(Eric Risberg/AP)

Uber reveals formerly secret business practices by order of regulators

Some of Uber’s secrets are secrets no longer.

A California administrative law judge ordered the ride-hail app company to file answers to regulatory questions Sept. 17 — and Thursday afternoon the CPUC posted those answers online.

The questions are part of the California Public Utilities Commission’s efforts to draft new regulations for the fledgling Transportation Network Company industry, which includes Uber and Lyft.

Previously, while CPUC Administrative Law Judge Robert Mason could read filings detailing the inner workings of Uber’s business practices, the public was treated to rows of black boxes which redacted text.

Mason ruled Uber failed to prove the information, if made public, would damage its competitive edge. He ordered Uber to re-file its answers in a manner open to the public.

Experts told the San Francisco Examiner that Lyft and other competitors may be able to reverse-engineer the information to gain proprietary knowledge, despite the revelations’ seemingly benign nature.

The news comes on the heels of reports from Reuters that Uber may have been hacked, revealing 50,000 driver names and drivers license plate numbers to Lyft.

All told, revelations in Uber’s new filings may be difficult for the general public to parse, but may have big impacts, said Dave Sutton, a spokesman for the taxi-led anti-Uber campaign “Who’s Driving You?”

Uber, he said, “won’t even give out the names of their drivers, saying they’re trade secrets. Absolutely this is a trade secret they’d be concerned with.”

Though the company did not immediately respond with comment, Uber seemingly agrees with the sentiment.

“The conclusions reached in the Ruling have cross-industry implications,” Uber’s attorneys wrote to Mason, in the filings, which can be read here.

Uber made public a redacted version of its legal filings to the California Public Utilities Commission about it's business practices as part of the CPUC's Phase II Proceedings. (Courtesy photo)
Uber made public a redacted version of its legal filings to the California Public Utilities Commission about it’s business practices as part of the CPUC’s Phase II Proceedings. (Courtesy photo)

The revelations were many. One of the unearthed redactions said an Uber driver has only 15 seconds to accept a ride request. Also revealed was that some Uber drivers have the ability to request their fares be lower than Uber’s recommended fare.

Transportation Charter Party drivers, who may be towncar or limousine drivers for UberBlack and UberX, “may contact support to request a modification to fare charged on a particular ride,” Uber attorneys wrote in the filings.

Susan Shaheen, a UC Berkeley researcher who has studied companies like Uber and Lyft, said “anything related to the pricing and wait times as it relates to their algorithms could be sensitive information.”

Much of this information, she said, “I don’t think is widely known.”

Uber attorneys also wrote “Neither (Uber Technologies Inc.) nor Uber USA” require TCP drivers, who may be towncar drivers, to use “trade dress,” in the filings.

Generally, Uber’s “trade dress” describes stickers in car windows with Uber’s logo.

This may have significant legal implications. Cabbies have accused Uber drivers of removing the Uber stickers from their windows when they get into accidents, to avoid reporting commercial driver status to insurance companies, which may subsequently deny them insurance coverage.

The filings also discuss Uber’s future plans to restructure its subsidiary, Raiser LLC as a subsidiary of Uber USA, LLC. That corporate shell is in turn owned by Uber Technologies Inc. (UTI).

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