Update, 1:51 p.m.: Screenshots provided to Silicon Valley watchdog blog Valleywag suggest that Uber's top brass may have orchestrated the ride-ditch campaign. For all Uber's protestations, it wasn't, in fact, the brainchild of a few rogue employees.
An Israeli-based car-hire start-up says it was hoodwinked in New York City last week, after more than a dozen people requested rides via the company's app, and then canceled them shortly after the driver was dispatched, or arrived.
The start-up, known globally GetTaxi (or Gett, in the United States), has already identified a possible culprit: Uber.
In a press release issued Friday, Gett's Vice President of Global Marketing, Rich Pleeth, claimed that Uber's fingerprints are all over this scandal. Pleeth explained in a follow-up e-mail that Gett had cross-referenced each passenger name and e-mail with a public profile on LinkedIn or Twitter, and confirmed that they were Uber employees.
Shortly after the fake ride requests came in, the duped Gett drivers also received text messages from Uber, urging them to leave Gett and join Uber.
Gett's U.S. CEO, Jing Herman, says that the company quickly blocked the faux passengers.
In a follow-up blog post, Uber apologized (sort of) for using an overzealous, guerrilla-style marketing tactic.
"Our local teams can be pretty determined when spreading the word about Uber and how our platform opens up new economic opportunities for drivers," the blog said. Uber then acknowledged that the denial-of-service hoax was "too aggressive a sales tactic, and we regret the team's approach to outreach of these drivers."
The subsequent war of press releases became an extension of the care-hire app arms race that these two companies are waging in New York City and elsewhere. Shortly after its U.S. launch in August, Gett built a massive ad campaign by attacking Uber's controversial surge pricing model, and characterizing its own service as flat and transparent.
Evidently, Uber took the bait.