Ride-sharing service Uber began in 2009 as a shining example of how disruption via technology — based off the simple idea that peoples’ transit needs could be met by their peers — could better society. In tech circles and beyond, the San Francisco-based company was seen as a pioneer in the service economy. But it’s safe to say that since then, it’s been a rough ride.
In short order, the company has had to deal with its share of troubles, including a sexual harassment scandal, an all-encompassing talent exodus that has affected the firm's top leadership and, of late, the revelation that it covered up a cybersecurity hack affecting tens of millions of people.
And now, this: Uber is being accused of some pretty nefarious acts in a letter recently made public as part of a lawsuit involving tech firm Waymo, which was formerly a part of Google’s self-driving vehicle unit.
Waymo is suing Uber, alleging the theft of trade secrets, according to multiple news outlets.
The letter, which was written by security analyst and former Uber employee Richard Jacobs in a dispute with the company and entered as evidence in the Waymo case, threatens to turn what was a mundane trade secrets lawsuit into an outrageous spectacle that may further damage the company’s reputation.
Jacobs' 37-page letter details allegations that the company, among other things, spied on and stole data from competitors, masked sensitive documents as attorney-client privilege, infiltrated Facebook and WhatsApp messaging chats of rivals, and hacked into a taxi driver database comprised of 35,000 records, Wired reports.
In a statement sent to numerous media organizations, Uber doesn’t deny the allegations, but basically says that it will do better going forward.
"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," an Uber spokesperson told CNN.
The claims come just weeks after Uber’s new head legal counsel admonished employees in a letter to cease any competitor surveillance.
Tony West, who joined the company recently (as did new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi) said in a letter to staffers in early December, "to the extent anyone is working on any kind of competitive intelligence project that involves the surveillance of individuals, stop it now," according to law.com.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit, which is still in the pretrial stage, continues to ramble in court, with jury selection expected to begin January 31, according to CNN Money. One bad omen for Uber: The court ruled that the company should have turned over the letter.
“To use a legal term, Uber is in deep doo-doo,” Peter Toren, a former federal prosecutor, told Wired. “Judge Alsup is not going to be pleased with this at all.”
With all the bad publicity, you may be wondering what's really going on with Uber. Well, money expert Clark Howard, who tested out the service last year as a driver, says that the service is undoubtedly changing people's behaviors on renting vehicles and transit needs. Before using it though, as with anything, safety should always be a priority. With that in mind, here are a few tips on Uber.
Always share your trip details with friends or family
One of the cool things about the Uber app is that users can tap "Share status" to give your family and friends the driver's information (name, make, model, etc). This is a vital safety protection these days and allows your loved ones to track your trip without downloading the app.
Wait inside for your ride
Many people have the habit of waiting outside, perhaps on a curb, for their Uber driver to appear. That's a safety no-no, according to Uber spokeswoman Kayla Whaling. She told USA Today College that the app will alert you when your driver is outside. "They don't have to go to a dark street corner and wait for their car. They can actually be inside — be it a house or a restaurant."
Do not ride in the front seat, no matter what
It makes sense that you want to be and feel safe while riding Uber. So, don't ever ride in the front seat, no matter how alluring the notion (or the driver) is, especially if you're a woman. That's because you want to do all you can to cut down on the likelihood of assault, groping or any other negative interaction. This advice comes from Dave Sutton, spokesman for the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association. Although his business interests conflict with Uber's, he told HLN, "People are going to use these companies anyway so yes we have some recommendations."
Get money from Uber by referring people
Want to make money via Uber without being a rider or driver? Uber's referral program will give you $5 for referring anyone who signs up and uses the service. If you refer multiple people, the company awards a $1,000 prize to anyone who sends the most signups in a week. Pretty good way to earn a few bucks, I'd say.
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