Uber hacked and surveilled rivals, alleges ex-manager in letter

Andrew Cummings
December 16, 2017

Waymo sued Uber in February for allegedly stealing its self-driving auto technology, but a federal court judge put the trial on hold last month after learning about the existence of a May 5 letter penned by Mr. Jacobs' attorneys as part of a settlement they successfully pursued following his firing weeks earlier.

The federal judge William Alsup, who is overseeing the trade secrets case, was only alerted to the existence of the explosive demand letter by federal prosecutors on 22 November in a separate letter in which they confirmed that there was an open criminal investigation into Uber.

"Mr. Jacobs' correspondence alleged systemic, institutionalized, and criminal efforts by Uber to hide evidence and steal trade secrets, not just as a general matter but also specifically involving the evidence and trade secrets at issue in this case - maybe the largest and most significant lawsuit Uber has ever faced", Cooper wrote.

The letter was written by a lawyer for a Richard Jacobs, a former manager of global intelligence at the firm. "The agents took rides in local taxis, loitered around locations where taxi drivers congregated, and leveraged a local network of contacts with connections to police and regulatory authorities", the letter claims.

The allegations, only some of which have been substantiated by an internal investigation at the company, are the latest example of Uber pushing ethical boundaries and contravening regulations to advance its business.

"These facts corroborate Google's legal theory in pending litigation that Otto was simply a shell company whose sole objective was to dissemble Uber's conspiracy to steal Waymo's intellectual property", the letter adds.

Although most of Jacobs' most damaging allegations were aired in court hearings held two weeks ago, the letter's release sheds more light on the no-holds-barred culture that former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick encouraged.

In court last month, Judge Alsup chastised Uber's legal team, accusing them of withholding evidence.

Jacobs claimed Uber used such data to increase its valuation with investors, though it is unclear how he would know that. Jacobs, whom Uber said was caught downloading confidential files on the day he quit, portrayed himself to Uber as a whistle-blower, other Uber employees testified.

The case was set to go to trial earlier this month but was delayed until February because of the revelation of the Jacobs letter.

In a November 29 email to employees regarding Jacobs' accusations of human surveillance, Uber GC Tony West wrote, "there is no place for such practices or that kind of behavior at Uber".

"These tactics were employed clandestinely through a distributed architecture of anonymous servers, telecommunications architecture, and non-attributable hardware and software", the letter read.

The letter was originally sent to Uber in-house attorney Angela Padilla in May this year.

Sullivan said in a statement on Friday his team "acted ethically" and an attorney for Clark said has he "acted appropriately at all times". Judge Alsup disagreed with this characterization, harshly criticizing the Uber legal team for not disclosing the letter in the first place.

Uber operatives also impersonated taxi drivers, Jacobs said, to infiltrate private Facebook groups and WhatsApp groups of opponents.

Rather than go to court over his claims, Uber ended up paying Jacobs $4.5 million, and his lawyer, Clayton Halunen, $3 million.

The reports of these secret-spying technology is just one of many debacles and missteps for Uber in the past year.

Matthew Umhofer, an attorney representing several other Uber security team members fingered in the letter, derided the document as "nothing more than a character assassination for cash".

Other reports by iNewsToday