Why The Internet Is Freaking Out About Uber's Secret "Greyball" Program

Photo: Courtesy of Uber.
If you thought things couldn't get any worse for Uber — surprise! — they just did. The New York Times has released a breaking report about a confidential tool known as Greyball, which it says Uber used to trick authorities in places where the app was banned or faced resistance. These cities include Boston and Paris, among others.
According to the Times, Greyball may be just one part of the deceptive tactics that were used under VTOS or "violation of terms of service." VTOS was "created to root out the people [Uber] thought were using or targeting its service improperly," The New York Times reports. Those who were "Greyballed"' would still be able to request a car and see the vehicles on the map, but once they booked, their drivers would cancel the trip.
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In a statement provided via email, an Uber spokesperson told Refinery29 the following:
"This program denies ride requests to fraudulent users who are violating our terms of service—whether that’s people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret ‘stings’ meant to entrap drivers.”
This is not the first time Uber has gone up against city regulations — it got into trouble last year for putting self-driving cars on the road in California — but it is the largest, most widespread example of a coordinated program of evasionary tactics that has come to light thus far.
Still, some say that the existence of Greyball isn't particularly unexpected. "Uber is an incredibly disruptive cyber technology, so it's not surprising that it also skirts the boundaries of legality," Kenneth Geers, a senior research at Comodo and ambassador to the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, told us. "With a valuation of $70 billion, Uber can afford to take such chances."
Nevertheless, 2017 is already off to a rocky start for Uber in terms of public perception. The company has dealt with a viral hashtag urging users to delete the app, an ongoing sexual harassment allegation, and, earlier this week, a video of CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with a driver.
We will update this story as new details emerge.
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