back to article Why Uber threw top engineer Levandowski under self-driving bus

The lead Uber engineer at the heart of self-driving tech theft accusations made by Waymo against Uber has been told by his bosses to start talking or pick up his pink slips. Earlier this week, the ride-hailing app maker sent Anthony Levandowski a letter [PDF] that told him to hand over any and all copies of the alleged stolen …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    fsck Uber

    Kind of dick to say so but so glad I am of a generation and location where getting your driving license was pretty much a requirement and so glad I have never had to give that god awful company a dime. Fsck Air BnB and all these other millennial humping "sharing" companies as well. They are not smart enough to realize the gig economy is why they won't own a house until well after they retire if they are lucky.

    1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: fsck Uber

      If by "they" you mean the owners of Uber and their money grubbing pals, then you're wrong.

      "They" know exactly what they're doing - conning suckers into believing the 'gig' economy, zero hours contracts etc. are smart, 22nd century ways of making a good living, when in reality they're a way to make their hapless employees pick up the tab for medical, pension, holiday and other work-related expenses while "they" can trouser all that lovely money.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: fsck Uber

        >If by "they" you mean the owners of Uber and their money grubbing pals,

        No should have made that clearer I meant the millennial suckers they are taking advantage of. The sucker part of Silicon Valley is preaching disruption is always awesome and pulling all this shit and then act surprised and pitch a fit when the US gets the government we currently have when they are at least as responsible for it as anyone else.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: fsck Uber

        And fsck all those "winged monkeys" sent out to preach that crap to the suckers.

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: fsck Uber

      If only the local taxi companies weren't such incompetent greedy morons.

      I've had to use Uber for things like dropping off or picking up my vehicle for repair. I'd use a taxi except they're too incompetent to find my address or show up on time. Or a horde of other issues I've had but don't have the bandwidth to enumerate.

      At the end of the day, they're filling a goatse-size gaping hole in the business, otherwise they wouldn't have gotten a foothold. The taxi companies have only themselves to blame.

      1. robidy

        Re: fsck Uber

        Or the booked Uber that is cancelled 5 minutes before it's due for a 30 minute ride to an exam. Cuts both ways.

        Mini cabbing in London was a full time job, with Uber it's still a full time job...just that they take a far bigger percentage than the local taxi firm thus pushing wages down.

        Perfect in the short term but as we've seen with most SAAS models once the old system has been destroyed up go prices....just look at Microsoft SPLA pricing.

      2. Michael Thibault

        Re: fsck Uber

        "I'd use a taxi except they're too incompetent to find my address or show up on time."

        Or realise that there's an untapped opportunity in at least these circumstances, and begin forecasting demand, and timing supply, based on the "ready" of your car from the mechanic, and your own "ready" for the ride to pick it up. Seek out ways to put someone in your cab full-time -- even if it means occasionally taking a small loss. Acquire, use, and modify technology appropriate to the landscape. Adapt or die.

    3. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Re: fsck Uber

      If people want to see the "gig economy" in action & where it leads, they just have to watch Victorian Slum House.

  2. kain preacher

    I don't care if he is guilty any company that tells you to give or your rights or be fired is evil. Oh and the California labor board will have some thing to say about that.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well, they are a crap company, but in this instance they are rightly covering their collective asses by doing whatever the court requests. Did they knowingly purchase Otto (Otto? what, otto-parts?!*) to get at those tasty files, or were they duped into thinking this guy is a self-made, auto-drive-coding genius? This reminds me of the action John Carmack was getting while involved in that Oculus VR legal problem, only it is very clear that Mr Carmack would probably not need to steal docs from his previous employer to setup shop anew. Look at his wiki entry, it is FLOODED with projects that are either the first of their kind and a new class of visual software design, or just plain cool:

      Tony? Not so much, but it looks like his is the real deal, unless he built his "ghostrider" self-driving motorcycle using other people's ideas:

      So, it looks like he could be the real deal to some extent, but having to steal all those docs is somewhat telling. If he had "the goods" in his head like John, he'd be good to go. If you have to copy some docs to provide the seed to the next oak, you are treading a thin line, me laddo.

