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Explosive claims of illegal spying and hacking rock the Uber vs. Waymo trial

Mark Austin
uber

Worawee Meepian

The newest twist in the Uber vs. Waymo trial over allegedly stolen self-driving technology sounds like something out of a Tom Clancy novel. A letter from a former Uber employee has been made public for the first time, claiming that some of the practices that Uber engaged in included covert hacking, illegal surveillance, and bribery of foreign officials.

Known as the “Jacobs letter,” it was written by former Uber security team member Richard Jacobs and sent to Uber executives last May. The trial was delayed in November when this new document came to light, after it was forwarded to Judge William Alsup by a US attorney also investigating Uber for a different matter. The judge blasted Uber’s lawyers in court, and questioned whether they had something to hide.

Although several of these allegations have been previously raised in the trial, the full document was released last week. Many details are redacted, but you can read the full 37-page document here.

“While we haven’t substantiated all the claims in this letter — and, importantly, any related to Waymo — our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology,” said an Uber spokesman in a statement, according to Buzzfeed.

The letter claims that Uber “fraudulently impersonates riders and drivers on competitor platforms, hacks into competitor networks, and conducts unlawful wiretapping.” They used these tactics to evaluate vulnerabilities in their competitors’ security, using anonymous servers to “make millions of data calls against competitor and government servers without causing a signature that would alert competitors to the theft.”

The letter goes on to implicate former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, and details some of the procedures used to illegally wiretap meeting of their competitors’ executives. “In at least one instance, the LAT operatives deployed against these targets were able to record and observe private conversations among the executives including their real time reactions to a press story that Uber would receive $3.4 billion dollars in funding from the Saudi government. Importantly, these collection tactics were tasked directly by Sullivan on behalf of Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick. Upon information and belief, these two Uber executives, along with other members of Uber’s executive team, received live intelligence updates (including photographs and video) from Gicinto while they were present in the ‘War Room.’”

For its part, Uber says that Jacobs was attempting to extort money from the company with his letter, according to CNET. He received at least $4.5 million from Uber in a settlement reached in August. “From where I sat, my team acted ethically, with integrity and in the best interests of our drivers and riders,” former chief security officer Joe Sullivan told CNET.

If the court finds that Uber stole the files, as alleged in the lawsuit, it may be forced to pay $2 billion to Waymo and halt its autonomous-vehicle program.