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Judge Tells Uber Lawyer: ‘It Looks Like You Covered This Up’ (nytimes.com)
469 points by Cbasedlifeform 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 192 comments



This is frankly incredible the more that comes out. Paying someone 4.5M in 12 months and then saying everything they claimed is false is some Olympic level gymnastics. I think this level of cover-up is bigger than many reasonable people who thought Uber was guilty expected.


Nonetheless, Uber paid a $3 million settlement to the lawyer who wrote the letter in addition to the $4.5 million paid to Mr. Jacobs. As part of the deal, Mr. Jacobs was kept on as a security consultant, Ms. Padilla testified. His job: investigating the claims made in the letter his lawyer wrote.

Mr. Jacobs received $2 million up front and was to receive $1 million spread over 12 months and $1.5 million in stock, also spread out over 12 months.

---

I think his job is one of those "I can do this job from home" Fightclub type jobs.


So they paid him to investigate claims they argue are baseless? That doesn't make any sense.


It does not make any sense at all. It does not ring true. It will not ring true to a jury either.


On the contrary, it's security done right!

There was no evidence of issues, yet they will still have a look to make sure of it.


If that were the case, doing it right would be hiring someone external at a reasonable rate to demonstrate and ensure impartiality, given the gravity of the subject claims. Even if the good intentions were there, the optics are all wrong (particularly the fee), which is what will matter to the jury. Throwing him under the bus while paying him to investigate the driving habits of the bus is a pretty interesting smell.


You seem incredibly biased. Do you have a dog in this battle? Would you mind revealing your real name and employer, please? Or do you need to stay anonymous? Your relationship with the facts has a familiar ring to it. Kellyanne?


Maybe I'm missing a joke here but he or she is right. "we have no reason to believe any of this is true but we will investigate it to be sure" is more than we expect most companies to do.

That being said I doubt any of us honestly believe those words from Uber.


You must be missing something. I think you missed the part about paying the guy AND his lawyer an enormous pile of money, then continuing to employ the guy who reported it, and who they're now calling an untrustworthy lying extortionist.

Those words just don't ring true no matter who they came from, and Uber's recent pay-off of a hacker who breached their customer data follows the exact same pattern.

Go back and read the article carefully, please. I'll repeat thisisit's pointed questions for you to address after you've gotten your head around the facts:

>I am sorry but do you mean companies should pay off a whistle-blower rather than say - >a. litigate, if the claims are baseless >b. In case the claim has substance to try and rectify the issue along with responsible disclosure?

After getting your head around all that, do you really think the guy who said "The fact that two qualified employees, a lawyer and a security constant, getting a similar sum should hint that it is common." sounds unbiased?


I just wanted to outline that investigating baseless claims if perfectly normal. How could they even be qualified of baseless fore sure if they were not investigated?

The payout is a different matter, that we both agree doesn't contribute to their defense.


Poe's law


It seems more plausible (though of course I'm not claiming this is the case) that they paid him to help root out and destroy the evidence for claims they knew were well-founded before someone else raised them.


At least according to the article, they didn't just pay him, they paid his lawyer too.


If that doesn't scream "hush money" I don't know what does. What possible reasonable excuse for giving the lawyer millions could they possibly come up with? I get the feeling that I'm somehow reading this wrong as that seems like that's separate from any compensation the lawyer arranged with his client.


I don't see how a lawyer could accept what is effectively bribe money without getting disbarred...

A lawyer will probably earn more than that in a lifetime, so why would he accept?


Nobody accepting a bribe plans on being caught. I expect this is a similiar case.


What's the "bribe" here? It's unlawful to bribe an official (to subvert the will of the people by subverting individual government employees). It's unlawful to bribe a witness in an actual current court case. There are doubtless other particular instances of unlawful "bribery". Which of them does this fit into?


Because he still has the rest of his lifetime this way?


That’s how they paid they lawyer’s fee. Instead of a $7.5 million settlement to the client, with the lawyer then taking at 40% contingency fee, the settlement splits it into two checks separately paid. Has to do with how the payment is reported to the IRS on 1099 forms


Does a 40% contingency fee seem normal here? The article makes it seem like this didn't escalate past sending a strongly worded extortion letter. Is it normal for lawyers to take such a huge cut for something that never went to court? Also, how could this have ever gone to a civil suit? From the sound of it, the letter detailed a bunch of shady, illegal things that Uber was doing but the plaintiff wouldn't have had standing for that would he?


We also found out that they used techniques and software specifically for not leaving any paper trails, so realistically, they could've done all sorts of things that Waymo would never find out about in discovery.


That seems reasonable considering the costs of living in the valley. As evidenced before, the standard comp is around 120M for a high level manager in a big tech company (bonus paid by google to Levandowski before he left).

4M looks like a normal package for a middle employee.

The fact that two qualified employees, a lawyer and a security constant, getting a similar sum should hint that it is common.


Uber didn't argue anything along those lines at all in court and attempted to justify the payments with something even less believable, potential court expenses and reputation risk. You may have missed it in the article, but they effectively admitted to paying the lawyer to keep his or her mouth shut.


Judge Alsup questioned why Uber would pay so much to an employee making bogus claims. “To someone like me, an ordinary mortal, and to ordinary mortals out there in the audience — people don’t pay that kind of money for B.S.,” the judge said.

Uber’s rationale for the settlement: It would cost less to settle with him than to fight him in court. Also, Mr. Jacobs’s claims could hurt Uber’s reputation, Ms. Padilla testified.

