Uber has been using a secret tool known as ‘Ripley’ to conceal incriminating data from police, according to a report from Bloomberg.
Between spring 2015 and late 2016, Bloomberg says Uber repeatedly used Ripley to avoid police raids in foreign cities such as Amsterdam, Brussels, Hong Kong and Paris.
Bloomberg specifically cites a May 2015 incident in Montreal where a team of investigators for the Quebec tax authority raided Uber’s local office. The authorities believed Uber had violated tax laws and obtained a warrant to collect evidence.
Authorities, however, were unable to find any evidence. Bloomberg reports this happened because Uber managers were informed ahead of time on how to cover up any revealing information. According to the report, Uber managers across the globe are trained to page a number that alerts specially-trained staff at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco, California.
Once the call is received, the personnel in San Francisco remotely log off every computer in a given office, which Bloomberg says was the case in the Montreal incident. The Quebec investigators ended up leaving Uber’s office empty-handed.
A year after the incident, the judge in the Quebec tax authority’s lawsuit against Uber wrote that “Uber wanted to shield evidence of its illegal activities.” Further, the judge said that Uber’s actions demonstrated “all the characteristics of an attempt to obstruct justice.” Uber maintained that it never deleted the files and cooperated with another search warrant in which the files were covered once again.
In a statement to The Verge, Uber said the following: “Like every company with offices around the world, we have security procedures in place to protect corporate and customer data. For instance, if an employee loses their laptop, we have the ability to remotely log them out of Uber’s systems to prevent someone else from accessing private user data through that laptop. When it comes to government investigations, it’s our policy to cooperate with all valid searches and requests for data.”
Bloomberg reports that Ripley was originally created in response to a March 2015 police raid on Uber’s Brussels office. Facing accusations of operating without proper licenses, police were able to access the company’s payments system, financial documents and driver and employee information.
The nickname for the tool, meanwhile, is said to be inspired by a quote from Ellen Ripley, the heroine played by Sigourney Weaver in the Alien film franchise. In the second film, Aliens, after the titular creatures defeat a squad of ground troops, Ripley suggests the heroes “nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”