Uber’s headaches continue with criminal probe of its use of ‘Greyball’ software

The Trump administration is going after the ride-sharing company for using “greyball” software to skirt regulations.

Uber headquarters in San Francisco. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Risberg
Uber headquarters in San Francisco. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Risberg

The Justice Department is investigating Uber for its use of software that helped drivers dodge local transportation regulators trying to catch the company operating illegally, Reuters first reported.

The criminal probe, which is in the early stages, comes two months after the New York Times reported that Uber used so-called “Greyball” software to operate in areas where the the service was restricted and to avoid government officials worldwide.

Uber has been subpoenaed by a grand jury in Northern California to provide documentation regarding how and where the Greyball technology was used. The main issue is that at the tool was used to trick certain users, showing them a different version of the app with false location data on Uber drivers.

The ride-hailing company suspended use of the program in March but also admitted that the software was intended to help drivers get fares in areas where the service wasn’t yet approved.


Greyball was created in 2014 for primarily international use and was a part of the company’s “Violation of Terms of Service” program, which focused on potential abuse of the service. Greyball used data from consumers’ devices, credit cards, and GPS information to obscure Uber drivers’ true location.

Although Greyball’s official and legal use was for TOS violators, the company also said it was used to test new features, ascertain physical threats, marketing, anti-fraud tactics, among other things.

The federal investigation is the latest in a long list of woes mounting for Uber this year. Thousands of customers deleted the app after the company’s lukewarm response to President Donald Trump’s immigration travel ban and subsequent protests in January. The following the month, the company became embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal and is still continuing to feel the effects.

Additionally, CEO Travis Kalanick has had to do damage control after a video leaked of him berating a driver who questioned the company’s employment and pay policies. Uber is also in the midst of a legal battle with Google over alleged stolen self-driving car technology.

Uber hasn’t publicly commented yet on the preliminary federal investigation.