How Uber May Have Tried to Spy on Its Self-Driving Rivals


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Over the previous few years, Uber has schemed to spice up its self-driving efforts by spying on rivals, poaching workers, and buying their software program, in line with newly launched court docket paperwork. Although competitor intelligence work is customary amongst massive corporations, the main points are not often made public.

Within the long-running Waymo v. Uber lawsuit, Uber stands accused of stealing and utilizing commerce secrets and techniques from Alphabet’s self-driving automotive division to spice up its personal, youthful program. New paperwork filed in federal court docket this week concentrate on the actions of Uber’s Strategic Companies Group (SSG), an eight-person group throughout the firm’s Risk Operation division, devoted to accumulating intelligence on rivals. A former ThreatOps worker has claimed that SSG regularly engaged in fraud and theft, and employed third-party distributors to acquire unauthorized information or info.

Uber denies these allegations, arguing that they have been a part of that worker’s try and extort cash from the corporate amidst the Waymo lawsuit. But it surely made SSG workers obtainable for deposition by Waymo in December. These depositions element the group’s actions, together with video surveillance of rivals’ vehicles, speaking with suppliers, plans to accumulate self-driving software program by scraping web sites, and a visit to Las Vegas for the CES commerce present.

The group’s efforts included launching a venture referred to as Zoo to study extra about Uber’s self-driving rivals, every of which received its personal code title. “SSG’s 2017 analysis will concentrate on Giraffe, Turtle, Zebra and Turtle/Chimp in addition to rivals from Asia,” mentioned a planning doc SSG workers wrote in December 2016, which a lawyer for Waymo learn into the court docket file.

Giraffe was Uber’s code-name for Google and Waymo, court docket data point out. Turtle/Chimp might seek advice from Basic Motors and both Lyft (with which it desires to construct a self-driving automotive community) or Cruise, the startup GM purchased in 2016. Zebra—whose aim is quoted as being to “reinvent utterly the car”—may be Zoox, a stealthy Silicon Valley startup that’s constructing a robotic taxi from the bottom up.

“Giraffe leads the opposite 30-plus corporations within the race to discipline totally autonomous automobiles,” admitted the report. “For 2017, SSG’s precedence effort will likely be Giraffe.” SSG was wherein automakers Waymo was working with, what know-how wants it was outsourcing, and who its suppliers have been, the data reveal. SSG was additionally tasked with “[tracking] social media accounts, e.g., LinkedIn, Fb, Twitter, et cetera, in an effort to map the private networks of key personnel” at Waymo.

The group’s prime goal was the stuff that makes Waymo’s vehicles so good: their secret supply code. “Success in [the] autonomous automobile race in the end hinges on the supply code,” learn one other SSG doc. “All of the supply code mandatory for achievement might be compressed to [around] 75 megabytes.” Compared, an hour-long Netflix obtain is about 200 megabytes.

SSG began its search by analyzing GitHub, a web site the place software program builders publish all types of open supply software program. “We might [be] on the lookout for context that might be… inadvertently dropped out of there by an engineer [but] we’ve by no means run throughout something that I might take into account protected information,” Matt Henley, Uber’s director of ThreatOps, mentioned in a deposition.

The subsequent plan, court docket data present, concerned sending SSG workers to CES in January 2017—autonomous driving is a serious matter on the huge know-how commerce present in Las Vegas. Crew members attended technical shows to see if they might glean any details about different corporations’ supply code that might assist Uber’s Superior Know-how Group construct its personal robocars. Unsurprisingly, that didn’t work both, most likely as a result of most corporations keep away from revealing key technical information in public lectures.

“So by way of the primary priorities for assortment and organizations, it’s your testimony that Uber obtained no info at CES 2017?… It was a failure?” a Waymo lawyer requested SSG member Edward Russo throughout his deposition. “You can characterize it that approach,” Russo replied.

SSG didn’t depart Las Vegas utterly empty handed, the depositions point out. A South Korean firm referred to as Jungsang instructed one member of the SSG workforce that it was working with Waymo on laser-ranging lidar methods.

On February 14, 2017, SSG introduced this intel into a gathering with Anthony Levandowski and Lior Ron, ex-Google engineers and co-founders of the self-driving truck startup Otto that Uber had purchased the earlier summer season. Levandowski had been made head of Uber’s self-driving program. He thought the knowledge was “rubbish and never of curiosity,” SSG workforce member Nick Gicinto mentioned in his deposition.

As an alternative of ready for info to drop into Uber’s lap, Levandowski and Ron prompt that the intelligence group take a extra proactive method, in line with the brand new materials filed in court docket. Ron famous that offer chain members are “good sources of perception right into a competitor’s plans, intentions and capabilities.” A report from the February assembly mentioned, “To succeed, our [intelligence] assortment plan should be each broad and deep. It should be broad sufficient to develop streams of reporting on a minimum of six totally different rivals… [and] deep sufficient to accumulate in a well timed method significant technical information.”

The depositions describe a brand new precedence record for SSG, together with exterior distributors, to develop new sources of data, debrief engineers who had left their applications to work at Uber, and “map the human terrain round every of the important thing personalities” at Waymo.

Shortly after the February assembly, Waymo filed its lawsuit towards Uber, accusing Levandowski of taking 9,700 megabytes of confidential technical self-driving automotive information with him when he left Google, utilizing it to start out Otto, after which bringing it to Uber.

In April, mentioned Gicinto, Russo and one other SSG team-member, Jake Nocon, flew to Phoenix to hold out surveillance of Waymo’s experimental self-driving automobiles. For about 4 days, they adopted and videotaped the vehicles driving on public streets. Henley will need to have joined them, as he testified to a dialog in a automotive with Nocon, the place Nocon requested him if there was something to the Waymo lawsuit. “I answered one thing alongside the traces, I feel they’re simply attempting to screw with us,” mentioned Henley. “There could also be one thing with Anthony [Levandowski]. And I mentioned, I hope this audio doesn’t depart the automotive.” However Nocon had by chance left the audio recording on, and Waymo discovered it throughout authorized discovery for the trial.

The lawsuit, in fact, brought on greater than idle hypothesis amongst Uber staffers. Levandowski and Ron’s plans to method suppliers and conduct every day background analysis on rivals have been by no means carried out, in line with a number of SSG depositions. Nick Gicinto testified that he was not conscious of Uber ever hiring exterior distributors to dig up info on Waymo.

Uber in the end fired Levandowski in Could 2017 for not cooperating with its investigation into the lawsuit. Gicinto mentioned in his deposition that the brand new head of the autonomous driving program, Eric Meyhofer, shortly requested Ron to stop all surveillance of Uber’s rivals. SSG had additionally filmed different automobiles, together with these run by an unnamed firm in San Francisco, as late as Could.

Waymo argues that Uber’s explicit curiosity within the efficiency of its self-driving vehicles final yr proves Uber’s in poor health intent. A lawyer for Uber says that “gathering public info on rivals is a typical (and authorized) enterprise follow,” and that Waymo is making “unwarranted inferences primarily based on irrelevant innuendo.”

The trial is because of start on February 5, at which level, the jury will get to make its personal judgment.

Waymo v. Uber

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