Uber Uses Ubiquitous Surveillance to Identify and Block Regulators

The New York Times reports that Uber developed apps that identified and blocked government regulators using the app to find evidence of illegal behavior:

Yet using its app to identify and sidestep authorities in places where regulators said the company was breaking the law goes further in skirting ethical lines—and potentially legal ones, too. Inside Uber, some of those who knew about the VTOS program and how the Greyball tool was being used were troubled by it.


One method involved drawing a digital perimeter, or “geofence,” around authorities’ offices on a digital map of the city that Uber monitored. The company watched which people frequently opened and closed the app—a process internally called “eyeballing”—around that location, which signified that the user might be associated with city agencies.

Other techniques included looking at the user’s credit card information and whether that card was tied directly to an institution like a police credit union.

Enforcement officials involved in large-scale sting operations to catch Uber drivers also sometimes bought dozens of cellphones to create different accounts. To circumvent that tactic, Uber employees went to that city’s local electronics stores to look up device numbers of the cheapest mobile phones on sale, which were often the ones bought by city officials, whose budgets were not sizable.

In all, there were at least a dozen or so signifiers in the VTOS program that Uber employees could use to assess whether users were new riders or very likely city officials.

If those clues were not enough to confirm a user’s identity, Uber employees would search social media profiles and other available information online. Once a user was identified as law enforcement, Uber Greyballed him or her, tagging the user with a small piece of code that read Greyball followed by a string of numbers.

When Edward Snowden exposed the fact that the NSA does this sort of thing, I commented that the technologies will eventually become cheap enough for corporations to do it. Now, it has.

One discussion we need to have is whether or not this behavior is legal. But another, more important, discussion is whether or not it is ethical. Do we want to live in a society where corporations wield this sort of power against government? Against individuals? Because if we don’t align government against this kind of behavior, it’ll become the norm.

Posted on March 6, 2017 at 6:24 AM41 Comments


Alex March 6, 2017 7:55 AM

This isn’t very far from what VW have been doing for emissions tests. Detect if you’re in front of the regulator, and change the way you provide (or deny) your service. Surely there are legal caveats that can be used to prosecute them…

Roland March 6, 2017 8:28 AM

This is redlining, at least for the first method. That’s illegal discrimination if it was in banking, but not in this case. Discrimination based on whether someone’s possibly a cop is perfectly legal, and should remain so, especially against undercover work.

What do you want, another law? Please! Who is interested in non-discrimination for cops? Taxi medallion holders! Enough regulation! I like the sound of monopolies being broken.

Ethical? Seriously, who has the high ground here? This could accidentally cause discrimination that is actually illegal, but the real cause of that wouldn’t be Uber, it would be the cops. Why not ask them about ethical? Just for a laugh!

jayson March 6, 2017 8:42 AM

It is regulation and enforcement intervening between two willing parties of a harmless transaction so I’m going to say it’s ethical. I’m sure there are others here who could give a better opinion on legal, but it certainly looks like there is a gray area.

This appears to more of a legal/publicity showdown between local medallion owners and ride-sharing apps. Given that the established industry has their hands tied from decades of byzantine regulation, this is the only way they can fight. Ideally, the industry should be allowed to innovate competitively rather than fighting out a series of court battles and FUD media campaigns.

Pete March 6, 2017 8:46 AM

Should a drug dealer walk away when he sees a cop? Is that legal?

What if he has lookouts a block or two away letting him know there is a cop coming? Is that legal? The lookouts aren’t doing anything but passing on information.

Seems like the same thing to me.

OTOH, if your “legal business” is just trying to avoid the hassles that a deeper look from regulators could cause, well, I don’t know the answer to that.

My website blocks different subnets from around the world. Is that legal? I just don’t want the hassles.

Another mouse March 6, 2017 9:16 AM

This sounds a lot like a corporation impeding an investigation. Is that not illegal? If not, then why not? IANAL, but it seems that a private citizen doing the same thing would be charged with something, pretty quick. Likely in conjunction with whatever crime they were being investigated for, but possibly as an accessory if they’re not directly involved.

