Uber v. Waymo: Letter exposes depths of alleged espionage

Travis Kalanick Uber's former CEO.   David Paul Morris  Bloomberg via Getty Images

Travis Kalanick Uber's former CEO. David Paul Morris Bloomberg via Getty Images

"The agents took rides in local taxis, loitered around locations where taxi drivers congregated, and leveraged a local network of contacts with connections to police and regulatory authorities", the letter claims.

In a statement on Friday, Uber said it has not substantiated all of the claims in Jacobs' letter, but "our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology".

Among other explosive claims, the Jacobs Letter specifically says that two named high-level Uber employees, including Craig Clark, a since-fired Uber lawyer and Mat Henley, who still works at Uber and recently testified in court, orchestrated this scheme. Uber has said no Waymo designs have been used in its cars and rejects the financial damages claim.

In a section beginning on page 13, under a bolded subhead that reads "Waymo", the letter says Jacobs heard an account from another Uber employee suggesting that the company had gone to great lengths to keep its pending acquisition of Ottomotto secret. The case was set to go to trial earlier this month but was delayed until February because of the Jacobs' letter's revelation, according to BBC.

Mr Jacobs who was sacked earlier this year, made the explosive claims in a 37-page letter that sought a big payoff for being forced out of the company. This letter, which is now known as the "Jacobs letter", has become the center of the Waymo v. Uber lawsuit. The former employee, Anthony Levandowski, went on to found a company that was quickly acquired by Uber.

But Jacobs stuck to other claims he'd made, including that Uber harvested proprietary code a competitor posted on Github, and that the company conducted physical surveillance of its competitors. The U.S. attorney's cover letter, which was unsealed earlier this week, confirmed that it was pursuing a criminal investigation of Uber.

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The document, which was submitted by the United States attorney's office in the northern district of California, does not specify what the agency is investigating, but it is the first public confirmation by the Department of Justice of a federal inquiry into the San Francisco-based ride-hailing company.

"There's not a stitch of anything in any of those papers that should have been redacted, and it should all be public", Alsup said during a November hearing.

Uber's competitive-intelligence team often impersonated riders and drivers on rivals' ride-hailing apps and hacked into their systems to understand how their apps worked, identify security gaps and obtain data on drivers to recruit, Jacobs alleges. He resigned after he was caught forwarding internal emails to his personal address. At the time, the team was led by Joe Sullivan, the company's chief security officer. Sullivan, who also oversaw the Marketplace Analytics team at the centre of many of Jacobs' allegations, said in a statement to Gizmodo, "From where I sat, my team acted ethically, with integrity, and in the best interests of our drivers and riders".

The letter was sent to Uber's in-house lawyer in May and shared with executives and board members, who could easily access it, special master Cooper said in his report.

Over the past year, Uber has been rocked by revelations of rampant sexual harassment inside the company, technological trickery created to thwart regulators and a yearlong cover-up of a hacking attack that stole the personal information of 57 million passengers and drivers.

This included a non-disparagement clause and a one-year consulting contract to help Uber "root out bad behaviour", Jacobs said when he testified in federal court last month. "The competitive information gathering that was done at the explicit request of management was unremarkable and no different than what's done by law-abiding companies across the country and Uber's own competitors".

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