Sen. Al Franken Blasts Uber For Tiptoeing Around His Questions About The Company's Privacy Policy


al frankenAndrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesSen. Al Franken.

Last month, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, voiced privacy concerns about Uber in an open letter to the company.


In it, he asked that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick address the company's privacy policy. Franken asked a series of 10 questions to Kalanick, requesting information about Uber's privacy policy.

This week, Uber's response letter to Franken was published on the senator's website. The letter, written by Uber's managing counsel for privacy Katherine Tassi, asserts that Uber is committed to protecting its users' privacy.

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Uber came under scrutiny in November, when the company's top New York City executive, Josh Mohrer, was investigated for breaching Uber's privacy policy by tracking a journalist without her permission. He was later "disciplined," according to the company, and kept his job. 

Tassi stated that Mohrer accessed BuzzFeed News reporter Johana Bhuiyan's personal information twice: once was to send her Uber-related notifications she didn't receive, and the other was because she was in an Uber vehicle and running 30 minutes late to meet Mohrer at Uber's office for a meeting. "Mr. Mohrer wanted to meet her in the lobby," Tassi said.


According to Tassi, Uber determined that Mohrer's judgment to track Bhuiyan's location was "poor," and that he'd been disciplined accordingly.

Sen. Franken wasn't too thrilled with Uber's response.

"I recently pressed Uber to explain the scope, transparency, and enforceability of their privacy policies. While I'm pleased that they replied to my letter, I am concerned about the surprising lack of detail in their response," Franken said in a press release on his website.

"Quite frankly, they did not answer many of the questions I posed directly to them. Most importantly, it still remains unclear how Uber defines legitimate business purposes for accessing, retaining, and sharing customer data. I will continue pressing for answers to these questions."

In Uber's letter, Tassi also addresses Uber's controversial God View feature, which lets individuals at the company see, in real time, where all of Uber's drivers and customers who have hailed a vehicle are. She says Uber has shown the feature to third parties due to its "compelling visual display."


In September, venture capital investor Peter Sims wrote a post detailing how Uber used God View to track an Uber ride he took in New York City and displayed it without his consent at Uber's Chicago launch party, as a form of entertainment.

Tassi says Uber is scaling back which employees have access to the sensitive information, and she stressed that God View could only be viewed for "legitimate business purposes," including Uber employees working in "operations or other areas, like fraud prevention."