Rapists and violent-crazed drivers are not the only criminals that Uber customers have to worry about. Last month, The Washington Post’s Switchboard noted that the massive amounts of data uber collects about its customers could be a sitting duck for hackers.
All a person who wanted to track the movements of an Uber customer would have to do is hack into that data base. That of course provides all sorts of opportunities for nefarious individuals and for personal injury attorneys.
The ways the data could be put to evil use are endless. Some of them include:
- An abusive former boyfriend or ex-husband that wanted to track down his ex-wife or former lover could use that data to locate and kill her.
- A terrorist out to kill a celebrity such as a writer or cartoonist who poked fun at Islam or Marxism could use it to track the person down and set up an ambush.
- A stalker seeking a major celebrity could find that person through Uber’s database.
- A paparazzi trying to track down a movie star or other celebrity and get a photo of him or her with the other woman or man could do the same.
- A private detective trying to get proof of an affair for a divorce proceeding could do much the same.
- Government agents trying to track the movement of a person suspected of a crime could use it for surveillance.
- A blackmailer trying to get evidence of illegal activities or an affair would love such capabilities.
- A robber seeking a target might use it to find somebody carrying something valuable.
- A journalist or politician could use the data to prove that illicit meetings occurred. Or questionable behavior such as visits to prostitutes or a trip to a drug dealer took place.
- An employer could use the data to see what somebody was doing on company time, perhaps for grounds for dismissal.
- Foreign secret police could use the data to track the movements of dissidents living the United States.
- A hit man could use the data to find a person that somebody else has put out a contract for murder on.
- Gangsters could use the data to track down somebody that didn’t pay his gambling debts or pay back a loan shark. Then send thugs out to ambush that person.
- Debt collectors could use such data to track down and harass those who owed money.
Even worse this information could fall into the hands of marketers or advertisers. A person who used Uber to go to Chipotle might suddenly find his phone and email filled with pop-up ads for burritos. Somebody that used Uber to travel back from the airport might discover ads for a new frequent flyer mile program on her phone.
This of course raises concerns about other efforts to track vehicles’ movement and collect information about them. The telemetric devices that some insurance companies including Allstate and Progressive are now attaching to cars for example, they record how far you drive and when. Since these devices contain transmitters they could presumably be used to track movements.
Then there are the self-driving cars from Google, Arrow, Mercedes, etc., Zipcars and rental cars all of which presumably have tracking devices on them or will in the near future. Can they be used to track movements or locate individuals by government agencies, foreign governments, debt collectors, private detectives, journalists, terrorists or organized crime?
Some car-finance companies are already using devices to track down persons behind on their payments. They also use ignition override devices to shut down cars of those who do not pay. What happens if somebody hacks their computers and gets that data, perhaps just to shut down hundreds of thousands of vehicles at once and create chaos on the freeways.
Also worrying are the next generation delivery services that companies like Uber, Deliv, Google and Kroger are experimenting with. They can provide a wealth of data about a person. Kroger’s service actually delivers alcohol, do you really want a perspective employer to know that you order two or three bottles of Scotch a week? Or a debt collector to discover that you spend several hundred dollars a year on shoes?
Companies like Uber are going to have to do a far better job on database security. If they don’t they could be setting themselves up for nasty scandals and lawsuits like those that hit Target last year. The rest of us need to start thinking twice before participating in this new economy, rides might not be the only thing we are sharing. We might also be sharing our location with the bad guys.