Uber under fire for 'God's View' Tool

Uber under fire for suggesting Uber would slime media and its critics

A suggestion from the Uber executive has snowballed into a big controversy with the matters reaching the Capitol Hill.  Few days back Buzzfeed had reported that an Uber executive had suggested the company should invest $1 million in an research team to expose the personal lives of media critics and their families.

The seriousness of proposition is that the comments came from Emil Michael, Uber’s senior vice president of business and seems to be a policy decision taken by Uber at sliming its critics and media who pan Uber and its privacy policies,  through the private information saved on its servers.

Michael made this comments last Friday at a dinner table that included Kalanick, celebrities and some journalists.

Michael’s comments escalated into a grave concerns that the company could use data from its own service to track the whereabouts of specific people who use its service.

To prove that is indeed true, an Uber employee had admitted to a BuzzFeed reporter that he had tracked that journalist’s location. This was also reported by Buzzfeed yesterday amidst growing concerns over Uber’s privacy policies.

Matter reach Capitol Hill

Senator Al Franken from Minnesota, dashed of a letter to the Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick.  In the letter,  Sen. Al Franken (D-Min.) called on the company to explain what policies it has in place around tracking the personal data of users on the ride-sharing service.

Uber may find that it has gulped more than it can chew because, Sen. Franken is the chairman of the Senate subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law.  His recommendations can have serious repercussions on Uber and its working.

Gods View

In his letter, which is embedded below, Senator Franken said these revelations suggested “a troubling disregard for customers’ privacy.” He asked about an internal company tool called “God view,” a dashboard that reportedly gives employees a view into the movements of specific users, and who in Uber has permission to use it.

Sen. Franken asked the company to further explain how it determines what constitutes a legitimate business reason. He also called on Uber to explain how long it holds on to customers’ personal information and whether it has considered imposing limits on that.

Gods View is supposed to be a top secret internal tool developed by Uber to reported spy on each and every one of its customers. It can view the specific moments of any one who uses the Uber service.  It is not know that this Gods View is actually being used and what Uber hierarchy is authorised to use this tool.  However if its true, than Gods View looks more of a NSA designed snooping device and may be targeting privacy of most of Uber users.

Michael Apologises

Michael apologized for his comments and Uber said it has never spied on journalists. Uber didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment upto Thursday. In an separate interview, Uber’s policy and communications head, Plouffe said Michael’s statements “do not reflect the company” and said Uber hasn’t violated its users’ privacy or otherwise spied on journalists. He however didnt comment on the Uber employees comments given to Buzzfeed regarding Uber tracking a journalist.

However he declined to discuss specific actions Uber is taking to ensure user privacy. Uber officially attempted to clarify its privacy policy on Tuesday, saying on its website that it only permits employees accessing rider or driver data if they have a “legitimate business purpose,” such as troubleshooting bugs or monitoring fraud, and that it audits that activity by data security specialists.

Uber’s Privacy Policy

Uber’s privacy policy states that it retains users’ personal information including geo-location and trip history for as long as they are active on the service. If an account is terminated, Uber says it holds onto that information for as long as needed to comply with various legal and regulatory obligations and other business reasons.

The inquiry is Uber’s first major challenge from Congress and a test for its policy and communications chief, David Plouffe. Techworm will bring you the latest from Uber as and when it responds to the Senator’s letter.

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