When Uber was launched, it promised to revolutionize the taxi business. It provided one of the best and convenient ways to hail a cab not only in America but many cities, all around the world. It certainly is an excellent idea for many people. However, like most modern day tech companies, Uber has received its fair share if controversies and for a while now this taxi hailing technology has been beset by scandals. And as am sure you might be aware of, one of its scandals is the rising concern among its user on the privacy of its users. Recently, there have been claims that Uber has been spying on its users.
However, the company had initially refuted these claims vehemently. But it turns out they were not as honest as we thought. Uber employees had the ability to track people Using the applications including celebrities and other high-profile clients.
On Jan 1, 2016, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the settlement of his office’s 14-month investigation into the privacy practices of Uber and the use a tool by the name “God view” to track its riders. The investigation which began back in November 2014 had initially been tailored to focus on the Company’s ability to perform, real-time tracking using a system called God view. This platform, according to the report, used personal information to identify drivers.
During the settlement, Uber agreed to part with $20,000 as a penalty to the attorney general’s office for failing to report to the relevant authorities the third party access to riders’ biodata early enough. At this time, in a bid to reassure users of their privacy, Uber pledged to adopt more rigorous security and confidentiality measures. These actions included encryption of the GPS location data of users and drivers, password protection and limiting access to sensitive information to only a few designated employees.
The investigation into security and privacy practices of Uber by the office of the New York AG were due to a series of New reports revealing that Uber’s general manager at their New York offices had accessed a reporters’ ride log and had taken advantage of “God View” to track the trip, without consent. The report also found out that Uber might have purged some records from the God view system during the investigations.
A copy of the settlement reads, “Uber has represented that it has removed all personally identifiable information of riders from its system that provides an aerial view of cars active in a city, has limited employee access to personally identifiable information of passengers and has begun auditing employee access to personally identifiable information in general.”
It is quite disturbing when allegations of a tech company take advantage of their access to the information about their users and then go ahead and share this information with Government authorities. All without the express consent of the users whose information is being shared. To say we, as the public are not concerned would be a gross understatement. The company went ahead and announced that it has been spying on its drivers in some trial cities. Also worth noting is the fact that the app has been weaponized such that at any given instant of time, the company can:
1.Bar Chinese drivers from participating in political activities;
2.Track notable journalists, famous celebrities, and dignitaries;
3.Figure out where and when passengers have one-night stands
Moreover, in a new turn of events, Uber joined the likes of Google and Facebook in releasing a transparency report with all the details of how it shares customer’s data with authorities. The allegations of weaponizing the app are quite disturbing as the company seems comfortable with the quantity of data that is being relayed to the authorities.
The report reveals that the taxi hailing service shared data on at least thirteen million of its users and even drivers using the platform for the period of July and December last year. According to the company, the data sharing is most of the time due to the requests of regulators such as California Public Utilities Commission.
The information which was shared with the government was a response to up to 33 regulatory requests; this would affect 583,000 drivers and 11.6 million riders; and 34 airport reporting requests affecting 156,000 drivers and 1.6 million clients riding using the Uber platform. In a statement to the press, the Uber team said, “In many cases, they send blanket requests without explaining why the information is needed, or how it will be used.”
The Uber company acknowledges receiving 408 request for information about passenger accounts and about 205 about drivers due to law enforcement investigations. The company says it complied partially with these request by responding to about 85 percent of the applications. But who is to say they did not reply to the requests 100 percent? The 85 percent could be just for the sake of public relations!
In the news release, the Uber team said, “Regulators will always need some amount of data to be effective, just like law enforcement. But in many cases, they send blanket requests without explaining why the information is needed, or how it will be used.” The company added by saying that regulators ask for information such as GPS coordinates for destinations and pick up locations of the Uber taxis.
This disclosure by the company came in the wake of a public conflict between Apple and the FBI. This alteration came up due to the unlocking of an iPhone that was linked to the San Bernardino terrorist attacks. Although the FBI ultimately was able to unlock the iPhone without any assistance from Apple’s helpdesk, this incidence initiated a public discourse on data privacy and the right of private corporations to protect any information about their clients and employees. But what do you think?
Are there special occasions where tech companies should be allowed to spy on users of their platforms?
Is it right to spy on customers without their express permission?
Will you continue using this platform and allow it to spy on you?