I guess it's open season at Uber now? All you have to do is send them a letter with bogus claims, and they'll pay you millions? /s


The quoted rationale by itself seems reasonable. The entire business model of Patent Trolls rests on the fact that companies will settle even the most ridiculous allegations if it's cheaper than fighting them.


in this day and age, any gossipy tabloid accusation is viewed as true by its audience if it fits a certain narrative.

Sometimes companies think its an easier/faster solution to pay them even if the accusation is false. But sometimes, they choose the wrong way to deal with the problem.

Disclaimer: not saying Uber is innocent in this case specifically, just giving an example


I love the line about "hurting Uber's reputation", as if they are the sterling example of honest and ethical company.


To most users in most places, there's nothing particularly notable about Uber. They have an unsavory reputation if you move in certain rarefied technical or political circles, but not among the general public. My parents, who are by no means ignorant or uneducated, would be completely unable to comment on why Uber might have a bad reputation.


Exactly. 99% percent (or more) of Uber users are completely fine with Uber, possibly see Uber as a positive addition to their lives, and if they have any qualms with the company, they are related to specific incidences of bad service or pricing vis-a-vis local competitors rather than any political matters.


I recently encountered a senior citizen with mobility issues. As far as she's concerned, Uber is the best thing that has happened to her in the past two decades. She no longer has to wait a half hour or more for a taxi that may not show! Total game-changer.

She has no idea about some of the aspects of Uber that some may find objectionable.


I think a lot of the critics here fail to appreciate (or just begrudgingly admit) just how much a game-changer Uber has been in people's lives. That's real value.


In America?

Much of the rest of the world already has perfectly fine minicabs that turn up in 5 minutes.

Good thing about Uber for the rest of the world is US VCs subsidising our rides.


american idiocracy from people that probably never traveled.

1. allow cabs to run mostly unregulated (besides the regulated monopoly part)

2. cab service is crap because drivers rent the taxi license from someone who broker rented taxi licenses. its mind boggling how far the drivers are from the meddalions.

3. startup breaks tons of laws, including the one making cabs a bad monopoly and abuse user data left and rigth.

4. americans thing it is the best thing ever.

wake up and realize that the taxi monopoly was the cause. uber is just trying to replace one monopoly with another. because being at the top of that monopoly is very lucrative.

the only good thing uber did was prove without doubt that taxi monopoly laws were bad and didnt serve the drivers or the community. but absolutely nobody is willing to even consider talking about it. its all PR about "uber saved mankind".


"American idiocracy"

So this is why Uber and its clones are so popular in all kinds of countries from India to China to South East Asia? To be honest it is you who seems like the less traveled one.


there are tons of countries with the same monopoly protection laws as the U.S.


Neither I nor my fiance drive, so Uber and Lyft are vital parts of our lives now. Even as a physically healthy person, it makes the life I want to live possible.


Your parents don't follow any news source? The stories about Uber aren't found in obscure niche sites only wonks would read. Uber's problems are routinely featured in front page New York Times stories, for example. The very article this thread discusses is from that paper, not exactly a minor publication.


Your comment prompted me to try a personal unscientific test. I just pinged a woman who reads CNN news on her iPad every morning with coffee and asked her what she knew about Uber. I specifically asked if she "heard any bad things about Uber?"

Her only reply was that she heard an Uber driver raped a passenger. That's it. Even with her daily CNN news habit, she does not know about:

- Uber workplace sexual harrassment

- Uber using grayball against government officials

- Uber legal fights about contractor vs employee classifications

- Uber lawsuit about corporate espionage

Yes, it's just a sample size of 1 but I think it's very easy to overestimate what typical people know about Uber. The HN bubble repeatedly upvotes negative Uber stories that would never cross the radar of most everyone else.


To be clearer the last sentence is fine. The entire section that precedes it is extremely intellectually dishonest. You started with the thesis that regular people aren't aware of negative stories about uber, pinged one user, got the desired result and stopped and presented your argument.

You presented her as an avid reader of CNN a functionally irrelevant detail as if to say if even SHE doesn't know about bad press about uber obviously the plebs don't.

Unfortunately there isn't any representative sample size of one and the fact that she reads CNN on her ipad tells you little about what she reads on CNN.

You could even be correct but the way you prove your point is so badly argued that you do a disservice to your own point.

You should avoid making your arguments about appeals to emotional reasoning.


Why didn't you ping a random selection of people rather than just one this is not a useful data point.


It's not just tech circles. Many Lyft drivers tell me that they refuse to drive for Uber because Uber is not friendly. That's a significant number of people, more so if you include people they talk to. Word gets out.


This is true. For example, it is my understanding Lyft drivers face no penalty for ending a ride if they feel unsafe, whereas Uber will penalize the driver if they don't complete the ride - incentivizing drivers to tolerate abusive or sexually harassing behavior.

[1] Lyft driver cancel policy: https://help.lyft.com/hc/en-us/articles/213584358#drivercanc...


I can't believe the number of rides a typical driver gets harassed on is significant enough to make a significant dent in their earnings...?


Maybe the number of bad rides is low but the severity of a single one can be career ending. Didn't some politician recently get fired because she berated a driver and said, "Who are they going to believe? You or me?"

Policy is to address the combined impact of frequency and magnitude.


People can be _really_ awful though. Drunk, threats of violence, prolonged berating.

