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Surprise, Surprise! Uber is using technology to defeat attempts by regulators to shut down the taxi hailing service around the world. It was revealed that Uber is using software called Greyball to identify and prevent regulators from booking rides. Although Uber has often had disagreements with regulators in many cities around the world, the use of software presents an impressive escalation by the company in its battle with regulators.
Uber has not confirmed the existence of Greyball or whether it actively tries to thwart regulators. However, the New York Times has confirmed the existence of Greyball with four former and current employees of Uber.
Greyball works by collecting the location data used to order a ride and comparing it against a database of government offices. It also cross-references the credit card information to identify whether the person hailing a ride has a connection to law enforcement or a government agency.
Once the software identifies suspected government agents, they would then be directed to download an alternative version of the Uber app showing plenty of imaginary cabs that are impossible to book. If by chance the user manages to order a real Uber ride through the app successfully, they software would automatically cancel the booking.
Frequently, Uber used Greyball to gain early entry into cities where they have had disagreements with regulators, who are trying to ensure that the company is compliant with local laws and regulations. Regulators who have been thwarted by Greyball have maintained that its use is illegal.
The Battle Rages On
While it is easy to have some sympathy for regulators who say they are merely trying to enforce local regulations, you do have to take some pleasure in Uber running rings around them, since quite often the battle with Uber is a political one. The fact that a company known for innovation and cutting edge technology is using its core strengths and competencies to defeat regulators using outdated ideas and methods readily makes the situation comical. Perhaps the regulators should get on board with innovation and modify their own regulations and guidelines to keep in touch with an ever-changing world.
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