Kit Steinkellner
November 19, 2014 11:09 am

Uber has been dominating the news lately, and definitely not in a good way. The company’s headline spotlight comes as a result of some very creepy comments a senior vice president Emil Michael, made recently regarding a female journalist, Sarah Lacy. Lacy wrote critically about Uber and took the company to task for practices she viewed as sexist and misogynistic. As a result, Michael talked about plans to spend a million dollars of company funds on opposition research to spy on journalists that wrote negative coverage on Uber, and use their findings to drive those writers into silence.

It only gets worse from there. And compounded with past passenger accusations of sexual assault by Uber drivers, plus growing privacy concerns, the whole thing is making us reconsider Uber. In the wake of these unsettling reports, there are users who no longer feel comfortable keeping Uber as an app on their phone and are trying to cancel their accounts with the rideshare company. In order to delete an Uber profile (as well as your payment and location info), a customer must submit a written request through the support section of the company’s website. Prior to the controversy, these requests were approved quickly. Now, however, many users who try to cancel their accounts with Uber are getting messages back from customer service reps denying these charges, and sometimes delaying the act of cancellation in the hopes that the user will reconsider.

Buzzfeed shared screencaps of two such instances:

So Uber’s party line, while it begs its customers not to jump ship, is that the company would never use its resources to spy on users. Which is a little too close to a lie for us to be comfortable. Not only did SVP Emil Michael’s remarks make it seem like he fully intended to use Uber’s data to take down journalists like Sarah Lacy, Uber’s New York general manager Josh Mohrer is currently under investigation for using Uber resources to spy on Buzzfeed reporter Johana Bhuiyan.

A few weeks ago, when Bhuiyan arrived at Uber’s Long Island offices in an Uber vehicle, she found Mohrer standing outside the building waiting for her. “There you are,” he said, iPhone in hand, “I was tracking you.” For Mohrer to follow Bhuiyan and access her information without her permission completely goes against the company’s privacy policies. It’s scary how, for Uber employees, privacy policies feel like more of a suggestion than a hard and fast rule, especially when female members of the press are concerned.

Mohrer was tracking Bhuiyan with an internal tool used by Uber employees called, creepily enough, “The God View,” which allows corporate Uber employees to track the whereabouts of Uber customers when they ride in Uber vehicles (Uber drivers do not have access to this tool).

Former employees of Uber admitted to Buzzfeed that the God View is “easily accessible” across the company. One employee insisted that he never saw unauthorized use of this tool, the other employee declined to answer the question.

It doesn’t seem like Uber, despite its protests, really cares all that much about the privacy of its users. Or at least they didn’t until this all blew up in their face. Actions speak louder than words and the actions of Uber REALLY don’t look good. The next time you need to get from point A to point B, you might just want to Lyft it.

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