Uber has hired an outside auditor to review its current privacy policies amid growing concerns around how its customers' personal data is being used. Uber announced that it would have Harriet Pearson, IBM's former privacy chief, conduct the review and make recommendations for improvement. There's no guaranteeing that Uber will act on those recommendations, however, and it's unlikely that Uber will publish results of the audit — unless they are, somehow, surprisingly glowing. Nonetheless, it's likely that Uber is hoping this move will quiet its critics for now, and there's a good chance that we'll hear about whatever recommendations it decides to put into place later.
"We must treat [trip history] carefully and with respect."
The move comes following a few days of seriously bad press for Uber. First, one of its executives was heard suggesting that the company spend $1 million hiring researchers to dig up dirt on journalists who write negative artcles about the company. Then, Uber's use of its internal ride-tracking tool came into question as reports began circulating that it is widely accessible and has been used as a novelty, with users' information being viewed without permission. Senator Al Franken has since put pressure on Uber to answer questions around this.
"Our business depends on the trust of the millions of riders and drivers who use Uber," Uber writes in a blog post. "The trip history of our riders is important information and we understand that we must treat it carefully and with respect, protecting it from unauthorized access."
This will be a key area for Pearson to address: travel data can be deeply revealing — it could show what kind of doctors a person is going to, for instance — and that's not something that people in the company should be able to access on a whim. Uber has previously stated that this data was only accessed for "legitimate business purposes."