U.S. Senator Al Franken today sent another letter to Uber’s Travis Kalanick, probing the embattled CEO to provide more information about the company’s privacy policies.
Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, first contacted Kalanick about the car service’s policies in November. The inquiry came after BuzzFeed reported that an Uber executive suggested the company would intimidate journalists by using personal information collected by the app against them. The senator’s initial inquiry was met with a vague response in December, which he has since characterized as “disappointing.”
In today’s letter, Franken pushed Kalanick to explain why employees need the “God View tool,” which allows employees to view Uber trips in real time. This tool came to attention after a BuzzFeed writer reported an Uber executive tracked her ride without her permission.
In Uber’s last letter to the senator, the company said only employees in certain areas such as fraud prevention have access to this tool. Now Franken is demanding to know what those areas are, how many employees have access to this tool and how Uber decides which employees should access “God View.”
The senator additionally asked what business reasons the company has to retain information after a customer cancels an account. This particular question may be on the minds of many Uber users who, in the wake of this fall’s scandals, canceled their accounts on principle.
He also pressed the company to provide information about its privacy training for its employees and asked if customers are notified if their information is accessed inappropriately.
Franken’s letter echoes the same concerns about privacy expressed in his earlier correspondence with Uber and other companies collecting similar data, such as Lyft. As we’ve seen from its constant battles with local laws regulating taxis, Uber isn’t a company that lets the government prevent its growth. While in the past it was applaudable as laws and regulations don’t keep up with the disruptive pace of a tech startup, when privacy is on the line it becomes a concern.
Although many were initially concerned with the company’s practices and stopped using the app in the wake of the BuzzFeed reports, sometimes the immediate need to go somewhere wins out over concern for the company’s questionable privacy practices.
It’s reassuring that even though the news cycle has moved on from the Uber controversy, one senator hasn’t. Although a letter to the company might not result in immediate changes, it might remind users to think twice about their privacy before ordering an Uber today.