Uber’s “God View” shows more power means more responsibility

In case you haven’t seen, Uber, the controversial (for taxi companies anyway) new contract ride service, is in trouble. Seems they have a way of knowing where everyone who uses their service goes. It’s available to those inside the company. It’s called “God View.”

Obviously there is considerable power in having such a God view. As Lord Acton reminded us, there is a corrupting power related to power. All it would take would be for someone not using their head to use it for bad reasons. Buzzfeed broke a story about the New York executive for Uber using the God View to track the movements of a reporter and others. One other executive said that Uber might use the tracking information to smear reporters who wrote critically of the company. He, of course, apologized and admitted saying that was “wrong.”

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking to a group of almost 200 Sheriff’s and police chiefs. Big data is getting to be big news, big opportunities, with big concern. There is no question that big data which is now being made available to law enforcement to provide “threat scores” including any questionable or threatening social media post, will be an important enhancement to law enforcement. But, given revelations like the NSA activity and the increasing awareness of the loss of anonymity, a backlash against big data and its use is already evident. No doubt, it will grow.

Companies like Apple, Google–even Uber–are amassing personal data of amazing detail and complexity. We need companies and executives who commit to “do no evil” as Google famously has done. More than that, we need leaders who don’t just say it, but do it.

There will be legislation–as so many seem to think rules fix all problems. Legislation alone won’t. We need people and leaders to understand the corrupting nature of power and have the moral strength to resist. When they don’t, as with these Uber folks, the public reaction should be swift and decisive.

I’m thinking that Uber’s reaction of now publishing its privacy policy is far too little and too late. It should have revealed the existence of God View earlier. It should severely limit the people who have access to it rather than making so widely available in the company. It should have a strict policy for when God View would be used and publicly disclose that. It should have an outside, respected panel responsible for approving any use of it. Overkill? Maybe, but if not the result may be market kill. Any more such revelation of abuse of God View may seriously damage rider’s willingness to use Uber. Suddenly, taking a taxi for many looks like a safer bet.

2 thoughts on “Uber’s “God View” shows more power means more responsibility”

  1. What would be nice is not “privacy policy” that no one ever reads, but a contract that has consequences. The current policy appraise to be valid since 2013. The recent incident was after that and a current Uber blog post says, “violations of the policy will result in disciplinary action,” Well that didn’t happen. Conflict resolution should include prepaid performance bonds and local, and fast decisions. The way things are done now simply does not keep up with the pace of change.

  2. Oh they’re in trouble for a lot more than just taxis, god view, etc. Let’s think about the robbing/raping that’s been going on. THis is much worse for the company than any privacy policy issues.

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