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Lawsuit Against Uber's 'Hell' Wiretap Program Mostly Dismissed

By Molly Zilli, Esq. on April 23, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The feud between Uber and Lyft continues with no end in sight. And that's normally a good thing for ride-sharing consumers, because strong competition usually drives prices down. But according to one man's lawsuit, Uber used a wiretap program to lure drivers away from Lyft, increasing Lyft customer wait times, and encouraging them to call an Uber instead. However, a federal judge has mostly dismissed the man's lawsuit, ruling that his allegations don't satisfy the federal Wiretap Act.

Uber Used Hell to Lure Drivers

According to an article published last April by The Information, Uber used a secret software-based program called "Hell" to lure drivers away from Lyft. The way it worked was Uber created fake Lyft rider accounts and used the Hell program to intercept information sent from Lyft to those accounts. This allowed them to track driver locations over time. Comparing that data to their own drivers' data, they could determine which drivers worked for both companies, and could target those drivers for bonuses and increased ride requests in an effort to entice them into working more for Uber.

Michael Gonzalez, a former Lyft driver, read The Information's article and filed a lawsuit against Uber's wiretap program last April. He claimed that with more drivers lured away from Lyft, customers faced longer wait times. This caused them to switch to Uber as well, resulting in lost revenue for remaining Lyft drivers. But the foundation of his lawsuit was that Uber's Hell program violated the federal Wiretap Act.

Case Dismissed but Amended

The Wiretap Act prohibits the interception of the "contents" of a communication (like the message of an email), but not "record information" (like the sender's name or the date). U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley dismissed most of Gonzalez's proposed class action, stating that "with the possible exception of the estimated price," the information doesn't qualify as contents because "none of that information involves a communication from the Lyft driver, let alone the content of such a communication." However, the judge is allowing Gonzalez and the other drivers to file an amended complaint alleging that their monetary losses were the result of unfair competition.

If you think you were affected by unfair business practices or the victim of illegal wiretapping, contact an attorney who can help protect your rights and interests going forward.

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