Uber Waymo Trial Delayed After Justice Department Jumps In, Unprompted, To Tell Judge That Uber Was Withholding Evidence

from the holy-shit dept

So lots of people were gearing up for the Waymo/Uber trial starting next week over Uber's alleged efforts to get Waymo's (Google's self-driving car project) trade secrets. There are a whole bunch of issues around this case that are interesting -- from questions involving what really is a trade secret to where the line is between controlling former employees and allowing people to switch jobs within an industry. But... all of that has been completely tossed out the window as more and more evidence piles up that beyond those key legal issues, Uber sure did some shady, shady stuff. This morning, the latest bombshell (in a long line of bombshells) is that the judge has delayed the trial after the Justice Department got involved, totally unprompted. No, really.

You have to piece together some of the details, because some of the key documents are heavily redacted, but let's try to unpack what appears to have happened. Earlier this year, the judge in the case, William Alsup, referred the case to federal prosecutors to also investigate whether anything criminal had happened. Normally, in such cases, federal prosecutors will spend quite a while looking into the details and no one -- including the judge who made the referral -- will hear boo from the DOJ until charges are filed (if that ever happens). Except... that's not what happened. Apparently while investigating the possible criminal behavior by Uber, the DOJ noticed that Uber had failed to hand over a key piece of evidence during discovery. Specifically, it appears to be a letter from a former Uber security analyst named Richard Jacobs, concerning efforts by Uber to access competitor trade secrets -- and to conceal that information (there is some suggestion that this involved using disappearing messaging apps).

This would have been required to be handed over during discovery, but was not. And no one would have known about it, had the acting US Attorney for the Northern District of California not decided, unprompted, to let Judge Alsup know about it -- leading Judge Alsup, just last week, to order Uber to hand it over to Waymo. You can get some of this from the heavily redacted filing made by Waymo's lawyers, in which you can hear their exasperation over just finding this out.

Also, Judge Alsup order Jacobs to appear in court and answer questions, and reports from the courtroom suggest it's been... messy. Reporters Kate Conger and Joe Mullin have been providing some fairly astounding color commentary. A few snippets from their tweets:

As computer security guru Matt Blaze points out, there are plenty of good reasons for companies to want to use secure communications -- but doing so explicitly to avoid having your conversations show up during discovery certainly doesn't look good in court.

Either way, Judge Alsup appears to be less than happy about all of this:

“We're going to put trial off … because even if half of what’s in that letter is true it would be a huge injustice to Waymo to have to go to trial now,” the judge said...

Judge Alsup also noted that "the public is going to hear everything" about this evidence, so there's likely to be more coming down the road.

Once again, there are all sorts of interesting legal questions underlying this case -- but as happens all too often, it appears that some fairly blatant bad behavior is likely to obscure much of that. While it may make for more entertaining stories, it can muck up some of the legal questions. Or, as lawyers sometimes note, bad cases make bad law. This is shaping up to be a bad case with a pretty clear pattern of incredibly bad behavior by Uber (which, of course, appears to be consistent with the company's reputation). And, unfortunately, that seems likely to distract from some actually important issues that could have a much wider impact, concerning questions around trade secrets and employment.

But, no matter what, withholding evidence like this during discovery -- not to mention some of that evidence being an explanation of how the company tried to avoid discovery -- is a double layer cake of extremely sketchy behavior. It seems unlikely that this will end well for Uber.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Nov 2017 @ 11:09am

    "Uber sure did some shady, shady stuff. "

    This is to be expected. Let's review. Uber has:

    - crafted an android app that is quite literally malware
    - created the "god view" privacy nightmare
    - purchased "anonymized" data from unroll.me
    - concealed documentation of their surveillance system
    - included a feature that tracks users after rides
    - indulged in price gouging repeatedly, including NY during Sandy, SF on New Year's Eye, Sydney during "siege"
    - along with its partners, pushed people into subprime loans
    - used a promotion that paired riders with "hot chicks"
    - obtained the medical records of a customer who was a rape victim
    - suggested digging up dirt on journalists
    - established and maintained a culture of rampant sexism
    - tracked and targeted Lyft drivers
    - used the Lockito app to defraud customers
    - concealed multiple massive data breaches
    - paid off hackers to "delete" private data
    - repeatedly lied to regulatory agencies
    - allowed drivers with felonies and motor vehicle incidents to work in Colorado (and no doubt elsewhere)
    - employed a full-blown sociopath as its CEO
    - created and fostered a workplace culture of "anything goes" as long it makes money for Uber

    Lots of things are missing from this list, but the bottom line is that Uber is a horrible company run by horrible people. (I don't mean the drivers: arguably, they're as much victims as are the customers.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ShadowNinja (profile), 28 Nov 2017 @ 11:49am

      Re: "Uber sure did some shady, shady stuff. "

      Don't forget Uber's whole business is illegal in may places it operates, such as those that require taxi medallions, but they still do it anyway.

      Taxi Medallions may have become a bad system that let incumbents get away with crap service, but they were invented for a reason. During the great depression a ton of people were basically becoming their own 'uber' taxi drivers in urban areas to try to make a living after losing their job. They got so flooded with taxi drivers that no one could possibly make a living as a taxi driver.

      And so the taxi medallion system was invented, so that at least some people could make a living as a taxi driver, and the market wasn't ridiculously over-saturated with way more taxi drivers then were needed.

