Uber’s top brass addressed newly revealed allegations a former employee made about the company’s past security and surveillance practices in a series of emails to the staff.
The ride-hail company’s chief legal officer Tony West, just days into his job, sent an email to the firm’s security team telling them to stop any competitive intelligence projects that included surveilling individuals.
“Dara [Khosrowshahi, Uber’s new CEO] and I are still learning the details about the extent of these operations and who was involved in directing them, but suffice it to say there is no place for such practices or that kind of behavior at Uber,” West wrote in his email, which Recode obtained. “We don’t need to be following folks around in order to gain some competitive advantage.”
“My understanding is that this behavior no longer occurs at Uber; that this truly is a remnant of the past,” he continued. “And I have not learned anything in the last couple of days that suggests otherwise. But, to be crystal clear, to the extent anyone is working on any kind of competitive intelligence project that involves the surveillance of individuals, stop it now.”
These new allegations came to light in a 37-page letter that Richard Jacobs, a former Uber security staffer, had sent to the company’s deputy general counsel, Angela Padilla, after he was terminated. The letter and his separate resignation letter were submitted to a judge and Alphabet’s self-driving arm Waymo as part of its ongoing lawsuit with Uber late last week. In it, Jacobs details claims that the company recorded conversations of individuals who worked for Chinese competitor, Didi Chuxing.
Jacobs’s letter read:
"This program, formerly known as the Strategic Services Group, under Nick Gicinto, collected intelligence and conducted unauthorized surveillance, including unauthorized recording of private conversations against executives from competitor firms, such as DiDi Chuxing and against its own employees and contractors at the Autonomous Technologies Group in Pittsburgh."
While Khosrowshahi — who forwarded West’s email to the entire company — wrote that he had yet to substantiate all the claims in Jacobs’s letter, there was enough in it to “merit serious concern.”
“As I hope you’ve seen over the past 2.5 months, I will always be fair when people admit mistakes or bring hard problems to me,” he wrote. “But let me be clear: I have drawn a line. I will not tolerate misconduct or misbehavior that was endorsed or excused in the past. Period.”
Here’s the full email:
I wanted to share Tony’s note to the security team because I couldn’t agree more with what he has outlined here.
The last 10 days have reminded us that things happened in the past that never should have occurred. The news that we failed to disclose a significant data breach, and that we showed poor judgment in our approach to competitors and our use of ephemeral communication for business purposes, has hurt the company just when we are beginning to turn the page.
I’ve already said that the decision not to disclose the breach was wrong, and we have held those responsible accountable.
With regard to the allegations outlined in Ric Jacobs’ letter, I can tell you that we have not been able to substantiate every one of his claims, including any related to Waymo. But I will also say that there is more than enough there to merit serious concern.
As I hope you’ve seen over the past 2.5 months, I will always be fair when people admit mistakes or bring hard problems to me. But let me be clear: I have drawn a line. I will not tolerate misconduct or misbehavior that was endorsed or excused in the past. Period.
I want to close by saying that I couldn’t be happier to have partners in Tony and the ELT as we work to build a company that every one of us can be proud of.
Onward ... and Upward.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Tony West
Date: Wed, Nov 29, 2017 at 11:42 AM
Subject: To My Security Colleagues,
As you all know, it’s been less than a week since I started on this job. It’s been an eventful period, to say the least, and I’m learning new things about Uber every day. One of the things that is constantly being reaffirmed to me is just how incredibly talented, smart, dedicated and loyal the people who work for this company are. I’m proud to be part of your team.
At the same time, in the spirit of transparency that I spoke about at the all-hands meeting yesterday, I must also say that I’m learning about practices we followed here in the past that are simply unacceptable; things that we cannot and will not tolerate at this company going forward.
A prime example is the failure to disclose last year’s data breach to appropriate parties in a timely manner. Another I’ve just learned about in the last couple of days involves Uber security personnel engaging in the human surveillance of individuals who work for competitors.
Dara and I are still learning the details about the extent of these operations and who was involved in directing them, but suffice it to say there is no place for such practices or that kind of behavior at Uber. We don’t need to be following folks around in order to gain some competitive advantage. We’re better than that. We will compete and we will win because our technology is better, our ideas are better, and our people are better. Period.
My understanding is that this behavior no longer occurs at Uber; that this truly is a remnant of the past. And I have not learned anything in the last couple of days that suggests otherwise. But, to be crystal clear, to the extent anyone is working on any kind of competitive intelligence project that involves the surveillance of individuals, stop it now.
Let me also add that I’ve not learned of anything regarding the surveillance practices that would be considered illegal. However, as you will hear me say many times, the question for us is not just whether something is legal; we must also ask ourselves whether it’s the right thing to do.
The data breach and human surveillance are the two biggest issues I’ve learned about in my short time here. If you are aware of or concerned about any other practices that could be questionable that occurred in the past or are occurring now, I expect you to raise those through the Hotline process immediately. We need to turn the page and begin writing our next Uber chapter, and I need your help to do that.
I’ll continue to communicate with you about this and other topics in the coming days and weeks. As Dara said the all-hands meeting yesterday, we can expect some bumpy days ahead as more information about this and other past practices comes to light. But as much as Uber will be judged on what we’ve done in the past, people will be watching just as closely to see how we handle our response to these matters going forward.
And I’m confident that, working together, we will pass that test.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.