Uber schadenfreude continues in what's already been a hellish week for a company embroiled in scandal since Sunday after former engineer Susan Fowler went public with an account alleging sexual harassment and discrimination were systemic and pervasive in her year at the tech firm. Today, self-driving car company Waymo, owned by Google parent company Alphabet and spun off of Google itself last year, claims that a former Waymo employee now employed by Uber engaged in a "concerted plan to steal Waymo’s trade secrets and intellectual property."
That's ex-Google engineer Anthony Levandowski, a founder of self-driving truck company Otto, which was acquired by Uber last August in its play for autonomous vehicles. The explosive allegations are all in a Medium post written by the team at Waymo. What's particularly shocking is that Google has funded Uber in the past through its VC fund Google ventures. "Our parent company Alphabet has long worked with Uber in many areas," the Waymo team writes, "and we didn’t make this decision lightly."
We found that six weeks before his resignation this former employee, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo’s various hardware systems, including designs of Waymo’s LiDAR and circuit board. To gain access to Waymo’s design server, Mr. Levandowski searched for and installed specialized software onto his company-issued laptop. Once inside, he downloaded 9.7 GB of Waymo’s highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation. Then he connected an external drive to the laptop. Mr. Levandowski then wiped and reformatted the laptop in an attempt to erase forensic fingerprints.
Beyond Mr. Levandowki’s actions, we discovered that other former Waymo employees, now at Otto and Uber, downloaded additional highly confidential information pertaining to our custom-built LiDAR including supplier lists, manufacturing details and statements of work with highly technical information.
The juiciest part of this all might be that a mistaken CC may have blown the case open. "Waymo was recently and apparently inadvertently copied on an email from one of its LiDAR component vendors," they write. "The email attached machine drawings of what purports to be an Uber LiDAR circuit board,” the complaint reads. “As this email shows, Otto and Uber are currently building and deploying (or intending to deploy) LiDAR systems (or system components) using Waymo’s trade secret designs. This email also shows that Otto and Uber’s LiDAR systems infringe multiple LiDAR technology patents awarded to Waymo.”"
Waymo is now asking a US District Court to block Uber, and Otto, from using the self-driving technology and return the stolen materials. According to a statement to the Washington Post, Uber says it takes the allegations "seriously and we will review this matter carefully."
Talk about timing. Just yesterday, a New York Times report revealed more instances of harassment like those described by Fowler, painting a portrait of a "Hobbesian" nightmare workplace. And, earlier today, two angel investors with an early stake in Uber, Mitch and Freada Kapor, published an open letter taking the company to task.
"We are speaking up now because we are disappointed and frustrated; we feel we have hit a dead end in trying to influence the company quietly from the inside," they wrote. As for an investigation into the harassment allegations, the two "are disappointed to see that Uber has selected a team of insiders to investigate its destructive culture and make recommendations for change. To us, this decision is yet another example of Uber’s continued unwillingness to be open, transparent, and direct."
Previously: Uber Did A Bad And Is Very Sorry, Okay?