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Uber accused of using ‘Hell’ software program for industrial espionage against Lyft

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Image: Dan Patterson/TechRepublic

On Wednesday, the ride-sharing giant Uber was accused of using secret tracking software to track the whereabouts of Lyft drivers, according to a report from The Information.

The software program, called “Hell,” has supposedly been tracking Lyft drivers by using fake Lyft accounts—and is able to gather information about the location of Lyft drivers, how many were open for new rides, and how many Lyft drivers also worked for Uber, according to a “Hell” insider who disclosed the program to The Information.

By using fake accounts, The Information reported, Uber was able to see other nearby Lyft drivers in a given city.

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Uber has been plagued with several major controversies over the last several months. In January, the #DeleteUber Twitter campaign was launched in protest of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick taking a seat on President Trump’s economic advisory council—the campaign forced Kalanick to back down from the position. The next month, former US Attorney General Eric Holder launched an investigation into allegations of sexism raised by former Uber employee Susan Fowler Rigetti. In March, The New York Times reported that Uber had been deceiving authorities in areas where the company has been restricted, in its Greyball program. The same month, Uber’s president Jeff Jones left the company after only six months, citing the toxic company culture at Uber as his reason for leaving.

A number of competitors, in fact, have sprung up to compete with the ride-sharing giant, offering socially-conscious alternatives for customers who may not agree with the direction of Uber.

It is important to remember that while Uber wears the crown for the most popular ride-share app, it is involved in many other ventures. It unveiled self-driving fleets to the public in Pittsburgh in August 2016—and later, in San Francisco, where it was called “illegal,” and Arizona. The company also purchased Otto, a self-driving trucking company, that same month.

SEE: Uber president quits over ‘beliefs’ and ‘leadership,’ highlighting toxic company culture

AI is also a heavy focus for Uber, and the company announced the launch of Uber AI Labs in December 2016. In February 2017, Uber brought a NASA veteran on staff to create flying autonomous cars.

Still, if the latest accusation is true, it could have big implications for using software among tech companies to spy on and undermine competitors. Uber could have trouble recruiting top talent, and could face a consumer base that is weary of controversies the company has become associated with.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Uber has been accused of using a software program called “Hell” to track the whereabouts of Lyft drivers.
  2. The program, according to an insider, can see the GPS location of Lyft drivers by using fake accounts. It can also track which Lyft drivers are available for new rides, and which are also working for Uber.
  3. As Uber continues to defend itself against claims of unethical behavior, the company’s ability to innovate and hire top talent could be negatively impacted.

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