Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg have rightfully taken a lot of heat in recent months for their liberal collection and use of vast, complicated stores of user data, particularly as linked to political number-crunching by Cambridge Analytica.
While Facebook was shopping out viral quizzes and political data over the past few years, however, Uber was making similar moves around the globe thanks to its unique data sets and investor pool, possibly to varying political advantage, without much public ado to date.
If lawmakers and supposed “innovators” have any real intention of dealing with our digital privacy crisis, some of Uber’s secrets may finally need to be dragged into the spotlight.
For example, there’s Uber’s documented use of its customer data to drive political engagement as well as opinion, both in the U.S. and the U.K. Stateside, Uber was found to have been texting users to urge their support in the company’s battles against municipal governments seeking stronger regulation. Meanwhile, as the Daily Mail reported in 2017, “In the run-up to the EU referendum last year, Uber agreed to message its users – the vast majority of them young and likely to be pro-EU – urging them to register to vote.”
And the list of Uber’s affiliates in the U.S. and globally has continued to grow each year its contractors are on the road; many-to-all of them have ample partners and affiliates of their own. Those with international reach (to name a few) include the Hilton and Starwood hotel chains, Hertz Car Rental, Starbucks, UberChina via Didi, and Alfa-Bank Ukraine, as well as the LetterOne investment group, both of which tie back to Russia’s Alfa-Bank. In that part of the world, Uber has also formed an official partnership with Yandex, its prior ride-hail competitor in Russia, giving it an even greater reach for data gathering and sharing.
In its internal promotional materials, Uber has also mirrored Facebook by detailing its extensive and thorough stash of user data for potential buyers, as well as its methodology for creating accurate portraits of individual users.
Then there’s Uber’s well-documented involvement in political brokering, rule evasion and eventual scandal in the U.K. that led to a huge shake-up in that country’s government, but with relatively little U.S. coverage. And, of course there’s also Uber’s history of massive data leaks, and its possible connection to Cambridge Analytica, both of which are only now coming into focus.
In April, Brittany Kaiser, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, told U.K. legislators during a committee hearing that Cambridge Analytica had taken at least one meeting with Uber’s CTO about a year and a half or two years ago. A spokesperson for Uber denied that such a meeting took place.
At the time of the alleged meeting, the British data firm appears to have been engaged in supporting numerous political campaigns around the world, from the U.S. and Africa to the U.K. Around the same time – during the months surrounding the U.K.’s “Leave referendum” and the 2016 U.S. presidential election – Uber both sustained an enormous hack of its user data and was being investigated by the FTC over a similar breach that occurred two years before in 2014.
According to reports, Uber’s customer data stores were breached in the summer of 2016 by a Canadian hacker who downloaded information on 57 million of its riders and drivers. The hacker(s) apparently reached out to the company days after the U.S. election and ultimately accepted a $100,000 ransom in exchange for deleting the data; given the market for data at that time, $100k seems like a pretty good deal for Uber.
Nearly a year later, under its new leadership, Uber chose to disclose the second hack, and has recently agreed to an increased FTC settlement for its actions.
So, what does it all mean?
At present, the number of puzzling links and loose threads in Uber’s international CV would keep any team of lawyers or investigative reporters busy for months or years – and many of those leads may come to naught. But given the cornucopia of ways it has embedded itself in local politics worldwide, and the simply astounding amount of data it collects on many millions of riders and drivers in the U.S. and elsewhere, the many questions that arise about Uber’s dealings would seem to deserve answers, and the right kind of consideration.
Given Facebook and Cambridge Analytica’s current scrutiny in the news, it seems like a good time for Uber to finally get the attention it deserves.
For more details on this topic, we recommend that you read the original, sourced article (https://www.forbes.com/sites/janetwburns/2018/04/18/facebook-is-under-fire-for-shady-data-habits-why-not-uber/#31f0300f30cd), written by journalist Janet Burns for Forbes… as well as future articles by Ms. Burns on the topic.