Ride-hailing tech giant Uber allegedly used a top-secret program called Surfcam to spy on South-east Asian rival Grab and steal data from its drivers, says a Bloomberg report.
Quoting anonymous sources, the report said the Surfcam software was developed by an Uber staffer based in its Sydney office, and was designed to scrape data published online by competitors to derive the number of drivers on a rival’s system in real-time, as well as the drivers’ locations.
Its creator, came to work in Uber’s Singapore office after leaving Sydney, before moving to Uber’s European headquarters in Amsterdam. He is still an Uber employee.
The report went on to say that the tool was mainly used on Grab, and that a member of Uber’s legal team “questioned whether it could be legally operated in Singapore because it may run afoul of Grab’s terms of service or the country’s strict computer-crime laws”.
Surfcam was started in 2015, while Travis Kalanick was still Uber’s chief executive officer. Kalanick resigned in June 2017 and was succeeded by Dara Khosrowshahi, Expedia’s former CEO, in August 2017.
The report comes as US authorities launched “at least five criminal probes” into Uber on account of its invasive and possibly illicit schemes such as Surfcam.
Corporate espionage probes
This is not the first time Uber has been said to use software to undermine its competitors. Last month, the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation began investigations into a programme known within Uber as “Hell”, which the embattled ride-hailing app was reportedly using to track drivers working for its US rival Lyft.
Although no longer in operation, Hell was able to determine when drivers were working double shifts for both Uber and Lyft and collect information on Lyft’s pricing.
Another programme called “Greyball” was widely reported on; it was created to identify and sidestep regulators in markets where Uber was banned. Greyball is under review by the US Justice Department.
Meanwhile, Uber has come to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over a tool called “God View” which was also used by the company to snoop on riders and raised privacy concerns to the US consumer rights agency.