Uber Technologies Inc. chief legal officer Tony West is brand new to the San Francisco-based ride-hailing company, but he’s already cleaning up old messes.
West wrote an email message Wednesday morning to Uber’s security team about the company’s apparent human surveillance practices, which it has been alleged Uber has used to gather intelligence on competitors.
“My understanding is that this behavior no longer occurs at Uber; that this truly is a remnant of the past,” West wrote in the email, which was obtained by The Recorder’s sibling publication, Corporate Counsel. “And I have not learned anything in the last couple of days that suggests otherwise. But, to be crystal clear, to the extent anyone is working on any kind of competitive intelligence project that involves the surveillance of individuals, stop it now.”
Uber came under fire this week after an inflammatory letter from former employee Richard Jacobs went public as part of the blockbuster Uber v. Waymo case, which is still in its pretrial stages. Jacobs’ letter alleged Uber stole trade secrets from Waymo, Google’s autonomous car unit, and that the company had an internal team dedicated to competitor surveillance and stealing trade secrets from rivals.
During testimony on Tuesday morning before a San Francisco federal judge, Jacobs didn’t confirm the allegations contained in his letter, which was written by his lawyer, Clayton Halunen of Halunen Law, and sent to Uber’s associate general counsel Angela Padilla in May.
“Dara [Khosrowshahi, Uber's new CEO] and I are still learning the details about the extent of these operations and who was involved in directing them, but suffice it to say there is no place for such practices or that kind of behavior at Uber,” West wrote in his email. “We don’t need to be following folks around in order to gain some competitive advantage. We’re better than that. We will compete and we will win because our technology is better, our ideas are better, and our people are better. Period.”
It’s been a tough start for West, who began his new position as Jacobs’ letter surfaced and amid the separate revelation that the company failed to previously disclose a massive 2016 security breach, and even reportedly paid off the hackers involved to keep the breach quiet.
West and Khosrowshahi, who joined Uber around three months ago, face the daunting task of boosting public perception of Uber and fixing the company’s culture—a task that doesn’t seem to be getting any easier, given the new surveillance accusations.
“As Dara said [at] the all-hands meeting yesterday, we can expect some bumpy days ahead as more information about this and other past practices comes to light,” West wrote. “But as much as Uber will be judged on what we’ve done in the past, people will be watching just as closely to see how we handle our response to these matters going forward. And I’m confident that, working together, we will pass that test.”