Uber’s New Legal Boss Tells Employees Not to Spy on Competitors

That seems like something your employees should inherently know.

byStephen Edelstein| UPDATED Dec 1, 2017 2:49 PM
Uber’s New Legal Boss Tells Employees Not to Spy on Competitors

Following new allegations of corporate spying made by a former employee, Uber officials are laying down the law. Just days after taking the job, Uber chief legal officer Tony West sent a memo to the ride-sharing company's security team telling them to stop any espionage projects they might be undertaking.

In the memo, obtained by Recode, West said "there is no place for such practices or that kind of behavior at Uber," adding that "we don't need to be following folks around in order to gain some competitive advantage."

West said he believes Uber is not currently engaged in corporate spying, called the practice a "remnant of the past." But, he said, "to the extent anyone is working on any kind of competitive intelligence project that involves the surveillance of individuals, stop it now."

The edict came after the unearthing of a letter by Richard Jacobs, a former Uber security official, detailing methods of spying on rivals while he was an employee at the company, and how such operations were kept under wraps. Jacobs was fired by Uber last year, but settled with the company for $4.5 million and currently works with Uber as an independent paid consultant.

The letter was discovered by federal investigators and was recently turned over to U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup, who is overseeing the trial for Waymo's lawsuit against Uber. Waymo alleges that its self-driving car rival used trade secrets stolen by former employee Anthony Levandowski. The letter was made public when Judge Alsup decided to postpone the trial so Waymo lawyers could gather more information on it.

West's declaration is an indication that Uber is trying to change its corporate culture for the better. Over the past few months, the company was racked by scandals, and founder Travis Kalanick was replaced as CEO by ex-Expedia boss Dara Khosrowshahi. To rebuild its public image, the company has changed policies to be more friendly to drivers, but officials still have a lot of work to do. 

Telling your employees not to spy on competitors seems like a pretty low bar for good corporate citizenship, but ethics couldn't be taken for granted under Kalanick's management. The trail of lawsuits and investigations left in his wake is a testament to that. Khosrowshahi and his management team may be cleaning up the mess for a long time.