Uber growth hacks the government
Uber’s latest public relations fiasco comes via a report of how the ride-hailing company thwarts regulators with a dummy version of its app: When a would-be inspector opens the app, he or she is tricked with “ghost cars” that will accept a pick-up request, only to cancel it minutes later.
Pretty clever. Also pretty outrageous. While some libertarian types say Uber’s actions are justified, many more seem to think the stunt is further evidence of how the company is ethically unmoored.
You can also see it as another form of “growth hacking,” a Silicon Valley euphemism that describes breaking legal or moral rules in a quest for scale. The twist in this case is Uber’s growth hack, in the form of code named “Greyball,” took such blatant aim at the government.
The question is whether this will matter. In the case of consumers, they may cluck at Uber’s antics but are unlikely to abandon the company. Indeed, when I polled dinner party companions last night, everyone had heard the recent stories about sexism, driver misery, and Greyball. All of them tut-tutted—but also conceded they would take an Uber home because, well, the service is just so darn convenient.
And so it goes with consumers. They will express outrage on social media but ultimately keep using a product they like. The government, though, could be a different story. Many regulators are likely to take this personally and retaliate with a spate of subpoenas and fines, the likes of which Uber has never seen before.
My hunch is, for better or worse, Uber will weather this like it does everything else. In the meantime, CEO Travis Kalanik, who is looking for leadership advice, would do well to consult my colleague Adam Lashinsky’s helpful set of suggestions.
Thanks for reading—our round-up of cyber-stories is below.
Jeff John Roberts
Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. You may Robert Hackett via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my about.me), PGP encrypted email (see public key on my Keybase.io), Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.
The Secret Service in the Cyber Age. Protecting both the President and the nation’s financial system is a tough job. It’s tougher still in an age where Internet-connected objects—from elevators to bank machines—present a world of new virtual threats. In an exclusive interview with Fortune, a Secret Service agent explained how the agency expands its protection to the cyber realm. (Fortune)
Not so anonymous calls: After a wave of bomb threats directed at Jewish community centers, the FCC said it will let the centers see Caller ID details, even from blocked calls. A suspect is in custody, but the threats could persist because technology like number-spoofing and burner phones make anonymous calling so much easier. (Fortune, Fortune)
More medical mischief: The threat of hackers hijacking medical devices hasn’t gone away. It’s more frightening than ever now that the average hospital bed has 10-15 Internet-connected devices (some of them using Windows XP!), according to a study. (Wired)
Marissa blames the lawyer: As Yahoo staggers to close out its merger with Verizon, CEO Marissa Mayer’s legacy may best remembered by the colossal hacking incident that befell the company—and the colossal incompetence Yahoo showed in responding to it. Mayer said she would forgo her bonus, but also lay fault for the incident at the feet of the company’s lawyer, even though few think he is responsible. (Fortune)
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Fortune’s Aaron Pressman came across a super-secure smartphone at Mobile World Congress. It claims to defeat all the usual tricks—such as phone cracking or compromised charging stations—used by hackers and law enforcement.
Pressing the button invokes “shield mode,” disabling the phone’s camera and microphone. As former spook turned whistleblower Edward Snowden has warned, hackers, government agencies and others have the capability to covertly switch on those bits and spy on phone users without their knowledge. Read more on Fortune.com.
New York Cyber Regulations Are in Force: What You Need to Know by Jeff John Roberts
Big Business from Microsoft to J.P. Morgan are Getting Behind Ethereum by Robert Hackett
Hacker One Launches Free Bug Bounty Program for Open Source Projects by Jeff John Roberts
Slack Just Fixed a Major Security Bug by Jonathan Vanian
How to Use 2-Factor Authentication to Protect Yourself from Hackers and Stalkers by Jeff John Roberts