US probe finds Uber guilty of using software to evade government officials

Lucy White
Portland has concluded its investigation without fining Uber (Source: Getty)

An investigation by the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has found ride sharing company Uber guilty of using software to avoid government officials.

The report concluded that when Uber “illegally entered the Portland market” in 2014, before it had received a permit to operate in the city, it used its Greyball software to “intentionally deceive PBOT's officers”.

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Uber has not been penalised over the findings, but the report did confirm that PBOT was cooperating with a federal inquiry from the Northern District of California which may carry criminal penalties.

“As regulators, it is our job to ensure these companies [like Uber] play by the rules, keep passengers safe, and act ethically,” said Portland city commissioner Dan Saltzman.

“Moving forward, we have ensured that no attempts to evade regulators or deny service to riders in violation of city code or law will be allowed in the future.”

Portland's investigation was prompted by a New York Timers report that Uber had been using Greyball to avoid officials in areas where it had not yet been approved, in cities such as Portland, Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, and countries such as Australia, China, Italy and South Korea.

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The software allowed Uber to tag individual accounts, so that the user would not see any rides available. This feature was initially designed to target users who had violated Uber's terms of use.

But PBOT found Greyball had been applied to 17 accounts in the city, 16 of which belonged to government officials.

“In using Greyball, Uber has sullied its own reputation and cast a cloud over the TNC [transport network company] industry generally,” the report stated.

Portland's investigation also looked at whether Uber's rival Lyft had used similar tactics, but found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Uber is currently on a slow journey to improving its corporate reputation, following several scandals in recent months.

Chief executive Travis Kalanick stepped down in June after allegations surfaced of sexual assault at the firm, and US authorities are investigating Uber for spying on its rival Lyft.

Read more: A reminder of the very long to-do list of Uber's new boss Dara Khosrowshahi

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