Uber used a data-concealing tool to sidestep government investigations on at least two dozen occasions from 2015 to 2016, according to a report from Bloomberg. Three anonymous sources with knowledge of the alleged ploy told reporters that a team in the rideshare company’s headquarters had control over a system named “Ripley,” which allowed them to remotely change passwords, restrict access to data, and shut off computers and other devices in Uber offices around the world.
Ripley reportedly came in handy when its foreign offices came under scrutiny from local governments. For example, Bloomberg details a case in 2015 when Québécois authorities arrived at Uber’s Montreal branch with a warrant to collect evidence of tax law violations. Sources claim that the branch managers, following their training, had paged the San Francisco headquarters with the news. Upon receiving the alert, the team in charge of Ripley remotely logged off all the computers in the branch, preventing the investigators from collecting any of the evidence enumerated in the warrant.
Uber, which has come over fire for disregarding transportation safety and labor laws, has allegedly followed similar procedures during raids in locations such as Amsterdam, Brussels, Hong Kong, and Paris. However, the sources pointed out that there have been times when Uber used Ripley to hide data in foreign branches from police investigators who didn’t have warrants or were conducting fishing expeditions.
The company gave a statement to Bloomberg: “Like every company with offices around the world, we have security procedures in place to protect corporate and customer data. When it comes to government investigations, it’s our policy to cooperate with all valid searches and requests for data.”
Multiple reports came out last year suggesting that Uber has used a number of tactics to hide its internal operations from authorities and the public eye. The New York Times reported in May that the Justice Department was looking into Uber’s use of a tool called Greyball, which gave drivers access to a fake version of the app to, in some instances, dodge law enforcement when the company didn’t have permission to operate in a city.
In November, Google’s self-driving car subsidiary Waymo submitted a letter in court during its intellectual property trial with Uber that had purportedly been written by a former Uber employee detailing an internal unit dedicated to stealing trade secrets. Members of the unit allegedly used untraceable computers, burner phones, and a messaging service held on anonymous servers that almost immediately erased texts. That same month, Uber admitted that it had paid hackers $100,000 to keep quiet after they stole the data of 57 million customers and drivers.