Uber Uses Software to Remotely Log Out to Preserve Customer Privacy Data

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With 78 or more international offices, you might have to consider some possible opposition with government authorities. In 2015, Uber faced a series of investigations in China and various other countries and were looking to secure their information while being investigated. During these police raids, employees knew the drill: immediately log-off and make it nearly impossible for the police to access the information they had a warrant to retrieve, aka proceed with the “unexpected visitor protocol.”

For fear of sounding a little too suspicious, it’s important to know that Uber was trying to protect the privacy and security of their customers, drivers, and employees – especially abroad. After a lot of searching, Uber discovered a software titled, “Ripley,” which was said to be named after Sigourney Weaver’s character in the 1979 sci-fi movie, Alien. This special software is able to remotely disable, lock, or change the password on employees’ computers and smartphones in the event of a breach or police raid. As quoted in an Bloomberg.com article, “The nickname was inspired by a Ripley line in Aliens, after the acid-blooded extraterrestrials easily best a squad of ground troops. ‘Nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.’”

According to Bloomberg, the software was used during a raid in Montreal in May 2015. The  idea behind this was for Uber’s team at the San Francisco headquarters to be able to shut down a device if necessary. At this point in time, the Quebec tax authority arrived at the office unannounced with a warrant. Uber’s on-site managers followed the protocol and alerted company headquarters about what was happening. Fortunately, with the use of Ripley, they were able to not reveal anything to the investigators by logging off from all the devices in the Montreal office immediately.

The employees are trained to alert and follow some simple procedures when someone arrives unannounced at its foreign office to protect their data. If the investigators begin to investigate Uber’s machines, they have a list of Do’s and Don’ts that the employees should follow. Do’s include cooperating with the authorities and disclosing requested documents. Don’ts say not volunteer any information, nor “delete, destroy, and hide any document or data.” It’s unclear though if they used this list when using the software Ripley. Although, it is clear that Uber has allowed authorities to leave the building with company laptops plenty of times before. It all depends on the legal privilege of the situation.

Uber said “Like every company with offices around the world, we have security procedures in place to protect corporate and customer data,” an Uber spokeswoman said. “When it comes to government investigations, it’s our policy to cooperate with all valid searches and requests for data.”

Later, Uber started using off-the-shelf software called Prey and another named uLocker. Uber said that these softwares are able to protect the privacy of the drivers, Uber employees, and the passengers. Last March, the New York Times revealed that the company used secretive software called Greyball in some cities where Uber wasn’t yet allowed to operate. The software let the company target certain people, like the police, and showed them a mock-up version of the app that showed no cars available to hide the fact that they were indeed in operation.

According to the article, Uber is now under investigation by the US Department of Justice for its use of Greyball and is facing at least four other inquiries by the US government. As for the software Ripley, uLocker, and Prey being used by the Uber they have mentioned that there is nothing secretive about it. It’s basically the same software someone would use to track down their lost or stolen smartphones. However, an Uber Spokeswoman has mentioned that these softwares are even good for internal use. For instance, if an employee loses their laptop, we can just log them out of the Uber’s System to prevent the information from leaking and having someone else access private user data.

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