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Uber deployed a ‘Kill Switch’ to shut down systems
Uber used a secret tactic known internally as the "kill switch" to block data during police raids.

Uber deployed a 'Kill Switch' to shut down systems
Image – Computing

A leaked cache of confidential files from cab aggregator company Uber shows how it used ethically dubious and potentially illegal tactics to expand its footprints globally, a joint media investigation report has revealed.

The Uber Files, first obtained by The Guardian and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) which led the investigation in partnership with The Indian Express, show how the company exploited the loopholes in the system to evade regulatory authorities and lobbied political leaders to relax labor and taxi laws.

The investigation into 1,24,000 internal emails, text messages, and documents from inside Uber, which covers 2013-2017, shows how the company channeled money through Bermuda and other tax havens and also portrayed violence against its drivers as a way to gain public sympathy.

The investigation found that the company used “stealth technology” to fend off government investigations. The company, for example, used a “kill switch” that cut access to Uber servers and blocked authorities from grabbing evidence during raids in at least six countries, including India.

Use of “Kill Switch”

Cab-aggregator Uber had directed its employees to ignore Indian authorities and devised internal mechanisms to keep them at bay in case of any regulatory concerns, leaked emails and confidential documents accessed by The Indian Express have revealed.

The company had pushed a “kill-switch” mechanism across markets, including India, in case of an emergency, such as a tax raid, wherein the company would shut down its system to prevent government officials from accessing any of its records.

The company further instructed its employees in India to remain “unresponsive” to the Indian authorities and not cooperate with them, should they raise any concerns.

A year after its launch in the Indian marker, Uber’s then Asia Head, Allen Penn, wrote an email to the India team on August 23, 2014, with the subject line reading as “dealing with regulatory issues”: “We will likely have both local and national issues in almost every city in India for the rest of your tenure at Uber… Don’t talk to the Government or folks close to the Government unless you have specifically discussed with Jordan (Uber’s then Head of Public Policy for Asia Jordan Condo)… we will generally stall, be unresponsive, and often say no to what they want. This is how we operate and it’s nearly always the best. Early quick meetings set us up for failure. Get comfortable with that approach… don’t let it distract you from your mission to dominate the market.”

The report further says that Uber deployed the Kill Switch to shut down its systems in the event of raids, etc. The company reportedly first used software named ‘Casper’ and later ‘Ripley’.
The Kill Switch was deployed at least 13 times between 2014 and 2016 in cities across the globe. In India, company officials were trained on how to respond to government inquiries in the wake of the 2015 case in which a 25-year-old woman in Delhi accused an Uber driver of rape.
“We will likely have local and national issues in almost every city in India for the rest of your tenure at Uber… Don’t talk to the Government or folks close to the Government…” The Indian Express quotes the email, which was part of the 1.24 lakh document dump, which includes internal emails, text messages, and documents.
In an official statement, Uber does not deny most of the reportage, instead expressing contrition. “We have not and will not make excuses for past behavior that is not in line with our present values. Instead, we ask the public to judge us by what we’ve done over the last five years and what we will do in the years to come,” the company said in the statement posted on its website.