Things are not looking good for Uber, at all. The so-called “Jacobs letter” has revealed a lot about what Uber has been doing secretively. Previously, details emerged about a secret unit inside the company that was dedicated to stealing trade secrets, surveillance competitors, dodging government regulators, and using self-destructing messages. These accusations were brought against the company by former member of Uber’s security team, Ric Jacobs. In his 37-page letter, it detailed all of Uber’s shady behavior.
This letter has become a center point for the latest twist in the high-profile case between Alphabet and Uber and the future of self-driving cars. Uber has had a completely disastrous year where it suffered from many’s elf-inflicting scandals that may bring some serious criminal penalties to senior leadership.
The letter details the multiple unlawful actions by the company. He also alleges that Uber’s secretive Strategic Services Group (SSG) “frequently engaged in fraud and theft, and employed third-party vendors to obtain unauthorized data or information.” He also brings accusations towards Uber’s security offers of “hacking” and “destruction of evidence related to eavesdropping against opposition groups.” To top it all off, he says that ex-CEO Travis Kalanick knew a lot about what was going on in terms of this behavior in the company.
Uber employee Nicolas Gicinto, along with SSD, conducted “virtual operations impersonating protesters, Uber partner-drivers, and taxi operators.” Jacobs adds that these Uber security employees went to incredible lengths to high their surveillance activities from authorities. The computer they used were not purchased by Uber that ran on Mi-Fi devices, so these activities would not appear on Uber’s network. Jacobs also alleges that they used virtual public networks and “non-attributable architecture of contracted Amazon Web Service” to further hide their activities. So who exactly were they surveillance? Jacobs says that SSD’s targets included “politicians, regulators, law enforcement, taxi organizations, and labor unions in, at a minimum, the US.”
Aside from the SSG inside Uber, there was also another team called Marketplace Analytics. Jacobs says that this team was responsible for “acquiring trade secrets, codebase, and competitive intelligence… from major ridesharing competitors globally.” Jacobs alleges that Marketplace Analytics team impersonated riders and drivers on competitors platforms, conducted unlawful wiretapping, and also hacked into competitor networks.
Here’s something even more interesting. Jacobs says that Uber’s surveillance team infiltrated a private event at a hotel and spied on executives of a rival company so that they could, in real time, see the reactions of the news that Uber received a massive $3.5 billion investment from Saudi Arabia. Jacobs says that this activity occurred under ex-Uber security chief Joe Sullivan and ex-CEO Travis Kalanick knew about all of this.
For Jacobs’ part, he was fired by Uber in April. The company has called him an “extortionist,” referencing the $4.5 million settlement he received over his claims of Uber’s secrecy measures. US District Court Judge William Alsup, who is overseeing the Waymo vs. Uber case, said those claims were “BS.” After the emergence of the letter, Alsup delayed the jury trial for a second time.
Uber has reportedly been spying, collecting, and storing data from competitors for years. They collect information on their routes, technology, drivers, and executives. According to Gizmodo, Uber collected all of this data using automated collection system that were running non-stop, collecting millions of records, and even conducted physical surveillance from time to time. A source recently said that Uber put a stop to all of the automated scraping, but only paused the scraping of competitors using public APIs.
“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,” a Uber spokesperson said after the letter was filed in court. Lawyers that represent Uber security officials say that this letter is “character assassination.”
Uber is already under investigation from US Department of Justice, which was confirmed earlier this week. Uber is alleged to have stolen Alphabet’s trade secrets. Things aren’t very good for Uber right now. The company has had a really rough 2017 and going into 2018, it seems like things are about to only get worse. The jury trial is set to begin in February now after being delayed twice.