Uber Will No Longer Use ‘Greyball’ Software To Evade Local Regulators

Uber has issued a statement defending the use of its proprietary Greyball software, while at the same time going on record prohibiting employees from using the application to evade regulators. Joe Sullivan, the company's chief security officer, said it will take some time to ensure the prohibition is fully enforced. Some have taken that as an admission that Uber's been using the controversial tool to avoid being busted for breaking local laws.

A recent report in The New York Times brought attention to Greyball, which is a play on the word blackball. Citing four former and current Uber employees, the report said Uber used Greyball to thwart authorities in different cities in the United States and abroad where the ride-hailing service was either resisted by law enforcement or outright banned.


Uber has been using Greyball since 2014. It collects data to identify and target certain individuals, including law enforcement officials who might be trying to catch Uber operating in locations where it is not yet legal to do so. Even though cars might be operating in the restricted area, authorities targeted by Greyball would see no Uber cars or fake Uber cars that didn't exist in the vicinity when firing up the mobile app. In this way, Uber could evade sting operations.

"We wanted to give everyone an update on 'greyballing'. This technology is used to hide the standard city app view for individual riders, enabling Uber to show that same rider a different version," Sullivan said in a statement. "It’s been used for many purposes, for example: the testing of new features by employees; marketing promotions; fraud prevention; to protect our partners from physical harm; and to deter riders using the app in violation of our terms of service.

"We have started a review of the different ways this technology has been used to date. In addition, we are expressly prohibiting its use to target action by local regulators going forward. Given the way our systems are configured, it will take some time to ensure this prohibition is fully enforced. We’ve had a number of organizations reach out for information and we will be working to respond to their inquiries once we have finished our review."

To Sullivan's credit, there are legitimate uses for Greyball. It was created out of an Uber program called VTOS, or "violation of terms of service." Part of the reason for its creation was to protect drivers from acts of violence, as Greyball is able to identify people that have abused the service in some manner. In some foreign countries, it was common for taxi companies to attack Uber drivers.

It is not clear why Greyball's prohibited use can't be enforced immediately.