"It has been reported that a tool known as ‘God view' is ‘widely available to most Uber corporate employees' and allows employees to track the location of Uber customers who have requested car service," Franken wrote. "In at least one incident, a corporate employee reportedly admitted to using the tool to track a journalist. The journalist's permission had not been requested, and the circumstances of the tracking do not suggest any legitimate business purpose."
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"Indeed, it appears that on prior occasions your company has condoned use of customers' data for questionable purposes," Franken continued.
In the wake of Franken's letter, Fox 9 talked with local private driver and former Uber driver Jordan (he asked his last name not be used) to get his perspective on the allegations swirling around the company, which debuted in the Twin Cities a couple years ago.
Jordan shared a story that exemplifies the worries people like Franken have about how "God view" data is used.
"I had a weird experience this last winter that I didn't think anything of until just the last couple days with all this controversy," Jordan says. "I was pinged on the Uber system to go to a restaurant in Uptown and pick up two Uber employees who were in town. We all greeted each other, and as we got on with the ride they mentioned, 'Did you fly back from somewhere recently?'"
"I said I hadn't, and he said, 'That's odd -- I was on the 'God map' and it showed that you were taking an Uber home from the airport,'" Jordan continues. "It occurred to me that I had just used my app and account for a friend to get a ride from the airport."
Jordan was troubled to learn that somebody he didn't know had been tracking him.
"From what has been explained to me, and being in Uber meetings, they pull ['God view'] up and it has rides ordered and drop-offs, and it's all stored in a record and it'll show a graphic with a map, times, durations down to a second, the route, [and] where you were picked up from," he says. "It doesn't disappear, and as a driver I can go back in my records and I can click on a ride I did in January."
Jordan says Uber doesn't just compile data about customers when they order rides.
"They can tell when you open the app, and not just when you order rides," he says. "They'll know [when you open the app] and that's what they use to sway us to be in certain places at certain times. There's a lot of valuable information that they're sitting on there, and it leads me and many other people that are somewhat savvy on this stuff to believe that data is really the value of the company."
Proceeds from driving for Uber was Jordan's main source of income for 18 months, but he gave it up altogether not too long after his creepy interaction with the Uber employees in Uptown.
"For the last several months I've been lukewarm about Uber and how they treat the drivers on their system," he says. "I think everybody will agree it's a great technology, but it needs to be tuned to more altruistic purposes because it seems like outright profits is what Uber is after."
-- Contact author Aaron Rupar at firstname.lastname@example.org.