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Uber uses secret tool to deceive authorities

Uber uses secret tool to deceive authorities”

The ride-hailing service Uber is now ubiquitous throughout the city of Portland, but back in 2014 it was operating illegally and somehow skirting city officials trying to crack down on the company.

Greyball, the paper writes, is a smaller tool within a "violation of terms of service" (VTOS) program that tries to weed out people using the Uber app improperly.

Uber reportedly has been using a secret program to help the company evade law-enforcement officers and transportation officials in markets across the globe where the legality of the ride-hailing service is under scrutiny or in question. The company would then display a fake version of the app to the "Greyballed" phone, complete with ghost cars that don't exist.

In a statement, Uber defended Greybal by stating the program "denies ride requests to fraudulent users who are violating our terms of service - whether that's people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations or opponents who collude with officials on secret "stings" meant to entrap drivers".

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The program makes booking a ride hard for users whom Uber suspects of carrying out sting operations aimed at busting drivers in jurisdictions where its legality is unclear.

The New York Times revealed Greyball's existence in a story published Friday based on information provided by four current and former Uber employees who were not named. It was also used worldwide in Australia, China, Italy and South Korea.

According to The New York Times, Greyball prevents officers from requesting Uber rides to collar or ticket drivers when they arrive for a pickup.

The cat-and-mouse game with regulators is the latest example of the aggressive tactics that Uber has adopted while upending the heavily regulated taxi industry.

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The company would also check user's credit card information to see if the card was tied to a police credit union, according to the report. Greyball is activated on accounts that belong to investigators: when enough "signals" were raised flagging the user as a cop, Uber enables Greyball mode for their account.

Code enforcement inspectors like Erich England tried to use Uber and catch them red-handed, but somehow Uber drivers never picked him up.

The incident, which circulated on social media, was another hit for the image of the global ridesharing giant, which faces accusations of sexual harassment and a lawsuit contending it misappropriated Google's self-driving vehicle technology. But in its early years Uber earned a reputation for exploiting legal uncertainty over whether its service should be regulated like taxis.

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