Uber Facing At Least 5 Federal Investigations, Claims Report

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Uber’s recent woes — a $20 million text message spamming settlement, an ousted CEO, investigations into sneaky software, and other issues — continue to deepen, as the Department of Justice has now reportedly opened at least five investigations into the company and its business practices.

While some of these probes have previously been revealed, at least two were not, Bloomberg reports, noting that the ride-hailing company is now the center of investigations related to price-transparency and the alleged theft of a competitor’s intellectual property.

The Bloomberg report provides a broad look at Uber’s recent troubles and how they came to be; it’s worth a read. But in the meantime, here’s what you should know about the current investigations into the company.

Pricing Inconsistencies

Uber has long come under scrutiny for the way it pays drivers and charges customers for rides. These systems are the latest to come under investigation by the DOJ, sources tell Bloomberg.

The investigation likely hinges on Uber’s use of software — dubbed Firehouse and Cascade — that changed the way the company charged fares.

According to Bloomberg, Cascade allowed the company to set fares for drivers using a longstanding formula of mileage, time, and demand.

Firehouse, on the other hand, allowed the company to charge a fixed, upfront rate, based on a computer-generated algorithm of what customers would be willing to pay.

Issues with the software came to light when drivers noticed a discrepancy. Back in February, a driver in San Francisco filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming Uber kept more money than it was supposed to.

In May, the company was sued in New York over the pricing inconsistencies. Some estimates claim that Uber owes drivers in New York City up to $45 million for the miscalculated commissions.

The company has since said it would start telling drivers the price a passenger pays on each ride, but it wouldn’t break down what percentage the company actually takes.

Alleged Theft

For the better part of the last year, Uber has faced a legal challenge from Google parent company Alphabet and its self-driving venture Waymo.

Alphabet claims that Uber benefited from stolen trade secrets, Bloomberg reports, adding that sources say the DOJ is looking into Uber’s actions in the case as part of a criminal probe.

As for the Waymo case, Google claims the stolen secrets specifically pertain to the laser-based scanning and mapping systems, known as LiDAR, that self-driving cars use to “see” the world around them — a pretty vital component of any autonomous vehicle.

Waymo learned that their technology had allegedly wandered down the road over to Uber when they received an email from a parts supplier. The supplier — apparently accidentally — included Waymo when it sent out an attachment that contained drawings of Uber’s LiDAR circuitry… which looked, to Waymo, suspiciously familiar.

Waymo says it then found that some former Google employees took a whole lot of proprietary, internal Google content with them when they left the company and went to Uber.

Possible Bribery

Back in August, it was revealed that the DOJ was in the first stages of investigating whether managers at the company ran afoul of a federal law that prohibits companies and their employees from bribing foreign officials in the course of doing business.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act makes it unlawful for “certain classes of persons and entities to make payments to foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business.”

According to Bloomberg, this probe now includes questions related to how an executive at Uber was able to obtain the medical records of a woman who accused her Uber driver of rape in Delhi, India, sources tell Bloomberg.

Back in Dec. 2014, a passenger in New Delhi, India claimed that her Uber driver raped and assaulted her.

The incident, in which the man was arrested and sentenced to life in prison, was condemned by the ride hailing company, but some within the organization had their doubts about the situation.

The bribery issue came to light back in June, when it was announced that Uber’s president of business in the Asia Pacific, Eric Alexander — who allegedly accessed and carried around the personal medical records of a passenger who accused a driver of rape for nearly a year — was no longer with the company.

The victim in the situation eventually filed a lawsuit against Uber for invading her privacy.

Sneaky Software

As previously reported in May, DOJ opened a criminal investigation against Uber over the use of “Greyball.” Regulators in California are also reportedly undertaking their own investigation into Greyball.

Greyball was basically a way of identifying users who were suspected to be law enforcement or regulators.

Uber used geolocation, phone model, credit card information, user behavior (including social media profiles), and other pieces of data to create a shadow app.

When a profile fit the makeup of a law enforcement officer, Uber would send that profile to the shadow app. Here users would see “ghost” cars that couldn’t respond to requests for rides, and that obscured the locations of real cars.

Uber acknowledged the tool’s existence in March and promised to stop using the software. Last month, officials in Portland, OR, concluded that Greyball was also being used in the city to evade detection by more than a dozen local government officials.

The company has also been accused of using several other types of software, including “God view” and “Hell” to track users and otherwise keep an eye on everyone who uses its apps.

In early September, it was revealed that the FBI had reportedly opened an investigation into Hell.

Back in June, reports surfaced that the Federal Trade Commission had opened an inquiry into Uber’s privacy practices, including its handling of customer data.

Although the sources didn’t specify what the FTC staff was looking into, Uber’s handling of customer data and its tracking of users has come under scrutiny in the past. For instance, in April, reports suggested that Uber tracked iPhones even after the app was deleted. The company has since allowed customers to opt-out of this practice. 

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