And the downward spiral of damaging news for Uber continues this week, as well. This time, the company is in the news for engaging in a secret programme to evade law enforcement in certain markets. And that tool is Greyball - part of a programme called VTOS, short for \u201cViolation of Terms of Service,\u201d which Uber created to weed out people it thought were using or targeting its service improperly.\r\n\r\nIn a detailed report last week, The New York Times reported that, for years, it used a tool called Greyball to systematically deceive law enforcement officials in cities where its service violated regulations. What this simply means is that officials attempting to hail an Uber during a sting operation were \u201cgreyballed\u201d \u2013 they would see icons of cars within the app navigating nearby, but no one would come pick them up. Occasionally, if a driver accidentally picked up someone tagged as an officer, the company called the driver with instructions to end the ride. The programme helped its drivers avoid being ticketed.\r\n\r\nAs per the report, Uber used these methods to evade authorities in cities like Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, and in countries like Australia, China and South Korea. The programme, began as early as 2014 and remains in use, predominantly outside the US and has been approved by Uber\u2019s legal team.\r\n\r\nGreyball allegedly uses data collected from the Uber app and other techniques to identify and mislead authorities.\r\n\r\nThe $69 Bn-valued Uber, meanwhile, has defended the programme in a statement saying, \u201cThis programme denies ride requests to users who are violating our terms of service \u2014 whether that\u2019s people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret \u2018stings\u2019 meant to entrap drivers.\u201d\r\nGeofencing Them Away\r\nIn using the app to identify and sidestep the authorities, one of the techniques employed was \u2018geofencing.\u2019 This involved drawing a digital perimeter, or \u201cgeofence,\u201d around the government offices on a digital map of a city that Uber was monitoring. The company scrutinised which of these people were frequently opening and closing the app. They would also look at a user\u2019s credit card information to determine if the card was tied directly to an institution like a police credit union.\r\n\r\nIf such clues did not confirm a user\u2019s identity, its employees would search social media profiles and other information available online. If users were identified with having links to law enforcement, it blacklisted them by tagging them with a small piece of code that read \u201cGreyball,\u201d followed by a string of numbers.\r\n\r\nNYT reported that enforcement officials involved in large-scale sting operations meant to catch Uber drivers would sometimes buy many cellphones to create different accounts. To counter that, Uber employees would even go to local electronics stores to look up the device numbers of the cheapest mobile phones for sale, which would most likely be the ones bought by city officials, working on tight budgets.\r\nSo, when someone tagged Greyball would try to hail an Uber, the company would show him a set of ghost cars in a fake version of the app or show that no cars were available. If, by chance, a driver did pick up someone tagged as an officer, Uber called the driver with instructions to end the ride.\r\nSkirting With The Law\r\nWhile Uber has tried to justify Greyball on the grounds of safety measures meant to protect drivers from taxi unions, competitors, and local transportation authorities, there is no denying the simple fact that it is dangerously skirting the law. This goes to show the extent to which the company is willing to go in order to dominate in its markets. As per the report, \u201cAt least, 50 people inside Uber knew about Greyball, and some had qualms about whether it was ethical or legal.\u201d\r\n\r\nUber has faced massive protests in Paris, as well as regulatory challenges in South Korea and China. The service also faced regulatory challenges in India, where it was briefly banned in several cities. In May 2015, after rejecting the applications for license by Uber, Ola, and TaxiForSure, the Delhi Traffic Police had asked its officials to download their respective apps and book cabs so as to fine the driver and impound the car when it arrives. But even during the ban, cabs were reported to be plying, which means Greyball could have come to Uber\u2019s rescue that time from regulatory authorities.\r\n\r\nWhile CEO Travis Kalanick\u2019s aggressive and brash strategy might have served Uber in its formative years, it looks like all the chickens are coming home to roost this year. The exposure of this questionable programme comes amidst the continuing fallout from allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination levied by a former employee, engineer Susan Fowler. Travis came under attack for promoting a misogynistic internal culture for which he apologised.\r\nUber\u2019s Cup Of Woes Runneth Over\r\nWhat further compounded matters was a video of Travis arguing with his own Uber driver surfaced, further raising questions over his leadership. To make matters worse was the ouster of Amit Singhal, who had joined Uber as SVP of Engineering in January 2017 over non-disclosure of prior sexual harassment allegations. Following Singhal is Ed Baker, Uber\u2019s VP for Product and Growth, who resigned last week as per a report by Recode. \u00a0While his resignation is reportedly not linked to Greyball, there are reports that it might have something to do with engaging in a sexual encounter with another employee at an Uber event.\r\n\r\nTo add to this, Keala Lusk, a former software engineer at Uber, revealed in a damning Medium blogpost how her last days at Uber, San Francisco were \u201cfilled with disrespect, condescending managers, and\u00a0sexism.\u201d\r\n\r\nFollowing the leak of the video with driver Fawzi Kamel, Travis had admitted that,\r\n\u201cMy job as your leader is to lead\u2026and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away. It\u2019s clear this video is a reflection of me\u2014and the criticism we\u2019ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I\u2019ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.\u201d\r\nAs far as India is concerned, Travis\u2019s personal failings is not the only reason which has kept the company and its charismatic CEO in the news. Uber drivers have staged protests in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and Delhi over decreasing incentives. In Delhi, the government had to intervene before the strike was called off after 13 days.\r\n\r\nTo this end, Uber India Head Amit Jain tried to set the record straight through a blog post, where he clarified issues around driver earnings and incentives and reiterated Uber\u2019s commitment to the driver community and India for the long term.\r\n\r\nAmit stated that \u201cdriver earnings in India are attractive for the majority even after reductions in incentives and drivers\u2019 costs are taken into account.\u201d He also added that Uber was \u201cwatching carefully to ensure drivers do not get into difficulty with vehicle financing.\u201d But if incentives dip and defaults rise, it is not long before India might also turn out to be yet another sticky wicket for Uber.\r\n\r\nThe Greyball controversy is just the latest in a series of incidents which point towards the failings of Uber\u2019s cultural code and Travis\u2019s personal falling as a leader. It would suffice to say that it is time he sought some real help to reinvent himself and the company - to silence his critics who holding his pugnacious attitude responsible for, what is probably, Uber\u2019s worst year so far.