By on May 5, 2017

Uber (freestocks.org/Flickr)

Don’t look now, but the ride-sharing company everybody loves to hate is in trouble yet again. The Justice Department is reportedly opening an investigation into Uber’s not-so-secret “Greyball” tools, which can be used to circumvent law enforcement attempts to interfere with Uber’s business operations.

According to sources inside Uber, “Greyball” was originally developed to help protect Uber drivers from potential threats to their safety, such as unionized taxi drivers and other people who expressed their displeasure with Uber’s service in violent terms. The company soon realized Greyball could also be enhanced to help prevent “sting” operations in areas where ride-sharing services are illegal and/or heavily regulated.

I have no idea whether or not Uber will survive this unwanted federal attention; I’m reminded of the phrase used in the book Dune regarding “fools who put themselves in the way of the Harkonnen fist.” More interesting to me than that is the comment in the NYT article that some Uber employees had concerns about whether “Greyball” was “ethical.” That, I think, is the fascinating question.

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