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Uber and Greyball

https://www.ft.com/content/2ab3c0e8-0076-11e7-96f8-3700c5664d30

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/technology/uber-greyball-program-evade-authorities.html?_r=0

In the midst of sexual harassment allegations, a lawsuit from Google and a video of the CEO talking poorly to a driver, Uber has recently come under fire for yet another controversial action.

Since as early as 2014, Uber has been using a program called Greyball to track and collect data as a means for identifying officials, regulatory authorities, and competitors around the world. The company did so by “watching which people were frequently opening and closing the app…near locations associated with city agencies,” “looking at a user’s credit card information and determining whether the card was tied directly to an institution like a police credit union” and even stalking certain individuals social media profiles.

Once these individuals were identified, Greyball displayed fake cars on the Uber app, making users believe they still had access to Uber’s services. These rides, however, were automatically cancelled in an effort to deny ride requests to users who were allegedly violating terms of service by “aiming to physically harm drivers, looking to disrupt operations, and colluding with officials on secret ‘stings’ meant to entrap drivers”.

Uber secretly researched “police officers, local regulators and rivals in each new market,” and, in a sense, blacklisted them. Uber often enters new markets before asking for permission, creating conflict between the company and regulators who want to see them register with transportation authorities.

Uber’s use of Greyball brings up questions of how far the company is willing to go to dominate the market, and also raises concerns that ethical boundaries have been crossed.

My questions: Is the process of seeking out and denying service to officials and competitors ethical, and does it raise concerns in regards to the collection of data and personal security in the technology age? In addition, should the government adopt increased regulations to prevent Uber from employing these tactics?

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