The report describes Greyball as a tool that was part of a broader program called "violation of terms of service"-known as VTOS". Uber has used the method - part of a program called VTOS, or "violation of terms of service" - for year in cities like Paris, Boston, and Las Vegas, four current and former Uber employees said.
Uber "greyballs" users "based on data collected from the app and in other ways", the Times reports. But it was also sometimes used in the U.S., including in Portland, where a 2014 video showed officials trying and failing to hail Uber riders. Uber has previously admitted that its app doesn't necessarily show the accurate locations of its drivers' cars.
Uber employees say the company used a secret program for clandestine snooping that was used to circumvent authorities that did not want the company operating in their region.
A 2014 YouTube video posted by The Oregonian shows the feature in use, when Portland, Ore., code enforcement officer Erich England attempted to hail an UberX for a sting operation. Instead, the company claims it was used to protect drivers from abuse (in cities it was legally allowed to operate in, the spokesperson noted), and to prevent competitors from interfering with the app. Those managers would identify law enforcement agents and others who may attempt to shut down the ride hailing service in order to help drivers avoid being caught. Earlier this week, video surfaced of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with one of the company's drivers over the introduction of lower-cost services that undercut drivers' earnings. And according to The New York Times' sources, even some internal members of Uber's team were uncertain whether it was ethical or even legal.
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The company would identify the location of government buildings and note which users were repeatedly opening and closing the app in the area.
The company would also check user's credit card information to see if the card was tied to a police credit union, according to the report. When enforcement officials bought dozens of cellphones to create different accounts, Uber employees went to that city's electronics stores to check device numbers of the cheapest phones - the models most likely bought by cash-strapped city agencies.
Uber has clashed with regulators in several USA cities who oppose the use of the UberX service that lets non-commercially approved people drive their own vehicles and basically function like traditional taxi drivers.