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Uber hid database hack from FTC while FTC probed Uber for an earlier database hack

Cab-hailing upstart shows it takes your privacy seriously

Uber hid a database hack from America's Federal Trade Commission (FTC) while the very same watchdog was investigating Uber for a separate database hack, it was revealed on Thursday.

The taxi app maker reached a settlement with the FTC in August 2017 after the biz allegedly "deceived consumers about its privacy and data security practices" when, in 2014, it accidentally allowed hackers to rummage through drivers' personal information held in its Amazon-hosted cloud storage.

But it wasn't only punters that were being deceived: while the regulator was probing that 2014 computer security cockup, the company hid another, more recent, November 2016 database intrusion from the federal investigators.

As a result of that 2016 infiltration – which the upstart publicly acknowledged one year later in November 2017 – no less than 25 million names and email addresses, 22 million mobile phone numbers, and 600,000 drivers licenses, were accessed by miscreants.

Even more strikingly, that private information was exposed in the exact same way as the earlier 2014 screwup that the FTC was digging into: data stored on Amazon Web Services S3 cloud servers was accessed using a key that an Uber engineer had somehow made public on GitHub.

Uber revealed that in 2016 it has paid a "researcher" $100,000 to destroy the information and fed the payment through its bug bounty program. It was later revealed that the person in question was a 20-year-old Florida man who lives with his mom.

I see...

Needless to say, the FTC is not impressed, and has revised its 2017 agreement [PDF] with Uber to include civil penalties if it fails to notify the watchdog of future computer security blunders.

"After misleading consumers about its privacy and security practices, Uber compounded its misconduct by failing to inform the Commission that it suffered another data breach in 2016 while the Commission was investigating the company’s strikingly similar 2014 breach," said Acting FTC Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen.

"The strengthened provisions of the expanded settlement [PDF] are designed to ensure that Uber does not engage in similar misconduct in the future."

Uber self-driving car on a transport truck

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Among the new provisions are a requirement for Uber to submit to the FTC all the reports from third-party audits of its privacy program and to retain bug bounty reports.

The revised FTC agreement has been put out for a month's worth of public comment after which the Commission will decide whether to make it final.

Anyone can theoretically let their views be know, although the FTC has gone to some lengths to limit the likelihood of an internet storm: it will only provide feedback instructions in a supplementary information section within a posting to the Federal Register and hasn't said when that posting will go up.

"When Dara Khosrowshahi joined the company [as CEO], he committed on behalf of every Uber employee that we would learn from our mistakes, change the way we did business and put integrity at the core of every decision we made. Since then we have moved quickly to do just that by taking responsibility for what happened," Uber's chief legal officer Tony West tole El Reg in a statement.

"I am pleased that just a few months after announcing this incident, we have reached a speedy resolution with the FTC that holds Uber accountable for the mistakes of the past by imposing new requirements that reasonably fit the facts." ®

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