Things for Uber Technologies just keeping getting worse. The latest negative revelations accuse the global transportation technology company of fraud, theft, espionage, and more.
A 37-page letter, unsealed Dec. 15, describes in damning detail a laundry list of illegal activities that Richard Jacobs, Uber’s former manager of global intelligence, claims he observed at Uber, or believed was occurring, from March 2016 through his firing in April 2017. The letter, dated May 5, was written by Jacobs’ lawyer, Clayton Halunen, and addressed to Angela Padilla, Uber’s associate general counsel of litigation and employment.
The letter claims that Jacobs was fired “for raising objections to and refusing to participate in unlawful activity.”
Specifically, those unlawful activities allegedly were perpetrated by Uber’s Threat Operations (ThreatOps) group, which “frequently engaged in fraud and theft, and employed third-party vendors to obtain unauthorized data or information,” Halunen wrote.
Among the accusations mentioned:
Uber violated trade secret laws through driver and customer impersonation to steal competitor trade secrets;
Uber knowingly impersonated actual people over the Internet to keep tabs on competitors and opposition groups by accessing and monitoring closed social media groups in order to fraudulently steal business and gain a competive advantage;
Uber executives coordinated multiple surveillance and collections o pe rat ions against competitors, including through video and photographsduring private events; and that
Uber improperly recorded a phone call following allegations of sexual harassment by a former Uber employee by failing to tell participants that the call was being recorded, in violation of California law.
The letter further accuses Uber of going to great lengths to hide the misconduct. Specifically, Uber continues to violate the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the letter stated, given that Uber executives “implemented a sophisticated strategy to destroy, conceal, cover up, and falsify records or documents with the intent to impede or obstruct government investigations, as well as discovery obligations in pending and future litigation.”
Moreover, Uber’'s ThreatOps group communicated via encrypted messaging services like Wickr that deletes messages soon after they are sent. Group members were instructed to conceal documents by attempting to "shroud" them with attorney-clent privilege or work product protections.”
The ThreatOps team that if they marked communications as "draft," asked for a legal opinion at the beginning of an email, and simply wrote "attorney-client privilege" on documents, they would be immune from discovery, the letter claimed.
Following revelation of the letter in court, Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, acknowledged in a tweet that employees often used Wickr at Uber when he arrived. “As of Sept 27th, I directed my teams NOT to use such Apps when discussing Uber-related business,” he tweeted.
In an internal memo, Uber’s new general counsel Tony West told Uber employees, “My understanding is that this behavior no longer occurs at Uber, that this truly is a remnant of the past. And I have not learned anything in the last couple of days that suggests otherwise. But, to be crystal clear, to the extent anyone is working on any kind of competitive intelligence project that involves the surveillance of individuals, stop it now.
“Let me also add that I’ve not learned of anything regarding the surveillance practices that would be considered illegal,” West added in the letter. “However, as you will hear me say many times, the question for us is not just whether something is legal; we must also ask ourselves whether it’s the right thing to do.”
The letter came to light as part of the lawsuit that autonomous-car development company Waymo—a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet—filed against Uber in February, charging Uber with stealing trade secrets. Most of the activities described in the letter allegedly took place while Travis Kalanick was still Uber’s CEO.