Uber's secretive software tool for evading local authorities in cities where the service isn't yet legal has reportedly attracted the attention of federal law enforcement authorities.
The US Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into Uber's Greyball tool, Reuters reported Thursday. The tool helped Uber thwart efforts by local authorities to catch the ride-hailing company violating local regulations.
Uber, which made its name by pairing passengers with drivers via an app, has a long history of pushing the bounds of the law. The company, now in 400 cities in more than 70 countries, often launched products and features before getting the required permits. That's when it seems to get itself in trouble, observers say.
In cities where Uber isn't legal, authorities sometimes put together sting operations in which they hire Ubers and then ticket drivers and impound cars. As part of the operations, police often make continuous attempts to hail Uber cars, which is how Greyball targeted them.
By collecting in-app data to identify and target certain individuals, like law enforcement officers, Uber's app could show that no cars were available or show a mock-up of the app with fake Uber cars.
Greyball, which was earlier reported on by The New York Times, also identifies unwanted users by checking credit card information, social media profiles and other online information. Uber acknowledged in March it had used the tool since 2004 and promised to stop using the tool to evade local authorities.
Representatives for Uber and the Justice Department didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
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