Just when it looked as if Uber’s bad publicity was dying down, another new controversy has reared its head. A report from The Information claims the ride-hailing giant created a software-based program called “Hell” that not only spied on Lyft drivers’ locations but was able to determine which ones also drove for Uber.
An anonymous source claims the tool was used to spy on Uber’s biggest competitor from 2014 to early 2016. The existence of Hell - named as an opposite to Uber’s 'God View/Heaven' in-house app that tracked its own drivers – was kept secret from all but the top executives and the few who worked on the program.
Hell came about after Uber reportedly created fake Lyft rider accounts and used software to spoof their locations. Uber could see the eight closest Lyft drivers to each fake rider. Eventually, it could check the locations of numerous Lyft drivers within a city at any given time, as well as their availability and the price of trips.
Once Uber discovered Lyft assigns unchanging numerical IDs to each of its drivers, it was able to deduce which ones worked for both companies by analyzing their habits. In an attempt to entice these “double-appers” to drive exclusively for Uber, Hell was used to send them more riders, and the company would hand out bonuses for meeting a certain number of rides each week – effectively punishing those who showed loyalty to only Uber.
The program ended when Lyft started expanding to more cities in 2016, meaning the bonuses Uber were offering would have spiraled out of control. When asked for comment, a Lyft spokesperson said: "We are in a competitive industry. However, if true, these allegations are very concerning."
The latest scandal to hit Uber comes after the sexism allegations, Greyball, a lawsuit over alleged self-driving technology theft, and Travis Kalanick’s argument with a driver and the CEO's visit to an escort bar in South Korea.