Definitely not worth the ride. The fact that you can get kicked out at any time tends to moderate your behavior.

To be clear, I'm talking about drunk and belligerent. If you're just drunk and vomiting, first there's a cleaning penalty. Second, people are generally most sympathetic as it does not make you a bad person.

Some people are just assholes. Heck, if they like abusing people after a bad day at work, they might even take the long way around so they can feel better after more sustained abuse.


Penalisation comes in the form of timing you out of the account for 15 mins to X hours; and possible deactivation.


Drivers drive for the product that provides the most income. Outside of the realms of SF (and even within), there are only two types of drivers:

1. Ones who drive for both - this cohort used to prefer Lyft due to tips but the scales have tipped (no pun) due to Uber introducing a whole host of features which Lyft is catching up to. This is easily verifiable by frequenting reddit.com/r/uberdrivers or reddit.com/r/lyft

2. Ones who only drive for Uber because the demand is overwhelming enough to not justify managing two separate accounts.

Anything else you hear is pure anecdote. My source - I am an Uber employee :)


If you work for Uber, it's not surprising that you only hear from drivers that do some work for Uber!


You're saying that no drivers avoid Uber? How do you know that?


But a company that cared about it’s reputation would probably have refrained from most of the wildly inappropriate behavior it’s regularly alleged to have engaged in, making current claims about their dedication to their reputation ring hollow.


You have a valid point, though many Uber drivers may also be in the less-than-thrilled category. On the other hand, this suggests the fear of reputation damage is being overstated - most people pay little heed to court cases unless bodies are involved one way or another.


there's also a lot people who just don't care.

They have both lyft and uber, whichever is faster or cheaper, they take.

Sometimes you just need to get from point A to point B


I did a spit-take when I read that line.


Let's try it.


"As part of the deal, Mr. Jacobs was kept on as a security consultant, Ms. Padilla testified. His job: investigating the claims made in the letter his lawyer wrote."

Is this a joke? Is this real? I can't even.


This to me is the most damning part of Uber's response. Can I believe you'd pay low 7 figures to someone extorting your 11-figure firm? Yes. Can I believe you would then, even on paper, retain that person on your security staff? No.

What makes much more sense is that the payoff bought off his silence, and that the "position" they offered him was a sop to his conscience.


A random payment looks like a bribe, which is illegal.

Payments spread over 12 months with an employment contract look like salary.

Uber probably said "you're employed to stay at home and not have any valid work logins or email addresses"


Would be interesting if the Waymo lawyers did discovery on all the specifics, if there are any, of what Jacobs did as a consultant who was supposed to be investigating his own claims. If he did nothing, then I think that would be pretty good evidence it was really a bribe payed out over time.


No, that's not how bribery works.


The "position" might have given them more leverage over his actions: They can control the communications and other actions of an employee, to a significant degree, and as someone investigating the bad behavior, the employee now shares some liability for what Uber does in that regard.


This is the kind of thing that makes sense on a message board, but having been a party to a situation in which a former employee (not at one of my companies) made claims which the management team believed to be bogus, the (professional) management of that company did whatever they could to get that employee _as far as they possibly could_ from the operations of the company, _as quickly as they could_.

The idea that there was some machievellian scheme to keep this guy on the books in order to monitor him more closely does not ring true at all.


I agree that professional management would get rid of the guy as quickly as far away as possible.

If we assume for a minute that uber is abysmal at management, it makes sense that they would go for the crazy strategy to keep him aboard and monitor him.


No it doesn't! That's crazy logic. "They're dumb, so it's reasonable to attribute every possible dumb decision to them." Dumbness doesn't work that way.


To omit statements like the following would not at all detract from the comments or from the discussion.

> This is the kind of thing that makes sense on a message board

> That's crazy logic.

The HN guidelines almost directly address this kind of comment:

When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names. "That is idiotic; 1 + 1 is 2, not 3" can be shortened to "1 + 1 is 2, not 3."

Brevity is the soul of wit.


Seems like straight from the Fight Club

"Narrator: I have a better solution: You keep me on the payroll as an outside consultant and in exchange for my salary, my job will be never to tell people these things that I know. "


I think this is the scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pJC0FLA3Sk


Also, a very similar scene from American Beauty:

https://youtu.be/hJVXg1AHQTY


It for sure looks unreal.


Seems Uber's solution to every problem - throw money and see it disappear. If it comes back say - well that was not the intention.

Threatens to become a whistle blower? Pay the guy 4.5 million and his lawyer 3 million.

Stolen data? Pay the hacker to delete data.


It seems that Uber is, so to speak, riding on other people's money. They care about growing as fast as they can. Everything else is deferred.


> Uber's solution to every problem - throw money and see it disappear

Arguably, that has been their growth plan: Throw investor money at unprofitable business, and watch the competition disappear. Is it a sort of network-effect asset bubble?


Honestly, paying to delete the data is not that bad. At least, they are trying.


I read somewhere that disk drives are so cheap now, that it costs less money to buy more disk drives, than to pay somebody by the hour to delete files. ;)

But I guess in this case, Uber did the ethical and financial calculus, and decided they could totally trust somebody who'd broken into their computers, stolen sensitive customer information, and tried to extort them, so they paid him a spectacular hourly wage for few hour project of deleting files that he proposed in a cold-call, without even checking his references, and they even let him work from home!

I sure hope the hacker gives Uber a great review on GlassDoor!

