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Uber says it won’t use its ‘Greyball’ tool to evade local authorities anymore

But the technology will still be used for things like promotions, testing new features and fraud prevention.

A smartphone showing the Uber app on its screen being tapped by a finger Zhang Peng / Getty

Uber says it is no longer allowing its employees to use a proprietary technology, called Greyball, to evade local authorities.

Greyball, first exposed by the New York Times, allows the company to create phantom rides for specific users as a way to both track and evade law enforcement.

The company reportedly used the tool to avoid local regulators in markets such as Boston, Las Vegas and Paris, where Uber could not yet legally operate.

But the company says it will continue to use the technology behind Greyball for other purposes such as testing new features. It will stop using it to circumvent government workers trying to catch Uber drivers.

The new limitation on the use of Greyball won’t be immediate.

“Given the way our systems are configured, it will take some time to ensure this prohibition is fully enforced,” chief security officer Joe Sullivan wrote in a company blog post announcing the change.

It’s no secret that the ride-hail company, now nearing seven years since it was founded, regularly flouted local regulations when it was scaling its business across the U.S. and the world. In Las Vegas, for instance, the company launched before it was legalized and immediately came up against local authorities who went as far as to don ski masks to conduct sting operations.

Uber may have pulled out of Las Vegas temporarily, but it used the traction it had garnered during its brief time operating in the city to convince state authorities to pass a series of bills that permitted Uber and Lyft to operate. The company ran a similar playbook to get legalized in Portland, Ore.

That is to say, its tactics proved to be successful in most of the U.S. where Uber and Lyft are now largely legal.

But that’s not the case in parts of Europe and Asia. The company is still facing scrutiny from lawmakers in Thailand, for example, where it and its competitor Grab are potentially facing an outright ban.

So it’s likely authorities outside of the U.S. haven’t taken kindly to the news that Uber has measures in place to sidestep its government’s enforcement efforts. Not to mention, both the company’s General Counsel Salle Yoo and its former CEO and board member Ryan Graves not only knew about the use of the technology but approved it, according to the Times.

In fact, in a statement to the Times, the company confirmed one of its uses was to evade any sting operations.

“This program denies ride requests to users who are violating our terms of service — whether that’s people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret ‘stings’ meant to entrap drivers.”

Today’s announcement, then, is a fairly substantial change of tune for Uber.

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