Relevant comic:

JD Bertron March 6, 2017 9:19 AM

What happened to your stance for freedom from government repression ?
“Do we want to live in a society where corporations wield this sort of power against government? Against individuals? “
The alternative my friend is totalitarian rule. Why focus on the fact this might not be ethical ? What about the government repression of their ability to serve their customers ? Is that ethical ?
You really need to revisit your principles, otherwise you’re going down a very confused road.
Would it be ok for the bBazilian government to decide to block The Intercept’s internet for failure to please them, yet wrong for The Intercept to fight back with Tor ?
Your love for the state is blinding you. Wake up.


Clive Robinson March 6, 2017 9:30 AM

@ Bruce,

One discussion we need to have is whether or not this behavior is legal. But another, more important, discussion is whether or not it is ethical.

How about first discussing if the “rules” that are being policed are actually “ethical” and what the comman man in the street would consider “legal” (ie not legislation purchased by the lobbyists of an effective monopoly).

You only have to look at the rules for “hail and ride” taxis in London to realise that it has become a vastly overpriced monopoly for “Black Cabs”. Next time you pay a Black Cab 100USD equivalent to go from Heathrow Airport to a central London Hotel, you will know that you have been “taken for a ride” in more than one way… Those black cab drivers only have to do one run a day to have an actual in your pocket income of twice the UK average… If you have the sense to “book a minicab” instead you would be looking at around 30USD for the same journey…

Most major Western Cities have these taxi cartels or monopolies and often the “civic authorities” are “on a piece of the action” one way or another. Likewise some of the “inspectors” are going to have “stroke your nose and I’ll look away” style scams etc.

Old Bull Lee March 6, 2017 9:31 AM

What JD Bertron said. Is this any different in principle than Apple hardening their phones against law enforcement intrusion?

trent March 6, 2017 9:49 AM

Enforcement officials involved in large-scale sting operations to catch Uber drivers …

So never mind whether Greyball is legal, we’re talking about Uber already being officially pursued by the local authorities of those jurisdictions.

To circumvent that tactic

Ok, so, criminal conspiracy, in the legal sense. Uber is allegedly (until tried etc) developing and implementing a system with the intent to enable later illegal actions, eg, provide unregulated taxi-like services in places where taxi regulation is mandated.

The informative comparison I see in this sense is the Arab Spring / Twitter Facebook thing, because in that case we were congratulating companies in their confrontation of governments and support of local oppressed populations.

So the Arab Spring case is probably a Good Thing, this Greyball is probably a Bad Thing, and somewhere in between we need to be able to describe the line that separates them.

Daniel March 6, 2017 10:06 AM

To say I am doumbfounded is to put it mildly. I can think of at least a dozen criminal laws violated by this action from RICO, to criminal conspiracy, to interfering in a government investigation. How this company can remain in business is utterly beyond my comprehension other than the fact that it is “to big to fail”. If an ordinary person did this they would be looking at years in prison.

Discrimination based on whether someone’s possibly a cop is perfectly legal, and should remain so, especially against undercover work.

No it is not and has never has been. They key is intentionality. This is the difference between what Uber did and what Tor and Signal do. An individual has no obligation to make life easy for the police ab inito or a priori. But once an individual knows they are under investigation they cannot actively thwart that investigation. This is the entire point of mens rea. Uber has the guilty mind: they knew they were breaking the law and did it anyway.

parabarbarbian March 6, 2017 10:09 AM

Greyball was originally a tool to aid drivers in avoiding riders that posed a threat to the driver or his vehicle. What most of us would call “criminals” or, at least, “arseholes”. Nothing unethical about extending that protection to avoid official extortion.

Daniel March 6, 2017 10:18 AM

Should a drug dealer walk away when he sees a cop? Is that legal?

Yes it is legal.

What if he has lookouts a block or two away letting him know there is a cop coming? Is that legal? The lookouts aren’t doing anything but passing on information.

Yes that is legal.

Seems like the same thing to me.

Not the same thing at all, 180 degrees opposite. The difference is knowledge and intent. In the cases you outline the “bad guy” has no knowledge that he is under investigation. He might suspect it; his suspicion might be in fact be correct; he may even act on that suspicion, but he has no actual knowledge. Here Uber (a) had actual knowledge of an investigation and (b) actively tried to thwart that investigation using fake cars. That is obstruction of justice, plain and simple. It doesn’t get any clearer than that. The fact that they used an app built by many people is easily a conspiracy charge. Given that they are a big business and given how flexible RICO has become a RICO charge is also possible.

