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When companies invent new ways to destroy themselves

Bill Coffin | May 8, 2017

In early May, the Department of Justice launched a formal criminal investigation into the ridesharing service Uber for its use of a piece of software it designed called “Grayball.” The software was built for the purpose of showing certain users of the Uber app a different experience than other users. It sounds innocuous, in that “they must have a reason for wanting to do that” kind of way, like if maybe they needed such a thing for certain kinds of market research.

But Uber’s reason for using Grayball was no so innocent, alas. The company developed the software—which it says it only ever used sparingly, and has basically shelved since 2015—to thwart regulators who were trying to prove that Uber was operating in cities where it was either banned or not yet improved. The regulators, posing as regular riders, would try to hail Uber to gain evidence on Uber’s illegal operation. Grayball identified those users first and blocked drivers from giving them rides. It’s an ingenious... To get the full story, subscribe now.