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Uber to engineer: Return stolen docs, or swear you didn't steal them (sfgate.com)
114 points by golfer 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments

And now we see the scapegoat being thrown under the bus.

Google claims Uber execs were meeting with Levandowski long before he left Google, that his entire leaving Google to form Otto (which would be soon bought by Uber) was planned alongside Uber.

Now Uber is saying "Hey, we didn't know anything about that, but I think you guys really should go after this guy here". Somehow, given Uber's reputation as a moral and ethical company, I am not shocked by this development.

Edit: And another thought- why wouldn't Levandowski now walk into the justice department and say "Give me immunity, and I'll give you all the evidence that Uber was in on this plan from the start". If Uber are going to screw him over, why wouldn't he return the favour?

> And now we see the scapegoat being thrown under the bus.

Yeah, in official communications, of course. I haven't been following the story that closely, but I wonder if things are actually adversarial and turning into a blame game behind the scenes at Uber, or whether they are just executing on a united defense strategy.

>"Give me immunity, and I'll give you all the evidence that Uber was in on this plan from the start"

I get that Uber is a toxic company, but I'm not sure if immunity is a good idea.

"If you steal on behalf of Big Corp and gets caught, you can just rat out Big Corp and get off scot-free."

Is that really the sort of signal that we want our court systems to send out?

Replace "Big Corp" with "organized crime" and "steal" with... well, "steal" may stay - and yes, I think courts already encourage that, and with good reason - ultimately, it's vital to be able to catch the people actually scheming, and not just the pawns executing those schemes.

I think it's pretty rare for courts to offer full immunity to people involved in organized crime, and they definitely don't offer it to the highest level targets.

Levandowski may not be the mastermind behind the whole thing, but his going along with it is the only reason it was even possible. And he made a ton of money from it. There's no way he's going to get immunity.

I didn't mean immunity, just leniency.

In this case, I'm convinced that Levandowski will not get away scot-free.

IIUC, much of American corporate law works like this - be the one to bring us this info, and we'll take it easy on you. They then go harder after the individuals/companies who held out - trying to maximize the prisoners dilemma.

yes. we absolutely want to encourage whistle blowers.

obviously the level of immunity will vary based on the circumstances of each case, but again, we absolutely want to encourage this type of behavior.

> yes. we absolutely want to encourage whistle blowers.

What? Levandowski can't be a whistle blower here because he had a central role in the (alleged) criminal activity. The case wouldn't even exist without him.

If the allegations are true, the best he's going to get for turning on Uber is a plea deal.

How would he be a whistle blower? He didn't allegedly witness it, he allegedly did the deed!

Whistle blower tend to be lower on the totem pole. If it really is conspiracy your not likely going to see anyone in the court offer immunities for something he benefited hundreds of millions of dollars for.

That can all be worked out as part of his plea deal.

Well, if people consistently rat out the big corp (because its now better to do so than not) then cost/success rate of theft should hopefully become untenable, and they'd stop trying to find people to steal for them.

And ofc, the big corp is clearly the preferred target, since they're much more likely to repeatedly commit crimes (and at larger scales) than the individual

Cleanest way to beat a tagteam is to convince them they're enemies

> I get that Uber is a toxic company, but I'm not sure if immunity is a good idea.

I don't think immunity protects you from civil damages, though.. just the criminal penalties. So, still not a great trade for Levandowski if he makes a deal.

I don't think immunity is on the table..maybe a commuted sentence? 2-5 years? He's rich so it'll probably be home arrest, or just probation or something.

If I were an Uber investor or Uber management I'd be rereading all the contracts for ways to claw back his payment.

Especially since he is hundreds of millions of dollars richer for the whole exchange

I'm sure Levandowski would gladly lie under that bus in order to keep his proceeds from the sale. If he tried to get revenge those proceeds might very well be in jeopardy.

I'm thinking being terminated with cause will have a negative effect on the Otto transaction. Did they just hand him $680M on day one? I think deals like this are structured with progress payments, milestones and maybe incentives for hitting milestones early.

I dont think it matters if Uber failed to do proper due diligence, once the paperwork is signed it's pretty much a done deal.

