Uber’s a strange company in many ways, even for the tech industry, with company execs seemingly forced to deal with the fallout from a new PR scandal every other week or so. … This time, the scandal involves the company’s use of a covert software-based program dubbed “Hell” — which was focused on tracking Lyft drivers and “winning over” those who drove for Uber as well.
In other words, the idea was to identify the drivers who drove for Uber and Lyft, and to preferentially allocate riders and bonuses to the drivers who were freelancing for both companies — seemingly at the expense of “loyal” Uber-only drivers.
This secret program — which was apparently only known to top execs and personnel — reportedly ran from 2014 through early 2016.
Whatever else can be said about Uber, it certainly does seem to embody something of the spirit of the times, doesn’t it? Aggressively incentivizing “bad” behavior … which is pretty much modern culture itself.
For those wondering why Uber discontinued the program, the reason was pretty simple — it was apparently getting to be too expensive. Engadget provides more:
“The program apparently started when Uber decided to create fake Lyft rider accounts and fooled its rival’s system into thinking they were in various locations around the city. Those fake riders were positioned in a grid to give Uber the entire view of a city and all of Lyft’s drivers within it. As a result, the company can see info on up to eight of its competitor’s nearest drivers per fake rider.
“While keeping an eye on its rivals’ cars, though, Uber noticed that Lyft’s drivers are identified by special numbered IDs that never change like its own tokens do. That allowed the team running Hell to learn of each driver’s habits, which, in turn, helped them to figure out which drivers practice ‘double-apping.’ In other words, they used the data they gathered to pinpoint the Lyft drivers that drove for them, as well.
“Travis Kalanick and his select employees then executed a plan meant to entice double-appers to drive exclusively for them. First, the Hell program would send more riders to double-appers than to those who drove solely for Uber. Then, the company would give them special bonuses for meeting a certain number of rides per week. Considering the program’s data revealed that 60% of Lyft’s drivers were double-apping, Uber ended up doling out tens of millions of dollars a week in bonuses.”
As mentioned above, Lyft’s growth seemingly necessitated the end of the program — helped along by the firm’s very successful fundraising efforts in 2016. Notably, though, despite the end of the program, it was reportedly very well regarded by CEO Kalanick during the time it was live — as it fit Uber’s company culture of “hustle.”
While Uber didn’t respond to The Information‘s request for comment (before I wrote this anyway), Lyft did. The response read: “We are in a competitive industry. However, if true, these allegations are very concerning.”
I wonder if there’s another lawsuit coming.
With regard to the name (this is for those wondering), it was intended as the other side of the company’s “God View/Heaven” program — which allowed the company to easily track the location of drivers and app users.
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