When it comes to privacy in personal tech, the fear always seems to be a nameless, faceless hacker or scam artist breaching an account from the outside, but the companies we think we can trust with our digital identities could be just as big of an issue. An incident at an Uber launch party three years ago—which is just now being brought to light—makes that abundantly clear.
At Uber’s 2011 debut event in Chicago, attendees were treated to what Uber refers to as “God View.” The God View map shows real-time updates of Uber’s fleet as well as icons representing users that have requested a vehicle. This, on its own, isn’t much of a privacy worry, but Julia Allison—one of the party’s attendees—recalled to Forbes that the Uber crew hosting the event went one step further.
A much more detailed—and unsettling—map that she calls “Creepy Stalker View” was on display as well, showing the names of as many as 30 prominent individuals that were using Uber’s in New York City, and updating their locations live. Allison even texted one of the people being tracked, who she had recently become acquainted with, who was furious that his private location data was being used as party entertainment fodder.
The man on the other end of the texts was entrepreneur Peter Sims, who has since given up on Uber entirely due to his distrust of the company and its apparently lax approach to consumer privacy. It’s worth noting that Uber hasn’t weighed in on the allegations. If it were to do so—and admit that location data was being publicly shown off for entertainment purposes or otherwise—it would be admitting to breaking its own privacy rules, which may or may not have legal implications.
In the end, this is one of the risks of a tech-heavy, connected society that may never go away. We rely on companies to keep us safe from outside forces that want to take our data and information by force, but if we can’t trust those organizations in the first place, do their promises hold any water? Your guess is as good as mine.