Bryan March 6, 2017 10:24 AM

“They key is intentionality.”

That can’t be the only key, or it would be illegal to flash your headlights to warn other drivers of speed traps. Instead it’s been repeatedly ruled by federal courts to be First Amendment protected speech.

It’s not clear to me how Greyball works, but if it’s only warning Uber’s independent contractor drivers that someone is probably a cop, seems legal (IANAL).

The stories have mentioned repeatedly that Uber’s legal team signed off on this, so clearly, they have some theory of legality.

Sparky March 6, 2017 11:12 AM

The real problem isn’t that Company X is thwarting investigations by the local government.

The problem is that already-weak oversight of corporations could become that much worse if this is tolerated.

So individuals could look forward to unfettered surveillance from BOTH the .GOV and the corporate world, with zero recourse.

Should we pass knee-jerk laws to prevent this? Probably not. But until someone patches human nature, the legal/regulatory approach might be our least-worst option.

Yankee March 6, 2017 11:22 AM

Focusing on what is technically legal just chases its own tail and will eventually bite its own ass. If there isn’t widespread respect for process this civilization thing isn’t going to work out. Uber’s business model is about disrespecting civic order, aka “the administrative state” and they are past due for a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, like maybe half their equity. Oh I forgot they don’t even have any equity, this is all just for sh**s & giggles.

Anura March 6, 2017 11:24 AM

@JD Bertron

“Do we want to live in a society where corporations wield this sort of power against government? Against individuals? ”
The alternative my friend is totalitarian rule

No, there are infinitely many in-betweens as well as complete alternatives to for-profit corporations. Totalitarian rule is what we have been moving towards with the corporate state. The more powerful corporations grow, the less effective Democracy becomes.

For example, the taxi medallion system itself is bad because it is not an open market – it is sold to a private individual or a company to lease it out for a profit. It can easily be fixed by changing the way it works. There are two goals, one is to limit the number of taxi cabs to prevent streets from getting overcrowded, and the second is to ensure the drivers are safe and secure.

In order to fix this problem, we could have straight-up licensing for cab drivers like we would have for any other profession. That’s simple, but doesn’t solve the demand. In that case, we can have regular open auctions for timeslots, not medallions, which either taxi drivers can bid on themselves or they can form driver-owned cooperatives who handle the bidding and the dispatch and operate at cost. Ideally, the only rent paid on limiting the demand for taxis would be paid to the public and it would cover the externalities such as road wear and pollution.

Andrew March 6, 2017 11:24 AM

The lookouts aren’t doing anything but passing on information.

And committing criminal conspiracy. And aiding and abetting the commission of a crime. And ….

My Info March 6, 2017 12:21 PM

@Ollie Jones

Is it possible for a company, not just a person, to be sociopathic?

For sure. Or for that matter the government. Who the hell are these “regulators,” anyways? The protection racket for those notorious half-million-dollar NYC taxicab medallions? Last time I rode a taxi, which was a long time ago, I fell asleep in the back and when I woke up my pants were unzipped.

I’m no more impressed with Über than anyone else is. I had some kind of ad or coupon for a free Über ride one time, but when I installed the app it fucked up my phone so royally that the OS froze hard when I tried to use it, and my phone never even worked properly after that. Or else you go with their competitor Lyft and get picked up by some purple-haired lesbian driver with a huge pink mustache affixed to the front grille of her car.

The whole taxicab and “ride-sharing” industry is sociopathic. I’m sick of it. If I don’t have my own two hands on the wheel, I don’t even want to ride with these idiots.

jdgalt March 6, 2017 12:22 PM

Yes, it should be allowed. Except when government is doing the discriminating.

Forcing businesses (and individuals) to deal with “customers” who are going to cost them time or money is always a bad thing, the very kind of bad thing we invent technologies like Uber in order to prevent or thwart.

Ross Snider March 6, 2017 1:29 PM

Uber here is clearly in the wrong in the sense that it is criminally avoiding laws that are in effect. This makes it criminal conspiracy.

I absolutely agree that the transportation industry (taxi medallion system, etc) is deeply broken. I don’t think Uber is “fixing” this as much as it is as “capturing it”.

The end to this I would like to see is for the “sharing economy” to actually mean sharing (i.e. non-concentration of supply-logistics profit) – basically Uber dwindle down to nothing – as well as the taxi system be overthrown. I’d love to see small businesses and communities replace both.

