Uber’s version of “rational self-interest” has led to further accusations of covert activity and unfair competitive behaviour. Rival ride company Lyft is suing Uber in the Californian courts, claiming that Uber used a secret software program known as “Hell” to invade the privacy of the Lyft drivers, in violation of the California Invasion of Privacy Act and Federal Wiretap Act.
This covert activity, if proven, would go way beyond normal competitive intelligence, such as that provided by firms like Slice Intelligence, which harvests and interprets receipts from consumer email. (Slice Intelligence has confirmed to the New York Times that it sells anonymized data from ride receipts from both Uber and Lyft, but declined to say who purchased this data.)
It has also transpired that Apple caught Uber cheating on the iPhone app, including fingerprinting and continuing to identify phones after the app was deleted, in contravention to App Store privacy guidelines. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick got a personal reprimand from Apple CEO Tim Cook, but the iPhone app remains on the App Store, and Uber continues to use fingerprinting worldwide.
Uber continues to be massively loss-making, and the mathematics remain unfavourable. So the critical question for the service economy is whether firms like Uber can ever become viable without turning themselves into defacto monopolies, either by political lobbying or by covert action.
Megan Rose Dickey, Uber gets sued over alleged ‘Hell’ program to track Lyft drivers (TechCrunch, 24 April 2017)
Mike Isaac, Uber’s CEO plays with fire (New York Times, 23 April 2017)
Andrew Liptak, Uber tried to fool Apple and got caught (The Verge, 23 April 2017)
Andrew Orlowski, Uber cloaked its spying and all it got from Apple was a slap on the wrist (The Register, 24 Apr 2017)
Olivia Solon and Julia Carrie Wong, Hell of a ride: even a PR powerhouse couldn’t get Uber on track (Guardian, 14 April 2017)