New details about the circumstances surrounding the unexpected postponement of the Waymo-Uber trial came to light, with one ex-employee of the ride-hailing startup admitting to past corporate espionage efforts sponsored by the company. Richard Jacobs, a former official of Uber's Strategic Services Group which is now said to be operating under a different name, testified in front of federal prosecutors on Monday and took the public stand earlier today to confirm that Uber's corporate surveillance endeavors were highly organized during his time at the company, having involved a robust ephemeral messaging system and employees trained to destroy any communications deemed sensitive, Bloomberg reports.
People who were part of the secretive operation that only little Uber employees were supposedly familiar with also received legal training in regards to using attorney-client privilege labels attached to written materials they didn't want discovered but decided against immediately destroying, Mr. Jacobs testified, suggesting rogue corporate behavior. Trade secret theft was one of the group's main tasks, albeit its operations exclusively targeted overseas rivals, according to the testimony. The latter point is significant as it signals the ex-official's account will not be enough to significantly help Waymo's case, with Alphabet's subsidiary claiming that one of its former engineers downloaded thousands of protected documents before handing them over to Uber while joining the startup but without providing any concrete evidence to support such claims. The San Francisco, California-based firm is allegedly using a LiDAR design somewhat similar to that of Waymo, although a number of legal experts remain unconvinced that will be enough to prove trade secret theft, less the plaintiff manages to provide irrefutable evidence that Uber wouldn't be able to come up with such a technology on its own. The secretive group that practiced corporate espionage was led by Joe Sullivan, Uber's former Chief Security officer who was fired last week after it came to light he helped cover up a massive hacking attack suffered by the company in 2016 which compromised approximately 57 million people around the world.
With Mr. Jacobs testifying he has no knowledge of any domestic corporate espionage efforts on Uber's part, the best Waymo will likely be able to get from his account is additional ammo to cast more doubt over the (dis)honesty of the defendant's general business practices. That still won't be nearly enough for a win as the burden of proof lies on Waymo and it's not up to Uber to undeniably prove it didn't use the trade secrets taken from Alphabet's self-driving unit.