Uber, Airbnb Threaten Privacy, Watchdog Warns

    Feb 08, 2017

    Canadian Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien’s office has warned that “shared-economy” companies such as Uber and Airbnb are creating a growing risk to private information.

    In documents obtained by the Toronto Star under the access to information law, Therrien’s office suggested that no one knows who ultimately controls the sensitive personal data, including location and financial information, these companies collect.

    The documents state: “In the sharing economy, certain personal information – going well beyond that traditionally needed for reserving lodging and hailing taxis – is collected to establish identity and trust. It is of great concern what might happen with (personal information) in the sharing economy in the event of a breach, especially given lack of clarity regarding accountability.”

    Some sharing-economy apps collect large amounts of user data. A ride-sharing app like Uber might know where you travel, including your home and workplace, and when you go there.

    Therrien’s office said it had received “several” complaints about sharing-economy companies potentially violating Canadians’ privacy. A Therrien spokesperson said the office is in the early stages of looking into the issue.

    It’s not the first time Uber has come under scrutiny for its privacy practices. In 2014, reports revealed that the company had a “God view” of their service, which can track users’ movements in real time. A 2016 report from the Centre for Investigation Reporting said Uber employees could track the movement of ex-spouses, celebrities, and politicians.

    Ottawa released a report in 2015 describing the risks posed by the sharing-economy industry to Canada’s social safety net, including employment insurance and old age security, Ottawa’s ability to collect taxes, and the federal government’s enforcement of labor laws such as minimum wage.

    The documents released by the privacy watchdog make clear that more research is needed.

    “There is a need to gather more empirical data to help inform good policies and regulations that balance the benefits of this novel sector with adequate protections for those who engage in it,” the documents state.


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