Lead plaintiff Michael Gonzalez’s class action, filed in San Francisco federal court Monday, claims that Uber used spyware codenamed “Hell” to access Lyft’s computer systems to determine which Lyft drivers also worked for Uber. Gonzalez says Uber then offered those drivers pay bonuses and steered more ride requests their way to manipulate them into funneling their work time toward Uber.
According to Gonzalez, Uber’s actions reduced the number of Lyft drivers on the road and increased wait times for Lyft customers. Those customers then canceled their rides and hailed new ones through Uber, bilking Lyft’s drivers out of customers and pay.
Gonzalez says Uber stopped using the spyware in 2016, but he still wants a judge to bar the company from “continuing to harm plaintiff and members of the class and the public.”
“Given the aggressive conduct that has been alleged, it seems necessary to ask the court for an injunction to stop any related practices while the lawsuit is proceeding,” Gonzalez’s attorney, Caleb Marker, said in an email Tuesday.
Gonzalez based his allegations on an April 12 story posted on technology news site The Information surmising the existence of the Hell spyware and Uber’s use of bonuses and selective dispatching to lure drivers away from Lyft.
According to that report, the spyware worked by accessing the identification numbers of Lyft drivers, allowing it to track their locations over time. Uber then combined Lyft’s data with its own driver location data to determine which Lyft drivers also worked for Uber. Their names ended up on lists distributed to city general managers, who targeted them for bonuses.
“Over time, this would have been very damaging to the Lyft market, harming drivers such as plaintiff and absent class members,” Gonzalez said in his 19-page complaint.
The Monday lawsuit follows revelations last month that Uber used a secret tool called Greyball to dodge law enforcement authorities in cities like Las Vegas and Paris, where the service is banned or restricted. In February, Google spinoff Waymo accused Uber of stealing its driverless car technology to stay competitive in the coming decades.
Gonzalez is suing under the Federal Wiretap Act, the California Invasion of Privacy Act and California’s Unfair Competition Law.
He seeks to represent a class of all individuals in the United States who worked as drivers for Lyft but not Uber, and whose private information and location Uber accessed through Lyft’s computer systems.
An Uber spokesperson declined to comment about the existence of the Hell spyware on Tuesday.
A Lyft spokesperson also did not return a request for comment.
Marker is with Zimmerman Reed in Manhattan Beach, California.