#CyberFLASH: Uber should investigate own databases after more claims of bogus fares, privacy experts say

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A string of complaints by customers charged for Uber trips they say they never took has security experts calling on the ride-hailing company to launch a formal investigation to make sure its databases haven’t been breached.

After CBC News reported on the story of Laura Hesp, who lives in Toronto but was billed for an Uber ride taken on her account by someone in Poland, several others came forward to report similar experiences. Uber has warned customers incidents like this may be the result of phishing scams, but experts CBC News spoke to think the company should investigate to rule out the possibility that its own databases have been hacked.

The stories begin the same way. A person receives an unexpected email confirming an Uber cab is minutes away — except the customer hasn’t ordered one and the trip is thousands of kilometres away in another country.

George Sfeir, a 49-year-old Toronto man, says he was in his car on the way to his cottage in rural Ontario in July when he got a bill for an Uber ride he never ordered.

It was one of six bills he would receive over the span of two days for trips taken in Las Vegas, Des Plaines, Ill., and other American cities that Sfeir says he never visited.

Most of the trips ranged in price from $10 to $100. But when he received a bill for a whopping $982 rung up for an Uber trip in Chicago, Sfeir says he began to panic.

“That was really scary,” he says, adding that at first, even his credit card company didn’t believe his story.

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#CyberFLASH: Why Uber has a Canadian privacy problem

15299215336_05b0755a26_oThe mounting battle between Uber, the popular app-based car service, and the incumbent taxi industry has featured court dates in Toronto, undercover sting operations in Ottawa, and a marketing campaign designed to stoke fear among potential Uber customers. As Uber enters a growing number of Canadian cities, the ensuing regulatory fight is typically pitched as a contest between a popular, disruptive online service and a staid taxi industry intent on keeping new competitors out of the market.

If the issue was only a question of choosing between a longstanding regulated industry and a disruptive technology, the outcome would not be in doubt. The popularity of a convenient, well-priced alternative, when contrasted with frustration over a regulated market that artificially limits competition to maintain pricing, is unsurprisingly going to generate enormous public support and will not be regulated out of existence.

While the Uber regulatory battles have focused on whether it constitutes a taxi service subject to local rules, this week a new concern attracted attention: privacy. Regardless of whether it is a taxi service or a technological intermediary, it is clear that Uber collects an enormous amount of sensitive geo-locational information about its users. In addition to payment data, the company accumulates a record of where its customers travel, how long they stay at their destinations, and even where they are located in real-time when using the Uber service.

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