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Senator Al Franken goes after Uber on privacy

A sticker with the Uber logo is displayed in the window of a car.Photograph by Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Sen. Al Franken has raised a series of privacy questions in a letter to Uber, the ride-hailing service that is under assault after one of its executives talked about digging up dirt on journalists.

Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota who serves as chairman of the subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law, wrote Uber CEO Travis Kalanick on Wednesday asking about the company’s policies around data sharing, geolocation of customers and employee training.

The letter comes two days after a news report by Buzzfeed that said Emil Michael, a senior vice president for Uber, had boasted about fighting back against unfavorable coverage by hiring an opposition research firm to look into the personal lives of journalists.

“The reports suggest a troubling disregard for customers’ privacy, including the need to protect their sensitive geolocation data,” Franken wrote.

He added that Michael’s statements do not match the company’s privacy policies.

“This raises serious concerns for me about the scope, transparency, and enforceability of Uber’s policies,” Franken said.

Sen. Franken listed 10 questions for Kalanick including a clarifications about Michael’s comments, whether he was punished for them and the types of information the company collects about its customers. He asked that the CEO respond by Dec. 15.

Kalanick took to Twitter yesterday to respond to the media storm by saying Michael’s comments “showed a lack of leadership, a lack of humanity, and a departure from our values and ideals” without making any mention of whether he had been disciplined or fired. Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Franken’s letter.

On Wednesday, news broke that Uber is investigating a New York executive for allegedly tracking a reporter’s location during a ride from an Uber driver without her permission.