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The Wall Street Journal reports that the FBI’s New York office is leading the investigation in tandem with the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which has already been looking into some of Uber’s other anti-competitive tactics.
At the center of the FBI’s program is Uber’s use of an internal program dubbed “Hell”. The program was designed to steal drivers from its ride-hailing competitors (namely Lyft). Between 2014 and 2016, Uber created fake Lyft accounts so it could see where the company’s nearest drivers were. Its program then identified those drivers and monitored their behavior to see if they were driving exclusively for Lyft, or for Uber as well. Uber executives would then entice Lyft-only drivers to work for Uber instead.
Knowing where Lyft’s drivers were in real-time, Uber would also use that information to fill gaps in coverage area in various cities with its own drivers. The program got its name as the company used a program called “Heaven view ” or “God view” to see where its own drivers were.
This isn’t the only legal issue Uber is having to deal with: The Justice Department opened a criminal probe into Uber in May for using a program called “Greyball” to evade law enforcement in cities the startup wasn’t licensed to operate. Recently, it was also discovered that code within Uber’s app illegally tracked iPhone users—even after the app had been deleted. (Apple CEO Tim Cook told Uber’s then-CEO Travis Kalanick to fix the issue, or Uber would be kicked out of the App Store.) Uber is also at the center of extensive allegations of sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace.
Uber founder Travis Kalanick, who was in charge when the above strategies were put in place, resigned as CEO in June. Two months later (and after an extensive and reportedly rejection-filled search), Uber hired Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who will now be at the helm through the company’s legal troubles.
Uber said it will be cooperating with the FBI’s investigation.
Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.