US-based cab aggregating giant Uber has been under a lot of pressure lately. The taxi provider has been facing a lot of flak after an expose revealing that the company has been using a technology called ‘Greyball’ to evade authorities and snoop into their private data in the regions where it had not been allowed to provide it services hit the news.
According to a report by The New York Times, the company used the technology to identify and outwit the government officials who were trying to clamp down its services in cities like Boston and Las Vegas among others. The expose also highlighted how the company geo-fenced the city officials who were trying to perform stings to nail the company’s drivers and how it used a fake (and non-functioning) version of its app to evade the capture of its partners.
Almost a week after the scam came to light, the company has taken a U-turn and released a statement stating that it would not use the technology to target local regulators, However, it would continue using ‘Greyball’ to test new features and prevent its partners from physical harm. Uber further added that it would take some time for the company to reconfigure its systems and completely enforce the prohibition.
It’s important to note that Uber first started using the computer program Greyball in 2014 to identify government officials and re-route its drivers away from them. The company also used the program for shunting the riders who it believed had violated its terms of service (VTOS) or were a threat to its drivers. The company used a series of methods including Geo-fencing (to check if the rider was calling near a government building), Eyeballing (to check if a rider had opened or closed its app a number of times without booking a cab, suspecting it to be a government official), checking the credit card details to check a potential link with a government official, checking for dubious phone numbers linked to government agents and surfing the social media to identify the authority figures.
“We have started a review of the different ways this technology has been used to date. In addition, we are expressly prohibiting its use to target action by local regulators going forward,” the company’s chief security officer Joe Sullivan wrote in a blog post.
Meanwhile, the California state regulators have granted a permit to Uber granting it the permission to put its self-driving cars back on the streets. Earlier, the company had refused to pay a sum of $150 to obtain the permit from the state authorities arguing that its vehicles could not be considered ‘self-driving’ as were being monitored by a person constantly.