Why Uber’s long PR nightmare will end in a user privacy win
Competing car-hailing companies are falling all over themselves to win your trust.
By Caitlin McGarry
Uber is in advanced-stage damage control mode to prove to the world that it actually cares about your privacy, but it’s going to be an uphill battle. The
will elevate standards for the entire industry.
After the comments from Uber Senior Vice President Emil Michael were revealed on Monday, a BuzzFeed reporter said Uber accessed her user data without her consent while
she was reporting a story. Well-known venture capitalist Peter Sims has also said that Uber trotted out his information at a company party to show off its
“God View” of user activity. While God view, a real-time map of every active user in the world, isn’t a close-kept company secret, this is the first time
Change is coming
Uber enlisted the help of Washington D.C. attorney Harriet Pearson, a former IBM VP who also served as the company’s chief privacy officer. Pearson will
“The trip history of our riders is important information and we understand that we must treat it carefully and with respect, protecting it from
unauthorized access,” the company said in a Thursday blog post.
But respect wasn’t really high-priority for Uber until the company got caught. Drivers were able to access God View as recently as nine months ago,
according to Motherboard, and higher-ups in local offices are using
their power to peer into journalists’ trip history. At best, the company has been totally careless when it comes to privacy. The company is investigating the New York exec, but may
soon find itself under investigation.
Sen. Al Franken wrote a scathing letter to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick this week
with a list of questions about user privacy:
internal reasons,’” Franken wrote. “On what basis do you determine what constitutes legitimate ‘internal reasons’? Why aren’t these standards set out for
Franken demanded responses to his questions by Dec. 15.
All of this scrutiny is making Uber look terrible, but it’s good for the app’s customers, most of whom didn’t realize the company could trot out their
exact location in an Uber car on a map as a party trick.
Now you know. Other car-hailing apps are scrambling to prove which is the most anti-Uber. Uber’s main rival, Lyft, put new restrictions in place on how and
why employees can access user data, according to the Wall Street Journal. SideCar is reevaluating
to their partnerships with regulated taxi companies as proof of how different they are from Uber.
Will the current scandal force Uber out of business? No. It’s unlikely that anyone at the company will even be fired (or resign) over this week’s dust-up.
But Uber is under intense pressure to change its ways, and the current crop of startups who ask for your data and do little to protect it will have to
follow suit or risk being compared to the worst offender.
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