It makes me think the hacker found vastly more incriminating dirt on them that merely customer data, like Travis Kalanick's email, with a smoking gun proving they're withholding even more incriminating evidence from Wamo than they're already in trouble for.


I mean, in the case of the whistleblower, I'm not sure what you do in this case if you're them aside from this. Which is why there should be a law against this type of behavior. There probably is; I'm a programmer, not a lawyer


I am sorry but do you mean companies should pay off a whistle-blower rather than say -

a. litigate, if the claims are baseless

b. In case the claim has substance to try and rectify the issue along with responsible disclosure?


if you have reason to think that praying off the guy will work during a huge public image crisis, it would be a very attractive option I'm sure.

they should act morally, etc., that's not what I'm saying. I'm trying to extract the raw incentives of the situation


No, that would just signal that other employees could earn a huge amount of money by making claims about illegal activity, true or not. I really doubt that any company could be so stupid as to get itself into that sort of situation.


Pray away the crime? Sounds like Pence's solution to the Russia scandal.


There are laws against extortion... the problem is, if you go to law enforcement, the item you are being extorted for might become public, even if it is unlawful for it to become public.


In which case you can litigate. If it's baseless, the litigation should be quick, easy and painless. If it's not, then you have other problems.


Whose behavior are you saying should be illegal?


the person paying off the whistleblower


"She said Uber had planned to fire Mr. Jacobs because its security team had caught him downloading sensitive company information to his personal computer."

Well, I guess they'd know how bad that was.


So instead of firing him, much less suing him or reporting him to the police, they decided to pay him 3.5 million dollars, and also hire him as a consultant who could investigate the company and download more sensitive files. Yeah, that makes sense.


I would have thought downloading sensitive company information to a personal computer would have been a requirement for employment at Uber.


the other two guys didn't understood you, lol.


Are you perhaps confusing personal computer as in "a small individual workstation" with personal computer as in "a computer not managed by the company's IT policies"? I have to download sensitive stuff to my laptop all the time, but it's a laptop I'm given a computer by IT that has to be secured a certain way and connected to their network. They don't want me having customer details or anything on an actual personally-owned computer.


Pretty sure that was a riff on their employee stealing data from Waymo via personal laptop.


I wouldn't expect Uber to want its employees working from random personal computers instead of company-issued and -owned ones. Why would you have company information on your personal computer?


For anyone interested in reading more about this. You can see the docket, and a lot of the original filings for this case for free via the RECAP project.

https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4609586/waymo-llc-v-ube...


I'll be damned if Uber isn't a required case study for business school students in the (near) future. They are fast becoming the Enron of this generation.


Not even close to the scale of Enron. Even mentioning them in the same sentence is preposterous.

First off, Enron was publicly traded. Uber is private.

I will just leave this here.

>Between 1996 and 2000, Enron's revenues increased by more than 750%, rising from $13.3 billion in 1996 to $100.8 billion in 2000. This extensive expansion of 65% per year was unprecedented in any industry, including the energy industry which typically considered growth of 2–3% per year to be respectable. For just the first nine months of 2001, Enron reported $138.7 billion in revenues, which placed the company at the sixth position on the Fortune Global 500

>the company used accounting limitations to misrepresent earnings and modify the balance sheet to indicate favorable performance


Yes, exactly.

Enron purposefully caused brownouts throughout the western US as part of their price-manipulation schemes.[0] . They shutdown a power plant in direct contravention of a federal order to maintain full output to help with the (enron-induced) crisis.[1]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_electricity_crisis

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/04/us/tapes-show-enron-arrang...


They also caused rolling blackouts in Los Angeles by manipulating energy markets.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_electricity_crisis


I'm baffled: If you're going to make up your numbers, why go with something preposterous instead of credible?


It seems like in a lot of these cases, there are plenty of parties who can intuit that something is wrong, but they choose not to dig any deeper because they're happy with the results of the way things are.


I wouldn't be surprised if ego entered in to it a little too on the not digging deeper side. "Clearly everyone else in the industry are idiots, or they'd be as profitable as we are".


I just think back to some of the stuff I listened to about the Bernie Madoff case where they were saying, essentially, that a lot of the bigger institutions bringing him clients had to have known something was up with the numbers, but they chose not to understand because they were making money and didn't want to rock the boat.


Assuming peoples bonuses were tied to the ridiculous numbers I can see people being incentivised to do that


If Uber is found to have stolen trade secrets, how large is the judgment against them likely to be? Is it based on some multiple of the cost of the research that produced those secrets? Or the market value of those secrets?


I'm not a lawyer, but I was under the impression that the worst thing that could happen would be that Uber would be forbidden from using the stolen technology or its fruits.

... which would basically be akin to telling them "Get out of the self-driving vehicle business."


That is the worst that can come out of this case - and it would be a critical hit for Uber. Self-driving will be a big aspect of the future (how long that future's away is a different discussion), but once self-driving cars are here, what would Uber's business be? Kalanick himself said this:

"If we are not tied for first, then the person who is in first, or the entity that's in first, then rolls out a ride-sharing network that is far cheaper or far higher-quality than Uber's, then Uber is no longer a thing"

OTOH, Alsup (the judge in this case) recommended to look into a criminal investigation against Uber, which seems to be in progress considering that is what lead to the Jacob's letter in Alsup's hands. That potential investigation could have worse impact than just "don't do self-driving cars". Depending on the verdict, it could lead to anything between nothing to prison time for numerous executives to the point that the company itself would struggle to survive.


