Uber was threatened with removal from the iPhone's App Store after the car-hailing company bypassed Apple's rules by tagging iPhones that had deleted its app.
Apple's chief executive Tim Cook held a face-to-face meeting with Uber boss Travis Kalanick in which he personally warned that the Uber app would be deleted. Uber reportedly circumvented App Store rules by installing a piece of code that could identify individual iPhones even after the app had been deleted.
The technology was not used to track activity or location but kept a record of individual iPhones. This means that if the Uber app was downloaded onto a device, the company could tell if the app had previously been installed and deleted on it. The "fingerprinting" technique was banned by Apple for privacy reasons. Uber engineers had also reportedly "geofenced" Apple's headquarters in California so that Apple engineers examining the code would not spot the tagging technology.
Mr Cook reportedly summoned Mr Kalanick to his office for a dressing down in early 2015, demanding that Uber stop and warning if it did not comply, the app would be pulled from the App Store. This would have crippled Uber's business, removing much of its new revenue at a time when it was growing massively and still seeking billions of dollars in funding.
The tagging technology was used for fraud detection, designed to stop criminals from repeatedly deleting and reinstalling the app and using stolen credit cards. However, it flew in the face of Apple's rules. The iPhone maker had previously stopped developers from accessing iPhone device information to protect their privacy.
An Uber spokesman said the company has not stopped tagging devices, but has modified the technology to comply with Apple rules. "We absolutely do not track individual users or their location if they’ve deleted the app," a spokesman said. "This is a typical way to prevent fraudsters from loading Uber onto a stolen phone, putting in a stolen credit card, taking an expensive ride and then wiping the phone - over and over again.
"Similar techniques are also used for detecting and blocking suspicious logins to protect our users’ accounts. Being able to recognise known bad actors when they try to get back onto our network is an important security measure for both Uber and our users."
The company has been in hot water recently over claims that it used a secret tool called "Greyball" to avoid regulators posing as drivers, that it stole the technology in its driverless cars from Google, that sexism has been commonplace at the company, and after Mr Kalanick was filmed ranting at a driver. A string of high-profile employees have also left the company, including its president Jeff Jones, head of engineering Amit Singhal and PR and policy head Rachel Whetstone.
Download SafeUM — communicate privately, without advertising and spam.