Covert Uber 'impersonation' and 'wiretapping' claims revealed in court letter

Joanna Estrada
December 16, 2017

Over the past year, Uber has been rocked by revelations of rampant sexual harassment inside the company, technological trickery created to thwart regulators and a yearlong cover-up of a hacking attack that stole the personal information of 57 million passengers and drivers. This year alone, Uber has been caught using a special program to block local officials from hailing rides, surreptitiously obtaining a rape victim's medical records, and paying off hackers to keep a data breach quiet.

Addressing the allegations made in the letter, an Uber spokesperson said, "While we haven't substantiated all the claims in this letter - and, importantly, any related to Waymo - our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology".

At the time, Jacobs appeared in court about his letter. That investigation is ongoing. The letter, written by a lawyer on Jacobs' behalf, has already reshaped a high-profile trial pitting Uber against Waymo, a Google spin-off that accuses its rival of stealing its self-driving vehicle technology.

A security group within Uber hacked into the computer systems to steal data from rivals, and attempted to cover its tracks by using burner cell phones, according to a letter made public yesterday by the judge overseeing the company's legal dispute with Google-spinoff company Waymo. Uber did not provide the letter to Waymo as part of legal discovery before the trial started.

Jacobs alleged that a group at Uber known as Market Analytics was "designed to steal competitor data". For years, Uber gathered intelligence from competing firms' websites, apps and Github repositories. In at least one instance, [CIA-trained] operatives deployed against these targets were able to record and observe private conversations among the executives - including their real-time reactions to a press story that Uber would receive $3.4 billion dollars in funding from the Saudi government.

Jacobs said he objected a year ago to Uber targeting politicians, regulators and taxi union officials for "mobile phone collections". "The agents took rides in local taxis, loitered around locations where taxi drivers congregated, and leveraged a local network of contacts with connections to police and regulatory authorities", the letter alleges. The letter also said Uber impersonated people to infiltrate private groups.

"This needle was in Uber's hands the whole time", he said.

In a November 29 email to employees regarding Jacobs' accusations of human surveillance, Uber GC Tony West wrote, "there is no place for such practices or that kind of behavior at Uber".

Waymo sued Uber in February, alleging that the ride-hail company's acquisition of the self-driving startup Otto, founded by the former Waymo employee Anthony Levandowski, was actually a scheme to acquire secrets stolen from Waymo. Uber's legal team has referred to the letter as "extortionist" in nature; the company paid a $4.5 million settlement to Jacobs over his claims about the company's operations.

Spokesmen for Waymo and the United States attorney's office declined to comment. "So I'm going to treat it that way".

The letter also has become evidence in a criminal investigation being conducted by the U.S. Justice Department.

US District Judge William Alsup will determine what, if any, consequences Uber faces for not turning over the letter. However, Judge Alsup made a decision to release the letters.

Waymo claims Uber stole its self-driving auto technology. He resigned this April after he was caught forwarding internal emails to his personal address, and told Uber that he meant to blow the whistle on illegal activity at the company.

Previously discussed only in court testimony, a letter in May from the attorney of former Uber security analyst Richard Jacobs to Uber's internal counsel contains an exhaustive list of illegal activities that Jacobs said he witnessed while employed at the company from March 2016 through April 2017.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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