With allegations of sexism and sexual harassment, lawsuits, and a video of CEO Travis Kalanick acting like an ass, Uber is in damage control mode right now. The company’s latest attempt to repair its image involves the controversial Greyball program used to deceive regulators. After defending the system following the New York Times report that first revealed Greyball, Uber now says it will stop using the tool.
In a brief blog post, Uber chief security officer Joe Sullivan wrote: “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.”
Greyball uses several techniques, including geofencing, credit card info, social media, and device number checks to identify city officials who may be attempting to hail an Uber car and catch it violating local taxi regulations. The tool then stops those who are “greyballed” from catching a ride by showing fake cars or no cars on the app’s map, or canceling any that get ordered.
Greyball was used in locations where ride-hailing firms such as Uber weren’t strictly legal, such as Boston, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Portland, Oregon, and in countries including France, Australia, China, South Korea and Italy.
Uber said the program “denies ride requests to 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.”
Now the company has backtracked on Greyball, though it won’t be disappearing overnight. “Given the way our systems are configured, it will take some time to ensure this prohibition is fully enforced,” writes Sullivan.
The move marks Uber’s second change of heart in as many weeks. Its San Francisco self-driving vehicles were banned by the California DMV in December after Uber refused to apply for a permit, but the firm recently announced it has applied for and received the necessary licenses.