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Uber Exec Suggests Smear Campaign Against Female Journalist - Update

| 19 Nov 2014 17:55

Why on Earth would you suggest such a plan with a journalist sitting in the room?

Update: The Uber saga continues today, as Ashton Kutcher threw himself into the mix, and Uber's access to everyone's travel logs was brought to light.

Kutcher is a TV star, a Lenovo product designer, and an investor in Uber. After word spread about Emil Michael's opposition research ideas, Kutcher took to Twitter to inject his opinion into the conversation. "What is so wrong about digging up dirt on shady journalist?" asks Kutcher. He goes on to say that "Questioning the source needs to happen... Always!" The second point is crucial in reporting, absolutely, but Kutcher calling a journalist "shady" for being critical of a company (that criticism is outlined here) is a bit off the mark.

Kutcher has walked his comments back a bit in the following hours, saying "...I'm on the wrong side of this ultimately. I just wish journalists were held to the same standards as public figures." Another important observation -- when it's applicable.

But this isn't even the most embarrassing moment for Uber today, as BuzzFeed has yet another report on the multi-billion-dollar corporation. This time around, it's Uber's "God View" that is being taken to task, as executives with the ridesharing pioneer seemingly have unfettered access to your travel logs.

"Early this November, one of the reporters of this story, Johana Bhuiyan, arrived to Uber's New York headquarters in Long Island City for an interview with Josh Mohrer, the general manager of Uber New York. Stepping out of her vehicle - an Uber car - she found Mohrer waiting for her. 'There you are,' he said, holding his iPhone and gesturing at it. 'I was tracking you.'

Mohrer never asked for permission to track her."

"God View," is an internal tool at the disposal of Uber employees that allows them to track any Uber driver, as well as any Uber customer. The tool isn't supposed to be used unless a "legitimate business purpose," calls for it, like customer support, or troubleshooting.

User data privacy is typically a key element in today's data-driven online ecosystem, so to have your trips to work, home, or anywhere else immediately at the fingertips of an executive that doesn't need that information is unsettling, indeed.

Emil Michael 310x

Original Story: Despite its flaws, Uber is largely seen as a darling in the tech/startup world. You download the app, create an account, and within minutes you're using a car service that blows most traditional cab rides out of the water.

But the ridesharing company's success is now jeopardized by recent comments made by one of its top executives.

During a recent dinner in New York City, Uber SVP Emil Michael suggested that his company should start doing opposition research on journalists and bloggers who publicly criticize the company. According to BuzzFeed, who had an editor present at the dinner, Emil specifically targeted PandoDaily founder Sarah Lacy, who has accused Uber of being sexist in the past.

Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of "sexism and misogyny." She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed News reported that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service.

...

Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber's dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.

Michael said he could see Uber spending one million dollars on such research, bringing in a small team of journalists to dig up information on anyone deemed too critical of the company.

While the dinner was supposed to be off the record, BuzzFeed EIC Ben Smith said that no one told his editor that this was the case. The dinner was attended by HuffPost editor Ariana Huffington, actor Edward Norton, and several Uber execs (including CEO Travis Kalanick).

Michael has since released a statement through Uber:

"The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner - borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for - do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company's views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them."

It's hard to tell if this will have any meaningful impact on Uber's business -- countless customers use Uber several times a week, some even every day as an alternative means to get to work. And for a company that values itself in excess of $17 billion? This might only be the smallest of potholes.

We've reached out to Uber to see if the company has any additional comments on the matter.

Is this the kind of news/move that would keep you from using Uber? Let us know down in the comments.

Source: BuzzFeed | ValleyWag
Image Credit: WSJ

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