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First POST: Ubermenschens

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, November 19 2014


  • Embattled Uber executive Emil Michael publicly apologized yesterday to Sarah Lacy on Twitter. Also on Twitter, his boss, Travis Kalanick, condemned Michael's remarks as showing "a lack of leadership, a lack of humanity, and a departure from our values and ideals."

  • BuzzFeed's Johana Bhulyan and Charlie Warzel report that the general manager of Uber NY, Josh Mohrer, is being investigated by the company for abusing the company's internal "God View" tool, which shows the locations of Uber cars and customers. Mohrer had accessed Bhulyan's records and shown them to her while she was preparing an earlier story.

  • Journalist Ellen Cushing reports that while working on a cover story on Uber for San Francisco magazine, she was warned by current and former employees "that company higher-ups might access" her rider logs. VC Peter Sims had previously reported being in an Uber SUV while his real-time data was shown, without his permission, by company staff at a launch party.

  • Uber isn't the only company that has abused user data, The Washington Post's Craig Timberg, Nancy Scola and Andrea Peterson remind us. In Facebook's early days, employees could view any information typed into users' page, they note.

  • Related: In Washington DC, Uber is lobbying against a proposed bill that would require it to report how many wheelchair accessible trips are requested and provided to its passengers, claiming that the data is proprietary, reports Martin Di Caro for WAMU Radio.

  • As Alex Howard sums the scandal up for Wired, "With great data comes great power, and therefore responsibility." He adds:

    Now, imagine if powerful members of Congress decide that they don’t like Uber’s labor practices, or surge pricing, or its approach to flaunting regulatory strictures, or the way it lobbies city governments not to be subject to reporting on compliance with accessibility laws. What then? Will the same executives who have shown a limited “God View” at launch parties choose not to use more powerful internal analytics to track who is going where and when? What policies and code would stop them from looking at the profiles of Senators and Representatives and drawing conclusions about where and when they go? Or for that matter, my profile, or yours?

  • Uber unveiled a "data privacy policy" yesterday that says rider and driver data is confidential, but then outlines a series of "legitimate business purposes" for accessing that data which include "monitoring driver and rider accounts for fraudulent activity."

  • An aside: In my humble opinion, it's time we all stopped referring to these things as "privacy" policies. My data would be private if it weren't collected at all. These are "data usage" policies.

  • Some shoes that haven't dropped as the Uber story plays out: No word from former Obama adviser David Plouffe, who is Uber's head of policy and strategy. Nor has the Republican National Committee, which recently started an online petition and fundraising campaign in support of Uber, commented on the scandal. (Republicans probably won't like Uber CEO Kalanick's praise for Obamacare.)

  • NSA reform died yesterday in the Senate, with most Republicans voting against the USA Freedom Act because they don't want to end bulk phone data collection, and a few libertarians like Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) opposing the bill because it didn't go far enough, reports Burgess Everett for Politico.

  • Department of silver linings: WhatsApp, the messaging app bought by Facebook earlier this year, is partnering with Open WhisperSystems to add strong end-to-end encryption to all text messages its users send, Jon Evans reports for TechCrunch.

  • Vincent Harris, the Republican digital wunderkind last seen running Senator Mitch McConnell's online efforts, is going to work for Senator Rand Paul's operation, reports Darren Samuelsohn for Politico. In 2012, Harris worked for Ted Cruz's Senate campaign and Texas Governor Rick Perry's presidential campaign.