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Digital Doughnut Contributor
Digital Doughnut Contributor 22 December 2014

Uber: A Disruptive Product?

Uber has put commuters back in the fast lane. Can their privacy policies keep up?

One of the great financial success stories emanating from Silicon Valley over the past couple of years has been Uber.  Valued at $17 billion, the organisation has driven its competition off the road and is the true definition of a disruptive product. Cutting out the middle man, the company has given its App users an innovative user experience, whilst also driving down the costs of travel.


What’s Not To Like?

Rumours have been rife for over a year that Uber adopts aggressive marketing practices to grow its market share. However things took a real turn for the worse last Tuesday when BuzzFeed broke the news that Uber executive Emil Michael suggested to a reporter that the company should consider hiring a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on its critics in the media.  By which Michael was reported to be implying that the research should focus on critical journalists. 

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Michael refrained from going into depth on how these researchers would “dig up dirt.” However, we shouldn’t forget that for all of its users, Uber stores a huge amount of personal and private data, ranging from credit card details to the when and where we choose to go.

Panic Stations

These comments, once made public, caused an enormous Twitter backlash leading Uber to release a number of statements distancing itself from the comments, culminating in Travis Kalanick, Uber CEO, releasing a series of impassioned tweets defending the organisation. Though maybe someone should have passed the memo to Uber investor Ashton Kutcher: A statement, which later was somewhat retracted, though not really.  Read for yourself.

Disruptive In Every Sense Of The Word?

Disruptive. It is a term used in this article and throughout the Digital Marketing industry. The word often describes organisations which use new technologies and processes to break through and deliver innovation. Something Uber has undoubtedly done. Yet, is that the sole extent of disruption? 

Uber’s disruptive tendencies, and its astonishing ability to break through the boundaries, have helped it become the multibillion dollar business it is today, but have they made the error or breaking through our personal boundaries also?

Our Data

Uber has gone to great length to defend its privacy policy, noting recently that it operates a “strict policy prohibiting all employees at every level from accessing a rider or driver’s data” though they also added, except for “legitimate business purposes.”  Nobel perhaps, but when we consider that in 2012 it tracked Uber riders who appeared to be engaging in one night stands in six US cities, their definition of “legitimate business purposes” may be somewhat worrying.

This instance further highlights the need for all of us to be vigilant as to where and with whom we share our data.  Whilst services offered by organisations such as Uber no doubt have extremely positive effects on our daily lives, it is vital that we are aware of the full nature of the transactions we carry out. 

Analysts doubt that this incident will have any long term impact on Uber’s business model.  However as disruptive technologies continue to bring innovation to our lives, unless privacy policies are placed at the centre of a digital organisations approach to consumers, there will no doubt be further crashes along the way.       

 

This article first appeared here.

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