City of Portland may subpoena Uber for details on Greyball program

The Rose City isn’t happy with Uber… again. After the company failed to turn over details about its deeply sketchy “Greyball” software by Portland’s deadline, the city may seek to compel Uber to hand it over with a subpoena.

Those intentions, reported by the Oregonian, were articulated by Portland Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees the city’s Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). “If I could issue a fine I thought would stand up, I would,” Saltzman told the Oregonian. “I’m upset by what they did. My interest now is in making sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Following the New York Times report that Uber evaded regulators with a secret software program, the city of Portland launched its own investigation. Uber used the software to reject ride requests from Portland officials as the company operated illegally within the city in 2014. PBOT published a full audit of the Greyball scandal today.

Uber’s premature launch in Portland, long an Uber holdout, was particularly rocky. The company openly flaunted city regulations before eventually agreeing to a pilot trial program in 2015, the year after it used Greyball within city limits.

Saltzman contends that the city needs access to both the company’s strategy playbook and the software itself to conduct its investigation. He argues that if the Greyball tool can be used to reject rides from regulators, a similar program might discriminate against passengers that Uber deems less profitable. Saltzman joins Portland Commissioner Nick Fish in calling for the city council to flex its subpoena power to get to the bottom of Uber’s shady business practices.

For perspective, Portland’s city council hasn’t issued a subpoena since a 2006 investigation into how Portland General Electric was involved in the Enron scandal.