“Please hit the kill switch ASAP,” former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick emailed. It was during a raid of the rideshare giant’s European headquarters in 2015.
The message is just one of thousands included in a leaked trove of records known as the “Uber Files.” These previously undisclosed documents reveal the strategies and technology Uber implemented to prevent an investigation of their computer systems and deceive authorities across the globe.
What are the “Uber Files”?
The “Uber Files” are a set of data turned over to the Guardian by Mark MacGann, a former top lobbyist for Uber. The files contain more than 124,000 documents. They span from 2013-2017, including emails, texts, and other communications between Uber employees, management, and executives.
What do the Uber Files reveal?
The 2015 raid was one of many government visits to the Uber offices in Europe. Regulators in Amsterdam were trying to investigate the company’s business practices.
In Europe and elsewhere abroad, Uber was contending with the strict regulation of taxis and commercial passenger transportation. These documents reveal that Uber went to great lengths to circumvent local law, obstruct official investigations, and stymy regulators.
In order to achieve those ends, Uber took part in a host of unethical behavior, including:
- Using technology, including “kill switches,” to hamstring government investigation of their computers
- Blatantly disregarding the laws and regulations abroad
- Training employees on how to sabotage raids by regulators
- Lobbying world leaders for favorable treatment
- Exploiting violence against Uber drivers
The “kill switch” and other sabotage technology
The details contained in the Uber Files sound like a spy novel. Uber developed a series of systems and technologies to help them evade government regulation, with code names like:
- “Heaven View”
- “Dawn Raid Manual”
- “Kill Switch”
Authorities investigating Uber had begun to use the app in order to hail rides and thus prove that Uber was operating in violation of the law. To combat this, Uber designed the “Greyball” software. Employees would set up virtual boundaries – “geofences” – around particular areas, like police stations and government buildings, where they assumed there would be a high concentration of authorities attempting to hail rides.
Within these boundaries, Greyball would present a “fake view” of the Uber app, falsely indicating that no rides were available. What’s more is that employees could use the “Heaven” system to actually monitor and track trips in real time if they were suspicious of a particular area’s riders.
The “Dawn Raid Manual” was a formal set of instructions issued to employees outlining how they should respond when regulators came knocking, including guidelines like “Move the Regulators into a meeting room that does not contain any files.”
These stalling tactics gave Uber management the time to implement their kill switches, which would effectively remove a computer’s access to Uber’s internal network files. Regulators would arrive at Uber’s offices only to watch as all of the computers simultaneously went black or restarted. The documents revealed that Uber even used its kill switch to remotely cut access to laptops and hardware that already been seized by the government.
Uber at home
Uber’s current executives claim that the company has changed its ways under the leadership of Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over as CEO in 2017. Only time will tell.
In the U.S., Uber and other ridesharing apps have become massively popular, and we do not share the same regulations as Europe regarding taxis and commercial passenger transport.
However, that doesn’t mean that the company isn’t a source of controversy domestically. Issues arise primarily due to the fact that it labels its drivers as independent contractors, therefore making them ineligible for employee benefits, among other legal consequences.
If you have been injured as a result of an Uber driver’s negligence or were in an accident while using a rideshare app, call the personal injury attorneys at Allen & Allen at 866-388-1307. Our attorneys are experienced in issues related to rideshare liability, and consultations are always free.