Uber found to have interfered with privacy

23 July 2021
Tags: media release

Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk has determined that Uber Technologies, Inc. and Uber B.V. interfered with the privacy of an estimated 1.2 million Australians.

Commissioner Falk found the Uber companies failed to appropriately protect the personal data of Australian customers and drivers, which was accessed in a cyber attack in October and November 2016.

The determination follows detailed investigations into US-based Uber Technologies Inc and Dutch-based Uber B.V. which involved significant jurisdictional matters and complex corporate arrangements and information flows.

While Uber required the attackers to destroy the data and there was no evidence of further misuse, the investigation by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) focused on whether Uber had preventative measures in place to protect Australians’ data.

Commissioner Falk found the Uber companies breached the Privacy Act 1988 by not taking reasonable steps to protect Australians’ personal information from unauthorised access and to destroy or de-identify the data as required. They also failed to take reasonable steps to implement practices, procedures and systems to ensure compliance with the Australian Privacy Principles.

Rather than disclosing the breach responsibly, Uber paid the attackers a reward through a bug bounty program for identifying a security vulnerability. Uber did not conduct a full assessment of the personal information that may have been accessed until almost a year after the data breach and did not publicly disclose the data breach until November 2017. 

Commissioner Falk said regulatory action was warranted in Australia following action taken in other jurisdictions in relation to the cyber attack.

“We need to ensure that in future Uber protects the personal information of Australians in line with the Privacy Act,” she said.

“The matter also raises complex issues around the application of the Privacy Act to overseas-based companies that outsource the handling of Australians’ personal information to other companies within their corporate group.”

In this case, Australians’ personal information had been directly transferred to servers in the United States under an outsourcing arrangement, and the US-based company argued it was not subject to the Privacy Act.

Commissioner Falk said she was satisfied both Uber companies were required to comply with the Privacy Act.

“This determination makes my view of global corporations’ responsibilities under Australian privacy law clear,” Commissioner Falk said.

“Australians need assurance that they are protected by the Privacy Act when they provide personal information to a company, even if it is transferred overseas within the corporate group.”

Commissioner Falk has ordered the Uber companies to:

  • prepare, implement and maintain a data retention and destruction policy, information security program, and incident response plan that will ensure the companies comply with the Australian Privacy Principles
  • appoint an independent expert to review and report on these policies and programs and their implementation, submit the reports to the OAIC, and make any necessary changes recommended in the reports.

The full determination can be found at oaic.gov.au/privacy-determinations

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