Science

Uber alleged to have used covert unit to steal secrets

Uber alleged to have used covert unit to steal secrets”

In a damning letter released today, a former Uber employee, Richard Jacobs, claims that the company engaged in several illegal practices, including hacking, trade secret theft and surveillance - all in an effort to emerge at the top of the competitive ride-hailing market.

This letter, which was only recently shared with lawyers involved in the lawsuit and the judge overseeing the case, ultimately led to federal prosecutors opening a criminal investigation into Uber, which is still ongoing.

In one particularly freaky example, Mr Jacobs alleged that an Uber "surveillance team" was deployed to a hotel in order to record and observe conversations between executives at a rival company - the name of which has been redacted from the version of the letter made public.

A report in Gizmodo earlier this week says just as much, highlighting Uber's systematic data scraping of competitors' platforms via automated collection systems that were running constantly, amassing millions of records.

"Mr. Jacobs' correspondence alleged systemic, institutionalized, and criminal efforts by Uber to hide evidence and steal trade secrets, not just as a general matter but also specifically involving the evidence and trade secrets at issue in this case - maybe the largest and most significant lawsuit Uber has ever faced", Cooper wrote.

"I tried to make sure it was accurate with the time that I had", Jacobs explained.

Intelligence was gathered, the letter claims, "to determine which political figures may have been supporting opposition groups in the taxi/transport sector", as well as to identify someone or some group that had been allegedly ordered to "begin targeting Uber vehicles for harassment and impoundment". Waymo had alleged that Anthony Levandowski, a former employee, stole trade secrets about driverless cars from Google before leaving and subsequently used what he learned at Uber.

Attorneys representing Uber have repeatedly assured the judge no files taken from Waymo ever touched Uber servers.

Spokesmen for Waymo and the United States attorney's office declined to comment.

He had sent the letter to Uber's in-house counsel with his allegations about possible criminal activity carried out by the special group in May this year, threatening to sue the company.

"There's not a stitch of anything in any of those papers that should have been redacted, and it should all be public", Alsup said during a November hearing.

Jacobs worked at the ride-hailing company from March 2016 until April 2017. Jacobs' legal team persuaded Alsup to allow those deletions to protect the identities of former Central Intelligence Agency agents that worked with Uber's espionage team, a since disbanded unit called Marketplace Analytics.

Mr. Jacobs appeared in court last month to testify about his evidence, which he had written in a letter to Uber executives. Uber ultimately settled out of court with Jacobs for $US4.5 million ($5.9 million), in a deal that keeps Jacobs on as a consultant to help with Uber's internal investigation into his allegations.

Techniques used included smartphones or laptop computers that couldn't be traced back to the company, and communicating through encrypted, vanishing message service Wickr, according to the letter and a transcript of courtroom testimony obtained by AFP. Jacobs's lawyer, Halunen, received an additional $3 million from Uber. "Jacobs took the good work my clients did and twisted it into something it wasn't", he said. "The competitive information gathering that was done at the explicit request of management was unremarkable and no different than what's done by law-abiding companies across the country and Uber's own competitors".



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