Courtesy uber.comAn Oakland journalist says she is fearful Uber — which she uses — could mine data from its app to figure out sources she talked to for a story about CEO Travis Kalanick.

Uber outrage spurs local fear of retaliation

A local journalist fears she may face personal retaliation from app-based transit company Uber, according to her sources at the tech transit company.

The local controversy arises in the shadow of a viral national story, as Buzzfeed reported Tuesday that an Uber executive said he wished to retaliate against journalists writing perceived hostile news coverage.

Now a local reporter says she is worried for her sources, and also for herself.

Ellen Cushing recently wrote a profile of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick for San Francisco Magazine titled “The Smartest Bro in the Room.” On Tuesday, she said that her sources for the story, whom she kept anonymous, told her they feared Uber would use GPS travel data from Cushing's use of the app, and use that data to discern their identities.

In her story, Cushing wrote of Uber, “As a matter of course, it routinely and aggressively sidesteps the law and regulation; violates industry norms; ignores ethical boundaries; and tramples on competitive relationships. In this and many other ways, San Francisco's most controversial startup has become a symbol of the place that birthed it, a small city that is rapidly–and at times clumsily–growing into a world power.”

Her sources said they feared they would be fired, or targeted with punitive action.

Uber did not respond to calls to comment for this article.

Cushing, 23, is legally blind and cannot drive. Living in Oakland, she said Uber is her only reliable mode of travel. This makes her particularly vulnerable to Uber should it mine data to blackmail her.

“I use it all the time,” she said, “it's a great product.”

But the data could reveal GPS location of her home or any source she comes into contact with, she said.

Buzzfeed reported that Uber Senior Vice President Emil Michael said at a dinner that he planned to hire top opposition researchers to “fight back” against journalists whom he found hostile to the transit company.

He'd look into “your personal lives, your families,” Michael reportedly said, and “give the media a taste of its own medicine.”

Cushing's sources said peering into personal data of Uber users is easy.

Michael focused criticism on journalist Sarah Lacy of Silicon Valley site Pandodaily, who recently wrote an article that featured remarks by Michael that many readers found sexist. In protest, users across the country began deleting Uber from their phones.

“I'm uninstalling Uber. Each of you should do so too,” tweeted local columnist Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass-Stuart. “You wanna bully women reporters? We'll bully you with our wallets.”

Kalanick apologized via Twitter, writing “[Michael's] remarks showed a lack of leadership, a lack of humanity, and a departure from our values and ideals.”

Bay Area NewsSF MagazineTravis KalanickUber

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