Home » Uber ‘tech bros’ sought to destroy Australian taxi app using corporate espionage, court hears

Uber ‘tech bros’ sought to destroy Australian taxi app using corporate espionage, court hears

Uber “tech bros” set out to destroy an Australian taxi app when the US company moved in on the nation’s hire car market and started running an illegal rideshare service, lawyers claim.

Taxi Apps, the company behind GoCatch, is suing Uber in the supreme court of Victoria, claiming the rideshare giant knowingly launched UberX illegally in Australia with the intention of injuring GoCatch.

The company has also accused Uber of serious misconduct, including corporate espionage and hacking competitor systems.

Uber has denied claims it harmed GoCatch’s business and has said it would defend the matter “vigorously”.

Taxi Apps’ barrister, Michael Hodge KC, on Tuesday told the court about internal Uber emails he said showed the company had tried to delay attempts by New South Wales authorities to stop their criminal conduct.

When the since-defunct NSW Roads and Maritime Services handed Uber a warrant at its Sydney office for not complying with passenger transport legislation, staffer Zac de Kievit – now a Melbourne barrister – told colleagues, “we have flicked the kill switch”, Hodge told the court.

The rideshare giant then sought to not give up the documents the agency requested, instead looking at ways to drag out the process and considering quoting privacy laws as part of its argument when it was unclear if they were even relevant, Hodge said.

“The available inference is that [pointing to privacy laws] is a charade to obstruct the investigation,” he told the court on Tuesday.

Uber also stepped up its political lobbying and sought to bolster its driver numbers in response to the threat, Hodge said.

Court documents pointed to several media articles, including some authored by Uber Australia’s then boss, David Rohrsheim, in favour of the company’s local operations.

De Kievit effectively boasted about Uber’s attempts to leverage its complicated corporate structure to evade the services’ demands and managers repeatedly ignored lawyers’ advice to give over documents, Hodge told the court.

The barrister argued it was obvious the rideshare giant’s purpose was, at least in part, to “destroy” or “crush” GoCatch, in the words of the company’s “tech bros”.

He pointed to emails from Rohrsheim, who allegedly said in May 2013 that launching UberX was his “end game”.

“But taxi is where it’s at for now. Have to win that market to arrest GoCatch’s growth – they have [10 times] our active vehicles, and [two times] our weekly volume of bookings,” Rohrsheim wrote, the court heard.

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An Uber manager allegedly wrote in an email: “GoCatch is the reason we’re launching taxi in Sydney. Fuck those guys.”

The court heard Uber developed a spyware tool called “Surfcam” to steal GoCatch drivers’ data, including their names and phone numbers, with Rohrsheim telling a colleague on 31 July 2013: “We are aggressively cold-calling [without disclosing how we got their number] and won 56 of [GoCatch’s] drivers.”

There was no reason to suppose Uber stopped exploiting GoCatch drivers’ numbers after 31 July, Hodge told the court.

The rideshare giant launched Uber Black – a high-end driver hire service – in Sydney in late 2012,and Uber Taxi in Sydney in 2013 in an attempt to slow GoCatch’s momentum, lawyers claimed.

The problem was that the company launched UberX – a peer-to-peer ridesharing service – in NSW in April 2014, Hodge said.

Peer-to-peer ridesharing did not become legal in NSW until December 2015 and later in other states.

Uber had refused to concede “the absolutely obvious”, which was that its drivers were engaging in illegal conduct at the time, Hodge said.

The barrister conceded GoCatch had some management issues.

The civil trial before judge Lisa Nichols is due to run for 10 weeks.