Uber is gaining a reputation for making every mistake it’s possible to make. From mishandling harassment claims to hiding data breaches, Uber just can’t get it right. The ongoing case with Waymo over the alleged theft of intellectual property is another example and one that’s getting more bizarre before our eyes. A witness in the case has testified that Uber set up a secret unit with the express purpose of stealing trade secrets from competitors.
The case stems from Uber’s hiring of former Google/Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski. Waymo claims that Levandowski took vast repositories of confidential information from Waymo upon his departure, and then promptly got hired by Uber to put that information to use developing the company’s own self-driving car tech. Waymo (now an Alphabet subsidiary along with Google) filed a lawsuit in February seeking at least $1 billion in damages.
In case you thought Uber couldn’t get itself into any more trouble, a former employee made some startling accusations at a hearing in San Francisco yesterday. Richard Jacobs, who still works as a consultant for Uber after leaving his post, told the court Uber set up a secret department tasked with stealing intellectual property from competitors and influencing lawsuits. The covert unit allegedly went so far as to identify employees at other companies who might be willing to leak confidential information.
Perhaps the most damaging part of Jacobs’ testimony is the way Uber trained members of its so-called “corporate surveillance” unit to manage its data. Jacobs testified that the department used separate servers and messaging systems from the rest of Uber, and messages (on a platform called Wickr) would be deleted almost immediately in order to eliminate any paper trail that could harm the company later.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup expressed concern that these allegations could mean Uber has been withholding evidence. Alsup, who you might remember from the Google-Oracle case, noted that he found Jacobs to be a trustworthy witness, and delayed the start of the trial phase indefinitely. That was set to begin on December 4th, and Uber was pushing hard for that to happen. Alsup also demanded Uber provide a list of all employees who had an account on the Wickr service.
Uber has maintained that it never used any of Waymo’s confidential intellectual property, but Waymo seems to have strong evidence that Levandowski did take data from Waymo upon his departure. That seems like exactly the sort of thing Uber’s secret unit would be trying to acquire.
Published at Wed, 29 Nov 2017 18:02:18 +0000