With his win-at-any-cost mentality, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick this time went a tad too far by fooling Apple for months and now he has been caught. Kalanick had been reportedly manipulating Apple engineers without their knowledge for his benefit. To save his own company from frauds, Kalanick pulled a trick with Apple and geofenced the headquarter of the company in order to blind its engineers from pointing out the cheat codes that Uber was using in its apps, which is against Apple's privacy rules.
As reported by New York Times (NYT), the entire episode goes back to 2014's China, where Uber drivers were buying stolen iPhones, which were being erased and resold. Some fraud Uber drivers then created fake email accounts and signed up for new Uber rider accounts attached to each phone. They then requested Uber rides to themselves from those phones and accepted it in order to increase their ride numbers so that they can get the incentives the company was offering for more rides.
Uber had to stop getting fooled like this. So, Uber engineers incorporated a fingerprinting code into the iPhones, which helped them identify it and it kept them from being fooled by the Chinese tricksters. The only problem was, fingerprinting an iPhone was against Apple's privacy rules, as Tim Cook wanted to ensure that after wiping off all data from an iPhone, any data of the previous users should not remain in the device, said NYT.
So, to avoid getting caught by Cook's company, Travis Kalanick ordered his engineers to "geofence" the headquarter of Apple in Cupertine, Calif. Geofencing practically helped Uber engineers to digitally identify the Apple employees who were reviewing Uber app on iPhones and they manipulated the code in such a way that the Apple engineers in the headquarter could not see the fingerprinting capability of the app.
However, Apple engineers outside the headquarter noticed this and reported it to the Apple boss, which prompted a quite-heated meeting between Travis Kalanick and Timothy D. Cook. This means a loss of millions of iPhone users as Uber riders and essentially the end of Uber, according to the publication.
Although Travis agreed with Tim Cook and later on, Uber released a statement saying this kind of tracking is a common practice in the industry and they certainly do track users' locations once the users delete the app.
"We absolutely do not track individual users or their location if they've deleted the app. As the New York Times story notes towards the very end, this is a typical way to prevent fraudsters from loading Uber onto a stolen phone, putting in a stolen credit card, taking an expensive ride and then wiping the phone—over and over again. Similar techniques are also used for detecting and blocking suspicious logins to protect our users' accounts. Being able to recognize known bad actors when they try to get back onto our network is an important security measure for both Uber and our users," read the statement.
Meanwhile, Uber told TechChrunch that it still uses a form of fingerprinting to detects frauds but now it has been modified to comply Apple's guidelines.