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Uber responds half-heartedly to Senator Franken's privacy questions

Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
December 16, 2014
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Uber has at last responded to Senator Al Franken's questions about its controversial vehicle tracking and privacy policies... and if you were hoping for clear answers, you'll be disappointed. The ridesharing outfit's letter mostly reiterates the company's practices and its top-level responses to recent privacy incidents involving journalists. To start, the firm says it collects only basic info (like trip histories) from customers, and that its "God View" ride tracking is "essential" for both balancing car distribution as well as verifying passengers' complaints about fraud or safety. These shed some extra light on the subject, although they mostly echo data privacy policies that were already public.

As for those maligned members of the press? Uber once again notes that it apologized for executive Emil Michael's suggestions that the company might dig up dirt on journalists, insisting that this would violate a "commitment to our users" and was never really going to happen. Also, general manager Josh Mohrer tracked a BuzzFeed reporter because that writer was "30 minutes late" to a meeting -- Uber "disciplined [Mohrer] accordingly" for bad judgment. However, the transportation firm doesn't say how it disciplined the manager, and doesn't mention disciplining Michael at all.

It won't shock you to hear that Franken isn't happy with the vague, non-committal reply. He doesn't like the "surprising lack of detail," and notes that Uber didn't actually address many of his questions. Why didn't Michael heed Uber's policies despite his position, for example? And why doesn't Uber both get explicit consent to use riders' data and delete that information when people leave? The Senator hasn't said that he'll take action against Uber due to its response, but the startup didn't exactly curry a lot of favor with its most powerful critic.

[Image credit: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

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