Fraud tends to be able to be pursued civilly. (And if he sold Uber a bunch of IP that he didn't own, then that's textbook fraud)

This is a public comment, how else would you expect them to respond as a company? It doesn't mean Levandowski is actually being thrown under the bus.

Maybe because Uber wasn't actually in on it?

There will soon by a trial where we'll get to find out.

The biggest problem with their defense is that they have for so long been so loud and obnoxious about flaunting laws. It's easy to believe Google's claims.

I am thinking,this is going to get really really ugly as Levandowski wont go down without a fight.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but it's pretty clear: if you're at Uber and you did something potentially unsavory, and are not well-connected you may indeed be walking around with a target on your back.

Not sure I could stomach that for too long.

> why wouldn't Levandowski now walk into the justice department

Has Trump not gotten around to firing the US attorneys who were investigating his boy Travis?

The title is odd. It makes it seem like Levandowski is some random "engineer" that is just a leaf node in this whole story. The whole suit is centered around him and Uber spent around a billion dollars (if not more) trusting him. Seeing him being referred to as "engineer" just seems odd.

I agree. The title should be changed to "Uber to Levandowski".

It seems like this is a pretty positive scenario for Uber: Levandowski will refuse to drop his privilege, they'll fire him, and there appears to be no sign in the rest of the discovery of Google's stolen files.

At that point, what can Google really hope to get? Alsup won't give them a preliminary injunction without more evidence, and they'll have largely run out of levers to pull. I'm sure they won't just give up immediately, but I think that all they'll really do is ratchet up legal bills a bit higher.

They'll basically have to hope that losing Levandowski is a big blow for Uber.

I am not a lawyer.

>It seems like this is a pretty positive scenario for Uber

Is it though? Google's claim is that Levandowski was meeting with Uber execs long before he left Waymo to form Otto. Now they're throwing Levandowski under the bus.

What happens if tomorrow, Levandowski turns around and says "Yes, I did everything that Google claims- and Uber told me to do it". What if he provides evidence of those meetings, all those things. This stuff has been referred to criminal courts now, and Levandowski is at risk of possible jail time.

He's no fool, and now he knows he has no one protecting him. Why not screw over Uber if they're willing to do the same to him?

Well, the "why not" of that scenario is that Levandowski would have to abandon his 5th Amendment protection in order to do so, and almost guarantee criminal prosecution.

I don't really agree with the characterization of Uber throwing Levandowski under the bus: they've been very scrupulous with him, and basically they're only threatening firing because Alsup twisted their arm. But let's say that Levandowski feels betrayed.

First: Note that Levandowski is super rich (Google paid him north of $100M). It's not like losing his job is going to prevent him from living a life of luxury forever.

Second: If he maintains his 5th Amendment protections, even if he does get prosecuted, what's going to happen? It seems like there's pretty good evidence that he stole the files, but without something more, how much in the way of damages will the prosecution be able to prove? Is this something that the US Attorney even wants to bother with?

So he strikes a deal with the Justice Department. Minimal sentence (or maybe immunity?) and he hands them the execs of a company that has continually pissed off governments world-wide by skirting around laws.

I mean... maybe. Assuming that he actually has damning evidence against Kalanick, and that, even presuming that Uber did know about the theft, they weren't circumspect about admitting it.

That seems like a pretty narrow scenario. You have to believe that:

a. Levandowski feels betrayed by Uber (I don't think he has cause to)

b. Uber did in fact know about the theft when they hired Levandowski.

c. Kalanick straightforwardly said something about the theft that was so damning that it makes for a good case a year later, or provided some kind of documentary evidence to Levandowski, rather than wink-wink nudge-nudging.

d. A US Attorney is interested in offering this kind of deal (that is, giving one white-collar criminal a good deal in order to go after... a somewhat richer and more famous white-collar criminal).

There are no federal or criminal charges at all. This is all civil.

Yet. But I agree that this talk of a deal sounds rather baseless. Sounds more like hollywood than real life.

Judge Alsup did tell federal prosecutors that they should take a look at the case, though.

I wouldn't underestimate the prosecution's leverage here: 14,000 counts of even a relatively minor crime like "theft of company resources" could add up to a lot of time.

