Uber facing questions over how it knew Transport for London boss used app | Uber
The former London transport commissioner Sir Peter Hendy has questioned whether Uber unlawfully accessed his journey records after the Guardian revealed leaked company files contained a reference to trips he had taken on the app.
Hendy’s name was included on an “outreach grid” of Uber’s key lobbying targets, including Boris Johnson, the then mayor of London, contained in the Uber files, a leak of data to the Guardian.
The files also reveal how a senior London employee used a surveillance tool codenamed “Heaven” and “God View” to track the journey of a colleague. The app allowed Uber staff to monitor movements of people travelling in an Uber vehicle.
There is nothing in the files to suggest the surveillance tool was used to monitor Hendy’s rides. However, a reference in the leaked documents raises questions about how Uber knew about his use of its app.
Dated March 2014, the note describes how Hendy, who was the commissioner of Transport for London (TfL) at the time, had “used an Uber car twice last week”.
Hendy told the Guardian he had not told Uber about his usage of the app and believed the note raised questions over whether the company knew about it because of an “unlawful use of their records”.
“If they had looked at their records and seen I used an Uber car twice that would of course have been an unlawful use of their records,” he said.
He said this would have been “not hard to do, as I only use apps like Uber and the taxi apps in my real name – and not surprising bearing in mind what is generally known about their behaviour at that time”.
Hendy said he regularly used apps such as Uber because he believed he should experience the services that TfL was licensing.
Meanwhile, the files also show that Uber’s Heaven tool was used at least once in its UK office. Until now, its use on British soil had not been reported. In October 2014, Jo Bertram – then Uber’s regional manager for northern Europe – appears to have used the software to monitor the journey of a colleague.
Mark MacGann, an in-house lobbyist, and the source of the Uber files, emailed to say he was running late to a meeting, complaining about experiencing “heavy” traffic coming from London City airport.
“I’m watching you on Heaven – already saw the ETA [estimated time of arrival],” Bertram wrote.
MacGann replied: “That tool scares the hell out of me.”
In relation to the possible accessing of Hendy’s records, Ravi Naik, a leading data protection expert at the data rights agency AWO, said: “If true, there is cause for serious concern about the legality of Uber’s processing. It is difficult to see how it could be lawful for Uber to use its systems in this way. The implication is that Uber was using personal information in opaque ways, contrary to their legal obligation of transparency and to only use data for specified purposes.
“The fact that this was even possible strongly suggests that Uber’s systems and practices were not consistent with core legal principles enshrined in the data protection regime.”
Bertram, who left Uber in 2017, declined to comment on the use of Heaven, which Uber is understood to have permitted staff to use at the time. There is no suggestion she was involved in possibly accessing Hendy’s records, or that she used Uber’s tools to monitor anyone else’s movements.
Uber said the use of Heaven was discontinued in 2017 and it could not find any record of Hendy’s journeys being tracked using the tool.
The existence of Heaven emerged in 2014, when Forbes reported that it used the tool as a party trick to impress guests at a launch event hosted by the company’s then chief executive, Travis Kalanick.
Two years later, an ex-employee who was suing the company for discrimination alleged that staff abused Heaven to spy on celebrities including Beyoncé, high-profile politicians and even acquaintances such as ex-boyfriends and girlfriends.