A letter written on behalf of a former Uber employee contains allegations that the transportation company illegally hacked and surveilled its competitors.
The letter was reportedly submitted by the US Department of Justice to a judge presiding over a legal battle between Uber and Waymo, an autonomous vehicle company owned by Alphabet (Google's parent company), which claims Uber conspired to steal and use its self-driving technology trade secrets. The letter, which prompted Judge William Alsup to delay the case, was subsequently made public last Friday in a court filing, although some information has been redacted.
The letter was written by an attorney on behalf of a Richard Jacobs, Uber's manager of global intelligence from March 2016 through February 2017, who had sued the company for unlawful termination. The document alleges that Jacobs “was aware of many instances where computer hacking tactics were deployed to obtain trade secrets and to infiltrate closed social media groups.”
Jacobs alleges in the letter that Uber accessed an unnamed competitor's protected computer database containing driver employee information, for the purpose of luring these drivers to Uber instead. Such an act violates the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the document asserts. In a second example, the letter alleges that Uber used SIM cards to hack into an unnamed company “to learn how [redacted] system operated, steal ideas, exploit any identifiable weaknesses and identify drivers in order to recruit them to Uber.”
Additionally, the letter contains allegations of unlawful phone surveillance, noting that the company's Strategic Service Group had gained the technical capability through a business operative to collect mobile phone metadata on opposition figures, politicians and government regulators. This was accomplished, the letter states, “either directly through signal-intercept equipment, hacked mobile devices, or through the mobile network itself.”
In a pre-trial hearing for the Waymo case, Jacobs reportedly backpedaled on the letter's claims that Uber stole trade secrets from Waymo, testifying that his attorney was mistaken in that specific regard.
According to various reports, Uber said in a statement: “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.”
Uber, which has been plagued by a series of business scandals, including a concealed data breach impacting 57 million customers and drivers, removed CEO Travis Kalanick earlier this year and replaced him with Dara Khosrowshahi.