SAN FRANCISCO - Uber confirmed Thursday that it once used technology to shield data from law enforcement during unexpected raids of its offices outside the US, another example of the company using questionable tactics in its pursuit of market share.
Ripley: This allowed the Uber HQ team to remotely change passwords and otherwise lock up data on company-owned smartphones, laptops, and desktops as well as shut down the devices'. It is said to have "routinely" used the system more than 20 times between spring 2015 until late 2016, in places as far afield as Canada, Brussels and Hong Kong ...
Background: Uber has ruffled regulatory feathers around the world by not abiding by taxi license rules and classifying its drivers as independent contractors rather than works. In February, the New York Times exposed Uber's use of a software tool called Greyball, which showed enforcement officers a fake version of its app to protect drivers from getting ticketed.
The software, named after Sigourney Weaver's character in the Alien franchise, would lock down computers to prevent the police or anyone outside the company from accessing data. In that case, the use of a program like Ripley is justified.
Late past year, news broke that Uber is officially under federal investigation for a program it called Greyball.
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When investigators came knocking on Uber's overseas offices with warrants, managers were trained to call a certain phone number, the report says.
While legal experts say that it is normal for a company to protect its data, Uber is unique in that it often intentionally tries to circumvent local laws. The authorities believed Uber had violated tax laws and had a warrant to collect evidence.
According to Uber it no longer uses Ripley because it was not effective and now uses an off-the-shelf software called Prey and another type of software it built called uLocker.
Uber doesn't have a very good relationship with regulators, and by that I mean it seems to do everything it can to avoid letting them do any investigation into the company.
Bloomberg also points out that other companies in the past have shut off computers ahead of raids so they could carefully read the warrant and learn exactly which materials were being requested. Later versions of the program reportedly allowed Uber to pick and choose what information law enforcement could access. The IT department began working on the early stages of Ripley; the company's security team took the program over in 2016.