Oh God. Not my Uber, Man

For my next magic trick, I’ll ruin your ride share service.

All of our previous posts have focused on the collection of data. From scraping to angry birds to data brokers, we have looked at the first part of the transaction – Tracking.

I’d like to shift to the second part – Using It.

For our first example, Uber.

These guys have been doing a great job of ruining their own reputations. Despite their bad press, total rides continue to rise. How else will you get back from the bar on Saturday? It’s cool, your Sunday morning anti-Trump tweets will absolve you of guilt.

Despite their bad press, we still get the sense they are the people’s choice. They have disrupted the riding industry. We have the power now. We can click a button and travel anywhere we want! FREEDOM!!!

For some. What if I told you Uber was using user data profiles to target specific people and not give them rides?

I’m actually telling you that. That exact sentence.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/technology/uber-greyball-program-evade-authorities.html

Our riding overloads Uber are not always popular with the authorities. They sort of make a point of it. For years, in areas that were actively working to ban or regulate Uber, they used data tracking software to target potential authorities and not give them rides.

Using a compilation of data points, Uber’s algorithms would determine if the ride-hailer was a member of the government or organization that was working against them.

If so, the system would give them a static version of Uber. No rides would come. While this seems sort of silly, the implications of it are scary.

Think pre and immediately post segregation. Restaurants and businesses could refuse to serve people on any basis. Pre-segregation, that meant they could refuse people of color on law. Pst segregation, they could refuse service to people of color based on “principle”.

As time wore on, this became less and less acceptable (thankfully) and business had to become tolerant or risk failing. The key to this change was public opinion. The public would see or hear about an incidence of segregation or intolerance and exercise their political and economic influence against that business.

But what if you went to a restaurant and just never saw people of color. No one was being turned away at the door. There were no protests. There just weren’t any people of color. What if that business could somehow prevent them from ever coming without you knowing?

That is the power of the Uber “GreyBall” program. It’s subversive digital segregation.

Sure, this version was only used to mildly inconvenience authorities. But don’t you see? The tech is there. We all know the will to do evil is there.

Where there is smoke, there is bound to be fire.