Saturday, April 7, 2018

Uber Globally Evades Authorities through Greyball Software (2017-2018)

      Uber was caught operating in locations where it was banned from by deceiving authorities and also in locations is was not approved in.  It was using software called Greyball that was able to collect data to track authorities so Uber drivers could avoid local authorities and also provide fake cars to authorities trying to use the Uber app to track drivers.  The Greyball program effectively denies service to law enforcement who would issue citations to drivers operating in countries or cities they aren’t approved to be a taxi-service in.  Common penalties are tickets or the impounding of vehicles, which costs Uber some of its revenue, but Greyball helps to have drivers avoid being detected, making it a potential legal violation of evading law enforcement and providing illegal, unlicensed commercial transportation.  (Isaac, How Uber Deceives the Authorities Worldwide).
One Technique included denying the cheapest mobile phones rides because of the large use of them by police.  Credit card information was searched to find if it was connected to a legal institution.  Uber also monitored its application being opened or closed a number of times near police stations and then blacklisted those users as potential law enforcement.  If these techniques and others failed then Uber went to the liberty of searching social media to confirm if that user was connected to law enforcement.  Once the identity was confirmed by a legal authority, Greyball would then put on fake-drivers on the app for law enforcement to track.  (Sullyman, Greyball: What is the Creepy Feature That Got Uber Banned In London?)  Depending on the country it operated, the number of legal violations differs, such as obstruction of justice but the software is so advanced that is doesn’t directly violate current laws in of itself.  What is reported by Uber is that it used these techniques for its drivers' safety.  There have been reports of violence due to Uber having a strong competitive advantage in pricing, compared to other taxi services, that drivers that couldn’t compete with Uber were actually attacking the drivers.  While Uber claimed that was the primary use of its software.  
The software was known to all executives, approved by the legal team, and distributed down to managers who then distributed to drivers.    It was deemed too efficient and effective a tool not to use, especially with no laws directly in place because of the new nature of the software. (Timberg, Uber Used Secret Tool…).  This technique did get Uber banned in London with the United States Department of Justice launching an investigation of Uber because it went beyond an advantage over the competition to police matters.  (Harrison, What is Greyball and Why… ).   In individual city investigations in the United States, such as Portland, the city officials did not penalize Uber after the company promised to stop using Greyball against officials and complied with law enforcement.

The stakeholders involved or affected in the controversy are law enforcement agencies, Uber company executives and shareholders, every other lift service, consumers of uber and other lift services, and employees, or contractors, of uber.  Law enforcement agencies had spent resources that are generated by taxes from the citizens and time that could have been spent on more serious crimes.  Uber’s executives and shareholders are motivated to keep their positions and stake in the company at maximum value, even being private.  Other lift services have experienced the effects of Uber undercutting the industry and avoiding the regulations placed on their services classified as Taxis.  Customers of Uber and other comparable services are affected by available services and potential fines for using Uber illegally, as well as possible use and collection of data without consent.  Uber’s contractors can receive a possible reduction of pay due to the decrease of customers following the aftermath of Greyball or lack of employment where Uber is no longer allowed to operate.

Former Uber CEO and current board member
Travis Kalanick while Uber used Greyball
According to the traditional theory of Individualism by Milton Freedom, the only goal of a business is to profit and maximize that profit for shareholders while operating within the rules and restrictions of the law.  Uber definitely acted on their own self-interests by weighing the costs of getting caught and fined versus the increased revenue from new operations but failed to act within the laws of every country they were in, legally and illegally.  To this extent, using the Greyball software violated the minimum morality required for individualism and in the long term, didn’t maximize profits despite never being charged by any government for their actions.  To be fair, because of the advanced nature of the software, laws hadn’t been developed explicitly against their actions in many countries but when high ranking members of the company got involved, laws were directly violated.  The most important longterm cost of their actions is that, although they received no fines for Greyball, they lost their operators license in London in 2017 and when their appeal is denied by the city they will have to terminate their massively profitable operation there which didn’t maximize their value.  Their deceptive actions against law enforcement generated massive amounts of negative publicity for their years of use of the program which hurts consumers trust in the company that if their federal and local law enforcement agencies can be deceived then they are at the mercy of Uber if they were to take advantage of something as basic as their customer information or especially they’re payment information.  The loss of potential and current customers, as well as the operation in London, failed to maximize Uber’s earnings and while not every deceptive action of Uber was illegal, there were enough for government agencies to file charges for breaking multiple laws in multiple countries.  Uber is unethical according to individualism.    

