to the inquiries of the organizations that have requested for more information from the company regarding the tool.
Uber Controversies Continue
Through Greyball, Uber was said to have been able to avoid regulators in cities where its drivers are not allowed to pick up passengers. Through the collection of in-app data to identify certain individuals such as law enforcement officers, Greyball will show these target users that there are no Uber rides available in the area, or show mock-ups of the app with fake rides.
The Greyball tool continues Uber's recent run-ins with controversy, with the company trying its hardest to keep up with damage control.
Last month, a former Uber engineer published a lengthy blog post that accused Uber of sexist workplace practices, prompting Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to order an investigation into the matter.
A few days later, Google unit Waymo filed a lawsuit against Uber and Otto for stealing some components of the company's self-driving car technology.
In light of these issues, along with several other problems, Kalanick revealed that he is now looking for a Chief Operating Officer to help him run Uber.
With Uber being the focus of several controversies already in 2017, it remains to be seen how the ride-booking service will be able to recover. While hiring a COO would certainly help, Uber will need to do much more than that to stay afloat.