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In spite of multiple people – close friends and Instagrammers alike – encouraging me to write about this issue, I was a little unsure. I don’t like acting out of anger, I think that when you put that energy out into the world nothing good can come back from it, especially on a public platform like a blog. However, I received an email from Uber in Russian, nearly a month on from being hacked by someone in Kazakhstan and I snapped. I realised that no, this is not okay. You as a consumer and my audience have to know the full implications of what happens if your Uber account is hacked, so here it goes:
When I’m asked about what kind of bloggers I follow, I answer that I admire women that promote more than beauty. Women that exhibit their numerous talents and personality at any opportunity because they are ‘more than’ their looks, name or social stats. Someone once remarked that this was incredibly feminist of me. I was surprised.
Recently, my Uber account was hacked and after I had called my bank to block my card, I was faced with an even more daunting prospect: my personal data, saved home address and travel history is in the hands of a cyber criminal. All of that information about me speaks to a pattern of behaviour, something that could be sold on the dark web for a minimal fee or in a bundle of customer data. This could then be used by the buyer to aid in future theft. All of this may sound a little Black Mirror to you but at risk of being patronising: you don’t understand the gravity of a hack until it happens to you. It’s made a lot worse when help takes more than 24 hours to arrive. All those hours that I was locked out of my Uber account meant that my details were increasingly vulnerable.
It wasn’t until 48 hours had passed that I finally got a phone call from Jack, the customer service representative. The tone of the conversation was frank and formal, he offered no apologies. I asked for two things, making it clear that I wasn’t seeking monetary compensation – not that Uber was prepared to do this, I might add. I wanted to know:
1) Does Uber have capability to detect if their app has been screenshotted, much like Snapchat and Instagram? (If they can and they tell me that my account hadn’t been photographed, it would have put me at ease).
2) If anything were to happen to my account in the future, could they guarantee a response within four hours/ half a day? My account was compromised and the damage had been exacerbated by Uber. I wanted to be guaranteed genuine support.
The answer was no, to both.
Then I asked, “what data security measures can or have you put in place to ensure this doesn’t occur again?” To which Jack replied, “I’m not at liberty to share that”.
“It’s different for girls…”
The first time I realised that feminism is incredibly personal to me was when I explained to my male friends why I couldn’t walk home alone at night. I told them ‘it’s just different for girls’. Ridiculous, right? But relatable. This is the precarious world in which we live, particularly for women. There is a possibility that someone has stored my details and are probably not above sharing or selling it on the dark web. This old anxiety of returning home at night alone is very real now that my property has been compromised.
And what does Uber have to say about it? The hacker only ‘seems interested in free rides’, Jack tells me. He’s based this on his ‘colleague’s assumption’ and that is actually lifted straight from his email. Uber also believes that the problem at hand was that my account was hacked in the first place, basically placing the blame on me. I can’t tell you how someone found out what my ten digit, alpha-numeric combination with capital letters was, can you? However, the real problem was that Uber refused all accountability and ignored me when it came to the question of how they were keeping their users’ accounts safe. The reason is because they don’t and they can’t.
After a lot of back and forth over the course of a week and a half, eventually I consulted a lawyer.
What are my options? A refund was completely within my rights, so sorry if I’m not thankful that it took more than 24 hours. Do I have any protection against Uber’s negligence? The advice I received was that they don’t give a shit, even about law suits from little people like me. My lawyer friend came to the conclusion that I could only get a serious response if one, I could prove I had lost a lot of money (I hadn’t) that wasn’t refunded (it was) or two, I was so traumatised that I have to see a therapist. Let’s be realistic, this is a horrible, anxiety-inducing situation but it doesn’t warrant professional help.
Uber doesn’t respond unless it has something to do with money. They don’t care about negative publicity, anyone’s safety or even brand integrity. They are throwing money at stamping out competitors and failing at it in some countries. They are operating illegally in Hong Kong, resulting in civilian drivers arrests – and they are blaming the law that’s been in place for longer than Uber has existed! Furthermore, I came across an article reporting that Uber had been storing their customers’ data even after the app is deleted. I mean, did you know this about an app you use monthly, if not weekly? And if you’re thinking, isn’t Uber’s practices unlawful? Yes, it completely breaks Apple’s rules! Ultimately, Uber got away with it because Uber gives no fucks.
And to make things worse, the car-sharing app is breeding a company culture of anti-feminism. In February this year, I stumbled across an article about a former female employee Susan Fowler, who had been subjected to sexual harassment by male colleagues. Her claims were dismissed by HR. Throw Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanik into President Donald Trump’s inner circle and we have a very clear picture of what Uber’s corporate values are. And you guessed it, treating females respectfully falls short of the agenda.
I know that all of you reading this are not going to rush to #DeleteUber. I understand that convenience trumps a lot of other factors, including safety. There’s even data where I work (consumer analytics company) that shows that convenience ranks the highest in most consumer-brand scenarios, which is probably why Uber is still so successful. But be aware that you can have your account hacked and you will not be offered any solutions beyond a refund. You are not guaranteed to speak on the phone to anyone and you will have your time severely wasted. Use Uber but I implore you to find alternatives – I used that app almost everyday but have not re-downloaded it since the hack.
I do not intend to support their criminal activities and questionable HR and customer response policies. Will I completely boycott Uber for the rest of my life? I’ll be pragmatic. This post is not about holding a personal grudge for all of eternity but I can say that at present, Uber does not represent my core values as a woman, or even as a person.
Everyone’s privacy is to be protected. I do not want to victimise females, we aren’t anymore precious than men. However, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that worse things can happen to girls if our security is threatened. Jack from Uber showed no concern for my personal safety – I know you work for Uber but you can show some empathy, trust me it helps with calming down a scared customer. More than that, hacks are not to be taken lightly. They cannot simply be dismissed with insincere apologies by huge tech giants. There needs to be better data protection in place. And that’s a reasonable enough request, isn’t it?
There’s a silver lining, albeit thin. Here’s a few of the encouraging responses I received: