Uber using secret 'Greyball' feature to dodge law enforcement authorities worldwide

Uber has drawn enough flak for dodging laws governing the taxis and illegally spying on its users.

Taiwan Investment Commission all set to order Uber to exit market
Uber using secret ‘Greyball’ feature to dodge law enforcement authorities worldwide Reuters

Uber has long been evading law enforcement authorities while operating its illegal low-cost service called 'UberX', in several cities and countries globally. A fresh report from New York Times clearly explains how Uber is secretly employing the 'Greyball' feature to sneak under the radar of local law enforcement officers who are keen to get the taxi service banned.

The Greyball feature enables Uber employees to secretly evade enforcement officials and regulatory authorities by identifying them remotely. Thereby, it prevents them from collecting evidence that the service is breaking local laws governing the taxis by posing as riders.

The taxi company has been accused of employing a program called VTOS (violation of terms of service) that remotely monitors data collected from the Uber app, besides incorporating geofencing around the government offices to track down law enforcement officers.

After identifying the targeted user, the Greyball feature will determine if he/she is a genuine customer or a government official posing as a rider. If it is the latter, the user will be hijacked with a fake version of the app that says there are no cars available or some ghost cars appear randomly to evade the sting operation.

Check out the Greyball feature in its full glory in the action video below, wherein Erich England (law enforcement officer) from Portland (Ore) tried to bust the illegal taxi service as part of his sting operation in late 2014.

The feature was originally meant to protect the service from rival taxi companies and workers who were isolating and attacking new Uber drivers plying in their native city or country.

The problems using this feature magnified when Uber launched its budget service called 'UberX' in new markets where summoning the service of non-commercial drivers with private vehicles was unregulated.

Uber was earlier criticised for letting its employees abuse the company's God View feature to spy on movements of "high-profile politicians, celebrities and even personal acquaintances of Uber employees, including ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, and ex-spouses".

The God View allowed them to monitor and blacklist users who flagged their drivers or cars in a particular city or town, besides tracking down individual users and their profile in God View.

Here's what Uber told Buzzfeed regarding the Greyball feature: "This program denies ride requests to users who are violating our terms of service — 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."

[Source: New York Times]