SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A former Uber safety specialist accused the corporate of dispatching a workforce of spies to steal its rivals’ commerce secrets and techniques and utilizing shady ways to thwart its competitors within the ride-hailing market, in accordance an inflammatory letter unsealed Friday by a federal choose.
These ways allegedly included impersonating different folks, illegally recording conversations and hacking into computer systems.
Former Uber supervisor Richard Jacobs, who was fired earlier this yr, made the explosive claims in a 37-page letter that sought an enormous payoff for being compelled out of the corporate. The letter, written by a lawyer on Jacobs’ behalf, has already reshaped a high-profile trial pitting Uber towards Waymo, a Google spin-off that accuses its rival of stealing its self-driving automotive know-how.
The letter additionally has turn out to be proof in a prison investigation being performed by the U.S. Justice Division. U.S. District Choose William Alsup, who’s overseeing the Waymo-Uber case, took the weird step of recommending that federal prosecutors think about a prison probe, primarily based on the proof and testimony that he had reviewed lengthy earlier than he knew about Jacobs’ letter.
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Though most of Jacobs’ most damaging allegations have been aired in courtroom hearings held two weeks in the past, the letter’s launch sheds extra mild on the no-holds-barred tradition that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick inspired. The scandals spawned by that freewheeling tradition have now turn out to be a serious supply of embarrassment for Uber because it tries to recast itself as extra compassionate and better-behaved firm beneath a brand new administration workforce led by Dara Khosrowshahi.
Over the previous yr, Uber has been rocked by revelations of rampant sexual harassment inside the corporate, technological trickery designed to thwart regulators and a yearlong cover-up of a hacking assault that stole the non-public data of 57 million passengers and drivers.
Former CIA brokers
“Whereas we haven’t substantiated all of the claims in (Jacobs’) letter — importantly, any associated to Waymo — our new management has made clear that going ahead we are going to compete actually and pretty, on the power of our concepts and know-how,” Uber mentioned in a Friday assertion.
Lots of the names and a number of the data in Jacobs’ letter have been redacted. Jacobs’ authorized workforce persuaded Alsup to permit these deletions to guard the identities of former CIA brokers that labored with Uber’s espionage workforce, a since disbanded unit referred to as Market Analytics.
The letter alleges that two Uber safety executives, Joe Sullivan and Craig Clark, performed central roles in placing collectively the corporate’s clandestine operations. Market Analytics allegedly focused abroad rivals and Waymo within the U.S. whereas making a community of secret communications channels and alternate units designed to cowl their digital tracks and keep away from authorized bother. Uber fired each Sullivan and Clark for paying $100,000 to 2 hackers who stole the non-public data of drivers and passengers — after which overlaying up the theft.
Uber itself tried to hack into its rivals’ laptop networks in an effort to scoop up useful data, Jacobs’ letter alleges. In some cases, its brokers impersonated drivers and riders on its rivals’ providers to realize insights.
Unauthorized telephone recordings
The letter additionally alleges Uber repeatedly broke California regulation by making unauthorized recordings of telephone conversations, together with not less than one involving a sexual harassment criticism made a former worker.
Sullivan defended himself and the remainder of his safety workforce in an announcement. “From the place I sat, my workforce acted ethically, with integrity, and in the most effective pursuits of our drivers and riders,” he mentioned.
Clark “acted appropriately always,” mentioned his lawyer, Mark Howitson.
Matthew Umhofer, an lawyer representing a number of different Uber safety workforce members fingered within the letter, derided the doc as “nothing greater than a personality assassination for money.”
Uber wound up reaching a $7.5 million settlement with Jacobs and his lawyer, Clayton Halunen, though one of many firm’s prime attorneys thought of Jacobs’ letter to be little greater than blackmail.
Waymo is concentrated on a bit of the letter alleging that Uber’s espionage unit sought to steal its commerce secrets and techniques. However Jacobs testified final month that the lawyer who wrote the letter was mistaken about that allegation. Jacobs mentioned he missed the error as a result of he solely spent about 20 minutes reviewing the letter earlier than it was despatched to Uber in early Could.
Waymo additionally asserts that Uber improperly hid Jacobs’ letter in the course of the evidence-gathering section of a trial that was supposed to begin Dec. four. (It has been rescheduled for Feb. 5.) A particular grasp appointed by Alsup concluded that Uber ought to have turned Jacobs’ letter over to Waymo to assist put together for the trial, in keeping with a report he filed Friday.
Though Uber has tried to publicly depict Jacobs as a disgruntled former worker who didn’t do his job, inside emails from Uber executives conceded a few of his claims had benefit.
As an illustration, Jacobs alleged that Uber’s espionage workforce spied on the executives of its abroad rivals. Tony West, who grew to become Uber’s chief authorized officer final month, lately despatched an e mail to Uber’s safety workforce condemning a surveillance program that he mentioned had been stopped.
“There isn’t a place for such practices or that type of conduct at Uber,” West wrote within the Nov. 29 e mail obtained by The Related Press. “We don’t must be following people round so as to acquire some aggressive benefit. We’re higher than that. We are going to compete and we are going to win as a result of our know-how is healthier, our concepts are higher, and our individuals are higher.”
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