> struggle to survive

it probably would result in Uber being acquired


Also not a lawyer.

>would be that Uber would be forbidden from using the stolen technology or its fruits

No, that's pretty much already happened as part of the preliminary injunction. Uber has so far argued that insofar as Levandowski had and may have used trade secrets, they never made it into any production vehicles, and so firing Levandowski meets that bar.

If Google wins the lawsuit, there are probably damages to be had. In addition to saying "no, stop using this or any of its fruits", my understanding is that the court can order Uber to pay Google for the advantages it god. In other words, if the trade secrets advanced Uber's autonomous vehicle initiatives by a year, they might be liable for a year's worth of autonomous vehicle R&D costs, and also need to start over from not having any trade secrets.


> No, that's pretty much already happened as part of the preliminary injunction.

A preliminary injunction goes away with (or before) final resolution of the case (though it may, at that time, be replaced with a permanent injunction.)


I believe Waymo is asking for 1.8 billion in damages. They were asking 1 billion to settle. Ultimately, though, it's up to the jury to award damages if they find for Waymo.


I guess similar to how royalty payment suits are settled.


If it was a secret driving sauce, like the Coke formula, maybe the owner of that secret isn't interested in licensing it for royalties.


In which case they get an injunction and Uber can't use the tech or the fruits of it. They'd be screwed as far as self-driving is concerned.


A royalty is an option, but the court could also award Google's lost profits or Ubers ill-gotten gains. Or both.


Uber business model is:

- Make money willfully violating the law

- Use a portion of the money to pay fines, settlements, cover ups. Keep violating the law

That's how they expanded to many countries before they were even authorized.


You missed a couple steps

- hire a PR firm to flood new cities with stories of how g great uber is

- build up a huge rider and driver base by offering riders deep discounts and drivers big bonuses

- when threaten with regulations email the user base asking them to contact city officials because regulators are stifling innovation and limiting consumer choice... asnd throw in a line about taxis being old and crappy. They did this exactly when it wad announced London banned them.


In Austin they canvased the city with people literally knocking on doors over a requirement for drivers to be fingerprinted.

There was some nuance to it and valid points being made by both the city and Uber but Uber's absolutely over the top response and absolutism turned a lot of residents of the city off of them.


> build up a huge rider and driver base by offering riders deep discounts and drivers big bonuses

So true. They subsidized rides and operated at a loss just to capture all the market, then backstabbed the drivers to profitability.

Now there are drivers below minimum wage.


Successfully. They're still operating in London.


What. I didn't know that.


Yes, although it seems to be catching up with them.


Does Uber risk losing the Waymo trial by default, and not only suffering sanctions along the way, because of this evidence tampering?


(IANAL, lay person's understanding).

Uber's already admitted to deleting evidence against the rules (previously to this, they claimed it was a mistake).

Waymo is asking the judge to order that "adverse inference" be applied to the contents of that evidence, effectively that for the purposes of this trial the jury (and possibly the judge for motions of summary judgement? Not sure but I would expect so) be ordered to assume that evidence say whatever is most beneficial to Waymo, within reason.

In an extreme case the judge might order the jury to assume the deleted emails said "Hey, we got all these trade secrets from whatshisname, awesome right". Which would effectively be Waymo winning by default.

I'm not sure if there are any other mechanisms that might cause Waymo to win by default (I doubt it), but the above is a real possibility.


My understanding is that this kind of hiding evidence and tampering would not be punished in the current trial. Instead, if it was determined to be criminal behaviour, there would be another follow up criminal trial.


Consider the possibility that the fact that they concealed evidence would be highlighted by the judge to the jury. Thus they may well be punished for it in the current trial.


Headline is pretty misleading. The full quote is "On the surface it looks like you covered this up"


If anything the headline is misleading in the other direction. The details in this are pretty damning:

1. Paid an employee 4.5M after sending accusatory email to CEO

2. Levandowski used Wickr for an unknown purpose, an app no longer used within the company

3. Said email to CEO hidden from discovery during trial

None of this is 100% proof, but the body of evidence that is growing makes it harder and harder to reasonably believe that Uber is innocent here.

That said yes the quote as stated is misleading of what Alsup actually said. I just wish the headline was about the points above, not his quote.


You can twist a narrative about using an app with 'self-destructing messages' to sound like a malicious act but what's stopping any individual or company from wanting privacy? Wickr is a very popular app, especially among technically-savvy people.

With widespread surveillance and hacking there are a hundred other reasons besides hiding evidence from an IP trial for using an app like that.

Uber's claims the letter from the security employee, who highlighted the use of 'special laptops' and self-destruction messaging apps, was of an 'extortionist' nature and led to him getting a payout. Calling that employee a 'whistleblower' is another potential spin.

Which is why that statement rightfully includes "On the surface...".

Paying off someone is far more directly relevant but again there is a presumption of innocence for very good reasons. And I don't think we should ignore that


You can't accuse GP of twisting the 'self destructing message' app thing when the original source says it was for malicious purposes (you could arguably accuse the original source, except...). I'm also highly skeptical that it is at all legal to use such an app for communications you are legally required to preserve because you are aware of the possibility of a lawsuit.

