• Ex-employee says unit worked to ‘impede, obstruct or influence’ investigations
  • Uber-Waymo trial delayed after revelations Uber withheld evidence

Uber had a team of employees dedicated to spying on rival companies and “impeding” legal investigations into the company, a former employee testified in federal court Tuesday.

The dramatic public testimony, on the eve of jury selection for the hotly anticipated civil trial over allegations that Uber stole trade secrets from Google’s self-driving car spinoff Waymo, came after it was revealed that Uber had withheld evidence, leading Judge William Alsup to delay the the trial indefinitely.

Earlier this year, the attorney for Richard Jacobs, a former Uber employee, had sent a letter to Uber’s in-house counsel with his allegations about the special group. But Uber had not provided the letter to Waymo as part of legal discovery before the start of the trial. On November 22, federal prosecutors, who are conducting a separate investigation, alerted the judge to the existence of the letter.

“If even half of what’s in that letter is true, it would be a huge injustice to force Waymo to go to trial” as scheduled, Judge Alsup said.

Jacobs was a manager of global intelligence at Uber from March 2016 until April 2017. After he left the company, his attorney sent a 37-page letter to Uber’s in-house attorney detailing his concerns about potentially criminal or unethical activities within Uber’s “strategic services group” and “marketplace analytics” teams.

Uber and Jacobs reached a $4.5m settlement, which included a non-disparagement clause and a one-year consulting gig for Jacobs to help Uber “root out bad behavior”, Jacobs said.

Marketplace analytics “exists expressly for the purpose of acquiring trade secrets, code base and competitive intelligence”, the letter states, though Jacobs said under questioning that the letter’s language was “hyperbolic”.

But, he said, the group did engage in scouring code repository GitHub to find “spilled data” from rival firms, and engaged in efforts to obtain information about drivers for rival ride-hailing companies overseas.