This is a fairly uninformed opinion, but I believe Google could sue Levandowski directly, perhaps for the $680M his company got, and most likely the purchase agreement for Otto included a clause that said they would defend him against lawsuits that arose from the sale whether he was employed or not.

Which would put them right back where they are now.

Also, there are probably a whole bunch of legal maneuvers they could use to unseal the laptop and get it separated from the 5th amendment protection.

At this corporate scale and future market size, their legal bills are approximately free.

I'd say that the bad press they'd generate through a protracted legal process in an attempt to drive Uber into the ground may be strategically wise.

Also the ill will they'd amplify would lighten the competition for talent between the two companies.

They likely wouldn't get a total injunction even if Levandowski turns over the files. Google still has to show that the trade secrets are being used and where, if they want a judge to issue an injunction that stop Uber from operating.

Google is going to have to look at Uber tech and see how similar it is to the documents Levandowski allegedly stole. They will have to depose Uber engineers, read Levandowski's emails at Uber, etc.

Doesn't Google own a portion of Uber? Can't they use that for access?

Being a shareholder doesn't usually give you access to non-public materials.

They'll be able to get emails, technical docs, and deposition testimony via the court system.

I'm totally uneducated about things like this. Can someone explain if this could ever happen? What really stops activist investors from demanding logs from a web company, for instance?

Maybe the fact that they are not operating the company. They maybe have a board seat. They can use that vote to get rid of the CEO and hire a new one. That CEO can then decide to give them access to files.

CEOs of delaware corps have to do whats in the best interest of the company. It is probably not in the best interest of the company to reveal documents to a shareholder for the purpose of being successfully sued by that shareholder.

Its probably entirely impossible for a random investor to demand shit.

It's not as bad as it could be for Uber, but I don't think it's positive. They bought Otto for a reason - either because the talent (mainly Levandowski) was so good, or else because of the stolen documents. Either way, Uber doesn't get what they paid for. Not good when they paid $680 million.

I'd argue that they bought Otto mainly for the narrative. But they got Levandowski for the better part of a year -- how long exactly does it take to knowledge-transfer information about stolen LIDAR? They also get all the other Otto engineers.

I think that the worst scenario for Uber is actually if they really do think that Levandowski himself (not his stolen files) are uniquely amazingly valuable. Which may be true.

Well, even if they bought Otto mainly for the narrative, they probably aren't liking the narrative that they're getting...

Here's the official letter:


It's weird in the digital age to say information needs to be "returned" (although they did also say "and all copies"). Still, I'm reminded of the old "getting my song back fucker" quote:


Anyone who has read the injunction document from Judge Alsop already knows this was going to happen. Judge Alsop practically held Uber's hand through how it would go. He stated that Uber must use its full authority to compel him to turn over the files, to include threat of termination.

Levandowski is extremely talented. See this video of the autonomous motorcycle he and his team built for the DARPA grand challenge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOgkNh_IPjU

I can see why Uber would want to protect him and hang on to him. Still if he did what Waymo alleges he did, he should still have to answer for that, likely in criminal court.

People on HN routinely debunk the myth that that autonomous motorcycle was some unmatched achievement.

I've been on HN for years and have never seen "people" make such a debunking. But of course, in the abstract, "people" say lots of things...

Here's one from 'kchoudhu late last month[1].

Alas, no.

The 2005 Grand Challenge was divided into two parts: the national qualification event, where you went around an obstacle course on a closed raceway in an effort to qualify for a limited number of race slots, and the real race, which was a brutal 150 mile course through some pretty gnarly desert terrain.

Blue Team never made it past the NQE, which is why everyone's obsession with the motorbike makes no sense to those of us who actually made it to the real deal.

The Smithsonian's decision to memorialize Levandowski's engineering mediocrity is, to say the least, puzzling.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14216609

Levandowski is surely a smart guy, but the fact that smarts alone in this day and age rarely get you to where his is now.

Who is he connected to?

I'm wondering if Levandowski and Kalanick are meeting clandestinely at night for long walks and discussing how they're going to orchestrate this.

