For years, Uber has been secretly spying on rival Lyft drivers with a specially-designed app called “Hell,” which let the ridesharing company track the location and activities of drivers.
Uber used “Hell” to find ways to convince or cajole drivers into switching off of its pink-logoed rival between 2014 and 2016, according to a new report in The Information released today. The software allowed Uber not only to see the real-time locations of many lift drivers, and issue fake ride requests, but also to eventually keep track of drivers who were playing both sides of the field, driving for both companies. It is yet another in a string of ethically dubious practices by the ride-sharing company, continuing the company’s public relations woes over the first half of 2017.
According to the report, accessed by TechCrunch, the “Hell” software began with Uber creating a number of fake accounts in Lyft’s system. Those fabricated accounts were then “placed” at various locations, allowing them “to see the eight closest available Lyft drivers to each fake rider,” just like any real rider, and gave the company an impression of how long the wait times were for its competitor.
Making use of this data allowed Uber to get a sense of Lyft’s presence in a given area. And if that wasn’t enough, the company found another benefit, which in turn gave rise to the “Hell” program.
Once Uber learned how to identify individual Lyft drivers via a unique number code assigned to each one, it was able to engage in long-term tracking of Lyft drivers by exploiting this flaw. Uber’s ability to do this indicates that even Lyft was unaware of this potential exploit, as there were no safeguards in place against it. Even most of Uber’s upper-level staff were unaware that this was going on.
According to The Huffington Post, Uber used information from Hell to send fake ride requests to Lyft drivers, rendering them unavailable to pick up real customers. Uber then targeted Lyft’s drivers by sending them more ride requests.” Those ride requests were, of course, fake, and rendered Lyft’s drivers unavailable to pick up real customers.
Beyond that act of sabotage, Uber also used the “Hell” software to find out which of its drivers, based on their own activity, was pulling double-duty for Lyft. It was then able to custom tailor incentives for drivers to push them away from Lyft to more fully working for Uber.
Is it illegal? Maybe not. Is it just a little bit shady? Sure seems like it.
“Hell” isn’t even the first time Uber’s found itself in questionable waters with regards to its user of technology and user data in 2017. In February, the company fessed up to using “Greyball” in order to dodge public scrutiny by avoiding riders with the power to — officially or unofficially — hurt its reputation.
And prior to the creation of “Hell,” there was “Heaven.” Properly — and egotistically — called “God View,” that program enabled Uber to track the location of its riders even after they got out of the car. The name “Hell” was perhaps envisioned as a facetious in-house commentary on the fact that it was operating on the dark side of “Heaven.” That reference would have worked better if “Heaven” didn’t already have that dark side of its own, which made headlines in early 2016.
Although Uber reportedly ended it’s use of “Hell” back in 2016, these continued revelations won’t be good for its ongoing competition with Lyft. And Lyft seems to have taken the upper hand recently, with a new plan to expand into 54 more cities across the country. All that, without the Devil on their side.