In October, Waymo, the autonomous-vehicle unit of Google parent company Alphabet, filed a lawsuit against Uber, claiming that Uber's former star engineer Antony Levandovski, stole 14,000 "highly confidential" files to develop its own autonomous trucking company Otto, that was acquired later by Uber. According to the letter, the ride-share company's Threat Operations Unit was developed to help the company achieve its business goals, "through illegal conduct even though equally aggressive legal means were available to achieve the same end".
Known as the Jacobs Letter, the document alleges Uber employees and contractors surveilled other companies' executives and foreign officials; hacked into competitors' systems to lift trade secrets; impersonated protesters and taxi drivers to undermine protests against Uber; and tapped into a database of 35,000 taxi-driver records to recruit new drivers. "Mat, Nick, Ed and Jake are good guys who worked day and night to protect Uber's riders, drivers and employees from real danger around the world". Jacobs' letter has become central to the lawsuit because it accuses an Uber security team of stealing trade secrets from Waymo, and of using secret servers and encrypted, ephemeral messaging to evade discovery.
More recently, regulatory bodies in multiple countries indicated their intent to investigate Uber after the company revealed in November it was hacked sometime previous year, leaving 57 million people's personal data compromised.
While much of the "hacking" or other forms of surveillance seemed to rely on these types of automated systems, the company also allegedly engaged in physical surveillance, including wiretaps, in order to discover competitors' advantages or weaknesses.
Uber deputy general counsel Angela Padilla, the letter's recipient, testified last month that its "fantastical" accusations were the work of an extortionist.
Uber's intelligence team allegedly infiltrated private event spaces at hotel and conference facilities that a group of competing executives used during their stay. An Uber spokeswoman said in a statement: "While we haven't substantiated all the claims in this letter - and, importantly, any related to Waymo - our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology". Jacobs claimed that Uber recorded and observed private conversations among the executives including their real-time reactions to the news that Uber would receive $3.4bn from the Saudi government.
Uber "used undercover agents to collect intelligence against the taxi groups and local political figures".
The letter was originally sent to Uber from Jacobs' lawyer.
"I know it's scandalous, but it's something that the United States Attorney thinks at least is true enough to give to me", US District Judge William Alsup, who is presiding over the Waymo case, said of Jacobs' letters during a November hearing.
Uber maintained that it did not withhold information because the letter was outside of Waymo's discovery demands.
The letter was made public on Friday in a 19-page opinion after the court determined that Uber should have produced the document for Waymo attorneys.
Alsup had said that if Cooper determined Uber was culpable for the omission, he might inform the jury in the case that Uber had deliberately withheld evidence.
Another group, Marketplace Analytics (MA), "exists expressly for the goal of acquiring trade secrets, codebase and competitive intelligence... from major ride-sharing competitors globally", according to the Jacobs letter.