The way to get there are the right set of laws and the enforcement of those laws to punish those abusing them (Uber).

Winter March 6, 2017 1:48 PM

I think the point is here that Uber breaks the law in several cities. They offer a service for which a license is needed without having said license. By actively organizing to thwart inspection, they show to be a criminal organization.

Just like VW. Remember how much VW had to pay, and high up employees have been arrested.

I see that some people here advocate companies should break laws that do not suit them. Historically, that is not a wise position.

Clive Robinson March 6, 2017 3:00 PM

@ Winter,

I see that some people here advocate companies should break laws that do not suit them.

Not quite, it’s “bad laws that do harm”, and no I don’t advocate people break them. I mearly point out that the common man seeing the laws are being put in place to create a cartel at his expense, might regard them as being “not legal”.

However history shows that bad laws only change when it is to obvious to ignore. Vested interests will do almost anything they can to prevent the bad laws they profit from becoming “to obvious to ignore”. Those who initialy see bad law as unjust and decide they need changing have to fight not just public apathy but vested interests as well. The easiest way to fight apathy is to make the subject news worthy repeatedly, this is problematic as the fight for rights in labour laws, womens votes, the end of slavery, race, gender, religion and political oppression have all resulted in criminalisation thus criminal behaviour. As for fighting the vested interests, as they are the ones paying for not just the bad legislation but the criminalization of protest that likewise is not likely to be a fair or crime free fight.

Historically untill the end of the last century, Empires did not fail quietly, it usually involved inordinate amounts of civil unrest, often leading to the use of terminal force by guard labour that in turn provoked similar terminal force from the oppressed. That is history has shown an old privileged order seldom goes without a fight, and thus frequently ended up being eliminated like vermin. It’s not the way we want society to function but ultimately if the old order will neither change nor yeild they leave no other option, they have to be deposed.

@ Anura,

That’s simple, but doesn’t solve the demand. In that case, we can have regular open auctions for timeslots…

That will not work, auctions can be fixed and have been since time immemorial.

It’s also unnecessary, there are places where the licence requirments for hail to ride have a low entry bar, and the simple rules of “supply and demand” puts an economic limit on the number of taxis on the streets. In fact it’s been shown that in the case of open licencing, not having a cartel means that there are actually to few taxis for the public good. Having a cartel ensures sufficient income that the numbers of taxis are increased thus available. It’s one of the reasons that you hear politicians mumble about there being no economic justification for Public Transport. Because to be used public transport has to be available when people need it not when operators chose to supply them. Which means the majority of vehicle journeys run at a lot less than capacity and thus many run at a loss except at peek travel times like “rush hour”. The reason we have “rush hour” is employers having a 9-5 authoritarian work mentality.

I could go on to show why employers should be taxed for their short sighted authoritarian behaviour to pay for the transport issues they have created but I’m reasonably sure you can work it out. Though finding a solution to authoritarian employers is one that appears not possible in a “Capitalist free market” as they don’t appear to understand the notion of “a rising tide lifts all boats”.

Virgil March 6, 2017 3:18 PM

The questions you are asking don’t appear to be very bright.

If a criminal, armed gang is constantly taking measures to subvert your business, assault, arrest, threaten your employees and constantly seek to subvert you and fine you, are you not within your rights to use the tools at hand to essentially defend yourself?

Should the potential victim of a gang rape not be able to use tools to avoid being raped?

gordo March 6, 2017 3:30 PM

The Problem With ‘Smart Cities’
Silicon Valley’s platforms send wealth away from communities. Is there a local alternative?
By Elias Crim • The American Conservative • January 12, 2017

The builders of contemporary master-planned cities—the Middle East’s Dubai, Asia’s Songdo, or India’s Gurgaon—are smart in some sense. To be sure, these places draw on top talent in their architects, planners, and environmental consultants. They in turn create luxury districts where technology enables a gleaming and growing mix of oligopoly, exploitation, and surveillance.


A key aspect of the “smart cities” movement is the promise of personal technology to create new economic opportunities. But the fact is that no sharing actually goes on in most of what’s called the sharing economy—companies such as Uber, AirBnB, Lyft and TaskRabbit extract value from contract employees, not in the service of some dewy-eyed mutualistic scheme, but rather for the benefit of perfectly conventional Silicon Valley venture capitalists. The latter process is sometimes called “Uberization.”


