A potentially pivotal document in the legal fight between Uber and Waymo, the self-driving car company that was originally part of Google, has been released. It is a report commissioned by Uber from cybersecurity firm Stroz Friedberg last year as part of its due diligence before acquiring Otto, a self-driving truck startup founded by former Google employees. Stroz was asked to investigate whether or not Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer who worked on Waymo, and other Otto employees took confidential information from Google or breached their non-compete clauses.
Waymo, which filed a lawsuit against Uber in February, has fought for the document’s release, arguing that it likely contains information relevant to its allegations that Levandowski stole thousands of files from Google and brought them to Uber. It also said it may answer some of the questions Levandowski has refused to answer by exercising his Fifth Amendment rights. Uber, which fired Levandowski in May, refused to provide it, claiming that the document contains confidential information between attorneys and clients.
After a federal circuit judge ruled last month that Uber must hand over the report, Waymo said it needs more time to review it and asked for the trial, which is scheduled to start on October 11, to be postponed. A hearing will take place tomorrow on whether or not to grant Waymo’s request.
begin October 11.
Stroz investigators reviewed over 100,000 documents, 74,000 pictures and 176,000 source code files for the report. It shows that Levandowski accessed Google files, including ones related to the design of driverless cars, even after he left the company, but it doesn’t conclude what he did with them.
Among other revelations, Levandowski told Stroz that he found five discs containing Google information in a closet while searching his house for devices to give the investigators, but had them destroyed at a commercial shredding factory called Shred Works in Oakland. Levandowski told Stroz that they contained proprietary information, including source code and design files related to Google self-driving cars.
Levandowski also said that he informed Uber employees, including chief executive officer Travis Kalanick, about the existence of the discs in March 2016. He says Kalanick said he wanted nothing to do with the discs and told Levandowski to “do what he needed to do.” After that, Levandowski says he took them to Shred Works and watched as they were destroyed.
Stroz followed up during its investigation by visiting Shred Works, but couldn’t confirm if the documents were indeed ordered destroyed by Levandowski. While a Shred Works facility manager found a receipt that indicated it had received cash to destroy five discs around the time Levandowski told Uber about them, the signature on the receipt was illegible and no one at the faciility recognized Levandowski from a photo Stroz showed them.
Stroz also said it found 50,000 work emails from Levandowski’s time at Google on his personal computer. Levandowski claimed that he did not remember when he last looked at the emails and “seemed surprised” at how many of them were on his laptop. But because ten of those emails were accessed between September 2015 and January 2016, when Levandowski left Google, Stroz investigators wrote that it was “difficult to believe that Levandowski was not, prior to his interview, fully aware of the extent of the data that he had retained.”
Stroz found that Levandowski had accessed Google files even after he left the company and then deleted them, including source code and electronic design files related to driverless cars. He also asked an unknown recipient to delete iMessages from him during the investigation and even attempted to empty the trash on his Macbook Pro while he was at Stroz’s office, but investigators found no files contained in his trash at the time he tried to empty it.
Investigators wrote that even though Levandowski may have deleted those files in “good faith” to comply with Google’s requirements, he should not have after he knew the investigation was going to take place:
“Many of these deletions may have been good faith attempts by Levandowski to purge retained Google material from his devices in accordance with his obligation not to retain confidential Google data. However, by March 2016, Levandowski was aware that Stroz Friedberg was going to implement a process to preserve, identify and potentially remediate retained Google material from his devices. At that point, the better course would have been to let that process control. In addition, there was an effort by Levandowski and his Ottomotto colleagues to delete texts in real time.”
In a press statement, an Uber spokesperson said:
“Before Uber acquired Otto, we hired an independent forensics firm to conduct due diligence because we wanted to prevent any Google IP from coming to Uber. Their report, which we are pleased is finally public, helps explain why—even after 60 hours of inspection of our facilities, source code, documents and computers—no Google material has been found at Uber. Waymo is now attempting to distract from that hard fact, even attempting to hide its core trade secrets case from the public and the press by closing the courtroom. In the end, the jury will see that Google’s trade secrets are not and never were at Uber.”
As expected, Waymo has a different take. Here is its statement about the release of the report:
“The Stroz Report unequivocally shows that, before it acquired his company, Uber knew Anthony Levandowski had a massive trove of confidential Waymo source code, design files, technical plans and other materials after leaving Google; that he stole information deliberately, and repeatedly accessed it after leaving Waymo; and that he tried to destroy the evidence of what he had done. In addition, Mr. Levandowski used his smartphone to take thousands of covert photographs of computer screens displaying Google confidential files. Knowing all of this, Uber paid $680 million for Mr. Levandowski’s company, protected him from legal action, and installed him as the head of their self-driving vehicle program. This report raises significant questions and justifies careful review.”
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