Apple nearly removed Uber from every iPhone in 2015
If Apple had its way, Uber – the ride-sharing service garnering lots of controversy at the moment – would have been removed from the App Store long ago. The reason? Apple was tired of Uber’s underhanded tactics to track iPhone users; the tech giant wanted to send a message to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick that things had to change.
As we all know, Uber wasn’t pulled from the App Store since the threat alone proved enough for Kalanick to reverse Uber’s tracking policies. But it wasn’t until Apple CEO Tim Cook personally explained the gravity of the situation that things began to change.
Revealed as part of an in-depth look at Kalanick’s success tactics, the New York Times revealed not just his meeting with Cook, but also how Uber tried to pull a fast one on Apple. It appears that, in an attempt to ensure it could always safely identify users, even after they’d deleted the Uber app from their phone, Uber was secretly tagging iPhones – a policy that violates Apple’s privacy guidelines.
To avoid Apple’s gaze while it performed such tricks, Kalanick made his engineers “geofence” the Apple headquarters in Cupertino. “Uber would then obfuscate its code from people within the geofences area, essentially drawing a digital lasso around those it wanted to keep in the dark,” writes the New York Times. “Apple employees at its headquarters were unable to see Uber’s fingerprinting.”
Obviously, Apple figured out that something was up and news quickly reached Tim Cook – the only man with enough clout to turn the tide on Uber’s tactics. On meeting Kalanick, Cook reportedly calmly explained that unless Uber stopped its tricks, he’d personally kick it off Apple’s App Store.
It may well have been an empty threat – after all, Uber is a boon for many iOS users. However, that wasn’t a gamble that Kalanick wanted to take. Losing access to the millions of iPhone users it had as customers would kill his company dead in the water, and so he acceded.
Uber still has its fair share of controversies, the latest being the revelation of its “Greyball” tracking technology to avoid law enforcement groups. Despite that, Apple continues to keep it on the App Store because, as far as it’s concerned, Uber no longer violates its terms of service. But, for a brief period in 2015, Apple could well have been the company to bring Uber to its knees.