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US justice dept investigates Uber-Waymo case for espionage; a timeline of the issue

Federal prosecutors from the United States Justice Department are investigating espionage in the Uber-Waymo case as new revelations and more questions arose during the final trial. This was due to a 37-page letter by Uber’ former employee Richard Jacobs, reports Associated Press. Jacob, who was a manager of global intelligence at Uber, had described in his letter on how the company stole trade secrets from its rivals, including Google’s self-driving car division Waymo using secret messaging systems.

As per the AP report, the following are Jacob’s allegations:

-He said that he was wrongfully demoted in the company was later fired as he tried to stop the company to indulge in wrong practices of stealing its rival’ s secrets. And that, Uber paid him $4.5 million after firing him, as part of a confidential settlement which has a provision requiring him not to say anything that would harm Uber.
-The cab aggregator had set up a unit called Marketplace Analytics to steal trade secrets from its rivals, however, he did not any of the rivals. But, later during the questioning session, he admitted that Uber stole trade secrets from Waymo and intellectual property of others in the US.
-To protect itself from legal troubles, Uber communicated on enterprise instant messaging platform Wickr, which automatically erases the messages.
-The company used a secret computer system to avoid digital trails and trained its self-driving car engineers in Pittsburgh on how to conceal their digital traces.
-Uber’s security team also engaged with contractors- a team of former CIA agents- to help the company with its surveillance.

Here’s a timeline of the Uber-Waymo case:

2007-2011: Anthony Levandowski, a self-driving car engineer had joined Google in 2007. In 2011 his self-driving technology-focused companies – 510 Systems and Anthony’s Robots – were acquired by Google. (Via Bloomberg)

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2012-2013: Levandowski apparently registered a self-driving technology company Odin Wave, and it was reported that the company ordered for a similar part resembling Google’s self-driving projects. However, at that time, the engineer denied the connection. But, later Odin Wave merged with Tyto to create LiDAR modules for self-driving cars. (Via TechCrunch)

2015-2016: Google alleged that Levandowski had downloaded around 14,000 documents from a database where Google’s self-driving car data is available. Google said that it believed that the data was related to self-driving cars. Later Google said in another claim in January 2016 that the engineer transferred the data to his SD drive and further downloaded more documents. The tech giant also alleged later in a separate complaint that Levandowski met Uber while he was still employed with Google. And at the same time frame, Levandowski quit Google without prior notice. (Via Livemint)

2016: Levandowski formed another company 280 Systems, that would later become self-driving truck company Otto- which was acquired by Uber. As part of the deal, Levandowski became head up Uber’s entire self-driving reporting directly to then Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick. (Via The Verge)

2016: December last year, Google received an email containing drawings of Otto circuit boards that, Google alleged, “bore a striking resemblance” to Waymo’s circuit boards and designs -apparently were also part of those thousands of documents downloaded by Levandowski. (Via Quartz)

Feb 2017: Waymo filed a suit against self-driving trucking company Otto, and its parent Uber alleging that the company “misappropriated” its trade secrets, and its patents. (Via Medium)

March- May 2017: Uber denied the allegations and said that it never used the ‘custom LiDAR’ technology as alleged by Waymo. However, after two months of that it fired Levandowski. (Via NewYork Times). But since the case was against the the company Uber, it continued to battle the legal case with Waymo.

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November 2017:  After two delays of the Uber-Waymo trial, the date of next trial is not disclosed yet. On the account of fresh allegations, the court is now investigating the whole Uber-Waymo case, and has not informed about the next trial date yet.

Note that, this legal battle is yet another addition to Uber’s existing kitty of troubles. These troubles ranges from company’s culture to sexual harassment, to recent data breach.

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Writes about e-commerce, social media, tech and Internet ecosystem.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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