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Uber Employees Warned a San Francisco Magazine Writer That Executives Might Snoop on Her
Ellen Cushing | Photo: Dan Escobar | November 19, 2014
Senior Editor Ellen Cushing was repeatedly warned by her sources.
While I was reporting my recent cover story on Uber and its CEO Travis Kalanick, several current and former Uber employees warned me that company higher-ups might access my rider logs. Because I couldn't independently verify these claims without sacrificing my sources' anonymity, I didn't include them in the final piece.
However, in light of Buzzfeed's latest revelations about Uber executives discussing hiring opposition researchers to dig into the personal life of a reporter, Sarah Lacy, who had repeatedly criticized the company, these threats against my own privacy appear to be less of a paranoid possibility than I'd originally thought.
It's worth noting here that as far as I know, the company hasn't looked into my logs. After talking to Uber staffers, it's quite clear that the company stokes paranoia in its employees about talking to the press, so there's a solid possibility that my sources' fears were just the result of overzealous (and unfounded) precaution. But when I contacted a former employee last night about the news, this person told me that "it's not very hard to access the travel log information they're talking about. I have no idea who is 'auditing' this log or access information. At least when I was there, any employee could access rider rating information, as I was able to do it. How much deeper you could go with regular access, I'm not sure, as I didn't try." A second former employee told me something similar, saying "I never heard anything about execs digging into reporters' travel logs, though it would be easy for them to do so."
While I was conducting reporting, however, a current employee told me that he or she had access to my (and presumably other peoples') rider logs. (Again, I can't confirm whether or not this is true.) This summer, the venture capitalist turned author Peter Sims revealed in a post on Medium that the company had broadcast his real-time user data to a party in Chicago in 2012. And Smith's post relayed an unrelated incident in which an Uber NYC staffer accessed Buzzfeed reporter Johana Bhuiyan's personal data in the course of making a point about the company to her.
My sources could not confirm this or any other incursion by Uber executives into journalists' rider data. However, they were also not shocked by the accusations. "My general thoughts?" said a former employee in an email, about the ongoing scandal. "It doesn't surprise me."