If at first you don’t succeed, go to elaborate lengths to trick and evade regulatory authorities trying to bring you down. That appears to be the maxim at Uber, if a new report is accurate. Investigating users’ social media profiles, bank accounts, phone models, and creating a fake version of the app are just some of the lengths Uber reportedly went to in order to operate in cities where the legality of its ride-hail service was in doubt. According to the The New York Times, Uber systematically messed with officials trying to hold it to account via a complex array of methods including an internal tool called Greyball. Created in 2014, Greyball was allegedly part of an ongoing Uber program dubbed VTOS (violation of terms of service), which analyzes user data to determine whether or not a specific user is abusing the app. Greyball looked at the same data to determine if a user was a government employee. If such a determination was made, Uber would cancel requested rides or show that person fake cars within the app, the report says.
The company would identify the location of government buildings and note which users were repeatedly opening and closing the app in the area. Employees also looked at credit cards to see if banking information, such as the use of a police credit union, could provide any hints. What’s more, Uber would trawl social media accounts in an effort to tie a customer to a city agency. That’s right, Uber was looking through users’ social media profiles in an effort to deny them rides.