clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Here’s the letter alleging Uber spied on individuals for competitive intelligence

The letter has been submitted as evidence in Alphabet’s lawsuit against Uber.

Uber logo on a mobile phone in front of the Uber sign studioEAST / Getty

A 37-page letter that details allegations of unethical competitive surveillance practices at Uber has just been made public as part of Alphabet’s ongoing trade secret litigation against Uber.

The letter, written by the attorney of a former Uber security employee Richard Jacobs, was sent to the company’s general counsel Angela Padilla after he left the company.

In it, Jacobs claimed Uber’s security team advised staffers to use ephemeral messaging systems, like Wickr, and non-attributable devices to avoid creating paper trails that may serve to hurt the company in the event of a lawsuit.

He also claimed the company surveilled individuals from rival companies for competitive intelligence.

The 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.”

Jacobs testified in court and walked back some of the allegations made in the letter, which was written by his attorney, Clayton Halunen. Days later, Uber’s new chief legal officer Tony West issued a directive to employees to stop surveilling individuals, which Recode first reported.

In a separate note to staff, Khosrowshahi said the letter detailed enough to “merit serious concern.”

While Jacobs, Padilla and other employees addressed some of the claims made within the letter — confirming the use of Wickr for business-related communications — the letter itself had not been made public before Friday evening.

The document prepared by Jacobs’s attorney also claimed Uber was using some of these surveillance tactics on Alphabet’s self-driving arm, Waymo. However, during his testimony, Jacobs walked that allegation back.

“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,” an Uber spokesperson said.

Even in spite of that, the letter — submitted to the court just days before the companies were expected to begin the trial — could prove doubly problematic for Uber.

Alphabet’s self-driving arm Waymo is already asking a judge to instruct the jury that Uber’s withholding of evidence can be used against the company as it decides its verdict. The jury has yet to be selected. Both the delay in disclosing the letter to the court and the contents of the letter, if true, may serve to bolster that request.

A court-appointed official advised the judge that the document should have been produced as part of the discovery process.

Uber later settled with Jacobs for $4.5 million after he resigned, of which $1 million was considered a consulting fee for aiding Uber in an internal investigation. Jacobs’s lawyer, Halunen, received an additional $3 million from Uber.

Padilla said the company chose to settle with Jacobs in order to avoid the cost of litigation as well as any additional distraction it would cause for the company. The cost of discovery alone in that case would have cost $4 million to $5 million, Padilla testified.

Here’s the full letter:

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.