Uber: Misogyny, Threats, and Abuse

Our generation has benefited in countless ways from the ceaseless advances in technology witnessed since the early 2000s. In 2007, Steve Jobs altered lives across the world with the release of the first generation iPhone, and we have seen nothing but monumental leaps in technology since consumers first experienced the unprecedented ease of using a cellular device with an operating touch-screen setup. In the following years we have witnessed a multitude of devices using the same techniques, as well as innovations that have allowed us to speak to our mobile devices, taking advantage of a hands-free approach that has proven to be beneficial for the average multi-tasker in our population. We have become a generation obsessed with immediacy and instant gratification simply because our lives have been impacted in most capacities by technological advances that focus on increasing overall efficiency.

The aforementioned obsession has created a relentless demand for products and services that rival those utilized by our parents and ancestors. Ask your parents how they communicated with their friends and family when they were younger, or how they traveled from one end of the city to the other. I can assure you that their answers consist of complicated and lengthy efforts that seem foreign to our generation. Today, we no longer have to stand in a busy street, flailing extremities in hopes of catching the eye of a taxi driver. We have been granted the gift of immediacy in the form of an application on our smartphones. Uber, a smartphone application used to request cars that serve as taxis has gained popularity due to the ease at which people can travel. The beauty of Uber is that one can solidify a vehicle for transportation with a single tap on their smartphones. The app allows users to see where their drivers are, which makes estimations of arrival times easy and ensures that the customer can use the “call the driver” feature if their driver is off course.[1] This feature, though undoubtedly valuable to drivers and customers, can also have negative influences on the privacy of users.

In recent news, Uber’s public image has been less than pristine. In lieu of its immense success, Uber has stirred up all sorts of controversy with drivers, customers, competitors, and city governments. Aside from the display of poor sportsmanship seen in their acts of calling Lyft rides and then canceling at the last minute just to decrease their competitors profits, the company has received backlash for misogynistic actions and practices that fall out of line with privacy policies. In particular, female customers have experienced great deals of unwanted sexual attention while using services offered by the company. There have also been incidences in France where Uber has tried to promote its services by suggesting that users would receive rides from “hot chicks.” [2] These approaches clearly reinforce the mysogenstic culture of the company which has been described as having consistent public relations nightmares that highlight the companies “bro” culture.[2]Women are commoditized to either represent a treasure meant to attract male users, or a piece of gold sitting in the backseat of a lucky driver. At first glance some might argue that this sort of behavior is simply a problem on the ground level of the company, upon further inspection, it is evident that these sentiments are prevalent amongst executives in the company.

In November of this year, reports exposed a major breach in privacy by one of Uber’s New York executives. According to time magazine, Josh Mohrer, the general manager of Uber New York, met female reporter Johana Bhuiyan on the side of the curb as she exited an Uber vehicle. He boldly informed her that he had been tracking her by means of Uber’s ubiquitous system known as “God View.” [3] God View is an internal operating system that Yes, Josh Mohrer abused his power and access to private information, and he made sure that Johana knew that he had said power over her. To add an extra layer to this, Bhuiyan was visiting the New York office to continue gathering information for a story that she was writing about the company that might have sparked a great deal of speculation about the company. Mohrer’s bullied Bhuiyan upon meeting her, reminding her that he could keep a close life on both her professional and private affairs.

[4]

                                                            Uber’s God View

Along the same vein, Emil Michael, Senior Vice President of Business at Uber, suggested that the company should dig deep into the lives of their critics and opposition to spread details of their personal lives. Emil made these comments while at a dinner with a Buzzfeed reporter when he assumed he was off the record. It was later revealed that his remarks were mostly geared towards Sarah Lacy, a journalist who has been overtly critical of the company and its actions.

Emil Michael, Senior Vice President of Business

Both of these instances reveal a dark side of a company that we have grown to trust due to its unparalleled convenience.One of the troubling facts regarding this situation is that Uber, attempting to renounce ties from one of their top New York executives and thus responsibility for his invasive act, allegedly published its privacy policy for the first time following all of the controversy, though they argued vehemently that its guidelines and policies were followed by employees since the company began hiring drivers. According to the policy, tracking using God View is only appropriate when exercising legitimate business actions such as monitoring fraudulent accounts and facilitating driver transactions.[4] It is clear that this was not the case in the situation mentioned above, and it would clearly not be the case if Emil Michael proceeded with his suggestion to track and reveal information about people who might serve threats to their company. These two incidences both involve female reporters, and they both involve male figures of power, which reinforces the idea that Uber functions on a “bro culture” that will degrade women as they see fit. The leaders of the company are not afraid to flex and flaunt their power, abusing the rights of users without blinking an eye. It may be hard to stray away from the satisfaction of knowing that you have a guaranteed mode of travel at the click of a button, but lending your location to strangers chips away at the level of comfort that you should feel.

[1] Goode, Lauren. “Worth It? An App to Get a Cab.” Wall Street Journal. N.p., July 2011. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.

[2] Guynn, Jessica, and Elizabeth Weise. “Uber’s Plot to Spy on Reporter Is Latest Controversy.” USA Today. Gannett, 18 Nov. 2014. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.

[3] Gibson, Megan. “Uber Investigating Executive Over Use of ‘God View’ to Spy on User.” Time. N.p., 19 Nov. 2014. Web.

[4] “”God View”: Uber Investigates Its Top New York Executive For Privacy Violations.” BuzzFeed. N.p., Nov. 2014. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.

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