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Tag: Privacy

Digital Ad Company Will Pay $750,000 For Bypassing Browser Privacy Settings

Two years after Google settled a lawsuit for the same practices — installing software on Apple products that bypass cookie blockers — PointRoll reaches a multi-state settlement, BuzzFeed News reports exclusively.

Carlo Allegri / Reuters


In 2012, Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer found that PointRoll, a Gannett-owned company, along with Google, Vibrant Media, and Media Innovation Group were using code in their advertisements that circumvented cookie blockers many Apple products and browsers have installed by default. In March of 2012, a private class action suit was filed against both Google and PointRoll and a year later Google settled the suit. The attorney generals of the multi-state suit led by New Jersey then began to investigate PointRoll.

Now, two years after the original report, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that PointRoll has settled for $ 750,000. According to an announcement that BuzzFeed News received exclusively, New York State will receive an estimated $ 110,000 out of the settlement. The remaining settlement will be divided among New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and Illinois — all of which were parties to the suit.

By bypassing cookie blockers in Safari, PointRoll was able to configure their advertisements to follow users from site to site and gather information about users in spite of any privacy settings. According to a Wall Street Journal report, the cookie-bypassing code was present in advertisements on 10 of the top 100 U.S. websites. PointRoll ran these ads between December 13, 2011 and February 15, 2012.

As part of the settlement PointRoll, which was founded in 2000 and acquired by Gannett in 2005, will also have to “implement a privacy program within six months that includes employee training,” “not misrepresent or omit material facts concerning the purposes for which it collects and users consumer information,” and “cooperate with compliance monitoring by the participating sites,” among other things.

“When it comes to the privacy of consumers on the Internet, every company is expected to play by the same set of rules: No one should have to fear a business is violating their privacy by bypassing personal settings on their computers or mobile devices,” A.G. Schneiderman said.

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BuzzFeed – Tech

Sen. Al Franken Demands Lyft Explain Its Privacy Policies

The senator expresses concern that Lyft’s revised restrictions on access to customer data still does not clearly define which Lyft employees have access.

Jose A. Iglesias/Miami Herald / MCT

In a letter to Lyft, U.S. Senator Al Franken called on the transit company and Uber's biggest competitor to provide explicit details about its privacy policy.

“Consumers must be able to make informed decisions about whether and with whom they share personal information, and must be assured that when such information is shared it will receive the utmost protection,” the letter reads.

The letter comes after BuzzFeed News reported that a NY Uber executive accessed this reporter's data and information without permission. Though Lyft employees, as BuzzFeed News reported (a story that Sen. Franken later cited), have the same access to user data that Uber employees do the company chose not to comment on the privacy issues or their general privacy rules as “a matter of policy.”

Sen. Franken, the chairman of the subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, included a list of 10 questions for Lyft to answer. Specifically, in light of revised restrictions on which employees have access to user information that a Lyft spokeswoman said the company imposed, Sen. Franken asked that Lyft disclose which employees still have access to data and what qualifies as a proper use of data. Furthermore, the Minnesota senator asks that Lyft explain whether accessing Re/Code reporter Liz Gannes' account without permission was a violation of past or current policies.

The senator also asks Lyft to divulge what kind of privacy training employees underwent and what methods of monitoring “improper use of customer data” Lyft has employed.

“It is critically important that sound privacy policies are not only established but are also adequately communicated to employees and affiliates, as well as customers, and are appropriately enforced,” Sen. Franken writes. “I am particularly concerned about this in light of reports of past conduct suggesting inadequate regard among Lyft executives for customers' privacy.”

Sen. Franken asks that Lyft respond by December 31.

BuzzFeed – Tech

Uber NYC General Manager Faced “Disciplinary Actions” For Privacy Violations

A BuzzFeed News report prompted Uber to investigate Josh Mohrer for accessing this reporter’s account without express permission.

Josh Mohrer, Uber NYC general manager, at a TLC public hearing earlier this year.

BuzzFeed News

An Uber spokesperson said the company has “taken disciplinary actions” against Josh Mohrer, the New York City general manager, after launching an investigation into two separate incidents and possible privacy violations 10 days ago.

Mohrer, as BuzzFeed News reported, accessed this reporter's personal Uber account twice without express permission, including one occasion during which he tracked a ride in real time.

Only a day after the initial BuzzFeed News report about Mohrer's actions and SVP Emil Michael's comments suggesting the company hire opposition researchers to dig up dirt on journalists, Uber head of communications Nairi Hourdajian wrote and published the company's privacy policy on the site for the first time. However, the policy itself, according to Hourdajian, has always been in place and in fact employees are notified of the policy multiple times including in writing.

“Violations of this policy do result in disciplinary action, including the possibility of termination and legal action,” a previous statement from the company read.

