Senator Al Franken (D-MN) is not impressed with Uber (a car service) senior vice president for business Emil Michael’s embarrassing overshare. On November 17th, Michael revealed to members of the media – including a BuzzFeed editor – ideas to get retribution for bad press by doxing journalists and using Uber’s customer data to target journalists.
Uber ran away from these suggestions after the public backlash and claimed that such actions would be in violation of the company’s policy. This was not too comforting when in order to prove this, the company accessed a BuzzFeed news reporter’s information without her approval.
So it’s not surprising to see privacy advocate Senator Franken on the warpath. After noticing that the privacy and data collection policies cited on Uber’s website differ from their public claims and in fact do not support their public claims, Franken is demanding that the car service company, which uses a GPS-based smartphone application to connect passengers with drivers, get real about their privacy policies and data collection practices.
In a letter (read here) Franken asked for specific steps the CEO has taken to ensure that its privacy policies are communicated and enforced. The Democratic Senator also called Uber out for their ”God view”, a tool widely available to Uber corporate employees, which allows them to track the locations of customers who have requested service.
Franken wrote, “I am writing in regard to reports of recent comments and actions by top Uber executives concerning journalists. The reports suggest a troubling disregard for customers’ privacy, including the need to protect their sensitive geolocation data.”
“This raises serious concerns for me about the scope, transparency, and enforceability of Uber’s policies. Moreover, it is unclear what steps, if any, you have taken to ensure that your policies are adequately communicated to all employees, contractors, and affiliates, and to ensure that such policies are fully enforced.”
Senator Franken is a lonely voice in the U.S. Senate speaking out for consumers’ privacy and rights. Uber’s behavior prior to this incident was none too stellar, after it paired with a French escort service as drivers for a promotion — while marketing its services to women who need a safe ride home. Seeing as they had created a predators’ dream, a female journalist was not impressed and for this, the Uber exec was musing about ways to get even with her by outing her personal information. Totally says trustworthy.
Uber fail. Instead of gathering dirt on journalists’ private lives when the issue is the professional conduct of Uber, maybe Uber would be better off just dealing with the negative conduct in an honest and transparent way.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.