Mobile app-based transportation firm Uber, which connects drivers with passengers, has been the subject of plenty of bad press. Legislators have criticized the company for its lax driver screening process and some passengers have claimed that they've been physically or sexually assaulted by Uber drivers. Allegations of drivers raping passengers have made international headlines.
Uber is taking steps to ensure the physical safety of its users as the service grows to encompass millions of trips a day in 300 cities across 56 nations. Beyond investing in data infrastructure to improve safety and security, the company is also hiring talent. Uber’s latest move has Joe Sullivan, former chief security officer (CSO) at Facebook, coming on board.
“It’s easy to see the Uber logo on your phone and think of us as just an app. But in many ways we’ve become a critical part of the infrastructure of cities,” Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber, wrote in a blog post. “We are both in cyberspace and on city streets all at once; a bridge between bits and atoms. And as we get into tens of millions of rides a week, we continue to challenge ourselves to do even better when it comes to safety and data security.”
A Security Pioneer
Sullivan spent five years at Facebook in the CSO seat and will officially come on board in late April. Sullivan also spent seven years at eBay and PayPal before his Facebook tenure, as well as eight years with the Department of Justice pioneering cybercrime prosecution.
“It’s no longer about traditional metrics for safe transportation or keeping our community’s data private and secure, but about how we lead efforts to redefine and strengthen physical and data security in the location-based world,” Kalanick said. “We see opportunities ahead not just in technology, through biometrics and driver monitoring, but in the potential for inspiring collaborations with city and state governments around the world. Our goal is to redefine what it means to be a world-class, people-centric protector of privacy.”
We caught up with Greg Sterling, Vice President of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association, to get his thoughts on the move. He told us adding Sullivan as CSO reflects the new and additional lengths companies are starting to go to improve data security and guard against data breaches.
“It also is part of Uber's efforts to repair its reputation,” Sterling said. “Data security will ultimately be critical to a brand's value and reputation and will have a material effect on consumer usage and revenues.”
Impacting People’s Lives
Sullivan pointed to his experience working at eBay and Facebook during phases of rapid growth at those companies. He said he plans to bring the best practices he’s learned on his journey to Uber and do defining work to bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds.
“There’s a great foundation of safety already in place; my goal is to make it even stronger,” Sullivan said. “This is a chance to help build the culture of a young and growing organization, and to continue building upon the safety and security initiatives that are the backbone of Uber’s success.”
How did Uber woo Sullivan away from Facebook? It’s not clear and Sullivan said it wasn’t an easy decision to leave the social media giant. But he sees the move as a challenge where he gets to “take what makes Silicon Valley special and apply it to a product that directly impacts people’s lives every day as they move around the world’s cities.”