Uber sure knows how to codename a top-secret, legally suspect software program. A month after revelations that the ride-hailing giant used a system dubbed "greyball" to evade regulators by developing software to detect them and serve them a fake version of its app in which it was impossible to hail a ride, The Information has learned that Uber engaged in another corporate espionage tactic, quoting "a person who was involved in the program and a person who was briefed about it." That program tracked rival Lyft drivers and drivers who, as so many do, drive on an ad hoc basis for both Lyft and Uber. To track the Lyft drivers, Uber staff allegedly created fake Lyft accounts, an act that would constitute a violation of Lyft's terms of service agreement.
The program, The Information reports, was nicknamed "Hell" — a riff on another of Uber's controversial internal features nicknamed "God View." Brought to light in 2014 God View tracks all Uber drivers on the road at a given time. God View drew criticism not so much for existing — of course Uber knows where its drivers are at any moment — but for its grandiose name and for the fact that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was allegedly down to show it off, with passengers names, as a party trick in Uber's early days.
Now, with Hell, it seems Kalanick is master of the universe AND the underworld. The program could have provided "a crucial edge in a business where finding enough people to drive is a constant battle," the Information claims. From its report:
"The spoofed Lyft accounts made by Uber then could get information about as many as eight of the nearest available Lyft drivers who could accommodate a ride request. Uber made sure that in each city where it was competing with Lyft, the fake rider locations were organized in a grid-like format so that it could view the entire city."
How Uber may have coaxed drivers away from Lyft by knowing their location isn't exactly known, but pretty easy to speculate: For example, Uber could offer preferable, enticing rates or other incentives to drivers that the company knew were also checking the Lyft app for fares, courtesy of its Hell tracking. Or, on the other hand, it could offer competitive rates to passengers who might be given the choice between the two services. A Hell view could also aid in deployment — Uber might encourage drivers, with surge pricing for instance,to seek out areas where Lyft cars weren't present.
Thanks to revelations like these over the course of the past months, Uber has been in corporate purgatory. One person who's managed to escape dealing with this "Hell" business is Uber's PR head, Rachel Whetstone. She left the company earlier this week, Recode reported, putting the drama behind her.