Kalanick "Hey Anthony, here's how it's going to go down. We're going to ask you to return the documents. But, don't do that. Continue with our strategy of taking the 5th for everything. We'll then fire you.

Levandowski "You're going to fire me after all I've done for you?"

Kalanick "Yeah, don't worry, though. When all of this dies down we'll hire you back on as a consultant and double your salary to show our appreciation for not ratting on us."

Levandowski "Sounds good, boss. Same time tomorrow?"

Kalanick "Naw, let's ice these walks for a while to throw those dogs off of our scent"

Seeing a total scumbag get compensated over a hundred million from Google, and then hundreds more from Uber, is very demoralizing to me as a guy in Silicon Valley trying to contribute to technology and be paid enough just to live here. Sure, Lewandowski got caught stealing secrets, but that's post-facto. It couldn't be any clearer that comp and the economy in SV is a sucker's game for us peasants.

Anthony Levandowski seems to have become the poster-child of the greedy, anything-goes, bro-developer in this age of the Millennial (stop me if I've gone too far).

Let him also be its poster-child as he is crucified/thrown-under-the-bus.

...are you sure you haven't confused him with Kalanick?

Levandowski isn't a poster child of greedy, anything-goes, etc. He's not a poster child of anything, full stop. 99% of the country doesn't recognize his name or the only company he ever founded. Most Silicon Valley engineers couldn't pick him out of a lineup. He's not even the most famous alleged code thief of the last few years, because that's Sergey Aleynikov.

I've been following Levandowski since 2004, he was the crazy college kid with the autonomous motorcycle. For the past 13 years he's been at beating the heart of the development of the most disruptive new technology since, I don't know, the internet maybe? I wouldn't consider him a poster child, that would imply he's representative of some broader group of people, he's a little too much of an anomaly for that, there's no one quite like Anthony Levandowski. 'Millenial tech bro' doesn't quite summarize him, he's a force of nature, for better or for worse.

A while back you posted


Fricken 26 days ago [-]

Kalanick is a Napoleonesque figure, a great conqueror who doesn't know when to pull back on the reigns, because he knows nothing else. Our memories are short, we're skewering him for being exactly the kind of animal that not to long ago most everyone was rooting for.


I just want to drop by to make it absolutely clear that there's many, many, many of us who've always hated Uber/Kalanick and seen right through the facade. You shouldn't assume "most everyone" holds the same opinions as you.

I was never rooting for Uber, I never said I was. I'm fascinated by Uber, I try to remain objective in my analysis, I don't think they're good guys. When they rolled into my city, I was the lone contrarian in my local subreddit saying 'Hey man, watch out, they play dirty', and getting downvoted into oblivion. I've never actually taken a ride in an Uber. For normal people outside the insular realm of tech news, I don't know anyone who's even paying attention to their borderline shenanigans.

As a counter-point, the allegations by Google are that he basically only joined Waymo to steal from them, and sell the stolen information to Uber (via the Otto startup).

I think that's what the poster is talking about.

I think you've gone too far considering that he is 37, and the bro executives at Uber associated with this culture are in their 40s. These guys are more Gen-X than Millennial. And you are implying that this level of corporate greed and wrong doing is generational, as if we aren't less than 10 years removed from a massive recession largely resulting from the acts of financial institutions headed by men from the Baby Boomer and Gen-X generations.

I don't think you can attach this kind of behavior to a particular generation. It is however becoming more prevalent in the tech sector in Silicon Valley, even in comparison to other industries.

Oh boy, I dunno if I'm quite willing to go there. If he's so bad why did Uber pay the better part of a billion for his company?

This is a fight between Google and Uber, companies worth billions. Come on with the "bro" shit.

Almost the entire point of this lawsuit is that Uber payed the better part of a billion for his company because they wanted the technology he stole from Google. And further that Levandowski was in on the plan from the start.

That is almost a perfect parody of the whole bro-programmer shtick.



especially the comments. Some of the commenters are lawyers, or at least people who understand the law and how it relates to this particular case very well.

Does this allow Uber to dismiss Anthony "for cause" in order to get out of double-trigger acceleration?

The letter from Uber threatens dismissal for cause.

The letter says so.

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