We Can’t Trust Uber

by Zeynep Tufekci and Brayden King, The New York Times (op-ed)


uber-logo-jpg 320 x 190_ccUber, the popular car-service app that allows you to hail a cab from your smartphone, shows your assigned car as a moving dot on a map as it makes its way toward you. It’s reassuring, especially as you wait on a rainy street corner.

Less reassuring, though, was the apparent threat from a senior vice president of Uber to spend “a million dollars” looking into the personal lives of journalists who wrote critically about Uber. The problem wasn’t just that a representative of a powerful corporation was contemplating opposition research on reporters; the problem was that Uber already had sensitive data on journalists who used it for rides.

Buzzfeed reported that one of Uber’s executives had already looked up without permission rides taken by one of its own journalists. And according to The Washington Post, the company was so lax about such sensitive data that it even allowed a job applicant to view people’s rides, including those of a family member of a prominent politician. (The app is popular with members of Congress, among others.)

After the Uber executive’s statements, many took note of a 2012 post on the company’s blog that boasted of how Uber had tracked the rides of users who went somewhere other than home on Friday or Saturday nights, and left from the same address the next morning. It identified these “rides of glory” as potential one-night stands. (The blog post was later removed.)

Uber had just told all its users that if they were having an affair, it knew about it. Rides to Planned Parenthood? Regular rides to a cancer hospital? Interviews at a rival company? Uber knows about them, too.

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Zeynep Tufekci is an assistant professor at the School of Information at the University of North Carolina. Brayden King is an associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

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