According to the “Jacobs letter” written by the attorney of Richard Jacobs, the company had a specific-purpose department dealing in corporate espionage, bribery and similar activities, even spying on their own employees. The highly detailed account brings about accusations of systematic illegal activity inside the Uber “Strategic Services Group” (SSG) which allegedly acquired competitors’ trade secrets through eavesdropping and data collection.
It’s now a $1.86 billion legal battle between ride-hailing giant Uber and Alphabet’s self-driving unit Waymo. This clash of the titans has reached a pivotal moment as the judge in the case released a damning letter based on the account of a former Uber employee – the Jacobs letter.
Richard Jacobs previously worked as Uber’s manager of global intelligence before being fired in April. The letter alleges that some of the information gathered was relayed to then-CEO Travis Kalanick.
An Uber spokesperson replied to the accusation:
“While we haven’t substantiated all the claims in this letter—and, importantly, any related to Waymo—our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology.”
The 37-page letter details the actions of the SSG and the Marketplace Analytics (MA) group which it claims “exists expressly for the purpose of acquiring trade secrets, codebase, and competitive intelligence… from major ride-sharing competitors globally.” The Jacobs letter also alleges that the group used ephemeral encrypted chat apps and “non-attributable” devices to keep evidence of their actions hidden.
Separate and apart from the letter, Waymo has accumulated significant evidence that Uber is using stolen Waymo trade secrets, including copying aspects of Waymo’s LiDAR designs down to the micron, and we look forward to trial.”
The 37-page Jacobs letter lays out the alleged processes in detail. An excerpt states the following:
Uber worked to unlawfully obtain trade secrets from [redacted]. MA I) remotely accessed confidential [redacted] corporate communications and data, 2) impersonated riders and drivers on [redacted] platform to derive key functions of [redacted] rider and driver apps, 3) stole supply data by identifying possible drivers to boost Uber’s market position, and 4) acquired codebase which allowed MA to identify code used by [redacted] to understand in greater detail how [redacted] app functioned.
A report in Gizmodo earlier this week says just as much, highlighting Uber’s systematic data scraping of competitors’ platforms via automated collection systems that were running constantly, amassing millions of records.
These allegations are sure to complicate Uber’s case in the already-messy trade secrets theft case with Waymo. This has led to the trial being delayed until February 2018 to give the Waymo legal team more time to investigate claims from Jacobs.