Uber facing criminal charges for use of authority-evasion software

Letters from Uber to Portland authorities, made available to the public last week, indicate that Greyball was used "exceedingly sparingly" in Portland before the city approved the ride-hailing service in 2015, according to Reuters.

The company prohibited the use of Greyball for this objective shortly after the New York Times revealed its existence in March, saying the program was created to check ride requests to prevent fraud and safeguard drivers.

Greyball, first reported by The New York Times, was a tool developed internally at Uber used to thwart regulators and local officials in cities where they faced regulatory hurdles.

It's not yet clear if Uber will be charged or what the charges may be.

Uber has reportedly received a subpoena from a grand jury in Northern California to produce documents on how the program works and where it was used.

Reuters earlier reported Uber was the subject of a criminal probe.

The ride services company's board has retained an outside law firm, Shearman & Sterling LLP, to conduct its own internal investigation into what transpired, those two sources and a third said. The program, which Uber called Greyball, showed officials dummy versions of the app with fake cars trawling the streets.

The system might have gone farther than suggested by Uber's terms of service for app users.

To avoid these undercover fares, the tool will collect their in-app data - such as credit card numbers, social media profiles and other personal details - and send them an alert saying a non-existent driver is on the way, or in some cases, that there are no cars available. Uber also discontinued its use of Greyball as a means of locating and thwarting regulators after The New York Times published its initial March report.

  • Zachary Reyes