Uber's "Greyball" tool helped company evade authorities in Portland, Paris

Uber's

For the past three years, the ride-hailing startup has used a secret software tool that helped Uber drivers avoid local law enforcement in cities where the company routinely battled regulators, according to a report Friday by The New York Times. The upstart told the Times that Greyball simply stamps out abusers of its platform, rival app makers, unsafe passengers, and, er, law enforcement: "This 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".

According to the article, the tool started as a way to protect drivers from violent opponents like taxi companies and unions in other countries, and Uber told the paper that that remains the primary goal of the Greyball tool.

If such a determination was made, Uber would cancel requested rides or show that person fake cars within the app, the report says.

According to the Times, Uber's "greyballing" tactics were mostly used outside the United States, where anti-Uber enforcement efforts tended to be particularly aggressive.

Reportedly, Uber managers in a particular city would identify the locations of city government offices and monitor users who used the apps in those areas.

Those tools and techniques, the Times writes, "included looking at the user's credit card information and whether that card was tied directly to an institution like a police credit union".

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A 2014 YouTube video posted by The Oregonian shows the feature in use, when Portland, Ore., code enforcement officer Erich England attempted to hail an UberX for a sting operation.

Uber said in a statement that it was simply targeting people 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".

The company also visited local electronics stores to look up the numbers of cheap mobile phones that may have been purchased by government agencies attempting to perform sting operations with burner devices.

"With any type of systematic thwarting of the law, you're flirting with disaster", one told the Times. "But this goes far beyond avoiding a speed trap". That's wounded the company recently, punctuated by a boycott campaign, #deleteuber.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick attends the summer World Economic Forum in Tianjin, China, June 26, 2016.

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