Uber secretly recorded phone calls with its employees without their permission, explosive letter claims

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  • There are a lot of explosive claims in a recently unsealed letter written by a lawyer for a former Uber intelligence manager.
  • One claim is that Uber secretly recorded “listening session” calls that were supposed to be anonymous.
  • Uber conducted over 200 “listening sessions” in response to a blog post by former engineer Susan Fowler which alleged sexual harassment at the company.

A recently unsealed letter written by a lawyer for a former Uber intelligence manager makes a lot of explosive claims, including that the company had teams tasked with bugging hotels, infiltrating sensitive WhatsApp groups, and hacking taxi company databases.

But Uber employees may want to focus on one claim in particular that affects them. According to the letter, Uber recorded phone calls with its own employees without asking permission first. The findings from these recordings led to one employee leaving Uber.

Uber hasn’t verified all the claims in the so-called “Jacobs letter,” a spokesperson told Business Insider on Friday. Still, if the claim about the call recording is true, it could change the way that Uber employees see their already-embattled employer.

Recording a phone call without permission violates California law.

Here’s the relevant part of the letter:

Uber wiretapPublic records

Here’s what it says:

“Additionally, Uber violated California Penal Code Section 632, and likely the federal Wiretap Act, by improperly recording [redacted] call following allegations of sexual harassment by a former Uber employee. Uber did not tell the participants that the call was being recorded and accordingly had not received permission from the call participants to record it, as required by California law. This was a particularly egregious violation given the sensitive subject of the call and the stated objective to hold anonymous and candid Listening Sessions. Not only did Uber unlawfully record the call, but the Investigations team, [redacted], used the recording, along with other egregious and purposeful violations of personal privacy to identify a [redacted]. This employee subsequently separated from Uber.”

The context

The passage does not give dates for context, but it appears to be related to Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer who left the company in December 2016 and subsequently wrote a widely-read blog post detailing the sexual harassment and sexism she experienced at Uber.

Uber opened an internal investigation and eventually fired over 20 people. In March, Business Insider reported that Uber was making big changes in response to the Fowler blog post, including opening an anonymous tip line for employees to air complaints, and holding more than 120 “listening sessions” with employees.

In October, Uber’s head of HR mentioned conducting over 200 listening sessions in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

It seems likely that these are the same “anonymous and candid listening sessions” that the Jacobs letter alleges that Uber secretly recorded.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a company soliciting anonymous complaints, especially if it’s to help address serious issues like sexual harassment. And there’s nothing wrong with Uber using these so-called “listening sessions” to identify harassers and ask them to leave the company.

But given the allegation that Uber recorded these calls without permission, it certainly suggests that Uber took an aggressive approach to the law even when cleaning up the mess within itself.

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