Uber's troublesome history with customer privacy issues took another hit on Monday, in the form of a lawsuit over allegations that Uber's employees spied on celebrities and former romantic partners.
Ward Spangenberg, a former forensic investigator for Uber, is suing the company for wrongful termination, age discrimination and defamation, according to court documents. The lawsuit was first reported by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
Spangenberg alleges that sensitive information collected by Uber was widely available to employees, who then used it to "track high profile politiciains, celebrities and even personal acquaintances of Uber employees, including ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, and ex-spouses." He also alleges that driver information was also freely available to Uber employees. An Uber spokesperson said that Spangenberg's claims are "absolutely untrue" and that the company had built a system of administrative controls that limited who could see user data.
The Center of Investigative Reporting also spoke with other former Uber security professionals that echoed Spangenberg's concern. Beyoncé was reportedly among the celebrities that Uber employees were able to track thank to the availability of user data.
Uber's reputation for privacy is less-than-stellar. The company's previously been under fire in 2014 for its "God View," which Uber would show off at private parties, and included non-anonymized, real-time information about its users (the company also used "God View" on a journalist who was arriving for meetings with Uber). An Uber executive also said at a dinner that it should think about digging up dirt on critics and journalists.
More recently, Uber introduced a change that requires users to allow the company to track their locations even when not using the app. A LinkedIn profile associated with Spangenberg showed that he worked for Uber from March 2015 to February 2016. Before that, he worked at a variety of companies in information security roles, including Zynga, Pearl.com, social network Tagged and currently as founder of tech consultancy Gordius Systems.
Beyond the privacy accusations, Spangenberg also claims that Uber deleted information that was "subject to litigation hold" and also would lock down offices and cut connectivity to the outside when raided by governments for noncompliance.