The Department of Justice in the United States has started a criminal investigation against Uber for its secret ‘Greyball’ feature. The ride-hailing company used the ‘Greyball’ feature to evade law enforcement officials around government offices.
Once a law enforcement official is identified, the ‘Greyball’ feature would serve them a fake version of the app which would show no available cars nearby or populate it with ghost cars to evade capture. The company primarily used the feature in cities where Uber was banned like Portland and Oregon. Uber’s use of ‘Greyball’ feature was first discovered in early March.
The DOJ investigation against Uber is still in early stages and it’s unclear what kind of charges Uber could be facing. Nonetheless, the company is already receiving a lot of negative publicity in recent times, and a criminal investigation against it is not going to help things either. A recent report detailed that Uber secretly tagged iPhones which led Tim Cook to threaten Uber CEO’s on removing the app from the App Store.
Uber received a subpoena from a Northern California grand jury seeking documents concerning how the software tool functioned and where it was deployed, one person familiar with the request said. That indicates a criminal investigation is underway. The second source confirmed that was the case.
In a letter sent to Portland transport regulators last week, Uber acknowledged using the greyball feature “exceedingly sparingly”, though after it received the green signal to operate in the city in April 2015, it stopped using it altogether.
Once the use of Greyball feature was made public, Uber curtailed on using the program and said that it was primarily used to safeguard drivers and prevent fraud. The company says that it did not want its drivers to face any unwanted financial harm due to their driving which is why Greyball was used.