You stay classy, Uber

Posted: Sun, 23 November 2014 | permalink | 3 Comments

You may have heard that Uber has been under a bit of fire lately for its desires to hire private investigators to dig up “dirt” on journalists who are critical of Uber. From using users’ ride data for party entertainment, putting the assistance dogs of blind passengers in the trunk, adding a surcharge to reduce the number of dodgy drivers, or even booking rides with competitors and then cancelling, or using the ride to try and convince the driver to change teams, it’s pretty clear that Uber is a pretty good example of how companies are inherently sociopathic.

However, most of those examples are internal stupidities that happened to be made public. It’s a very rare company that doesn’t do all sorts of shady things, on the assumption that the world will never find out about them. Uber goes quite a bit further, though, and is so out-of-touch with the world that it blogs about analysing people’s sexual activity for amusement.

You’ll note that if you follow the above link, it sends you to the Wayback Machine, and not Uber’s own site. That’s because the original page has recently turned into a 404. Why? Probably because someone at Uber realised that bragging about how Uber employees can amuse themselves by perving on your one night stands might not be a great idea. That still leaves the question open of what sort of a corporate culture makes anyone ever think that inspecting user data for amusement would be a good thing, let alone publicising it? It’s horrific.

Thankfully, despite Uber’s fairly transparent attempt at whitewashing (“clearwashing”?), the good ol’ Wayback Machine helps us to remember what really went on. It would be amusing if Uber tried to pressure the Internet Archive to remove their copies of this blog post (don’t bother, Uber; I’ve got a “Save As” button and I’m not afraid to use it).

In any event, I’ve never used Uber (not that I’ve got one-night stands to analyse, anyway), and I’ll certainly not be patronising them in the future. If you’re not keen on companies amusing themselves with your private data, I suggest you might consider doing the same.


From: Anonymous
2014-11-23 11:41

One potentially interesting question: do other transportation companies do the same thing? Much press has documented the wrongdoings of Uber, but I’d bet that many taxi companies and car services have done the same, as well.

(Also, regarding the attempts to solicit drivers from other services: if they’re paying for the rides, more power to them. Recruiting your competitors’ employees/contractors is not illegal, and in fact there was recently a massive lawsuit against a set of companies that chose not to do so.)

From: Matt Palmer
2014-11-23 11:47

Hi Anonymous,

Well, have any other transportation companies analysed their customers’ behaviour and publically blogged about the most likely areas in various cities in which one night stands take place? I explicitly acknowledged that it is a very rare company that hasn’t done something shady behind closed doors, but a company culture that causes someone to think that it’s OK to publicise that sort of abuse of customer trust is a particularly toxic one – above and beyond the “baground radiation” of ethically questionable business practices that is the world we live in.

Contrasting Uber’s attempts to disrupt the competition to an agreement between companies to not hire each others’ employees is… tone deaf, to say the least. At the very least, the reason why that suit was brought would certainly not be applicable in this case – it doesn’t appear that Uber’s attempts to recruit drivers from the competition has had any positive impact on drivers’ incomes…

From: Anonymous
2014-11-23 14:51

Oh, blogging about it was definitely brain-damaged. I find it hard to imagine why anyone would think that was a good idea. I’m just wondering if Uber is any worse about the actual use of data, or if they’re just stupider about talking about it (and more successful at the collection of it).

And I wasn’t talking about the order-and-cancel thing; that’s quite a different matter. I was talking about the thing where they order a ride, pay for it, and talk to the driver about switching services in the process.

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