Customer Privacy Of Food App Users Threatened By Uber Founder-Backed Group

By Hazel Trice Edney

(Trice Edney Wire) – The pursuit of political capital typically begins in earnest—legislators act on an idea they believe will improve the quality of life for their constituents. However, making laws is rapidly inundated with personal ideals, unnecessary opinions, and intrusions of well-heeled outside interests working only to benefit their bottom line.

This is especially true as new technologies revolutionize marketplaces. Yet, many often forget that while guidelines are necessary to navigating uncharted economic waters, lawmakers should only proceed with only full awareness of potential negative consequences that could disproportionately impact Black people and other communities of color.

Such is the case with recent legislative initiatives in a handful of states and cities around the country, the most recent being Miami-Dade County in Florida. Targeting new, app-based platforms offering accessible food options and secondary income streams for hundreds of thousands of Americans, these political proposals would require these platforms to collect and share private personal account information—putting all users’ data at risk.

The initiatives would require companies like Grubhub and DoorDash to share “contact information” with restaurants, grocery stores, and convenience stores for each transaction on the app. While the details of what constitutes “contact information” isn’t always specified, it likely includes delivery addresses, phone numbers, and emails–at a minimum. The idea is to effectively require platforms to disclose commissions and payments received by partner restaurants and third-party app employees.

The data-sharing requirements undermine prevailing trends in privacy law that place more control over personal information in the hands of the individual. Privacy laws generally provide individuals with the right to know what information businesses store, control when it is disclosed or sold, and ask that it be deleted. In contrast to those rights, these bills mandate the disclosure of personal information to private businesses regardless of a customer’s preference, and fails to even provide an opt-out to allow the customer to exercise control over how their information is shared. In essence, it compels companies to disclose information they would not otherwise share.

This Miami-Dade effort is a carbon copy of legislation being pushed in other states, such as Georgia, by the Digital Restaurant Association (DRA)—an organization with close ties to Travis Kalanick. Kalanick is the founder of Uber, who was ousted after his tenure was plagued by a series of privacy scandals, discrimination complaints, and allegations of sexual misconduct.

Kalanick’s proclivity to harvest sensitive information about individuals was well documented. In 2017, the New York Times reported that Uber employees were using an app called Greyball to operate in places where service was deemed illegal—essentially sidestepping the authorities and the law. Kalanick regularly abused Apple’s privacy rules—”fingerprinting” users to identify their accounts and “geofencing” locations to digitally identify reviewers of Uber’s software. In 2014, when a woman was raped by an Uber driver, Kalanick’s executives met with Delhi police and obtained the accuser’s medical records—a clear violation of privacy law. Recently, Kalanick was sued in 2021 for paying female and racial minority employees lower salaries and compensation than their male or white counterparts.

In the aftermath of his termination, faced with a lack of power and access, Kalanick has set his sights on the downfall of third party delivery platforms through a illegitimate “astroturf” groups. The Digital Restaurant Association purports to “challenge fees and gain access to consumer data.” The group was formed in 2022 by Tusk Holdings, a lobbying firm employed by none other than Kalanick’s company City Storage Systems.

Kalanick also has a significant conflict of interest. Cloud Kitchens, a startup founded by Kalanick would benefit dramatically from the proposed Miami Dade law. Cloud Kitchens, and Otter – its food app, are competing with the other apps for market share.
Now, DRA is advocating for regional privacy legislation fundamentally at odds with consumer protections on behalf of a man with a documented history of storing data illegally, stripped of the power to do so.

Any forthcoming proposals must safeguard users—especially those most vulnerable—rather than put their data at risk. Black and Hispanic individuals are most likely to take up gig-work, compromising over half of workers in the industry. Nearly one-third of Hispanic adults have earned income through the gig economy, while over a quarter of African-American adults have earned money through these platforms. In Miami-Dade county, itself, nearly 83 percent of residents identify as either Hispanic or Black.

This ill-advised efforts would only further harm these communities.