A senior source at Uber has confirmed to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Four Corners programme that Uber Australia illegally deployed an in-house piece of spyware called Surfcam in order to spy on drivers for a rival rideshare company called Gocatch; Uber was able to compile lists of drivers' emails, car registration numbers and other details and it used these to poach Gocatch drivers and turn them into Uber drivers.
Uber was previously caught using Surfcam illegally in Singapore. A company spokesperson reported that they have "conducted an audit of the use of Surfcam and it has been prohibited," and blamed the tool's use on the previous CEO, the disgraced and ousted Travis Kalanick.
Gocatch was notable for not launching until after the Australian government had created a regulatory framework for the lawful operation of rideshare systems; by contrast, Uber entered the market before the practice was legalized.
Uber developed Surfcam in-house. It was just one of many in-house dirty tricks software: in 2017, it was caught using an internally developed program called Greyball to kick people off the system if they were suspected of being cops or investigators in territories where the company was fighting with regulators.
GoCatch's co-founder and chief executive, Andrew Campbell, has told Four Corners that while GoCatch survived, Uber's tactics damaged the company.
"The fact that Uber used hacking technologies to steal our data and our drivers is appalling," he said.
"It had a massive impact on our business. It sets a really dangerous precedent for the Australian economy and Australian businesses as well. It tells every multinational company to come to Australia and follow the same practice."
"As an Australian small business, a technology start-up business based in Australia that's improving efficiency and service levels in the taxi industry, to have a company come to Australia and get away with that type of behaviour is … it's disgusting.
"It's completely un-Australian and it shouldn't be allowed in this country.
"The damage that that has done to GoCatch and other businesses is significant and frankly it should have been stopped."
Uber used secret spyware to try to crush Australian start-up GoCatch [Sean Nicholls, Peter Cronau and Mary Fallon/ABC]
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