> Jacobs: Uber's use of encrypted ephemeral systems was dessigned to protect sensitive info and ensure we didn’t create a paper trail that wd come back to haunt the co in any potential civil or criminal investigation. [0]

> Judge quotes Jacob's atty letter: Uber employees went to Pittsburgh to educate the AV group about ephemeral, encrypted communications "to prevent Uber's unlawful schemes from seeing the light of day" [1]

[0] https://twitter.com/CSaid/status/935555627815813120

[1] https://twitter.com/CSaid/status/935569588309327878


The Jacob person you're quoting was demanding money to not expose such information in an 'extortionist' style attempt... and he did take the money and he did keep quiet. He wasn't some good-guy whistleblower, he took advantage of his inside knowledge after he was fired for personal gain. While then rejoining Uber after the fact and continuing to work there.

In that letter, likely written by his attorney who also got $3 million, had a clear incentive to twist the narrative of using an app like Wickr to make it seem as malicious and damaging as possible.

Uber also went to federal prosecutors with his letter to preempt him from using it for further personal gain. They didn't try to hide from it.

I'm not saying it wasn't used for malicious purposes but I'd take those allegations in the letter with a grain of salt.


>I'm not saying it wasn't used for malicious purposes but I'd take those allegations in the letter with a grain of salt.

Seriously? What ever happened to due process?


It seems like those users were at the highest levels of Uber. Travis and Corey were directly communicating, as has come out already. >>>https://www.recode.net/2017/8/15/16151986/travis-kalanick-an...

So, there are a lot of legit questions as to why Lewandowski was using it to communicate? With whom was he speaking? When and why did he decide to use self destroying communication?

I'd imagine the best practice for hiring a employee that could have a potential conflict of interest or be in violation of an employment agreement would be to document the great lengths the new company went to make sure there was no IP violations and keep records of everything. Though, one could argue that Uber saw value in destroying evidence and create doubting, where the truth would most certainly be damning.


I agree, there are other uses for sure. But, again, you have to look at the full body of evidence.

The most notable part to me is that Uber stopped using the app. What would change in the privacy world to make them not need that app if they had a use for it before?

Add that to all the other context of the case, and malicious use is a lot more likely to me.

> Paying off someone is far more directly relevant but again there is a presumption of innocence for very good reasons.

If I'm not mistaken, this is a civil suit and subject to "more likely than not" rather than "beyond a reasonable doubt". I find a hard time making an argument that it's more likely Uber didn't use Levandowski to steal trade secrets from Google.


> The most notable part to me is that Uber stopped using the app. What would change in the privacy world to make them not need that app if they had a use for it before?

Does every company that switches from one messaging system to another need a nefarious reason?


Also according to the FT what the judge actually said was:

“I can’t trust anything you say because it’s been proven wrong so many times,” he told Uber. “You’re just making the impression that this is a total cover-up.”

Which also seems quite damning. https://www.ft.com/content/3d4cb174-d636-11e7-a303-9060cb1e5...


This is just the way Judges do sarcasm


What the difference?


If Judge Alsop said "you covered this up" it would be a statement of fact. He would follow that statement with serious sanctions and the lawyers involved in the coverup would be in serious risk of being disbarred.

When he says "On the surface it looks like you covered this up" he is putting Uber and their lawyers on notice that they had better convince him that they did not in fact cover it up or their world will be filled with hurt.

Update: See "Ethics in Discovery: Where the Rubber Meets the Road"[1] page 17

In an extreme example of discovery related misconduct experienced by the Commission, the defendant intentionally withheld relevant evidence through tampering with documents, lodging baseless objections to production, purposefully misleading the court and the parties, and delaying in responding to permissible discovery requests.

Sounds familiar... and Fry's got hit with some serious sanctions (trial sanctions, not the fines).

Ultimately, the Court struck the affirmative defense to the harassment claim, deemed improperly withheld documents presumptively admissible at trial, ordered a jury instruction that one of the justifications for firing a plaintiff was pretextual, permitted EEOC to argue adverse inference at trial, and imposed $100,000 in sanctions ($25,000 to each of three plaintiffs and $25,000 to the court). In addition, the Court appointed a special master to review and report to the court about defendant’s compliance with outstanding discovery requests.

[1] https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/events/labor_law...


Right, but the headline isn't "you covered this up", it's "it looks like you covered this up*. The omitted part ("on the surface") doesn't seem to significant alter the statement to me, does it?


Agreed.


He asked on Tuesday, how is he meant to believe anything they say?

Its not the first time they have mislead the court.


With all these cold winters, on the surface it looks like the earth isn't warming.

...

however: yadadada.

That's often how an on the surface statement is construed.


Right, but if you wrote "With all these cold winters, it looks like the earth isn't warming."

Wouldn't that pass more-or-less the same message? I don't see how the omission is significant, let alone "pretty misleading".


"on the surface" is used when you're either arguing the opposite or leaving the door open to being wrong because you know there is more to be revealed.

"it looks like" can be used in place of a more definitive statement. "on the surface it looks like" is almost never used that way.


> "it looks like" can be used in place of a more definitive statement. "on the surface it looks like" is almost never used that way.

It seems to me that what he is saying is, in the absence of some sort of convincing exculpatory evidence or argument that so far has not been presented, it looks like a cover-up. I don't think I agree with your analysis here.


Thanks! Not being a native speaker sometimes the nuances escape me.


I'm a native speaker and I think you're in the right. "On the surface" and "looks like" have effectively equivalent meanings and connotations, at least for me. I don't see how this headline was at all misleading.


The very experienced judge also said, “I have never seen a case where there were so many bad things done like Uber has done in this case”

Do you happen to work for Uber?