As Slate first reported, Uber would not go into detail about what the disciplinary action would entail or whether these actions affect his role as general manager in Uber's second largest market in the United States. As the incidents and Mohrer's actions warranted disciplinary action, it's clear the company found them in violation of its privacy policy.

BuzzFeed News reached out for more information, including who performed the investigation and exactly what action Mohrer faced, but Uber representative Natalia Montalvo said they were not providing any additional details.

BuzzFeed – Tech

Amid User Concerns, Uber Rolls Out Its Privacy Policy

The company acted after a BuzzFeed News report .

Uber unveiled a brand new privacy policy today, nearly 24 hours after BuzzFeed News reported that SVP Emil Michael suggested hiring opposition researchers to find and publish personal information on journalists covering the company.

The policy, unveiled on the company's blog states that “Uber has a strict policy prohibiting all employees at every level from accessing a rider or driver's data. The only exception to this policy is for a limited set of legitimate business purposes.”

Nairi Hourdajian, head of communications at Uber, told BuzzFeed News that Uber has strict policies against employees accessing journalists' personal Uber accounts. However, on two occasions Uber NY general manager Josh Mohrer accessed this reporter's account without express permission — a fact Hourdajian was made aware of, and which BuzzFeed News reported Monday.

Prior to BuzzFeed News' report Uber did not have a published policy addressing the privacy of users' accounts. The policy specifically prohibits accessing accounts unless it's for a “limited set of business purposes,” which include rider and driver support or facilitating transactions for drivers.

BuzzFeed – Tech

“God View:” Uber Investigates Its Top New York Executive For Privacy Violations

In the wake of a BuzzFeed News story, the transit company is looking into the official’s tracking of a journalist’s location.

BuzzFeed News

Uber said Tuesday that it is investigating its top New York executive for tracking a BuzzFeed News reporter without her permission in violation of what the transit giant says has long been its privacy policy. The company also published its privacy policy for the first time on Tuesday, though it said the policy had always been in effect.

Uber took both actions in the wake of a BuzzFeed News story that revealed that the reporter's ride had been tracked without her permission and that another Uber executive had suggested the company might smear journalists who wrote critically of Uber. The executive who suggested digging into the private lives of journalists, Emil Michael, said his comments were “wrong” and that he regrets them.

Tracking customers is easy using an internal company tool called “God View,” two former Uber employees told BuzzFeed News. They said God View, which shows the location of Uber vehicles and customers who have requested a car, was widely available to corporate employees. Drivers, who operate as contractors, do not have access to God View.

Early this November, one of the reporters of this story, Johana Bhuiyan, arrived to Uber's New York headquarters in Long Island City for an interview with Josh Mohrer, the general manager of Uber New York. Stepping out of her vehicle — an Uber car — she found Mohrer waiting for her. “There you are,” he said, holding his iPhone and gesturing at it. “I was tracking you.”

Mohrer never asked for permission to track her.

Two months earlier, to make a point about questions Bhuiyan had asked about ride-share competitor Lyft, Mohrer had emailed her logs of some of her Uber trips. He had not asked for permission to access her data.

Uber said access to and use of its data is permitted only for legitimate business purposes and that violations result in disciplinary action, including the possibility of termination and legal action. It also said it is investigating Mohrer's actions in tracking Bhuiyan and accessing her logs.

The two former Uber employees, both of whom worked at the company until this spring and requested anonymity, said that God View was easily accessible to staff across the company. One said employee said that he never saw unauthorized use of the tool; the other declined to answer that question.

Venture capitalist Peter Sims wrote about being tracked in a blog post this September. Back in 2011, he wrote, he was in an Uber car in Manhattan when he started receiving text messages from someone he barely knew telling him exactly where he was. That person later told him that she was at an Uber launch party in Chicago, where Sims' movements were being tracked via God View on a large public screen.

“After learning this,” he wrote, “I expressed my outrage to her that the company would use my information and identity to promote its services without my permission. She told me to calm down, and that it was all a 'cool' event and as if I should be honored to have been one of the chosen.”

Uber did not respond to BuzzFeed News questions about this incident.

The company, which had not previously published its privacy policy, unveiled it Tuesday on its blog. “Uber has a strict policy prohibiting all employees at every level from accessing a rider or driver's data,” it states. “The only exception to this policy is for a limited set of legitimate business purposes.” Such purposes include solving problems for riders and drivers, monitoring accounts for fraudulent activity, and facilitating driver transactions. The company said the policy has always been in place and that employees agree to it when they join Uber.

On Tuesday afternoon, after Uber CEO Travis Kalanick tweeted a condemnation of Uber exec Michael's comments, Mohrer suggested the storm had passed, tweeting a celebratory image from the Uber New York office. He deleted it shortly after posting:

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