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London ends Uber, cites 'greyballing' of law enforcement

London will not renew Uber’s license to operate in part because of software that uses a ‘greyballing’ tool to evade law enforcement


By Andrea Fox

LONDON — Transport for London (TfL) will not renew Uber London Limited's license to operate when its current license expires on September 30th, citing the company's approaches to pubic safety. At issue for TfL is how Uber reports serious criminal offenses by drivers, obtains medical certificates and manages background disclosure checks. And, for greyballing its law enforcement officers. While some of these issues are not new to most cities, London's noting that the company's use of software to target and block law enforcement and government regulators was a factor in the decision, according to the press release, is a new twist in the tenuous relationship Uber has with cities:

The greyball tool is part of a Violation of Terms of Service software Uber created to root out users targeting the service. (Photo/Photopin)
The greyball tool is part of a Violation of Terms of Service software Uber created to root out users targeting the service. (Photo/Photopin)

Greyballing the Bobbies

The software can figure out if a device containing the hailing app is used by law enforcement or used often near government buildings via geolocation tools, and analysed if the credit card associated with an account had ties to a police union. Once the software greyballs a user, the user's Uber app will show fake cars or no cars on the app, according to the Independent.

If the user did manage to book an Uber before being greyballed, the company would call the driver and cancel the ride.

The greyball tool is part of a Violation of Terms of Service software Uber created to root out users targeting the service — such as law enforcement looking to trap drivers in cities where its not authorized to operate -- according to the New York Times report that uncovered Uber's use of the software.

However, Uber's legal team approved operational use of the tool, and it's been used in cities like Boston, Las Vegas and Paris and in countries like Australia, China and South Korea. So, the company has prepared for municipal reaction.

It's already appealed London's decision, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and mobilized on social media with a #SaveYourUber and an online petition that's gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures already. London has nearly 40,000 Uber drivers and 3.5 million people use the app once every 90 days.

But it's not the only company that was ready. MyTaxi, an app used by London's famous black cabs, owned by Daimler, is offering 50 percent off fares:

MyTaxi lets you users save their black cab drivers, who undergo background checks and more.

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