Uber, the ride-hailing app that has been under fire for covering up a data breach for a year — and paying hackers $100,000 to keep quiet — is the subject of a criminal investigation by federal investigators.
According to a report in The New York Times, citing court documents submitted by the United States attorney’s office in California, it marks the first public confirmation by the Department of Justice that there is a federal investigation into the company. The court documents don’t say which government agency is looking into Uber. The New York Times noted that it and other media outlooks have reported about an investigation on the federal level, but this is the first time it was made public.
The news came out of a court case between Uber and Waymo over the alleged theft of trade secrets by Uber from Waymo’s self-driving program. Waymo is owned by Google. Waymo has claimed that a former employee, Anthony Levandowski, stole trade secrets before leaving the company and used them at Uber. Uber has denied the claims with a trial slated for January.
During a court proceeding, the Department of Justice gave the judge a letter from Nov. 22 that stated there was additional information about a unit of Uber that gathers intelligence on competitors provided by a former employee. The unit was found during an investigation. “In the course of a United States’ pending criminal investigation, the government interviewed a former Uber employee named Richard Jacobs,” said the letter, according to The New York Times.
The paper noted that it’s unusual for the Justice Department to show up in this case because it usually doesn’t get involved in matters that aren’t part of its own cases. “While we haven’t substantiated all the claims in Mr. Jacobs’ letter — and, importantly, any related to Waymo — our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology,” Matt Kallman, an Uber spokesman, said in a statement.