Under Fire, Uber Promises To Protect Riders' Privacy

Faced with mounting concerns about its practices, Uber this week publicly posted its privacy policy.

“Uber has a strict policy prohibiting all employees at every level from accessing a rider or driver’s data,” the company now says. The only exceptions are for “legitimate business purposes,” like facilitating payments and fraud monitoring.

Reportedly, Uber hadn't previously disclosed its privacy policy -- which is curious in itself, given that the company holds the type of information that nearly everyone agrees is sensitive: users' precise location history and credit card numbers.

The company's move comes the same week that a journalist reported that the company tracked her whereabouts while she took an Uber car to the company's Long Island City office.

But Uber's history of questionable privacy practices dates back far longer than this week. In 2011, entrepreneur Peter Sims blogged that the company had no qualms about revealing his precise whereabouts to guests at a party.

He said he was in an Uber SUV in New York City when he received a series of text messages from a guest at an Uber launch party in Chicago. “The party featured a screen that showed where in NYC certain 'known people' (whatever that means) were currently riding in Uber cabs,” he wrote. “After learning this, I expressed my outrage to her that the company would use my information and identity to promote its services without my permission. She told me to calm down, and that it was all a 'cool' event ... as if I should be honored to have been one of the chosen.”

Uber is hardly the first Silicon Valley company to suffer privacy glitches. Seven years ago, Facebook famously botched the rollout of its social ads with the Beacon program, which broadcast information about its users' purchases to their friends. More recently, Path and Hipster came under fire for uploading users' address books without their permission.

At this point, it's not known how many people were tracked by Uber for no good reason. But whatever the number, the company's ability to misuse data about its customers is cause for concern.

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