Tim Cook slaps down Uber for deceiving Apple

Uber played with fire by messing with Apple, and then Tim Cook took Uber’s CEO to the woodshed for a good thrashing.

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European Parliament

Apple’s app store has had its share of shenanigans perpetrated by various developers and companies over the years. But one of the more egregious examples of bad behavior was recently done by Uber, and it resulted in a smackdown administered by Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Mike Isaac reports for the NY Times:

Uber engineers assigned a persistent identity to iPhones with a small piece of code, a practice called “fingerprinting.” Uber could then identify an iPhone and prevent itself from being fooled even after the device was erased of its contents.

There was one problem: Fingerprinting iPhones broke Apple’s rules. Mr. Cook believed that wiping an iPhone should ensure customers that no trace of the owner’s identity remained on the device.

So Mr. Kalanick told his engineers to “geofence” Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., a way to digitally identify people reviewing Uber’s software in a specific location. Uber would then obfuscate its code from people within that geofenced area, essentially drawing a digital lasso around those it wanted to keep in the dark. Apple employees at its headquarters were unable to see Uber’s fingerprinting.

The ruse did not last. Apple engineers outside of Cupertino caught on to Uber’s methods, prompting Mr. Cook to call Mr. Kalanick to his office.

Mr. Kalanick was shaken by Mr. Cook’s scolding, according to a person who saw him after the meeting.

More at the NY Times

Wow, it takes a lot of guts to intentionally deceive Apple in such a blatant and obnoxious way. But you just knew that Apple would find out about it sooner or later, and sure enough the company did.

It would have been a major disaster for Uber if it’s app had been booted out of Apple’s iOS App Store, even if it was just temporarily. As it stands now Uber’s reputation has been damaged as the story of it deceiving Apple is circulating all over the web. How many people will want to use Uber's service after reading about its behavior toward Apple?

I have never used Uber’s service, and after this recent mess it’s much more likely that I never will. I’m not a big fan of companies that mess with the privacy of iOS users, and I make it a point to steer clear of their products and services. So Uber is now off my list of apps to install on my iPhone, and I suspect that I'm not alone in being disgusted by the company's deceptive antics.

Uber’s CEO might have thought he’d get away with such a deception, but he should have known better. Apple is the most watched company in the world, and if you do something naughty on Apple’s platforms, sooner or later somebody will notice it and report about it. Then it will come to the attention of Apple itself, and the smackdown will be administered.

Uber’s recent bad behavior in the iOS App Store isn’t the only thing that has been noticed about the company and its CEO. A writer at Slate noted some other shenanigans that were in the NY Times article.

Mathew Dessem reports for Slate:

Isaac also reports on Uber’s competitive intelligence team, which monitored ride-hailing competitor Lyft by, among other things, purchasing anonymized data taken from Lyft users’ email inboxes. To do this, Uber worked with Unroll.me, a service which promises users that it will let them “instantly see a list of all your subscription emails” and “unsubscribe easily from whatever you don’t want.” A careful reading of the company’s terms of service and privacy policy, however, reveals that Unroll.me also offered users the opportunity to “gather up all of the Lyft receipts in your mailbox” and “send non-personal data about your usage of Lyft (or anything, really) to whoever is willing to pay for it.” Unroll.me CEO Jojo Hedaya, in a blog post Sunday headlined “We Can Do Better,” described this process as “how we monetize our free service,” which sounds better than “how we’re privatizing the cabinet noir,” but not much better.

Finally, Isaac reports that when his previous startup Red Swoosh was under financial pressure, Kalanick took money withheld from employee paychecks for taxes and invested it back into the company instead of sending it to the IRS. (The money was eventually paid back, after it helped Kalanick keep Red Swoosh alive until he could sell it for $19 million.)

Uber and its CEO crossing legal and ethical lines in a relentless quest to extract maximum value for investors is the very definition of a dog bites man story, but the details—tracking iPhones, pulling data from other people’s emails, “borrowing” money from employee tax withholdings, lying to Tim Cook—are particularly nasty. It’s almost enough to make you wonder if there might be something wrong with a system that routinely produces companies that behave this way.

More at Slate

Kudos to Tim Cook for protecting iOS users

Tim Cook’s reaction to Uber’s deception is arguably the most interesting part of this story. It’s clear from the NY Times article that Cook, in his own unique and understated way, can be just as intimidating as Steve Jobs (who was known for being someone you didn’t want to screw with).

The CEO of Uber should consider himself very lucky and should behave more appropriately next time. Tim Cook may come across as a laid back, mellow guy but he is clearly not someone you want to have angry at you.

I suspect that if Uber crosses the line again, Cook will cut the company off at the knees and Uber will pay a very high price for tempting the wrath of Apple’s CEO.

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