Uber uses 'panic button' to shield files during police raids

Posted January 15, 2018

The Justice Department also is investigating whether Uber illegally used software to track drivers of its rival Lyft.

SAN FRANCISCO - Uber confirmed Thursday that it once used technology to shield data from law enforcement during unexpected raids of its offices outside the USA, another example of the company using questionable tactics in its pursuit of market share.

Ripley: This allowed the Uber HQ team to remotely change passwords and otherwise lock up data on company-owned smartphones, laptops, and desktops as well as shut down the devices'. One type of software the company devised and reportedly used from Spring 2015 to late 2016 was called Ripley, according to a report by Bloomberg. Ripley stands out because it was used regularly. For instance, if an employee loses their laptop, we have the ability to remotely log them out of Uber's systems to prevent someone else from accessing private user data through that laptop.

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The program's name was a nod to the character played by Sigourney Weaver, who is prepared to annihilate herself and her environment if it means ensuring that her space alien foes die in the process.

As Uber has expanded - opening offices in 78 countries worldwide - sometimes local authorities have raided its offices.

Bloomberg notes that Uber isn't the only company to remotely lock up computer systems when the police turn up, but most companies will unlock them after reviewing the warrants and ensuring everything is in order. Uber is still banned in many cities, as was the case during the period between 2015 and 2016 when it used its Ripley program. But the company maintains with regards to Ripley, it was in the right.

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In a statement to The Verge, Uber said the following: "Like every company with offices around the world, we have security procedures in place to protect corporate and customer data". Uber is no stranger to such techniques, and have been found to remotely shutdown computers to thwart police raids. The Quebec tax authority arrived at the ride-hailing company's local office unannounced with a warrant.

An Uber tool called Greyball used data collected from the Uber app and other methods to find and circumvent officials, the NYT reported on Friday. "When it comes to government investigations, it's our policy to cooperate with all valid searches and requests for data".

Less than a week after Greyball was exposed, Uber said it stopped using the software.

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