      And of course, he's going to claim to be the real deal. Anybody would, unless they are honest and know otherwise. Look at Bob Kane, for DECADES he claimed to be the sole creator of Batman, only he wasn't. He collaborated early and often with Bill Finger, and eventually mentioned in a interview that Bill came up with over 75% of the ideas used. But, that was after Bill died penniless in the 1970s. No one person comes up with all that genius. It is a rare thing when they do, but few qualify as a sole genius. More often there are important players hidden from view, for one reason or another.

      * see:

      1. kain preacher

        "Well, they are a crap company, but in this instance they are rightly covering their collective asses by doing whatever the court requests"

        Last time I check the courts can not make you wave your 5th amendment.

    2. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Any company that hires you for $250 million when they know exactly that all that you have that justifies this money is information stolen from a competitor is evil. And stealing information in order to get a $250 million offer is also evil. Throwing him under the bus is not really evil at that point compared to the evils both sides have already done.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Throwing him under the bus is not really evil at that point compared to the evils both sides have already done.

        True, but they appeared to be collaborating partners in crime. If Uber now effectively tells him they let him dangle on his own I'd say it's possibly time to cut a deal for all sorts of other fun inside information - which telling does not break his rights. Given the attitude Uber has to customers I'd originally say there's a fat chance the company ever makes it to vesting time, but then I recalled I've been watching Microsoft operate for some decades now and they're still in business too..

        1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

          No sympathy

          Pretty much proven that he intentionally took design documents he should not have taken.

          If he did that at the request of his new employer, he's a fool to think they would back him up. When the sh*t hits the fan, it's every man for himself. They deserve each other.

          Levandowski and Uber both deserve whatever they get, and I hope it's financially painful for both of them.

    3. veti Silver badge

      I'm no lawyer, but I'm pretty sure a court can't order an individual to waive their 5th amendment rights. Uber can't invoke those rights itself, but Levandowski still can.

      Uber, of course, may be asserting the right to fire him if he does. Which may or may not open a whole separate can of worms.

  3. bjr

    Hes truely and rightly screwed

    Staying out of Folsom should be his only objective right now. His lawyers should make a deal with Waymo for a license to the IP in return for his Uber shares (assuming he really has $250M worth of shares). Alternatively if Uber really was complicit in his theft of IP then he should be making a deal with the California state's attorney office to throw Uber under the self driving bus in return for a reduced sentence.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hes truely and rightly screwed

      In his shoes:

      I wouldn't give a stuff about the $250m option, since having sold Otto for many hundreds of millions, I'd have no need of the money. I would of course be VERY worried about a criminal trial, the risk of compensation that wiped out my entire wealth, and a visit to the big house.

      You're probably right that a plea bargain is his best chance, but I guess that only works if he can prove that Uber knew he'd lifted the documents and that they did use them, or intended to use them - otherwise it is all about him. So an unprincipled individual and an unprincipled corporation tussle on the sidewalk, each hoping to throw the other under a bus, whilst the bystanders of the world look on in astonishment.

      I just hope Google don't come out of this smelling of roses.

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Hes truely and rightly screwed

      He may be screwed, but IP violations are a lot less hazardous than they used to be.

    3. Michael Thibault

      Re: Hes truely and rightly screwed

      "His lawyers should make a deal with Waymo ... Alternatively ... he should be making a deal with the California state's attorney office..."

      Tough choice! Tough choice! But either way, the smoking hole and the stink of sulphur in the plume of smoke will be welcome news.

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Thief being betrayed by thieves

    From what I read here, a scumbag working for scumbags gets cornered and is now in trouble.

    I'm not sorry for any of these guys - they're getting their just desserts.

    1. Triggerfish

      Re: Thief being betrayed by thieves

      There may be honour amongst thieves, his mistake was dealing with businessman. :)

    2. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: Thief being betrayed by thieves

      I would wait for a court decision before making those sorts of extremely libellous allegations. Nobody knows the facts yet.

