Uber’s Secret ‘Greyball’ Program to Deceive Authorities Where It’s Banned

March 3, 2017 3:30 pm
An UberX driver, Michael Belet checks the app. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
An UberX driver, Michael Belet checks the app. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
An Uber vehicle is viewed in Manhattan on July 20, 2015 in New York City. New York's City Council has proposed two bills last month to limit the number of new for-hire vehicles, as well as to study the rapidly rising industry's impact on traffic. Uber has responded in an open letter arguing that its 6,000 Uber cars out during an average hour are a small part of the city's overall traffic. In cities across the globe Uber has upended the traditional taxi concept with many drivers and governments taking action against the California based company. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)


Uber has been using a secret program to subvert regulation and evade oversight by officials in cities around the world where the ride-hailing app is restricted or banned since 2014, according to the New York Times.

Using an amalgam of data collected from its app and other techniques, Uber used a tool it called “Greyball” to subvert law enforcement authorities in Paris, Boston, and Las Vegas, in addition to cities in Australia, China, South Korea, and Italy.

WASHINGTON, DC - APR 4: UberX driver, Michael Belet, checks the Uber customer app to see where other Uber drivers are working so he can determine where the best place for him to get fares might be, April 7, 2014, in Washington, DC. Thousands of local car owners have signed up in recent months to drive with one of the "ride-share" operators that use smartphone apps to link people needing rides with car owners willing to give them, for a price. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
(Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)


The tool flagged people that Uber knew were tasked with creating and enforcing regulations and then served up a fake version of the app so they couldn’t be caught operating in the city. “Greyball” demonstrates the lengths Uber is willing to go to expand its business, which now operates in 70 countries and is valued at about $62 billion, according to Bloomberg.

The tool was part of a larger program by Uber called “VTOS,” an acronym for “violation of terms of service,” that was built to identify people not using the ride-sharing service properly. Both VTOS and “Greyball” were still in use as of today, albeit predominantly outside of the U.S., the New York Times reports.


The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.