Uber Under Investigation by the FBI for Spying on Lyft

Looks like Uber is making headlines once more with its sensational controversies. The latest controversy to hit bulletins is the company’s use of programs to track Lyft’s customers and potential drivers. Uber built a software program called, ‘Hell,’ that was used to track the activities of Lyft, their one and only major competitor in the ride-hailing industry.

Unlike the 19th and 20th century, where competition was less and monopoly of a giant company dictated market terms, the 21st century is different. We have millions of businesses, startups and companies offering the same services and commodities, all aggressively competing to get attention, profit and glory. Legally, it would take a lot of work to monitor competitors. Illegally, all you need is a stealth idea. Unfortunately, businesses resort to stealth practices to gain an upper hand and in the process, violates its own reputation. Uber, in its bid to make it to the top not only made drastic mistakes in managing its company, but also resorted to illegal means to manage its competitors. That being said, Uber isn’t the only company doing so. Lyft and Uber have had a history of fierce rivalry, one that even became political when a social media revolt raised Lyft’s demand double-fold. All because Uber’s then CEO Travis Kalanick had sided with President Trump.

A Brief History of the Software

It all began in 2014, when Uber opened the Lyft app and pretend to order a car, capture the data and the cost of charges. This program was carried out millions of times, over two years and riders who used double apps (meaning they drove for Lyft and Uber) to drive exclusively for them. More than 60 % of Lyft’s drivers were also Uber drivers who would be receiving weekly bonuses if they were willing to use only Uber. The program finally ended in 2016, when Lyft raised more than a billion in revenue and expanded operations. This meant that Uber could no longer afford the bonuses it formerly offered to drivers.

The matter would have remained a secret until a Lyft driver, Michael Gonzales filed a class action lawsuit against Uber alleging that the company violated the Electronic Communication Privacy Act. It was accused of, ‘intentionally collecting, gathering and intercepting electronic communications.’ Luckily, the company got away with the lawsuit as the plaintiff did not have enough evidence to prove their point. It was also not a violation of the ECP Act, because both Lyft and Uber drivers consent to give their location data when they use the app.

The judge ruled with Uber’s motion, but gave Gonzales, ‘leave to amend,’ so that another lawsuit could be filed once the plaintiff had the right information. Unfortunately for Uber, the FBI got involved with the case and is now probing into the program to find out if it constituted an unauthorized access of a computer. In the light of these allegations, the company has agreed to cooperate with the FBI for investigating the case while at the same time, another criminal investigation is being led by the US Justice Department over the use of another shady software called, ‘Greyball,’ ; designed to evade regulators in certain cities by presenting them with a fake view of the app.

Although this may just seem as competitor rivalry, this news represents a fearful trend. How legit is it for one business to monitor its competitors? Where should businesses draw the line when it comes to beating the competition? If this case is proven true, Uber has literally resorted to illegal means to snoop on its competitor. It may not seem justified, but hey, don’t they believe that all’s fair in business and war?


Farah tries to keep up with the fast-paced tech world by writing about it. She covers latest tech news and writes informative pieces to help her readers make informed decisions about their tech preferences.
BeepWee