Uber Settles FTC Case Over Privacy Violations

Posted August 16, 2017

One of FTC charges was that due to the San Francisco-based company's failure to provide ride-hailing services, an intruder accessed personal information about Uber drivers in May 2014, including more than 100,000 names and drivers' license numbers that Uber stored in a datastore operated by Amazon Web Services. By August 2015, Uber stopped following up on alerts from the system and began tracking the access of only a handful of employees, the FTC's complaint said.

"Uber failed consumers in two key ways: First by misrepresenting the extent to which it monitored its employees' access to personal information about users and drivers, and second by misrepresenting that it took reasonable steps to secure that data", FTC Acting Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen said Tuesday.

Under the agreement between Uber and the FTC, Uber can not misrepresent its access to consumers' personal information or how it secures that data, and must implement a privacy program and submit to audits of that program, the agency said.

Uber Technologies Inc has agreed to two decades of audits after United States regulators found the ride-services company failed to protect the personal information of drivers and passengers and deceived the public about efforts to prevent snooping by its employees. The FTC believed that Uber did not sufficiently observe when and how employees accessed data for both its drivers and its riders.

As part of the consent order settling the case, the company is required to obtain within 180 days, and every two years after that for the next 20 years, independent, third-party audits certifying it has a privacy program in place that meets or exceeds the FTC's requirements. The FTC alleges it only monitored for access to account information on Uber executives. Failing the audits could lead to further penalties, including heavy fines.

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The settlement comes as Uber is trying to move beyond a tumultuous period in which co-founder Travis Kalanick was ousted in June as chief executive officer following accusations that the company created a hostile environment for female employees under his leadership. The tool, which was initially revealed back in 2014, allowed Uber employees to view and track customer locations without their consent.

The FTC also claims that Uber failed to live up to its promises to keep driver data secure. On a conference call discussing the settlement, the FTC's Ohlhausen indicated the order was meant to promote change in that culture.

She elaborated in a call with the media that the "only way companies can compete on privacy" is by following the promises they make in their privacy policies.

"It doesn't matter whether you're a fast-growing company like Uber, a long-established brick-and-mortar company, an app developer or a behind-the-scenes entity like a data broker".