One of the downsides of collecting data is that you may have to disclose it. In Uber’s case, it collects a lot of data, so regulators and law enforcement can ask for that data. In this case, even though the release of all this data is not a breach, it still could be a cause for privacy concern.
I was in New York this week and took a taxi on several occasions. I went to the corner, got into the cab, told the driver where I wanted to go and when we got there, gave the driver some cash. While the taxi company could tell the taxi and livery commission that they took a passenger from this address to that address, that is about all they know.
Contrast that to Uber. They know exactly who there customer is. Their customer is required to pay with a credit card. They know where you started and where you ended and how many trips you take.
This is the first transparency report Uber has released, so let’s look at what they said:
- For the second half of 2015, they gave information on 5 million passengers and 300,000 drivers to California regulators.
- Nationally, they gave regulators information on 11.6 million passengers and 583,000 drivers.
- Airport authorities received information on 1.6 million passengers and 156,000 drivers.
- On the other hand, law enforcement only asked for information on 408 passenger accounts and 205 driver accounts. Of course, that could represents thousands of trips, or more, in total. Most of this was to catch customers using stolen credit cards, they said.
While I agree that this is far from a data breach, still it is a concern. How many data elements did Uber release? Why do regulators need it? How are the regulators protecting it? Regulators are not required to have a reason for asking for the the data other than they want it – no subpoena, no judge, no warrant – and there is no real appeals process. For companies like Uber, the threat is that the regulators could make their life pretty messy if they make a stink.
For me, I continue to use taxicabs. They seem a lot less invasive than Uber’s big data collection machine. And, as far as I can tell, taxis don’t use surge pricing.
Call me old fashioned.
Information for this post came from the San Jose Mercury News.