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Uber blackballs 'Greyball' tool it used to deny rides to regulators

'Caught, sorry, will stop' looks like it's just the way Uber rolls

By Richard Chirgwin, 9 Mar 2017

Caught out over showing fake cars to anyone it suspected of being a cop or a regulator, Uber has announced it will end the practice.

The company was accused of treating regulators and police with a disdain its staff might recognise when encountering harassment, or worse, at work.

If the systems figured the app was on a regulator/police phone, it let them book only ghost-cars that only existed on their screens. Should a Greyballed-user happen upon an icon that was a real driver, the driver would be told the booking was cancelled.

The New York Times' story that revealed Greyball alleged it had been used Portland Oregon, Boston Massachusetts, along with Las Vegas, Paris, Australia, Italy, China, South Korea and more.

After close of business San Francisco time today, the company published a blog post saying the practice is now under review.

It's hardly "a profound apology™": in hurt innocence, chief security officer Joe Sullivan says Greyballing was used to test new features, marketing promotions, fraud prevention, driver safety, and to “deter riders using the app in violation of our terms of service”.

Cop-blocking? Promise, guv, the very thought hadn't even begun to speculate on the possibility of entering our heads.

“We have started a review of the different ways this technology has been used to date. In addition, we are expressly prohibiting its use to target action by local regulators going forward”, the post states.

It can't happen immediately, Sullivan says, because of how Uber's systems are configured. And yet Uber can also allow surge pricing to respond to real-time demand. Bring on the DevOps, Travis, it'll make you much more agile. ®

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