Uber-Waymo Trial Delayed Again Following Allegations of Rogue Conduct at Uber

Seth Wenig, Eric Risner/AP

An Uber Technologies Inc. whistleblower made explosive allegations that a company team stole trade secrets to gain an edge over rivals, prompting a judge to further delay the ride-hailing company’s trial with Waymo.

Richard Jacobs, who worked for a now-disbanded corporate surveillance team at Uber, told the judge that stealing trade secrets was part of his former colleagues’ mission, along with monitoring information on metrics and incentives for drivers who operate on competitor platforms overseas.

Jacobs was put under oath at a hearing Nov. 28 after the judge was alerted last week by U.S. prosecutors that he communicated with them in their probe of trade-secret theft at Uber. U.S. District Judge William Alsup said he takes Jacobs’ account seriously because prosecutors found it credible.

“I did not believe it was patently illegal,” Jacobs said of his activities while working for the secretive Strategic Services Group, which has since been renamed. “I had questions about the ethics of it. I suppose because of my personal ethics it felt overly aggressive and invasive.”

Alsup voiced his own concern over what he called potentially criminal conduct involving a hidden system of messaging at Uber. He described an “invisible system, not part of the regular server system” that deletes messages almost instantaneously, after a small delay.

Jacobs testified that the surveillance team used “anonymous servers” separate from the “main part of Uber.” He was asked by a lawyer for Waymo about a staff attorney at Uber who allegedly guided efforts to “impede, obstruct, or influence” lawsuits against the company.

“There was legal training around the use of attorney-client privilege markings on written materials and the implementation of encrypted and ephemeral communications intended to destroy communications that might be considered sensitive,” Jacobs said.

Jury selection was set to begin Nov. 29 in a case over Waymo’s allegations that Uber stole trade secrets covering its autonomous driving technology. The trial already has been delayed once, from Oct. 10, when the judge agreed to give Waymo more time to evaluate a 2016 report commissioned by Uber to vet its hire of the engineer at the center of the dispute, Anthony Levandowski.