Posted Apr. 14, 2017 at 5:22 a.m.

Tech wrap: Uber tracking Lyft?; Uber PR exec quits; Russia blocks protest app; prostate tests OK'd

Published: 2017-04-14 05:22:07
Updated: 2017-04-14 05:22:07

Bulldog Bulldog

In today's Bulldog wrapup of tech and life science news:

  • Report: Uber used secret program to track Lyft drivers
  • Uber's PR head resigns amid tumultuous time for company
  • Russia blocks app used to organize protests
  • Prostate cancer tests are now OK with US panel, with caveats

The details:

  • Report: Uber used secret program to track Lyft drivers

A new report says Uber used a secret program dubbed "Hell' to track Lyft drivers to see if they were driving for both ride-hailing services and otherwise stifle competition.

It's the latest in a series of troubles for Uber, which is also dealing with executive departures and accusations of sexism and sexual harassment.

Only a small group of Uber employees, including CEO Travis Kalanick, knew about the program, according to a story in The Information (subscription required), which was based on an anonymous source who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The program was discontinued in early 2016, according to the report.

A representative for Uber did not respond to messages for comment Thursday. Lyft said in a statement to the publication that "if true, the allegations are very concerning."

Last month, another report surfaced about a different secret tracking weapon with a sinister-sounding name. "Greyball," as it was called, identified regulators who were posing as riders while trying to collect evidence that Uber's service was breaking local laws governing taxis. The service allowed Uber to thwart those efforts by canceling investigators' ride requests.

Uber acknowledged that it used Greyball, and after the New York Times report came out the company said it would shut down the system.

  • Uber's PR head resigns amid tumultuous time for company

Uber's head of communications is leaving, the latest in a string of executive departures as the ride-hailing company tries to dig out from a pile of troubles.

In a memo to employees, CEO Travis Kalanick called Rachel Whetstone a "force of nature" who was "was way ahead of the game when it came to many of the changes we needed to make as a company."

Uber is facing accusations of routinely tolerated sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as troubles for Kalanick after a video surfaced showing him berating a driver. The company is hiring a chief operating officer to help him manage the company. Uber has also hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to lead an investigation into the sexism allegations.

Whetstone, who joined Uber in 2015 after a decade at Google, did not give a reason for her departure. Her deputy, Jill Hazelbaker, is replacing her.

"I am incredibly proud of the team that we've built — and that just as when I left Google, a strong and brilliant woman will be taking my place," Whetstone said in a statement.

Last month, Uber's president, Jeff Jones quit the company less than a year after he joined from Target. In a statement to the tech blog Recode at the time, Jones said "the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride-sharing business."

In February, a top engineering executive, Amit Singhal, left Uber five weeks after his hire was announced. The tech blog Recode reported that Singhal failed to disclose that he'd left his previous job at Google because of a sexual harassment allegation.

  • Russia blocks app used to organize protests

Russia has banned the use on its territory of a smartphone app widely used like a walkie-talkie to organize demonstrations and other gatherings.

The app, called Zello, reportedly has been popular among long-distance truckers in Russia who are conducting strikes to protest a road tariff system.

Zello, based in the United States, said Russia halted the use of the app late Wednesday. The agency that oversees electronic communications in Russia, Roskomnadzor, had announced earlier in the week that the service would be ended because Zello did not comply with an Internet law.

That law demands that Internet services store copies in Russia of all messages sent via them for six months and make them available to authorities on demand.

A statement on Zello's company blog called the requirement "absurd."

  • Prostate cancer tests are now OK with US panel, with caveats

An influential U.S. government advisory panel is dropping its opposition to routine prostate cancer screening in favor of letting men decide for themselves after talking with their doctor.

The new draft guidelines released Tuesday echo those of several leading medical groups, but they don't make the decision any easier for men: With their doctor's help, they have to decide whether to take an imperfect PSA test that has a small chance of detecting a deadly cancer and a larger chance of triggering unneeded worry and treatment with serious side effects.

"This isn't a one-size-fits-all" recommendation, said the panel's chair Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a San Francisco internist who already follows the advice and discusses the potential pros and cons with her patients.

Men whose greatest concern is reducing their chances of dying from cancer are sometimes willing to face the consequences and choose testing. "Other men will realize the likely benefit is small and aren't willing to risk the harms," she said.

PSA screening to detect the most common male cancer is among the most heated topics in men's health. It involves a simple blood test for elevated levels of a protein that may signal cancer but also can be caused by less serious prostate problems. It can find cancer that frequently doesn't need treatment because it's too small and slow growing to become deadly. Doctors say there's no good way to tell which early cancers might become lethal. The next step is often radiation or surgery to remove the prostate, which may result in impotence and incontinence.

WRAL TechWire any time: Twitter, Facebook

Copyright 2017 WRAL TechWire. All rights reserved.
Editor's Blog

Editor's Blog

The latest blog posts from our WRAL TechWire and WRAL editors. Read more articles…

Please Log In to add a comment.

Latest for Insiders