     The purpose of utilitarianism is to maximize happiness in yourself and everyone else by using a cost-benefit analysis.  The happiness is to be maximized in everyone instead of using egoism, just yourself because happiness is the only item of essential value to people.  Since it is the only essential value then there is no moral difference between the happiness of one person and the next, only that happiness is maximized longterm.  Uber violated the longterm happiness of stakeholders.  The controversy devalued their company stock which hurts their shareholders.  It also upset law enforcement agencies who used resources, that could have prevented or solved other crimes, to prove Uber was operating illegally in locations or violating city rules while licensed there.  Uber executives had to use company resources and time to ensure they weren’t going to go to jail as well as failing to maximize the company value for their shareholders which puts their careers at risk.  Other lift services were upset at losing business to Uber who had an arguably unfair competitive advantage by hijacking consumers as well as not paying the massive fees to be licensed to operate in cities.  Lastly, consumers and employees of Uber in illegal locations benefitted short-term from cheaper services and employment but in London, as well as potentially other locations in the future, they will now be forced to pay the price determined by the taxi oligarchy and never have the chance for that employment again.

Greyball software shows nonexistent drivers
or hides their locations
     Kant believed in good-will and rational approach to actions that focused on the actions themselves, not the consequences through determining the right action and motivation in a maxim-for-action.  It then has to be tested as rational through 3 categorical imperative tests, the Formulas of Universal Law, Humanity, and Autonomy, known as the Supreme Law of Pure Rationality.  A key difference between Utilitarianism and Kantianism is that Kantianism views goodwill as the only item that is essentially good instead of happiness.  Also, rights of people consequently create duties but every duty doesn’t always correlate to a right.  Uber’s action wasn’t good because it wasn’t the right action to take by being illegal and exploiting cities and other companies.  The motivation wasn’t good either because it was for profit, an unfair advantage, and the avoidance of fees at the expense of others.  It also fails the Formula of Universal Law because it isn’t consistent logical to everyone.  Certain passengers were denied rides based on their association and geographical proximity to various legal agencies making it illogical.  The Formula of Humanity was also violated because their employees that got caught were officially independent contractors and were responsible for the fines instead of Uber in many cases, which treats the foundation of their company as a means to their end of profit.  The Formula of Autonomy was violated because the motivation of Uber was self-interest in deceiving the law so as to expand their operations instead of being of moral law or duty.

     Aristotle’s Theory of Virtue states that good people live flourishing lives and that a good person fulfills their function well through the use of rationality.  Rationality is the distinguishing characteristics of people.  Happiness comes from fulfilling function so if people live a good life by functioning well then they will then also live a happy life.  The virtues of people depend on their function and circumstance and the characteristics of character and business are courage, justice, temperance, and honesty, which work in unity.  While looking at business, friendliness is also incorporated.  These virtues are aimed at allowing the market to operate at maximum efficiency as well as in unity in society which makes the virtues of a business the same as the business persons and citizens.  In order to decide on the right action, the Doctrine of the Mean is applied which is the mean between the extremes of actions.  While Uber showed courage and temperance in their expansion and desire to penetrate new markets immediately instead of waiting possible years for approval on what they believed was just a comparative advantage, it acted without honesty and justice. Customers were discriminated against based on their profession, affiliation, and location with law enforcement and other legal agencies.  Certain employees were put at risk of receiving fines if caught by police while others were operating legally making their acts dishonest.  Their competition was unable to compete at all with Uber when they could hack their ride-app systems, disguise their drivers from law enforcement while operating immediately and avoid millions of dollars of fees for operating licenses in cities which are unfair practices making their acts unjust.  Uber acted rashly in applying their software to law enforcement instead of considering longterm costs, such as losing the right to operate in London which is an extreme point on the Doctrine of the Mean.

Works Cited

Harrison, George. “What Is Greyball and Why Is the Uber Software so Controversial? All You Need to Know.” The Sun, The Sun, 3 Oct. 2017,

Isaac, Mike. “How Uber Deceives the Authorities Worldwide.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Mar. 2017,

Moon, Mariella. “Portland Finds Uber Used 'Greyball' to Evade 16 Authorities.” Engadget, 15 Sept. 2017,

Salazar, Heather. Business Ethics, Economics, and Individualism

Salazar, Heather. Business Ethics and Virtue

Salazar, Heather. Kantian Business Ethics

Salazar, Heather. Utilitarianism and Business Ethics
Sulleyman, Aatif. “Greyball: What Is the Creepy Feature That Got Uber Banned in London?” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 27 Sept. 2017,

Timberg, Craig, and Brian Fung. “Uber Used Secret Tool, Extraordinary Measures to Sidestep Government Officials.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 3 Mar. 2017,

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