By Olivia Zaleski
Olivia Zaleski is a writer at Bloomberg.
A salacious letter alleging questionable and deceptive business practices by Uber Technologies Inc. was released to the public Friday as part of Alphabet Inc.’s lawsuit over trade-secret theft. The letter, written by an attorney representing former Uber security employee Richard Jacobs, said the ride-hailing company spied on rivals, bribed officials and used encrypted messaging software to hide its tracks.
Jacobs has since retreated on some claims in the letter. He said in court last month that his lawyer drafted the document and that he couldn’t stand by certain allegations, including ones pertaining to the theft of Alphabet’s self-driving car information at Waymo, which are at the center of the case. Uber paid Jacobs $4.5 million to work as a consultant following the company’s receipt of the letter and gave his lawyer $3 million. The company later derided Jacobs as an “extortionist” who made “fantastical” claims for money.
Uber wrote in an emailed statement Friday: “While we haven’t substantiated all the claims in this letter—and, importantly, any related to Waymo—our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology.”
While Jacobs’s credibility has been called into question, Uber has acknowledged that at least one of the main allegations in the letter is true. Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi said last month that encrypted messaging apps were “used often” and that he instructed employees in late September to stop using them to discuss business. Here are four other explosive accusations made by Jacobs:
1. Spying on politicians, regulators and taxi union official
Jacobs said he objected last year to Uber targeting politicians, regulators and taxi union officials for “mobile phone collections.” Jacobs said colleagues gleaned call logs and other information from officials. The letter also said Uber impersonated people to infiltrate private groups.
Jacobs said he heard about the practice of bribing foreign officials. He said he was aware of Uber paying foreign firms to purchase information about powerful people in government, according to the letter. Possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act are the subject of a criminal inquiry by the U.S. Justice Department.
3. Secret recording equipment in meetings
In June 2016, Uber surveillance teams went into hotel and conference spaces before they were occupied by another company’s executives to plant recording equipment, the letter said. The name of the company is redacted, but the operation allowed Uber executives to eavesdrop on the targets, and take photos and video footage, the letter said. He also said a colleague told him he “had a bug in a meeting with transport regulators.”
4. Scraping competitor data
Jacobs alleged that a group at Uber known as Market Analytics was “designed to steal competitor data.” Jacobs said Uber created a system that impersonated riders to gather information about geographic locations, responsiveness and prices of its competitors. Jacobs said Uber used the information to adjust prices, recruit competitors to Uber’s platform and slow rivals’ operations. The Justice Department is probing one such program, called Hell, which targeted Lyft. Another one, called SurfCam, was used in Southeast Asia, Bloomberg reported in October.
Featured Image Credits: Pexels
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