08:55 10th Dec, 2019
Uber Shares Data, Investors Say Not Cool
Technology ensures law enforcement to make the world a safer place, but the question is how do enterprises and security agencies work together in this era of data privacy concerns
Ever wondered if it’s possible to access someone’s profile and finding that they had a police record or that intelligence agencies had reported suspicious activity in the past? Sounds like science fiction right? But, the fact is that ever since internet became all-pervasive, there is little that individuals can hope to hide, unless of course they are totally incognito in digital space.
In India, we have the National Crime Records which was founded in 1986 as part of government’s efforts to collect and analyse crime data as per provisions of law and with the motto of “Empowering Indian Police with Technology.” In the past, the challenge was to have various pipelines that get such data from all possible sources and flow them into the database.
With the advent of the internet and social media, the amount of data available for analysis has suddenly grown manifold. However, there is another problem that has now come to fore. That of data security and privacy concerns. A section of the intelligentsia argues that data that is stored cannot be shared without prior permission, while another says that if this becomes law, there’d be no way that profiling and crime prevention could exist in its current form.
This isn’t an Indian problem though with the Union Cabinet clearing the Data Protection Bill there is bound to be heated discussion on what constitutes data privacy and where agencies can seek data from private enterprise and what constitutes data privacy for individuals and enterprises. But, that’s another topic for some other time.
For the moment let’s see how data sharing is perceived by the world today. Recently, Uber had released a safety report for the United States that gave out data about sexual abuse complaints filed over 2017 and 2018. For a cab aggregator, this data could be readily available given that customers abroad are readier with their complaints than those in India.
While one may question the company for delaying the report, which we believe should have been available at the mere click of a button, the other angle is that though they gave details of the number of such crimes, what was it all meant to achieve? Does it mean that in spite of their best efforts at providing security to the riders, there were more than 3,000 such cases reported?
Mind you, Uber had taken enough precautions to ensure security of the rider by integrating emergency numbers and allow the traveller to share their live location during the ride etc.
Be that as it may, what happened post Uber’s sharing is what was astounding. The company’s market value fell by a whopping $1.5 billion in a single day. Because retail investors didn’t take kindly to the company admitting that in spite of their best efforts, they had to accept that men will be men! Of course, Uber boss Dara Khosrowshahi was unfazed and tweeted that there’s more in the pipeline.
Now imagine the scale of such disclosures if Uber has to make public the shenanigans of randy males from 65 more countries? Currently, the company may not even be collecting data from countries like India where lady passengers are loathe to complain. Cases of how Uber refunded the fare to women who did complain comes to light once in a while. India requires some tough laws to make cab aggregators do more for safety, starting with taking their own rating systems seriously and possibly having a hotline to some executive in case of emergencies which is totally absent given that Uber in India doesn’t even have a back office where you ever speak to a person.
The problem requires some lateral thought. Instead of always hoping to find a cop at the scene of a crime against women or even when one is being contemplated, wouldn’t it be a better idea to turn to the peers of these prospective criminals instead? What if Uber has an emergency button on the app, which identifies the location of a cab and despatches two or three more cab drivers to the location? And how about having a safety rating for drivers exclusively showing up for women passengers?
The point is simple. Can government find alternative means to ensure safety and security of its citizens? The concept of neighbourhood watch scheme is as old as civilization. Why can’t some of these ideas be incorporated into making the world safer?
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