From “God view” to Greyball, Uber’s used all kinds of tracking software over the years to keep an eye on everyone who uses their apps. Now, there are reports that User was using yet another secret tool to horn in on the competition in some less-than-aboveboard ways.
The Information reports today [subscription required] that between 2014 and 2016, when ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft were breaking out nationwide, Uber was using a sneaky bit of software to keep an eye on the competition and lure away their workers.
The tool, dubbed, “Hell,” let Uber track the availability and location of Lyft drivers in a given area, as well as letting Uber track which of its drivers also drove for Lyft. That knowledge, in turn, let Uber focus harder on areas with a large Lyft presence to beef up its own driver presence in the area — and to target specific drivers and entice them, with bonuses, to drop Lyft.
The name is a play on the “God view” — i.e. “Heaven” — mode that Uber uses to track its own drivers. Unlike the God mode, which was apparently widely accessible inside the company, very few personnel — largely confined to top executives and a small handful of data scientists — knew about Hell.
According to the report, this software worked by creating fake Lyft driver accounts, and staging them at various locations around the city. That positioning let Uber build up a grid view of the whole city and all the Lyft drivers within it.
However, creating fake driver accounts is a big violation of Lyft’s terms of service agreement… among other things. Lawyers who had worked with Uber in the past told The Information that the company could face a number of claims, including breach of contract, unfair business practices, misappropriation of trade secrets, and violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
A representative from Uber told The Information that the company doesn’t discuss its internal practices. Lyft, however, told The Information, “We are in a competitive industry. However, if true, these allegations are very concerning.”
This isn’t the first time Uber has been accused of doing something shady to undercut its rivals. If Hell did indeed launch in 2014, it seems it came right after Uber got called out for requesting, then canceling, rides from rival service Lyft en masse in an effort to steal away customers.