Uber Used ‘Greyball’ Software to Evade 16 Government Officials, Portland Probe Finds

The software allegedly helped Uber operate in Oregon without a permit.

byStephen Edelstein|
Uber Used ‘Greyball’ Software to Evade 16 Government Officials, Portland Probe Finds

Following months of reports regarding Uber's use of "Greyball" software, an investigation by the city of Portland, Oregon, found that the ride-sharing company used that software to evade 16 government officials.

Uber began operating in Portland in 2014, but without the necessary permit. To combat enforcement, the company used the Greyball software to prevent government regulators from booking rides. The program was shut down in 2015 when Uber received its operating permit from the city, according to Reuters.

Portland did not impose any fines or other penalties on Uber, but city transportation officials do plan to ramp up enforcement of the rules Uber appears to have successfully circumvented. Preventing government officials from booking rides made it more difficult for regulators to gather evidence against the company.

The investigation was launched in March, after The New York Times reported that Uber used Greyball to evade government officials in areas where it was not approved to operate. The software denied ride requests from locations near government agencies, or using credit cards tied to government employees. If it received one of these requests, Uber could show that there were no cars available.

Portland found that, after Uber starting operating in the city in December 2014, it used Greyball to block 17 accounts, 16 of which belonged to city officials. The company also denied 29 ride requests from government officials. Uber rival Lyft was also involved in the investigation, but regulators found no evidence that it tried to block government officials.

An Uber spokesperson told Reuters that the company was "pleased the investigation was closed" and said Uber "will continue working in partnership with the City of Portland." Uber acknowledged the existence of Greyball after the New York Times report was published, and promised to stop using it.

In May, the Department of Justice reportedly opened its own investigation into Greyball. It's also investigating whether Uber violated U.S. laws against bribing foreign officials, while the FBI is probing Uber's alleged use of software to track Lyft drivers. And those are just some of the many scandals Uber faces at the moment.