The Uber Problem Isn’t a Culture Issue, It’s a Policy Issue

The recent comments of Uber’s SVP Emil Michael were certainly the scandal of the week. Mr. Michael’s demonstrated level of arrogance is not unique to Uber, although he has been one of the more cavalier about verbalizing it. Even the choice of company name implies arrogance – in German, “uber” means “over” and “above”. What this has to do with ride-sharing I’ve never understood.

Over several days I’ve seen a few articles referring to this blunder as a culture problem. I’m sure there is one there as there are in many hot companies. But this far exceeds culture. The bigger issue is that all manner of corporate entities now own large and growing amounts of data about their users, and the discretion about how to use or not use that data and who within a company can access it should not be left to culture.

In the case of the kind of information Uber collects, this can come down to issues of personal safety – where someone lives, where they travel, how late they party, how vulnerable they might be when calling for a midnight ride. There is plenty wrong with the taxi system (I take them fairly often and cringe at the high prices and often surly service) but the reason I have not opted for Uber or other such services is that taxis are regulated for a reason.

Use of personal data should be as well. Until the government might get its act together on protecting citizens right to some measure of privacy, corporations would do well, and perhaps garner some favorable points with customers, to establish and enforce very strict data collection and usage policies, and be very transparent about those policies with their users.

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