Uber investigates top executive after journalist's privacy was breached

Dog Detective

Uber is investigating its New York general manager for privacy violations, after he accessed a reporter’s personal data at least twice without her permission.

In November, Josh Mohrer, the head of the firm’s New York office, had arranged an interview with Johana Bhuiyan, a reporter for BuzzFeed News. Bhuiyan arrived in an Uber car to find Mohrer waiting for her, holding an iPhone. “I was tracking you,” he told her.

In September, Bhuiyan says Mohrer had emailed her a list of notifications the Uber app had sent her over the previous two weeks, “to make a point about questions [she] had asked about ride-share competitor Lyft.” The notifications show the date and time her car arrived.

Buzzfeed now reports that Uber is investigating Mohrer’s actions.

On Wednesday, the firm released its privacy policy for the first time, although it says it has always been in effect internally but simply never published. It refers to a “strict policy prohibiting all employees at every level from accessing a rider or driver’s data” except for “legitimate business purposes”.

The debate over Uber’s approach to privacy has exploded after Emil Michael, an executive for the firm, was reported suggesting that it should hire an opposition research team to dig dirt on journalists. Although the company has now apologised for Michael’s comments, they have led many to reassess the company’s previous actions.

For instance, it has come under renewed fire for a blogpost in 2012 in which it tracked, in aggregate, Uber riders who appeared to be having one-night-stands in six US cities – a use of data which appears to stretch the definition of “legitimate business purposes”.

And the company’s US-specific privacy policy, a different and more complex document from the plain-english policy posted on Wednesday, reveals that even users who delete their accounts can’t remove their data from the service.

“Even after your account is terminated, we will retain your personal information and usage information (including geo-location, trip history, credit card information and transaction history) as needed” to comply with regulations, prevent fraud, resolve disputes, “and for other business reason [sic]”, the document reads.

The company’s global privacy policy does not contain that passage.

Although Uber is an international firm, it has markedly different business practices in most cities it operates in, a legacy of the need to comply with varying regulation on the taxi market. In New York and London, the firm operates nearly exclusively as a for-hire cab company, although in both cities it also lets users hire the cities’ traditional yellow or black taxis. But in cities with looser regulation, the company has other business methods, letting unlicensed drivers join up, or letting customers share rides to save money.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 19th November 2014 15.59 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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