Uber’s Top Lawyer Tells Staff to Stop Spying on People

(The Mercury News/TNS) -

Revelations that Uber conducted secret surveillance against competitors prompted the ride-hailing company’s top lawyer to issue a cease-and-desist order to security staff, according to a new report.

“To the extent anyone is working on any kind of competitive intelligence project that involves the surveillance of individuals, stop it now,” Uber’s chief legal officer Tony West said in a message to his “security colleagues,” the report said.

“We don’t need to be following folks around in order to gain some competitive advantage. We’re better than that.”

West’s message was prompted by a letter introduced during a theft-of-trade-secrets lawsuit against Uber by Google self-driving-car spinoff Waymo.

The letter, written by lawyers on behalf of former Uber security team member Richard Jacobs, said a special unit in Uber “collected intelligence and conducted unauthorized surveillance, including unauthorized recording of private conversations against executives from competitor firms, such as DiDi Chuxing and against its own employees and contractors at the Autonomous Technologies Group in Pittsburgh.”

West said in his Nov. 29 memo to security colleagues that he believes that “this behavior no longer occurs at Uber” and that it was “truly is a remnant of the past,” according to the Recode report Nov. 30.

The tech website reported that Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi shared West’s memo with the rest of the Uber staff, and also addressed claims put forward in the Waymo suit, and recent news that Uber suffered a huge hack of user and driver data but hid it from the public for more than a year and paid the hackers to destroy the data. The suit also revealed use by Uber of software that made communications disappear after a specific period of time.

“The last 10 days have reminded us that things happened in the past that never should have occurred,” Khosrowshahi wrote.

“The news that we failed to disclose a significant data breach, and that we showed poor judgment in our approach to competitors and our use of ephemeral communication for business purposes, has hurt the company just when we are beginning to turn the page.”

Waymo alleges in the suit that a former executive in its self-driving-car program, Anthony Levandowski, stole trade secrets and brought them to Uber. Uber denies it has used any Waymo technology.