Uber hacked and monitored rivals, claims ex-manager in a letter

A 37-page letter delivered in May, Uber management with the allegations was made public Friday.


In June 2016, Uber Technologies Inc. contractors trained by the Central Intelligence Agency allegedly saw on other firms, executives, and sent live video to then-Chief Executive Travis Kalanick in the company “War Room.”

That summer, an Uber contractor allegedly started with the use of hacked phones and “signal intercept equipment” to gather data about the telephone calls between Uber opponents, politicians and regulators.

And a few months later, Uber employees allegedly hacked into a rival’s systems and collected “to the license, the name and contact information of all drivers—with information allegedly supplied directly to Mr. Kalanick.

These accusations are some of the claims made by a former Uber official in a 37-page letter delivered in May to the management, that the paint of the ride-hailing firm as a paranoid company with a sophisticated intelligence device designed to get a head start on competitors and trick regulators.

The letter, written by the former attorney of Richard Jacobs, a former manager of global intelligence, was Friday in a legal dispute between Uber and Alphabet, Inc.’s driverless car-unit, Waymo. The letter of the existence of surfaced days before the scheduled start of the trial, and the parts were read aloud during a hearing last month.

Known as the Jacobs Letter, the document claims Uber employees and contractors, monitored, other companies executives, and foreign officials; cracked competitors systems of the elevator trade secrets; mock protesters and taxis to undermine protests against Uber; and tapped into a database of 35,000 taxi driver records for recruiting new drivers.

An Uber spokesperson said in an email: “Although we have not substantiated all the claims in this letter—and, more importantly, what in connection with Waymo—our new leadership has made it clear that the future we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology.”

A spokesman for Kalanick did not respond to a request for comment.Uber last month confirmed the safety of the team epidemiosurveillance rival leaders and said that it ordered the team to stop, if it’s not already there. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who was adopted in August after months of scandals, wrote to staff last month that there is “more than enough [in the letter] to merit serious concern.”

Lawyers for Jacobs did not respond to requests for comment.It is usual for companies to keep track of its competitors and to gather intelligence on competing products. But Jacobs claims Uber went much further than the typical corporate intelligence gathering by the use of the secret, military tactics and who are involved in criminal activities.

“Uber has engaged, and continues to be involved in the illegal gathering of intelligence on a global scale. This conduct violates several laws,” claims the letter, which is aimed at Jacobs’s employment in Uber from the beginning of 2016 until last April.

Uber competitive intelligence team often imitated riders and drivers on rivals’ ride-hailing apps, and hacked into their systems to understand how their apps worked, identifying security gaps and obtain data on drivers to recruit, Jacobs claims.

Some employees also allegedly did taxi drivers and other opponents of the company to infiltrate and monitor their own Facebook groups and group chats on the WhatsApp messaging app. The practice was so common, a roadmap for such an infiltrate of closed social media groups was allegedly posted on an internal Uber-network.

Uber also allegedly used human intelligence, including of moles in rival companies, which in the Uber team called “virtual walk-ins.” The letter claimed that as of May, Uber still benefited from at least one source with access to managers at a rival.

Jacobs claimed Uber used these data to its valuation with investors, although it is not clear how he would know that. Large parts of the letter have been redacted, including the names of competitors or officials, Uber allegedly targeted. Uber was valued by investors at $68 billion last year.

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