If you happen to be a millennial or know one, then you’re probably familiar with the issues around digital work. But this economic threat to our democracy—the Internet as an inequality machine—is bigger than one generation. It’s in the process of overturning the traditional rights of workers going back to the 19th century. And it’s quickly scooping in oceans of our personal data—a form of personal property—in order to leverage that asset into creating even more value for the few owners of the digital platforms now driving a large proportion of our lives (Amazon, Facebook, Google, etc.).


[Note on Metropolis link at above-linked page: Link-page (http://metropolis1927.com/) will try to download Metropolis trailer (trailer.mov) automatically.]

Major March 6, 2017 3:37 PM

Conspiracy and obstruction of justice are two invented offenses that governments use to pummel people that they can’t touch for an actual crime. Often they have a greater punishment than the alleged offense.

What about all the special treatment police accused of crimes receive? Giving them 24 or 48 hours before they have to talk to an investigator to allow them to get their stories straight. A “blue wall of silence” in which officers agree not to testify against each other. If these are not going to be prosecuted as conspiracy and obstruction, then I don’t think anything should be.

Our congress legalizes monetary exchange between politicians and interested parties that would be illegal in most of the world. Why is that not conspiracy? (Yes: because they make the laws, and allow for themselves what would be illegal for anyone else.)

I am reading Mitnick’s new book and he gives examples of people charged with obstruction simply for clearing their browser history, and that before they even knew they were under investigation. Are the obstruction charge fans here now going to refrain from basic privacy measures?

Conspiracy and obstruction are targeted against those who are not in power or those who annoy the people in power, rarely against people actually in power. Which is where most conspiracy actually takes place, unprosecuted: within circles of power.

I am not a particular fan of Uber but choosing not to serve people who are going to make life difficult for them seems like a basic freedom and good sense.

Are we going now to charge people now for NOT selling drugs to undercover officers as well as selling them? Why bother even having a trial? The fix is in.

My Info March 6, 2017 3:48 PM


Greyball is a euphemism for blackball or blacklist. To discriminate against certain minorities.

A “threat to our way of doing business” is how they term it.

The only thing about those $500K medallions, is that those cabbies won’t turn down a fare when they owe that kind of debt to the NYC mafia with its kneecap-cracking enforcement.

Winter March 6, 2017 4:04 PM

“However history shows that bad laws only change when it is to obvious to ignore. ”

I agree with this. And taxi licenses are ripe for a change. But there is a difference between civil sisobediance, a fight for freedom, and crime-for-profit.

Also we should remember the words:
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

Marty March 6, 2017 4:20 PM


Yes, and that difference is how you respond to an investigation. When someone engages in civil disobedience, they are not trying to undermine the law, so much as get it changed. This means that their actions are done openly and they willingly accept the penalties for their transgressions.

The real ethical problem here is that Uber is trying to subvert both regulation of and investigation into their activities. If they were publically running an unregistered taxi service (as they were a few years back) then they could claim “civil disobedience”. (Furthermore, this seems to have generated some real progress in that area of law.) However, the moment they started trying to undermine the law by hiding their activities that defence goes away. Now they are just a criminal cartel, and should be prosecuted as such. (Sadly, given the ongoing breakdowns in the rule of law, I have my doubts about whether they will be.)

Anura March 6, 2017 4:51 PM

@Clive Robinson

It’s also unnecessary, there are places where the licence requirments for hail to ride have a low entry bar, and the simple rules of “supply and demand” puts an economic limit on the number of taxis on the streets.

It’s not a problem everywhere, only in some big cities where congestion is a serious problem. Whether or not it is profitable to drive a cab depends primarily on the cab to passenger ratio – the costs of pollution and time lost to others due to congestion (compared to public transport/walking/biking) are pretty much invisible to the industry or accounted for in increased fares.

Limiting the number of cabs that can be operating at any one time can ensure cabs spend less time idling or driving around looking for passengers, and thus ensure more efficient transportation while the rent caused by the limited supply is paid only to the public.

albert March 6, 2017 5:27 PM

“…Do we want to live in a society where corporations wield this sort of power against government?…”

What society do you live in Bruce?

