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A. Aleksandravicius/Shutterstock (Licensed)
Uber’s aggressive tactics to stifle competitors are well documented. The ride-hailing giant faced criticism in 2015 for its “God View” tool, which gave employees access to the real-time locations and personal details of its user base. Uber’s “Hell” program, which tracked the location of Lyft drivers and used that information to give it an unfair advantage, was discovered a few years later. And the company just recently settled a lawsuit with a woman who claims Uber defamed her by suggesting her rape claim was an attempt by Indian rival Ola to sabotage Uber.
It’s perhaps not surprising then that the company has reportedly collected millions of records from competing ride-hailing services operating all around the world. Using automated systems, the company harvested information about rivals’ drivers, employees, and technology, according to a Gizmodo report, citing three people familiar with the matter, court testimony, and “internal Uber documents.”
Uber reportedly gathered the data from its Marketplace Analytics division and Strategic Services Group, but recently stopped the practice following federal investigations. The details were disclosed in Waymo’s (Alphabet’s self-driving car branch) lawsuit against Uber alleging the company stole trade secrets and infringed on patents. The trial has been pushed back to February to give Waymo time to investigate letters written by former Uber employee Richard Jacobs that allege the company used secret servers, an encrypted messaging service, and physical surveillance to snoop on rivals, like Ola in India or Didi Chuxing in China.
The data collected, much like in its Hell program, included rival driver location information that was fed through machine learning programs to get a better view of its competitors’ business practices. The SSG team also allegedly tracked protests and other groups that could be considered a threat to the safety of drivers and employees.
It’s important to note the possibility that Uber’s data collecting practices were legal, especially if that information was compiled from publicly available sources. Nonetheless, Uber’s new chief legal officer told employees that the company would stop using physical surveillance.
“My understanding is that this behavior no longer occurs at Uber; that this truly is a remnant of the past,” West wrote in an email to Uber employees. “But, to be crystal clear, to the extent anyone is working on any kind of competitive intelligence project that involves the surveillance of individuals, stop it now.”
Jacobs’ letters are expected to be publicly released on Wednesday.
Phillip Tracy is a former technology staff writer at the Daily Dot. He's an expert on smartphones, social media trends, and gadgets. He previously reported on IoT and telecom for RCR Wireless News and contributed to NewBay Media magazine. He now writes for Laptop magazine.