Uber had a team dedicated to stealing trade secrets, a new allegation made by a former staffer that now adds to the many controversies surrounding the ride-hailing company.
The claim was made during criminal investigations into Uber and further complicates the company's ongoing legal battle against Alphabet's Waymo unit over self-driving technology.
Uber Team For Stealing Trade Secrets
Richard Jacobs, a former manager on an Uber corporate surveillance team, privately revealed to federal prosecutors about an encrypted messaging system used by the ride-hailing company and has now publicly testified about it.
According to Jacobs, Uber deliberately researched its competitors and then trained its employees to ruin all communications that may be considered sensitive using technology to destroy any paper trails of trade secret theft. The cover-up was done to make sure that Uber will not find itself under civil or criminal litigations for stealing trade secrets.
The controversial team, formerly named the Strategic Services Group, was focused mostly on gaining advantages over Uber's rivals overseas, including through the acquisition of information on the drivers, metrics, and incentives of competing ride-hailing services abroad. Jacobs described it as a group that "exists expressly for the purpose for acquiring trade secrets, code base and competitive intelligence."
Jacobs said that the team members, as well as the employees working in the self-driving car project, were told to use self-deleting messages sent through anonymous servers using devices that could not be traced back to Uber.
Uber-Waymo Trial Delayed
U.S. District Judge William Alsup indefinitely postponed the trial over the allegations that Uber stole self-driving technology from Waymo. The trial, which was set to begin Wednesday, was delayed because relevant information that was revealed by Jacobs to prosecutors may have been withheld from Waymo.
Alsup took the claims of Jacobs seriously, as prosecutors found him to be credible in his statements that Uber utilized devices that could not be traced and communications systems that automatically deleted messages.
Waymo, in turn, requested additional time to investigate the allegations made by Jacobs.
This is the latest in a series of setbacks piled upon Uber, which allegedly used Waymo technology in the development of its own self-driving car fleet. The case revolves around Anthony Levandowski, a former Google employee who downloaded files before he left and formed the self-driving truck startup Otto. Uber later purchased Otto and allegedly also acquired the Waymo files that Levandowski stole.
As Waymo now seeks damages of billions of dollars from Uber, the ride-hailing company is also dealing with other matters, including the revelation of a massive data breach that it controversially first revealed to potential investor SoftBank before telling affected users and drivers.