Even if I did work for Uber (I don't) would it change the fact that this headline truncated the original quote to make it sound more controversial? That kind of thinking is what leads people to ignore facts that challenge their preconceived ideas.


> Thirty-seven pages long, it detailed a list of questionable behavior at Uber, including spying on competitors and using special laptop computers and self-destructing messaging apps that would hide communications.

It doesn't seem like a good thing that using self-destructing messaging apps is considered by our court system to be "questionable behavior". It is akin to the argument that using encryption implies guilt.


> akin to the argument that using encryption...

That's quite a stretch.

If you read the document, it says they use self-destructing apps to not leave paper trail.

That is akin to saying you used encryption so that DEA won't catch you selling drugs.


There's a difference between using such messaging apps in a private vs a business context. Plus, this is civil litigation, where the standard of proof is much weaker, and the absence of exculpatory evidence can and will be used against a party.


It's a civil suit, the burden of proof is only preponderance of evidence, likely decided by a jury.


>The letter is sealed but the judge said he intends to make it public after hearing any objections.

I love this, not only do we get to read the letter, we also get to read Uber's transparent objections beforehand.


I know of one case where after a subpoena and request for evidence: hard drives were wiped clean and mobile devices were destroyed with a hammer. We can't have it both ways, can we?


I believe Uber was hacked years ago and knew about it yet did nothing but blame it's users for using a bad password.

Case in point in 2014 1K was stolen from my bank account via my Uber account for a ride in London(im in DC). I searched Twitter and saw 10 to 20 ppl a day complaining about the same thing.


wow, reminded me of a podcast episode of Reply All where the hosts boss had his account hacked and used by someone abroad. i cant really remember how it ends but they went through a pretty long and arduous process to see if he was hacked or phished and it seemed unlikely to them iirc. i think they talked to some uber PR person who also convinced them there was no way uber was hacked, in retrospect this was a blatant lie.


Yes, I know multiple people who had significant money taken from their bank account via Uber.


Did you have your bank account linked to Uber? Is this a common thing to do?


PayPal


What's an "intellectual-theft trial"?


Would a trial to determine theft of property normally be called a "theft trial"?

I assumed that if that were the case, it would follow logically that an "intellectual theft trial" would be a trial to determine theft of intellectual property. I suppose it might be strange if the former is not common vernacular.


It would be more likely to use the actual crime someone was charged with (e.g., "robbery trial," "larceny trial," etc.) and I think it's rare for legal statutes to have a crime called "theft." But otherwise the form seems normal.


A trial to determine whether the accused party is guilty of intellectual property theft. I'm not sure what's unclear.


Well, maybe it's because I'm not a native speaker of English, but since the word "property" isn't part of the expression it wasn't obvious to me.


Sorry if the comment was excessively snippy, in that case.


And Anthony Levandowski will walk a free man?


Probably not, since he is being investigated by federal prosecutors for criminal behavior.


It seems like the "well, all startups do bad things, Uber is just in the spotlight" crowd has dried up a bit...


It's always sort of nuts to me how often that excuse comes out for nearly everything. Politics especially. We find out one government official is doing something bad and the response for those on that side of the party line is "everyone does it, don't single this person out!"

Perhaps I'm just being overly purist, but I always want to hang them (not literally) AND try to solve the problem. In this case, if it's true than we clearly need more oversight on startups/companies, and we also need to prosecute Uber.


No its not being a purist at all. Legally, the law doesn't recognize any whataboutism whatsoever (unless its in the specific sense of legal precedents). So you can't argue your innocence in a bank robbery just because another gang also robbed a bank but did not get convicted.

The law is pretty clear; its just that most people are not prosecuted for it.


Sometimes you can. If the government knows banks are being robbed, has the opportunity to catch thousands of robbers, but only catches, say, female bank robbers, those robbers have a valid point in court, and may get free. Justice must be impartial.

For a variation on this involving the selling of drugs, see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/29/netherlands-co....


It shouldn't immunize the guilty party, but it is useful to point out inconsistencies in applications of the law. Whataboutism is terribly useful for identifying the injustice of consistently punishing one party/race/gender/etc group while others get away with slapped wrists. We can argue about whether or not this is true, but decrying whataboutism misses the point.


There's selective prosecution, but I take your point.


Unfortunately, when law is enforced sufficiently selectively, you do not have rule of law, nor do you live in a nation of laws.

Saying that the law does not recognize whataboutism is a red herring (Unless we are talking about the outcome of a specific legal case).

In short, whataboutism is a legitimate argument for why someone should not be prosecuted (Because the law has nothing to do with that decision.)


The issue is economy of scale. Prosecuting a company for wrongdoing is an expensive undertaking, and startups ultimately may not have the capital to justify a prosecution---if the prosecutor wins, what then? The startup pays out its no-money, probably no-one goes to jail, and the founders just go found another company? There doesn't appear to be much of a back-stop on bad behavior.

(It's an exercise for the reader to determine whether "startup agility" and "disruption" are just polite synonyms for "taking advantage of the framework's weaknesses to dodge the legal and ethical responsibilities that big companies cannot afford to dodge" ;) ).


This has become a buzzword after its use by John Oliver, but it really is another example of Whataboutism.


Whataboutism as a term has been in near constant use on here since Russia was first identified as the the source of meddling in the election last year.