The governments are -run- by large corporations (or in some cases, dictators).

Thanks to The Donald, it’s gonna get a lot worse.

Cab companies are pissed because their little monopolies are being threatened by competition. They follow the example of every other entrenched monopoly, instead of embracing the new paradigm, they fight it.

Uber and it’s ilk have the economic power to squash the cab companies like bugs; they only have to start using it.

. .. . .. — ….

Major March 6, 2017 6:24 PM

@My Info

The government and police are far from minorities. If vulnerable people were being denied service I WOULD be concerned. But since when does someone have to purposely walk into a police dragnet?

Uber’s major crime is not paying off the correct people enough. Where are the conspiracy charges for people conspiring to pollute that benefit by the changes in the EPA? Or the charges against financial interests that have released themselves from responsibility to act in the best interest of their clients under new Trump regulations?

If laws actually protected people evading them might have ethical implications. But right now they are largely written by the criminals, or people that would be criminals under equitable laws.

What if this were the EFF charged with conspiracy, not some big bad wolf like Uber? What if an EFF member made a bad joke about terrorism while pointing someone to an open source encryption system and that person ended up doing something that could be considered terrorism (like taking pictures of animals being abused, which is effectively terrorism in some states.) Would you like the mechanism of conspiracy to be used against the EFFer?

You know, it would be.

gordo March 6, 2017 7:54 PM

The Sharing Economy
Disruption’s Tragic Flaw
The case of Uber shows why European companies should not follow the example of their American competitors too closely. It pays to take the needs of customers and contractors into account.
23.03.2015, von SHOSHANA ZUBOFF

In my view, what we see in Uber and similar cases is a tragic flaw: disruption without discipline. Disruption without the institutionalization required for systemic coherence, which is essential for trust. Half mutation, half repetition…half advocacy, half contempt…half future, half past. Uber’s is opportunistic disruption that does not rise to Schumpeter’s standard for moving capitalism’s evolutionary dial. (par. 3)


The Changing Content Of Capitalism – Shoshana Zuboff
Published on July 2, 2015 Helge Tennø

This article is not my thinking. The entire post is sections of transcript from Zuboff’s talk at the Fundación de la innovación, Bankinter in 2008. …

[Video of talk [58:11] is a scroll-or-so down the page. Below is a snippet from a section of transcript (the whole talk is worth hearing):]


16.05: “A lot of people talk about creative destruction. But creative destruction is easy, we don’t have to do anything for creative destruction, history does that for us. The much bigger and more important part of Schumpeter’s theory of capitalist development and model of economic revolution has to do with the creative response. That’s what we do as human agents. The creative response is when we recombine new and existing resources in wholly new ways to better meet societies need. And this is what he felt was the watershed between epics, between eras, between chapters of capitalism.”


From the official page for the above talk:

Fundación Innovación Bankinter
[Bankinter Innovation Foundation]
Alternative for the crisis
04 Dec 2008 | Ponente: Shoshana Zuboff

Shoshana Zuboff begins her talk by explaining that the current crisis that we face is not a sudden fall, but rather a slow closing to an economic cycle. While other talks have focused on scale and scope she pledges to focus on the content of the issue. Zuboff uses examples such as Apple’s iPod and iTunes, the American auto industry, and revolutions in Healthcare to demonstrate how business must realign itself to the needs of the individual. The efficient-standard-low cost model no longer applies as unique consumers look to have their demand met in a different manner. She concludes that by organizing assets around the individual, and countering the shift with a creative response, a new type of commerce that attracts cash and better serves the individual will surface. [58:11]


IoT deployment and so on.

Daniel March 6, 2017 8:16 PM

It is fascinating that one of the major complaints about Donald Trump is that he has no respect for the rule of law. Then I come to this blog and find that the response to this problem is not to strengthen the rule of law, oh no, strengthening the rule of law is nothing more than letting the gangsters have their way. The right response to Trump’s attacks on the rule of law is to join him in the fight and create an anarchical culture.


it is no wonder that when the normal person hears the word “security” or “privacy” they think to themselves “what a bunch of loons”

bkd69 March 7, 2017 1:12 AM

Doesn’t Blackstone admonish us to accept imperfection in in law enforcement as a matter of justice? As this is a matter of mere business licensing, as opposed to a matter of true risk, such as building code enforcement, then surely these are reasonable countermeasures, no?

