Letter alleges Uber hacked into computer systems, stole data from rivals

A 37-page letter written by a lawyer for an ex-Uber employee that makes incendiary accusations about the company surveiling and ripping off competitors was made public on Friday by the judge presiding over Waymo's trade secrets lawsuit.

According to the Jacobs letter, Uber has created specialized units tasked with conducting corporate espionage against competing companies, the likes of which allegedly ranged from recording on their employees' private conversations, to hacking computer systems. The letter, written by a lawyer on Jacobs' behalf, has already reshaped a high-profile trial pitting Uber against Waymo, a Google spin-off that accuses its rival of stealing its self-driving vehicle technology.

Former Uber manager Richard Jacobs, who was sacked earlier this year, made the explosive claims in a 37-page letter that sought a big payoff for being forced out of the company. His lawyer's letter said that Uber's Marketplace Analytics team stole trade secrets from Waymo, the self-driving auto company owned by Alphabet, but Jacobs testified that portion of the letter wasn't true. "The agents took rides in local taxis, loitered around locations where taxi drivers congregated, and leveraged a local network of contacts with connections to police and regulatory authorities", the letter claims.

The emergence of the "Jacobs letter" has been a dramatic turn of events in the Uber v Waymo trial, which had been due to start earlier this month but has now been delayed until February.

The letter, sent by lawyers representing a former Uber employee, sparked an internal investigation when it was sent to Uber in May, but has not been made public until now.

Separately, a court-ordered Special Master report examining whether Uber should've handed over the Jacobs letter sooner came out on Friday.

Uber said in a statement to Forbes that some of the claims have not been verified. Jacobs, whom Uber said was caught downloading confidential files on the day he quit, portrayed himself to Uber as a whistle-blower, other Uber employees testified.

In a statement, an Uber spokesman said: "While we haven't substantiated all the claims in this 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".

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"Uber has engaged, and continues to engage, in illegal intelligence gathering on a global scale".

Any federal criminal investigation into Uber could be looking into several matters.

"These tactics were employed clandestinely through a distributed architecture of anonymous servers, telecommunications architecture, and non-attributable hardware and software", the letter reads. The letter alleges that some of the information gathered was relayed to then-CEO Travis Kalanick.

"Jacobs reported that infiltrating WhatsApp groups was unlawful and would get Uber kicked out of [redacted]", Jacobs' lawyer said in the letter.

Uber's competitive-intelligence team often impersonated riders and drivers on rivals' ride-hailing apps and hacked into their systems to understand how their apps worked, identify security gaps and obtain data on drivers to recruit, Jacobs alleges. "From where I sat, my team acted ethically, with integrity, and in the best interests of our drivers and riders", he said.

Much of what's in the letter doesn't relate to the Waymo v. Uber lawsuit. The information eventually shared with Jacobs and others included call logs, with time and date of communications, communicants' phone numbers, call durations, and the identification of the mobile phone subscribers.

The reports of these secret-spying technology is just one of many debacles and missteps for Uber in the past year.

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