Uber used an elaborate secret program to hide from government regulators

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Uber employed the program in cities including Paris, Boston and Las Vegas, and countries such as Australia, China, South Korea and Italy.

A new NYT report sheds light on how Uber, a transportation company that has recently become a scandal machine, has been evading government enforcement agencies in cities where it is illegal. While Uber was careful to downplay the extent to which Greyballing was used against authorities, instead pointing out instances in which competitors, like taxi drivers, had harassed or intimidated Uber drivers, it didn't deny that part of the program's goal was essentially "no cops allowed". But it was also sometimes used in the USA, including in Portland, where a 2014 video showed officials trying and failing to hail Uber riders.

According to The New York Times, Greyball prevents officers from requesting Uber rides to collar or ticket drivers when they arrive for a pickup. That manager could draw a geofence around the offices of regulators, watching for users who might open and close the app frequently - actions that could signify that the user was a city employee tasked with keeping an eye on Uber. Employees also looked at credit cards to see if banking information, such as the use of a police credit union, could provide any hints.

Uber's Greyball tool successfully blackballed England - that seems to be how it got its name? like a legally "grey" sort of blackballing? - and authorities in Portland never caught the service operating illegally. It's still in use today.

Depending on local laws, one law professor told the Times the program could be "a violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or possibly intentional obstruction of justice". "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". "But this goes far beyond avoiding a speed trap".

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The company has been employing the tactic in areas that have outlawed the service since as early as 2014, the Times said.

Uber did not respond to a request for comment.

And Greyball is only the latest in a series of health woes for the ailing Unicorn, a company whose $70 billion valuation has made it a symbol of Silicon Valley disruption.

The revelations come at a bad time for Uber, which is now battling a backlash against sexual harassment among its engineers, and a leaked video of CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with a driver over fare cuts. "If it's easy I'm not pushing hard enough", the CEO says.

Surely that's what we can expect the executive will do next.

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