Uber reportedly uses a 'secret tool' to hide data from police

Darnell Taylor
January 12, 2018

A Bloomberg report claims that Uber had a system it used to disrupt government investigations. Greyball allowed Uber to block law enforcement officers from using the app, preventing them from seeing which cars were available and enforcing any city-wide bans. Here's how Ripley started: After Belgian and French police raids discovered sensitive information on open computers, Sally Yoo, "then Uber's general counsel, directed her staff to install a standard encryption service and log off computers after 60 seconds of inactivity".

It says the system was used in May 2015 when 10 investigators for the Quebec tax authority burst into Uber Technologies Inc's office in Montreal.

Dubbed Ripley for Sigourney Weaver's character in the Alien movies, the program was regularly activated by the team at Uber's headquarters between early 2015 and late 2016. In practice, it meant the company could effectively prevent law enforcement from gathering information relevant to an investigation.

Uber said that it doesn't destroy evidence and it has let government officials walk out the door with company laptops before - it all depends if the data the authorities want is covered by legal privilege, such as correspondence between Uber and a lawyer.

Once the call is received, the personnel in San Francisco remotely log off every computer in a given office, which Bloomberg says was the case in the Montreal incident.

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Called Ripley, the system allowed a remote team to lock, shut off, and change passwords on devices the company feared would be targeted by investigators in foreign countries. Uber built a whole system and gave it a swaggering name.

A year ago the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced it is probing to see if Uber used software to illegally interfere with its competitors, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In order to address these types of situations, the ride-hailing company uses software to protect its data, which is commonplace among companies that operate internationally.

(Khosrowshahi reportedly fired Sullivan after he learned that the security chief had spearheaded the effort to pay off hackers responsible for the massive 2016 data breach.) "Like every company with offices around the world, we have security procedures in place to protect corporate and customer data", Uber said in a statement to Bloomberg. The company also said its policy is to cooperate with all valid searches and requests for data. It's happened in Paris, Hong Kong, Montreal and other countries. The report does not claim that Uber used the system for any U.S. offices.

Uber has drawn scrutiny in the past for designing software to evade authorities. They don't want random visitors to be able to access their sensitive files.

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