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Uber was nearly kicked out of Apple's App Store for tracking iPhones

Tyrone Stewart
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

Uber, yet again, has come under fire for its business practices after being accused of deceiving Apple and tracking iPhones behind the tech giant’s back.

The latest allegation comes from the New York Times, which reports that Uber was nearly booted from the App Store back in early 2015 for breaking Apple’s rules in an attempt to detect fraud.

Back in 2014, Uber was suffering from widespread account fraud. Some of the transportation network’s drivers were buying erased stolen phones and using them to set up fake Uber rider accounts on each device. The drivers would then request rides from the phones and accept them, meaning they could earn more money due to the incentives Uber was handing out at the time.

In a bid to put a stop to this fraud, Uber began using a process called ‘fingerprinting’. This saw Uber placing small pieces of code into iPhones that could identify devices, even after they had been erased. The problem with this is that it goes against Apple’s app developer rules.

To prevent Apple catching wind of what Uber was up to, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told his engineers to geofence an area around Apple’s headquarters and, in turn, obscure its code to those working at the location in Cupertino, California.

Apple would eventually catch on, however, when its engineers outside of the Cupertino headquarters discovered the methods being used – leading to Kalanick receiving a stern talking to, along with the threat of App Store removal, from Apple CEO Tim Cook.

According to a statement provided to TechCrunch, Uber still uses a form of fingerprinting that has been modified to adhere to Apple’s policies. This new version means that if a device has been associated with fraud, any new sign-up will raise a red flag.

Uber has never been afraid of using questionable tracking software, or create its own fake accounts to attempt to hold back a rival.

Earlier this month, it was reported that Uber had, between 2014 and early 2016, been tracking its US rival Lyft using a program dubbed ‘Hell’. The program saw Uber create fake Lyft rider accounts to gain information regarding drivers in the vicinity of each fake. By doing this, Uber was able to identify which drivers worked for both companies.