Lyft drivers claim rival ride-sharing service Uber used a sophisticated spyware program to track their movements to gain an edge over Lyft, Bloomberg reports. The spyware program, reportedly named "Hell," permitted Uber employees or contractors to pose as Lyft customers to learn the locations of up to eight Lyft drivers at a time, Bloomberg says. The effort was intended to find drivers working for Lyft and Uber at the same time and convince them with incentives to work for Uber.
"Using Hell, Uber employees, contractors and/or agents were able to access the location of up to eight Lyft drivers at one time and obtain their unique Lyft ID," the complaint states. "Each Lyft ID is unique, akin to a Social Security number, which allowed Uber to track Lyft drivers' locations over time."
Uber is claimed to have used the Hell program millions of times from 2014 through 2016 to convert Lyft drivers to Uber and also to increase the Lyft passengers' wait time, creating a greater reliance on Uber in a particular geographical area.
“Uber accomplished this by incentivizing drivers working on both platforms to work primarily for Uber, thereby reducing the supply of Lyft drivers, which resulted in increased wait times for Lyft customers and diminished earnings for Lyft drivers,” the lawsuit claims.
The Hell program was discontinued sometime in 2016, according to the suit, and was not known about by anyone but CEO Travis Kalanick and a small group of employees and executives. The program, like another piece of spyware named "Greyball," was a part of Uber's "COIN," or competitive intelligence group.
Allegations of secret software used to attract drivers from competitors and create spoof accounts to summon Lyft drivers to non-existent pickup locations have resulted in Uber facing potential violations of state statutes relating to unfair competition, as well as federal communication laws.
The filing of the class action suit follows further controversy for Uber, already beset by leadership issues, reports of sexual harassment and a rocky start to its autonomous car experiments.