Corruption Without Consequences

The Dot-Com darling Uber has been getting quite a bit of critical press lately, and deservedly so. Uber is a start-up company that connects private citizens together for personal transportation: instead of hiring a licensed, bonded taxi service, an Uber user signals that they wants a ride via a smartphone app, and another Uber user who feels like offering rides (for money) accepts the summons and couriers the person wanting a ride wherever they want to go. Uber, as the facilitator, takes a cut of the money that the rider pays the driver. The service model seems to work well, and the company is making a profit. What isn’t working for Uber is the recent appalling behaviour of their executives. As National Public Radio’s Geoff Nunberg explained it on 10th December:

‘Uber uses a map view that shows the locations of all the Uber cars in an area and silhouettes of the people who ordered them. The media seized on the term this fall when it came out[1] that the company had been entertaining itself and its guests by pairing that view with its customer data so it could display the movements of journalists and VIP customers as they made their way around New York.

‘Those reports came on top of earlier criticisms of Uber for taking a prurient interest in its customers’ movements. Not long before, an Uber data scientist had blogged about tracking what he called “rides of glory.” Those were the customers who booked rides late on weekend nights and then returned home a few hours later, presumably after one-night stands …

‘Those were awkward revelations for Uber, which has also been under fire for its sharp-elbowed tactics with regulators and competitors and a truculent attitude toward its critics. The so-called sharing economy depends on users providing a company with enough personal information to reassure others that it’s OK to rent to or drive around with. …So it doesn’t look good when the people entrusted with the information come off as a crew of cocky striplings who seem to take privacy and security casually.’

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