Uber is in the news this morning after an executive made some bone-headed remarks in public.
Emil Michael, SVP of Business at Uber, suggested that Uber could spend “a million dollars” to form a group of people that would research the “personal lives” and “families” of journalists who are critical of the company.
Michael was speaking at a dinner in New York when he made the remarks. He thought he was off the record, but BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief Ben Smith wrote up the comments, and said that at no point was BuzzFeed told the comments were off the record.
To be clear, this was all theoretical. Uber did not say it gathered the information.
However, in Smith’s story, there was something that was more than just theoretical, and it’s a good reminder of the scary power Uber has over its users.
Here’s what Smith reported: “The general manager of Uber NYC accessed the profile of a BuzzFeed News reporter, Johana Bhuiyan, to make points in the course of a discussion of Uber policies. At no point in the email exchanges did she give him permission to do so.”
If that’s not clear, what Smith is saying is that Uber accessed the profile of a journalist to see where that journalist had traveled while using Uber. Uber did this without permission. For the thousands of people that use Uber, this should be the most alarming thing in Smith’s report.
Uber knows where its users are going and when they are going there. That is powerful, potentially damaging data to control.
An Uber spokesperson told Smith this was against Uber’s policies: “Any such activity would be clear violations of our privacy and data access policies. Access to and use of data is permitted only for legitimate business purposes. These policies apply to all employees. We regularly monitor and audit that access.”