      The way taxi medallions went wrong over the years is that the population continued to grow overtime, but the taxi medallion supply stayed static, when it should have been raised overtime with the growing number of people in the area & growing taxi demand.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Just Wandering, 28 Nov 2017 @ 12:22pm

        Re: Re: "Uber sure did some shady, shady stuff. "

        How is it more fair that people who already have money to spend on medallions are able to become taxi drivers? The fact that people couldn't make a living being taxi drivers ultimately means that they would have to figure something else out or be the best darn taxi around and gain more market share.

        I just don't see how medallions are better for anyone other than it being an enabler for wealthier "bad" taxi drivers at the cost of poorer "better" taxi drivers.

        I wonder what the secondary effects of artificially inflating the costs of a segment of transportation is.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Just Wandering, 28 Nov 2017 @ 1:20pm

          Re: Re: Re: "Uber sure did some shady, shady stuff. "

          By the way, I wasn't arguing that Uber's drivers are legal, just that you seem to defend the original idea behind the Medallions as a good. I'm just trying to imagine the downsides of a world where they never existed and I'm having trouble.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Nic, 28 Nov 2017 @ 4:54pm

      Re: "Uber sure did some shady, shady stuff. "

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Nov 2017 @ 11:30am

    "but doing so explicitly to avoid having your conversations show up during discovery certainly doesn't look good in court."

    Isn't this considered conspiracy?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Nov 2017 @ 11:32am

    One commenter here railed about criminal Uber for years.

    Starting with its lies that employees are "independent contractors".

    While Masnick talked it up, only six days ago admiring its "concept" of hailing taxis on the Internet instead of the telephone, never mentioning that Uber is losing money (about 30%) on every ride: subsidized by venture capital is all that allows it to go on.

    SO YET AGAIN: WHO WAS RIGHT?

    But now when the crimality can't be denied, Masnick distances himself.


    By the way: why make so much of DOJ providing relevant KEY information "unprompted"? -- When the judge tasked them to investigate? -- I think you just can't quite help being riled EVERY time justice works as should.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Nov 2017 @ 11:40am

      Re: One commenter here railed about criminal Uber for years.

      You can't read.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      An Onymous Coward (profile), 28 Nov 2017 @ 12:52pm

      Re: One commenter here railed about criminal Uber for years.

      If you spent half as much time debating the real point instead of grinding your anti-Masnick axe you might be worth reading. As it stands, no, you are not.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ShadowNinja (profile), 28 Nov 2017 @ 11:53am

    I really just don't understand why Uber even thinks spending a bunch of money on self driving cars is worth it.

    Whenever someone invents and perfects them enough to use Uber can just buy their own fleet of self driving taxi's for much cheaper then the R&D costs (which may not even return anything worthwhile to them).

    If their owners think it's a good investment then fine, invest some of their own personal money on it in another company. Don't make your business invest in something that will literally cannibalize a profitable business. Especially when others are already spending plenty of money researching the exact same thing.

    The tech expertise to make an app to grab a taxi, and making a self driving car isn't even remotely close either, nor does it overlap all that much.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Nov 2017 @ 11:59am

      Re:

      Why would a fast food company buy the land they operate on rather than lease? Ask McDonalds. Same idea here, I imagine.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 28 Nov 2017 @ 12:57pm

        Re: Re:

        Marriott Corporation used to own all the land and buildings where their hotels and restaurants existed. Then a new generation of Marriott graduated from business school and sold the land and buildings to banks and insurance companies with guaranteed renewable 20 year management contracts. Raised a whole lot of capital which fueled a huge expansion.

        I don't know about McDonald's, but most of their operations are franchised, and the individual franchisee would be making those decisions, rather than the corporation.

        How any of that applies to Uber who are building what are essentially only durable (maybe, maybe they will last 10 years) rather than more permanent assets such as land or buildings is another question.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      An Onymous Coward (profile), 28 Nov 2017 @ 12:57pm

      Re:

      They do claim to be a tech company, not a transportation company. Let them spend their money on more self-driving research (not that any of us have a voice or choice in the matter). Better products come faster from robust competition.

      Beside that, Uber isn't profitable. Maybe they will be once they start using self-driving cars. Even if they're the worst company on Earth they represent expenditure and competition in a world that can use more of that. They're paving the way for Lyft to eat their lunch.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Nov 2017 @ 1:43pm

    Excuse my language, but fuck, Uber is an entire course in corporate ethics. I mean, is there they haven't committed yet?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Nov 2017 @ 1:45pm

      Re:

      Excuse my language, but fuck, Uber is an entire course in corporate ethics. I mean, is there a crime they haven't committed yet?
      *Forgot some words.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 28 Nov 2017 @ 2:26pm

        Re: Re:

        Corporate.... ethics? You used perfectly good words in a completely nonsensical manner. I can't figure out what you could be possibly trying to convey here.

        /s

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    wshuff (profile), 28 Nov 2017 @ 9:31pm

    At this point I won’t be surprised to learn that Uber pays a bonus every time a driver runs over a puppy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    oliver, 29 Nov 2017 @ 12:24am

    Isn't it NOW time for the nuclear option?

    Uber delenda est!


    Let the hammer come down hard on Uber and shut it all down, NOW.

    Cheers /butter and popcorn ready/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2017 @ 12:35am

    Reading this article I kept hearing that voice saying, "It was at that moment he knew he fucked up."

    Of all the judges to pull this crap in, Judge Alsup is probably one of the last ones you'd want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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