Uber is the focus of a federal investigation in New York as authorities determine whether the ridesharing company used software to interfere illegally with its competitors.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the investigation, citing sources familiar with the process. The probe, led by the New York office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, is focused on a defunct Uber program, known internally as “Hell,” which could track drivers working for rival service Lyft.
“We are cooperating with the SDNY investigation,” said an Uber spokesman, referring to New York’s Southern District. He declined to offer additional details.
While Uber has never publicly discussed the “Hell” program, people familiar with it explained that Uber created fake Lyft customer accounts so its competitor’s system believed prospective customers were seeking rides at various locations. This allowed Uber to see which Lyft drivers were nearby and the prices they were offering for various routes.
In addition, the program was used to collect data on drivers who worked for both companies, which Uber could then target with cash incentives to get them to leave Lyft. One factor into which investigators are looking is whether “Hell” — which was discontinued last year — constituted unauthorized access of a computer.
This is one of at least three federal investigations currently underway that are examining Uber’s practices, including the U.S. attorney’s office in the Northern District of California’s probe into another software program, “Greyball,” which helped its drivers evade local transportation regulators.
Details about the“Hell” program were first reported in April by tech website The Information. After the article was published, a Lyft driver filed a class-action lawsuit against Uber in federal court in California, alleging Uber’s use of the program invaded his privacy as well as violated state wiretapping statutes and unfair-competition laws.
A judge dismissed the suit last month, but attorneys for the driver say they plan to refile with an amended complaint later this month.