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Al Franken Sends Uber Running By Questioning Their Privacy Policies

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“To Uber” is going to mean “to hide” soon, thanks to car service company Uber’s possum act in the midst of a self-made and perpetuated brand crisis.

Uber has been in hot water for many reasons, not the least of which has been disturbing suggestions and revelations about their lack of adherence to any coherent privacy policy after one of their executives told dinner companions (including a Buzzfeed editor — oops!) that Uber should use its access to personal information to dox journalists who don’t give the car service a stellar review.

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This didn’t go over well, especially in the wake of Uber’s 6th grade level misogyny (pairing with a French escort service as drivers for a promotion) while selling its service to women as a safe ride home. In order to order to prove all was well, an Uber employee accessed a Buzzfeed journalist’s history without permission. Point made.

Thus they managed to raise even more alarms.

Uber finally got around to answering Senator Al Franken’s (D-MN) questions about its privacy policies in a letter (read it here) that while several paragraphs long, says basically nothing. They informed him that their privacy policy is on their app and website, but everyone knows that. What no one knows is when or if they enforce said privacy policies. Certainly their executive doesn’t seem to and the employees seem to operate under the belief that it’s fair game for them to access private information whenever they want.

Furthermore, 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. This is part of what drew Franken’s attention to the car service’s public meltdown in the first place, given that Franken is the Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law.

Uber offered no real answers on ow they use their GPS based app which can track users’ locations or the “God’s view” tool. Senator Franken was not pleased. He issued the following statement in response to Uber’s lack of response:

“I believe Americans have a fundamental right to privacy, and that right includes the ability to control who is getting your personal location information and who it’s being shared with,” said Sen. Franken. “I recently pressed Uber to explain the scope, transparency, and enforceability of their privacy policies. While I’m pleased that they replied to my letter, I am concerned about the surprising lack of detail in their response. Quite frankly, they did not answer many of the questions I posed directly to them. Most importantly, it still remains unclear how Uber defines legitimate business purposes for accessing, retaining, and sharing customer data. I will continue pressing for answers to these questions.”

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So, the question is how does Uber define legitimate reasons for accessing, retaining and sharing personal information? That shouldn’t be too hard to answer if the company actually has a policy that they use.

People will just start to use alternative companies. It’s not that hard to make an app and develop a privacy policy that is strictly enforced. It certainly shouldn’t take weeks to sort out the details – had this already been done, the company wouldn’t be ducking and dodging now. But, just like any bad corporate actor, instead of owning up to their mistakes and trying to make it right immediately, we’re getting more avoidance and revisionism and moving of the goal posts.

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Just call Green Tomato Cars if they have them where you are until Uber gets itself together. There is no excuse for not defining exactly what they are doing with people’s private information.

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