Uber faces criminal investigation over use of Greyball software

The US Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into Uber’s use of a software tool that allowed its drivers to evade local transportation regulators, according to Reuters.

In areas where Uber’s ride-hailing service had not yet been approved, such as in Portland, Oregon, the company allegedly used a tool called Greyball to collect data from the Uber app and identify officials and intentionally evade them – ride requests from officers were repeatedly canceled.

Last month The New York Times published a story on the matter, exposing the whole thing and officials in Portland opened an investigation shortly afterwards.

The city of Portland was notified by the United States Attorney of the Northern District of California that Uber is the subject of a federal inquiry.

In the audit report, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) found that:

“When Uber illegally entered the Portland market in December 2014, the company tagged 17 individual rider accounts, 16 of which have been identified as government officials using its Greyball software tool. Uber used Greyball software to intentionally evade PBOT’s officers from December 5 to December 19, 2014 and deny 29 separate ride requests by PBOT enforcement officers. … In using Greyball, Uber has sullied its own reputation and cast a cloud over the [Transportation Network Companies] industry generally.”

The New York Times now reports that the inquiry has widened to include Philadelphia.

On Friday, the Philadelphia Parking Authority said that the Justice Department contacted the agency requesting information regarding Uber’s use of software to operate in certain markets.

Uber has admitted to using Greyball. In a statement the company said that “this program denies ride requests to fraudulent 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.”