Federal prosecutors are apparently probing allegations that Uber engaged in “espionage” to uncover the trade secrets of rivals.
The investigation has prompted a federal judge to delay a trial in the mega lawsuit that Google and its self-driving-car unit have filed against Uber.
Waymo has charged that Uber hired away a senior Google engineer to steal key secrets about its Lidar system. Waymo CEO John Krafcik has said the Lidar unit is a vital piece of the company’s self-driving car system.
Additionally, Waymo has charged that Uber stole in the trade secrets to gain information about Uber’s advanced self-driving technology. Self-driving technology is expected to make ride-sharing services, a service pioneered by Uber, substantially more profitable for company’s offering the service.
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The U.S. Justice Department routinely declines to comment on criminal investigations, such as the probe into Uber’s conduct. However, its existence came to light during a routine hearing called to set a schedule for Waymo vs. Uber trial.
The investigation was started after a former Uber employee, Richard Jacobs, Uber’s director of global intelligence, sent what was described as 37-page letter to federal authorities. In the letter, Jacobs said he was dismissed by Uber after he tried to halt the misconduct by Uber employees.
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The company’s legal problems, coupled with trouble with the conduct of its drivers and regulatory problems, ranging from spats with local communities to court ruling that effectively barred Uber from operating in London unless it agrees to treat drivers as full-time employees and offer them vacation and other benefits.
Unber also failed to disclose a major data breach – even after paying ransom to hackers – that left its customers credit card numbers in the hands of potential thieves.
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The troubles have exacerbated the Uber’s growing financial losses that have forced it to turn partners such as SoftBank, which is demanding a larger share of the company in exchange for its continuing financial support.