Uber is now facing a criminal investigation into a software tool it created that can help drivers avoid law enforcement officers and other transportation regulations. According to a Reuters exclusive, Uber is being investigated for criminal conduct regarding its "Greyball" program. While the program was very secretive in nature at first, Uber has since acknowledged its existence and its features.
Greyball was used to help identify government officials who were trying to set up sting operations to catch Uber and its drivers operating in places where they hadn't been approved to operate yet. Uber has since prohibited the tool to be used for this purpose shortly after it was made public in March. When a user attempted to request a ride, the tool would analyze the request to see if it was legitimate or not. If it was found to not be, the software would provide false information and obscure the vehicle's location from the requester.
Uber has claimed the tool was used to keep drivers safe from fraudulent or dangers riders, but Greyball was part of a larger system called "Violation of Terms of Service." This system analyzed credit card info, device location, and personal identification to determine the legitimacy of a request.
The specifics of this is where things start looking bad for Uber. For example, Greyball compared the rider's credit card agency to a known list of police or government affiliated credit unions. It also checked social media profiles to see if a rider was likely to be a law enforcement officer.
Officials in Portland conducted an investigation last week and determined the tool was used to evade transportation officials 16 times. In addition to the DoJ probe, Uber also received a subpoena from a Northern California grand jury. Regardless of the tool's original intent, Uber is in hot water and definitely has a lot of explaining to do.