You may have read reports this week that put Uber in hot water. A company executive has reportedly been caught following a journalist using the company’s back end software, and talked about spying on people who say bad things about the service. That has shocked users around the world. That reaction confuses me. If you’re using a phone, you don’t get to complain about privacy anymore.
The reason that all of this has come to the surface is because Uber has a public asshole problem. That is: Uber employees and affiliates are being assholes in public with customers. Before you all start, I’ve met a heap of Uber staffers and call many of them my friends. They aren’t all assholes. There are a few spoiling it for the many.
This week, Uber executive Josh Mohrer allegedly tracked a journalist’s journey through the app’s back end system visualiser, commonly known as God View or Heaven to some. We’ve written about it before and taken down photos of the service at Uber Sydney’s request.
That service shows every active car on the road at any one time via a Google Map, and the allegation stands that Mohrer used it to track a journalist with a track record of saying not very nice things about the ride-sharing company.
Top all that off with the allegation that an exec wants to hire investigators to look into those who say bad things about Uber, and a report which saw a driver allegedly tell a passenger that she deserved the cancer she was being treated for after cancelling a trip, and it’s shaping up to be a shit month for the next-gen transport company.
The domino-ing scandals have forced many to reconsider their use of the Uber service, while others see fit to throw stones from the cheap seats about the misuse of customer data and the death of privacy in the 21st Century.
And that got me wondering. Actually, it got me mad.
For the most part, you don’t get to complain about privacy anymore. Like, at all. Why? Because you gave them everything they ever wanted to know, and then built a window inside your life for them to watch you with.
Not convinced? Watch this.
Google knows where you’ve been at all times, Apple probably does too. Your telco definitely knows where you are right this second to an accuracy of a few metres.
Netflix knows you brought someone back to your place the other night because you watched three different titles related to The Notebook.
Spotify probably knows you’re in a crappy mood because you’ve streamed the same Jewel song over and over. Rdio knows you’re an idiot because you just told it to stream songs that sound like Nickelback.
Uber knows where you’ve been and where you’re going and Facebook knows who you’re going to make out with next. Hell, Tinder and Grindr know all the people you never called back, as well as where they are right now.
Are you scared yet? If you’re the sort of person who got angry about this week’s Uber privacy breach news, you probably are. And you know what? You gave them all of that data on your own. Nobody forced you.
You don’t get to be shocked.
There’s an old phrase that talks about product versus privacy:
“If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product”.
I’d say we go one step further with that, and add in that even if you are paying for the product, you’re being used as a test subject for how a service could be made better.
Getting off the merry-go round is easy: either you enjoy the convenience of the service you’re using at the cost of some of your privacy without bitching about it, or you don’t use it.
Now that’s a simplistic analysis of the privacy problem facing modern society, but that’s an egg that can’t be cracked just yet. The point still stands: if you let people into your life by handing over buckets of personal data and an ongoing means with which to track you, you really shouldn’t be shocked when you find out said company has been using it in ways you didn’t think it could.
I use all of these services listed above, and I honestly don’t care what they know about me. I’m a man of very few secrets and I’m not someone who is about to be “hunted”. Some might call me naïve for viewing the world that way, but let’s face it, I’m no Julian Assange.
I’m one of the people happy to give up a bit of my privacy for an easier life through technology, and I’m not complaining about Uber looking at me through its God View app. (For what it’s worth, the company does need to fix its asshole problem, though).
So while you may not be allowed to complain about your data being “misused” by the people you gave it to under the guise of a consumer license agreement you didn’t read, it doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to bitch and moan about other stuff. Real privacy breaches.
If someone hacks your phone and steals your photos — as happened recently with a battery of celebrities — that’s something you’re allowed to get annoyed about. You have a reasonable right to privacy to take and store photos of your own body without anyone pointing and giggling at you on a scale of billions.
If a government decides to hoover up your metadata and treat its population like criminals without the reasonable suspicion they have committed a crime — as is being debated right now in our Parliament — that’s something you’re allowed to get annoyed about. To coin a Ludlam-ism: collecting haystacks because there might be a needle in one of them someday is idiotic.
Hell, if someone snoops over your shoulder to steal your debit card PIN, you’re allowed to get annoyed by that too. That’s uncomplicated, straight-forward theft.
What you’re not allowed to complain about is when a company you probably shouldn’t have trusted in the first place looked you up in its files to find out something interesting about you.
After all, it was you who furnished them with the means to do it.