Uber is facing an FBI probe for potentially using software to illegally interfere with its competitors. Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi had only just started on the job when he had to deal with yet another federal probe looking into the legality of the company’s practices prior to his watch.
According to USA Today, the FBI is reportedly probing whether Uber used an internal programme to interfere with rival ride-hailing company Lyft, according to The Wall Street Journal. The investigation is focused on a programme called Hell, which tracked Lyft drivers in order to entice them to Uber’s platform.
The programme was used by Uber to see how much drivers charged passengers, and provided data on drivers who worked at both companies to potentially target them with cash incentives to quit Lyft, the report says. Uber could not be immediately reached for comment.
An April article by The Information that first revealed the existence of Hell was followed by a class action lawsuit by Lyft drivers that alleged invasion of privacy and interception of electronic information. Uber countered that the data was available to the general public and did not cause injury or financial harm. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in late August.
While Uber has surged to a valuation of nearly $70 billion, its methods for speeding to the front of the ride-hailing pack have been questioned. In March, details surfaced of an internal programme called ‘Greyball’, which allowed Uber to avoid local law enforcement.
Some of the other issues roiling Uber include a lawsuit from an Indian rape victim who says her medical records were illicitly obtained and shared by top Uber management, including CEO Kalanick, apparently because they suspected a ride-hailing rival of fabricating the charges. Uber also is grappling with a lawsuit from self-driving car rival Waymo, an arm of Google, which maintains that Uber is using stolen trade secrets to power its LiDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors. Uber bought self-driving truck company Otto last summer; its CEO, Anthony Levandowski, used to work at Google and before quitting took 14,000 files of proprietary information. A trial is pending.
CEO Khosrowshahi is facing a series of other challenges in taking over Uber, not least of which will be reversing the recent decision made by TfL to refuse to relicense Uber London Limited. He will also have to tackle shoring up the company's business model and trimming expenses (Uber’s valuation is said to have dropped by at least 20 per cent in recent months), improving company culture (former engineer Susan Fowler described a highly toxic and sexist work environment during her year at Uber), and bringing more transparency to the company’s tactics (Uber had developed a reputation for acting first and asking for permission later).