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Report: Regulators Are Investigating Uber For Allegedly Spying On Customers

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Eric Lieberman Deputy Editor

One of the country’s premiere regulatory agencies is apparently investigating Uber over potentially violating customers’ privacy, according to a Recode report published Wednesday.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is trying to decipher if the ride-sharing company improperly managed and controlled people’s data, four sources close with the matter told the tech publication. There is no evidence to exactly what the agency is investigating, but it’s likely that it deals with a proprietary tool called “God View” (also known as “Heaven”), in which employees would follow customers in real time without their consent.

A former employee filed a lawsuit in December for age discrimination, but most importantly whistleblower retaliation, alleging Uber illegally deleted data showing it was tracking people through the program.

“Uber’s lack of security regarding its customer data was resulting in Uber employees being able to track high profile politicians, celebrities, and even personal acquaintances of Uber employees, including ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, and ex-spouses,” Ward Spangenberg, who worked as a forensic investigator for the company, wrote in a court declaration.

Bruce Schneier, a prominent security technologist, called the feature “creepy” in a CNN op-ed.

While news of Uber’s “God View” broke more than two years ago, the FTC is looking into it now, though the probe could be a nonthreatening formality.

If not, then the apparently preliminary inquiry could develop into an official probe. This isn’t the first time federal investigators have scrutinized Uber.

The company agreed in January to pay $20 million to drivers who were systematically underpaid after the FTC filed a legal complaint.

The Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation into Uber for its use of a different piece of software called “Greyball,” Reuters reported in May. The tool helped them evade local regulators and law enforcement officials in various cities around the world who were trying to catch it in the act of providing its service. (RELATED: Uber Accused Of Operating Three Invasive Spy Programs)

The latest probe launched by the FTC could be related to accusations that Uber has a third tool known as “Hell,” which reportedly allows it to spy on drivers of its ride-sharing little brother Lyft.

The FTC’s alleged investigation is just another problem for the tech conglomerate which has experienced so many different ordeals and scandals in recent months and years, including allegations of systemic sexism and sexual harassment. Uber CEO told employees Tuesday in a staff-wide email that he is leaving the company indefinitely to work on “Travis 2.0,” after the board of directors agreed it was the best decision for the company.

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