Politics

Uber Said It Accessed BuzzFeed News Reporter's Information Because She Was "Late"

The company, responding to Sen. Al Franken, also says they have scaled back access to "God View." Franken isn't satisfied: "It still remains unclear how Uber defines legitimate business purposes for accessing, retaining, and sharing customer data."

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WASHINGTON — In a letter to Sen. Al Franken, Uber writes that an employee who accessed a journalist's account information did so because she was "30 minutes late" to a meeting.

The letter was in response to a November letter sent by Franken to Uber, in which he requested more information about the company's privacy policies.

Writing to Franken, Uber repeated a familiar line: Employees can only access rider information for "legitimate business purposes." The company also argues in the letter that reports from the media generated "misperceptions" about how Uber uses customer data.

Franken said he was "concerned" by the response and would continue "pressing for answers."

"While I'm pleased that they replied to my letter, I am concerned about the surprising lack of detail in their response," Franken said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "Quite frankly, they did not answer many of the questions I posed directly to them. Most importantly, it still remains unclear how Uber defines legitimate business purposes for accessing, retaining, and sharing customer data. I will continue pressing for answers to these questions."

BuzzFeed News reported in November that an executive at Uber discussed wanting to conduct opposition research on journalists that wrote negatively about the company. BuzzFeed News also reported that Uber's New York City general manager Josh Mohrer had accessed a BuzzFeed News reporter's personal account information without her knowledge.

The letter states that Mohrer accessed BuzzFeed News reporter Johana Bhuiyan's information on two occasions. The first time, according to the letter, was to send her notifications she said she hadn't received — "just as he would if he had if he had heard from any other rider that he or she was not receiving notifications and wanted help."

The second time was because she was "30 minutes late" to a meeting and "Mr. Mohrer wanted to meet her in the lobby."

Uber states Mohrer showed "poor" judgement and the company "disciplined him accordingly."

Uber also states in the letter that the company has scaled back access to its "God View" function, so only employees in "operations or other areas, like fraud prevention" can use it.

The so-called "God View" is a function that allows Uber to see where all of its cars and all of its riders are at any given time.

Uber states that the company had shown God View to "third parties" in the past because it has a "compelling visual display," as has been previously reported.

When Uber shows off the function to anyone outside the company, Tassi writes in the letter, the company uses "presentation view, which has been available for about a year now and makes rider personal data inaccessible."

Read the letter:

Jacob Fischler is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C.

Contact Jacob Fischler at jacob.fischler@buzzfeed.com.

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