Dirk Praet March 7, 2017 4:20 AM

@ albert

Cab companies are pissed because their little monopolies are being threatened by competition.

Err, no. Cab companies are pissed because they and their drivers are subject to all kinds of regulation, whereas the essence of the Uber business model is to systematically dodge any kind of regulation, thus engaging in unfair, social dumping practices driving regular companies out of business. Despite their whining and deception tactics, Uber is not the underdog here. They are a transnational conglomerate pretending to be a software company, backed by Goldman Sachs capital, and their main activity the physical equivalent of selling prescription drugs of questionable origin through a Tor hidden service. I’d rather pay more for a cab from a local SMB than do any business with a bunch of gangsters seeking to replace tightly regulated local businesses with a law- and rule-free international monopoly of their own.

albert March 7, 2017 11:53 AM

“…they and their drivers are subject to all kinds of regulation…”

What ‘regulation’ are you talking about? Especially compared to Ubers standards for their drivers. I’ve dealt with all kinds of cab companies in the big city I live in. ALL have never been less than 15 minutes late for a pickup, the average is 20-30 minutes. And this in the era of cell phones! Cab co.s are overpriced, unreliable, and a major crap shoot regarding cleanliness, driver ability, and honesty, especially for out-of-town guests. Why do folks ‘take it’? Because they have a -monopoly-. If they had to exist in a competitive environment, most would fail in less than a year.

The fact is this: cab drivers can’t make a living driving. Unlike unionized workers in manufacturing, they have no bargaining power. Hence, high rates and poor service. Uber drivers basically work in a gig economy, although I had a guest who was doing Uber full-time for a while, but it was “a bitch”, and he expected his car to last only about two years. For him, it was temporary by design.

Note: I’m talking about -cab companies-, not the -drivers-. The CCs created the environment for their drivers.

Uber drivers are not “law and rule free”, and they know they can’t make a living doing it. If they eff-up, they’re out. Not a luxury cab co.s have.

Ask yourself where that 300K(around here) medallion payment goes.

As I said, the paradigm has changed. The regulation environment has to change as well. Unfortunately, the regulators don’t want to give up that income.

I Uber and their ilk do it right (so far, not) it could be a good thing, if not, they’ll die a dotcom death.

So hate Uber all you want, but it’s the future.

“Prepare to be assimilated, resistance is futile…”

. .. . .. — ….

Dirk Praet March 7, 2017 3:02 PM

@ albert

As I said, the paradigm has changed. The regulation environment has to change as well.

While we can discuss at great length the sanity or insanity of regulation governing a specific business – in this case cab rides -, my point is that it applies to either none or all of the players providing said service. If a country (or city) requires cab companies and drivers to have valid licenses, then Uber has a choice to either comply or have itself banned and its illegal cabbies physically attacked by competitors who – as you say – are already struggling to make ends meet.

That is of course unless you believe that sexy Silicon Valley startups backed by banksters, venture capitalists and high-profile lobbyists by the grace of $DEITY are above petty local law in what certain folks in the US refer to as “the international Americas”.

Teddy March 8, 2017 7:21 AM

I’m not sure if passing a law specifically against this behavior it’s a good thing. Logically its should follow that CB-radios and such should be banned too.

But how about RICOing Uber out of existence? If that’s not feasible, amend the law. This company is basically an openly operating criminal syndicate and causes far more damage than drug dealers, protection racketeers or bank robbers could if they tried. This is just another example of all-out mob tactics – but IMO it’s the underlying criminality that should be prosecuted and not attempts to cover it up.

Leon Wolfeson March 8, 2017 9:17 PM

@Ollie Jones – If a public company is not displaying the characteristics of a sociopath, it is not getting best profits and hence is not acting in the “best interests” of it’s shareholders by generating maximum profit.

Julien Couvreur March 12, 2017 12:42 AM

Is this really an example of a corporation wielding “power against government”?
What is this “power” you talk of?
Last I heard, corporations do not send police or threaten you with fines and jail if you not longer wish to be their customer. Corporations also don’t get to unilaterally impose rules on customers or other corporations.

Btw, in other news, an app to skirt enforcement of immigration laws: https://www.wired.com/2017/03/portable-panic-button-immigrants-swept-raids/

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