  5. DryBones

    Just wait...

    Well, maybe things will get better once it becomes a criminal matter. Then?

    Search warrant his stuff, turn the place upside down, cart off and analyze anything that can store data. You know, standard operating procedure. No more faffing about with having the employer compel the employee. It's rubbish, if it's all but certain that he stole it, then warrant it and seize it.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Got to love Uber. Uber is like looks every one involved might of committed a crime but were are going to need you to take the fall or get fired. K thanx bye. If I was him I'd sell those shares of Uber fast.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      "If I was him I'd sell those shares of Uber fast."

      I'm pretty sure he can't... see explaination above.

      But yes, Uber is mob tactics right, left and centre.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This ought to slow Uber down from eliminating the "human driver problem" with an "autonomous car solution". I wouldn't use Uber, if it was free. I sure as heck won't be using ANY ride sharing service that uses autonomous cars, providing management with higher pay for doing little to nothing of any real value.

  8. Jr, 4242

    Even though Levandowski did some stupid crap I don't think he's a stupid man. You can be assured he has proof that Uber, and very possibly his brother from another mother, Kalanick, were in on everything from day one and that he'll use it when it's time to deal his way to shorter jail sentence. I hope they share a cell.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Uber really is a nasty company. To this day I have never used an Uber and hope someone I'm. With doesn't get one and I have to travel in one.

    Nothing remotely positive about those shitheads.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Uber is a sucky company but most of the drivers that I've dealt with are decent hardworking kids trying to get out of debt ... and failing. The USA is heading towards big economic and social trouble but doesn't seem to have a clue about it - although I note that all the rich yanks are busy buying houses out of the country.

  10. JMiles

    $680m in his pocket and he's not able to look up which countries have no extradition treaty and hop on a chartered jet?

  11. veti Silver badge

    The letter is positively Kafkaesque

    He has to hand over all the materials... but he's forbidden to access his own computer systems to do so. He has to tell everyone he's communicated materials to, to hand them over - but he's forbidden to communicate with any Uber employee.

    And if he doesn't comply with all these contradictory requirements - as judged unilaterally, and without appeal, by Uber - he's fired.

    It's not a nice letter.

    1. Modeller

      Re: The letter is positively Kafkaesque

      > He has to hand over all the materials... but he's forbidden to access his own computer systems to do so

      This could simply mean disclosing his passwords to some expert appointed by the court to access his files.

    2. The First Dave

      Re: The letter is positively Kafkaesque

      "It's not a nice letter."

      It's not _meant_ to be a nice letter. It's meant to be a letter that gets the Judge off Uber's back, and (as ever with Uber) not the slightest regard for what that means for anyone else.

  12. Gommster

    It's a shame Uber are a nasty company as they have transformed the level of service available to the consumer and if it wasn't for their abusive nature then they'd deserve to be recognised accordingly.

    I've used their service a lot in multiple countries as it is a lot a) better b) cheaper c) faster than what we had before.

    Despite what should be high levels of satisfaction and a likelihood of regular repeat business, I find myself regularly reading stories like this and considering alternatives.

  13. tentimes

    What if he doesn't have the docs?

    Then there is nothing he can hand over and he is effectively going to lose his rights regardless.

    Let's speculate that he either (a) Never had the docs, or (b) Has deleted them all (a likely option if he knew the Feds were coming to get him)?

    What then? No docs - anything they do to him he can surely sue them for?

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: What if he doesn't have the docs?

      In that case, he's actually OK. All he has to do is make a statement "I never took any docs, I don't have any docs, I haven't communicated any docs to anyone", and he's in the clear.

      Unless someone can prove he's lying, of course.

      This is arguably where Uber's excessive dickishness comes in. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that he really is completely innocent of these charges - and yet he is, quite rationally, afraid that there might be something else that he could be stitched up for. Possibly, some charge that neither he nor his prosecutors have even thought of yet.

      That's exactly why the Fifth Amendment exists, it's to protect people who think they might fall into that category, and that's what Uber - not the court - is forbidding him to use.

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