ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) — Uber has gone to court to ensure confidentiality over records it provided for New York’s investigation of how the ride-sharing service secures data.
New York began collecting the information two years ago after media reports surfaced about real-time tracking of rides — known internally as “God View” — that included personal information about riders.
The attorney general’s office said one prompt for the investigation was a report by BuzzFeed reporter Johana Bhuiyan that Uber’s New York general manager greeted her at the company’s New York City office as she alighted from an Uber car, saying, “There you are. I was tracking you.”
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reached a settlement with Uber in January that ensures better privacy protocols, but not before the procedural drama “Elementary” fictionalized the technology for a “ripped-from the headlines” episode. In Sherlock-verse, the rideshare company is Zoos, and God View is Olympus.
The controversy re-entered the spotlight Friday, however, as Uber filed suit to ensure that Schneiderman and his office keep the information it supplied out of public view.
Filed in Albany County Supreme Court, the petition says Uber received notice in March that Schneiderman’s office had received a request for the investigatory file, even though Uber had asked for confidential treatment of the information and documents at the time it turned them over.
Uber does not indicate who made the request under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, which requires all units of state and local government to make information relating to their decisionmaking available upon request.
FOIL, as the law is known, is based on a presumption of access, according to the statute, although exceptions are made for disclosures that would endanger life or personal privacy, compromise law enforcement investigations, or harm the competitive position of businesses.
Uber says it submitted a so-called statement of necessity to Schneiderman in April, presenting evidence that the submitted material “reflected confidential information exempt from disclosure [under FOIL], including commercially valuable information that would otherwise be unavailable to Uber’s competitors and the public.”
The company says it went back and forth with Schneiderman’s office several times before the agency issued a final decision on May 5 that exempted some information from disclosure but not all of it.
Uber says the office has agreed not to disclose its records before the lawsuit resolves.
According to the petition, the information Uber supplied to the attorney general is “competitively sensitive” and includes trades secrets — both of which are exempt from disclosure under FOIL.
“If disclosed, these records would allow a competitor or other party to gain insights about the potential or possible vulnerabilities of Uber’s systems,” the petition states.
In addition to giving competitors the opportunity to rip off its business model, Uber says the data also could let a third party compromise its “data security directly.”
Uber provided the information at issue in response to an attorney general’s probe, so the company “thus enjoys categorical exemption from disclosure,” the petition states.
Schneiderman’s office would only discourage similar cooperation from companies if it released the confidential information, the petition continues.
Demanding a permanent bar protecting the information, Uber sued Schneiderman and his office, plus records access officer Michael Jerry and records appeals officer Kathryn Sheingold.
Keith Miller of Perkins Coie in Manhattan represents San Francisco-based Uber Technologies.
Uber customers use a mobile app to hail rides, which drivers answer using their own vehicles. The company is in competition with traditional taxi and car service businesses, as well as other app-based ride-sharing firms.
Back when Schneiderman announced the settlement, he said God View offered a real-time aerial view of car movement that supervisors use to balance supply and demand, helping to avoid clustering in one section of town while riders await service in another.
When Uber collected certain personal information from riders — name, email address, phone number and payment instrument — it made that data available as cars were tracked in real time on God View.
Schneiderman’s office said Uber eliminated all personal information from God View during the investigation.
Under the settlement, Uber agreed to encrypt geolocation information on riders and limit access to that data to certain designated employees. Schneiderman said the company also agreed to protective technologies for storing, accessing and transferring private information, and adopted a multilevel authentication process for accessing it.
Uber paid a $20,000 penalty under the settlement, as well, part of a separate probe into a September 2014 data breach of drivers’ names and license numbers. The fine was for failing to timely reveal the breach to Schneiderman’s office and to drivers.
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