It's not that nuts when you consider how high the stakes are for some people. In the U.S. one high stakes dichotomy can be summed as such: killing people by taking away affordable healthcare vs. killing people before they've had a chance at life. Killing people is such an important issue to many people that any other issues they have are minuscule in comparison, especially when it's likely that both sides have their dirt.

Disclaimer: I in no one way support the U.S. political system and would definitely support a system with more transparency so that, the people with significant unremedied skeletons in their closet, have no chance of making it to consideration for office.


“I knew it. I’m surrounded by Assholes.”


they've done so much gratuitously evil stuff, the good faith is gone


That having been said, it's good money to wager that all startups do bad things. Uber can be both in the spotlight and worse than most.


No, that’s not true at all. I consider myself to be an ethical and reasonable human being and have never observed a startup I’ve been a part of - in positions where I am aware of operations, finances, privacy, etc - do anything “bad” like what HN keeps apologizing for. Maybe that’s a SV or big city thing, but here some of us have ethics.


I should probably walk that back to "wager most startups do bad things," i.e. "Not everyone is just continuously breaking the law, but if you have to place money that a randomly-chosen startup broke some law, bet on 'yes.'"

In particular, I'd put the odds that 100% of software most startups use to generate product is correctly and completely licensed at "low." License compliance is expensive, and it's an easy responsibility to dodge if you can trust the aggrieved parties won't sue because your company's entire valuation isn't worth the price of their lawyers' time.


Fair enough, that's a much better way to convey your point, and it's one I agree with.

If we consider each domain, from hiring to operations, finance to development, I'll take your 100% odds - there are just too many areas of concern for a handful of people to get exactly right.

We could also get into a social discussion, but I won't, and instead will just say I suppose technically that makes what the startup is doing criminal. However, I personally, which is irrelevant since I'm not running the whole system, find the types of things Uber has done to be magnitudes more criminal than incorrect usage of a software license.

That said, I concede that it is indeed illegal, and therefore, your estimate probably isn't too far off from the truth. :)


when is the Uber exodus going to start?


I think it'll be exodus 2.0. I contracted there until Nov 2016, a few months before the delete uber campaign and Susan Fowler. I kept in contact with some service desk friends and they said after Susan's blog at least 200 people quit right after. Again this is just anecdotal hearsay but I was told another 500 people left a few months later after they collected their yearly bonuses. After bonuses he said maybe 10 to 15 people per week were stopping by the support bar to turn in their laptops on their last day in his building alone. His guess was that at least 800 to 1000 people quit in the first six months of the year. I haven't spoken to him since the end of summer so I don't know how their policy changes, pay bumps, and CEO/ leadership have changed things and if the attrition number slowed. But with this recent news I think this could kick off exodus 2.0.


I don't want to defend Uber here, but I don't see what this letter business has to do with Waymo's allegedly stolen LIDAR. Why should Uber have disclosed this letter to Waymo?

Also, I don't see what's the legal problem with spying on your competitors. I mean, Google and Facebook are spying on their customers, and the law apparently has no problem with that.


Everyone ignored the most important part of your question, which is "Why should Uber have disclosed this letter to Waymo?"

They should have because in a civil case like this there is a property called discovery where each side gets to request certain information from the other side. And the other side is required to give it or argue it's outside the bounds of what they can request to the judge, who will decide. In this case Uber had already legally agreed/been ordered to give Waymo all documents in categories this letter clearly falls under, in various ways. For instance one of the more damning given what we know about the letter would be "All DOCUMENTS REGARDING DEFENDANTS’ policies regarding employees’ use of personal computers or other devices while working at or for DEFENDANTS."

A lot is still redacted from the public, but you can see more details on page 7 of their brief: https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.cand.308136...

I say this is the most important part of your question, because this is the one area where Uber pretty much unquestionably, intentionally broke the law. Regardless of whether or the allegations in the letter are true, it was a document that they were legally required to turn over but didn't. The head council explicitly made the decision to turn it over to the US attorney and not Waymo so it's not even plausible they missed it.

(I am not a lawyer)


> Also, I don't see what's the legal problem with spying on your competitors. I mean, Google and Facebook are spying on their customers, and the law apparently has no problem with that.

It's not spying, it's doing so illegally. Facebook and Google don't do that. The letter accuses Uber of doing just that, and that's pretty damned relevant in a case where Uber stole trade secrets.


“I did not believe it was patently illegal,” Jacobs said. “I had questions about the ethics of it. I suppose because of my personal ethics it felt overly aggressive and invasive.”

ref: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-28/waymo-tri...


He's not a lawyer. The question is a question to debate legally. When something is questionably ethical, whether or not it's legal is dependent on the outcome of a trial.

An employee was accusing them of doing something highly unethical and potentially illegal regarding information about competitors. Again, that's incredibly relevant.


"Paying a Google employee to steal their designs and sell them to you" is vastly different than regular industrial espionage.


Sounds exactly like regular espionage to me. Hiring employees from competitors with "5 years experience in this exact line of work" really is espionage on a small scale.

They will use their knowledge of what doesn't work, and how not to approach problems gleaned from their previous employer to solve your problems much quicker.

Previous employers cost to develop a space laser: 5 years.

Time to re-invent space laser when you already know how to do it: 6 months.


That's still different than bringing literal, patented design files with you. ;)

Time to invent: 0


>I don't want to defend Uber here, but I don't see what this letter business has to do with Waymo's allegedly stolen LIDAR.

We don't know what's in the letter (yet) but it very well could touch on exactly what Uber was trying to hide, hence the 7.5 million dollar bribe.




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