(WASHINGTONPOST) — An Uber executive’s suggestion that the company should investigate the private lives of journalists has sparked a backlash against the popular car service, offering a potent reminder that tech companies are amassing detailed — and potentially embarrassing — records of users’ communications, Internet traffic and even physical movements.
The controversy stemmed from remarks by Uber Senior Vice President Emil Michael on Friday night as he spoke of his desire to spend $1 million to dig up information on “your personal lives, your families,” referring to journalists who write critically about the company, according to a report published Monday night by Buzzfeed. The same story said a different Uber executive once had examined the private travel records of a Buzzfeed reporter during an e-mail exchange about an article without seeking permission to access the data.
That combination of vindictiveness and willingness to tap into user information provoked outrage Tuesday on social-media sites, spawning the hashtag “#ubergate” on Twitter. Critics recounted a series of Uber privacy missteps, including a 2012 blog post in which a company official analyzed anonymous ridership data in Washington and several other cities in an attempt to determine the frequency of overnight sexual liaisons by customers — which Uber dubbed “Rides of Glory.”