Uber defends privacy practices after allegations it spies on riders

Robert Galbraith | Reuters

Uber is defending the scope of its privacy practices after a wide-ranging report alleged employees were tracking individual riders.

Among the most scandalous of the claims against Uber: "Uber's lack of security regarding its customer data was resulting in Uber employees being able to track high profile politicians, celebrities, and even personal acquaintances of Uber employees, including ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, and ex-spouses," according to legal documents filed by ex-employee Ward Spangenberg in October and reported by The Center for Investigative Reporting on Monday.

The Center for Investigative Reporting's "Reveal" project spoke with five former Uber security professionals, who said Uber's culture was resistant to security protections. But Uber said many of their complaints are "out of date."

Spangenberg lodged a series of allegations against the company, including age discrimination, whistleblower retaliation, security vulnerabilities and skirting authorities. Spangenberg's lawsuit also said that Uber deleted files it was legally required to keep and encrypted data to prevent authorities from viewing them, according to the report.

"We have hundreds of security and privacy experts working around the clock to protect our data," Uber told "Reveal" in a statement.

Additionally, Uber told CNBC that it is continuing to increase its security investments. The company pointed to workers that needed data for their roles, such as anti-fraud experts, or employees that validate driver insurance documents or investigate traffic incidents.

"It's absolutely untrue that 'all' or 'nearly all' employees have access to customer data, with or without approval," Uber said. "We have built [an] entire system to implement technical and administrative controls to limit access to customer data to employees who require it to perform their jobs. This could include multiple steps of approval—by managers and the legal team—to ensure there is a legitimate business case for providing access."

This isn't the first time that Uber's data collection practices have gotten heat. Its "God View" feature was criticized after it was reportedly used to track the whereabouts of a BuzzFeed News reporter.

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