Uber’s legal problems are even worse than thought.
Bloomberg reported Wednesday that the ride-hailing company is facing at least five criminal probes by the Department of Justice, two more than previously revealed. The new disclosures relate to suspicions of illegal and discriminatory pricing, and officials are separately looking into the company’s role in the alleged theft of schematics and other documents relating to Alphabet’s autonomous-driving technology.
That’s in addition to a bundle of other civil suits Uber is facing around the country, and the loss of its operating license in London, which accounts for an estimated 5% of its user base.
The two new criminal probes have arisen out of civil actions already public. The dispute with Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving venture which accuses Uber of stealing its trade secrets, is due to go to trial December. The other probe is a response to revelations that Uber developed and used two software apps (known as Cascade and Firehouse) to offer discounts to some customers but not others. Federal law prohibits that, Bloomberg noted.
Bloomberg cited interviews with 11 former and current employees, which shed new light on the role of Salle Yoo, the company’s first general counsel and latterly chief legal officer, who announced her intention to leave the company recently. Its sources said Yoo, who had earlier reveled in the freedom to “innovate,” had increasingly pushed back against former CEO Travis Kalanick’s instructions. The sources said that Kalanick’s aim in promoting her earlier this year to chief legal officer was to remove a perceived roadblock from his more adventurous ideas.
Bloomberg also zeroed in on the role of chief security officer Joe Sullivan, who secretly doubled up as deputy-general counsel in order to ensure that his e-mails with colleagues could enjoy attorney-client privilege and therefore be more difficult to subpoena.
Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has been on a worldwide charm offensive since taking over, promising staff, shareholders, customers, and regulators that the company will operate more ethically in future. That change of course, combined with the abolition of special voting privileges for the shares of founders such as Kalanick, are smoothing the way for a reported capital injection of up to $10 billion from Japan’s Softbank.