17 October 2017
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Uber used legally questionable software to monitor Grab and other rivals: Report

13 Oct 2017
Kenneth Cheng

SINGAPORE — United States ride-sharing giant Uber has been accused of developing and using a legally questionable software to spy on Grab and other rivals in key regional markets, including the Republic.

The programme, called Surfcam, had prompted at least one member of Uber’s legal team to ask whether it could be legally operated in Singapore as “(the software) may run afoul of Grab’s terms of service or the country’s strict computer-crime laws”, the Bloomberg news agency reported on Wednesday (Oct 11).

Uber’s Singapore office declined to comment when approached. TODAY has sent queries to the Singapore authorities on the matter.

Grab said in response to queries from TODAY that it was aware of the matter, and that Uber’s alleged practices had not “impacted Grab’s dominance in ride-hailing”.

 “We have full confidence in the capabilities of law-enforcement agencies to investigate these allegations,” Grab’s spokesperson said. “We believe in being responsible corporate citizens and believe companies should be held accountable by the Government and public for their corporate behaviour.”

According to Bloomberg, Uber’s staff in Sydney created the Surfcam software in 2015. The programme worked by obtaining data from competitors — chiefly Grab — to find out the number of drivers on their networks, in real time, as well as their locations.

Surfcam’s creator was based in Singapore at one point, and later moved to Amsterdam, where Uber’s Europe headquarters are located, the report said.

A tool similar to Surfcam, codenamed Hell, had been deployed in the US to give Uber insights into the locations of the drivers for Lyft, another rival. The authorities in the US are reportedly investigating the programme.

News about Surfcam is the latest in a string of critical reports on Uber’s business practices, and comes amid a US federal investigation into whether the company had contravened laws against overseas bribery.

Last month, Bloomberg reported that Uber had launched a review of its operations in Asia and had informed US officials of payments made by its employees in Indonesia.

Uber is reportedly working with a law firm to pore over records of foreign payments and interview employees.

The focus is on suspicious activity in at least five countries in the region — China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea.

Uber’s Singapore operations are not believed to be under scrutiny, with experts interviewed by TODAY earlier pointing to Singapore’s low tolerance for corruption and the absence of indications of unlawful transactions here.

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