More trouble for Uber, Lyft on Capitol Hill

Uber and Lyft are coming under new criticism from Capitol Hill.

The upstart ride-hailing companies earned new ire from two top Democrats on the powerful Senate Commerce Committee over the protections they put in place for customers’ data.

In particular, Sens. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonBottom Line Bottom Line Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity MORE (D-Fla.) and Clare McCaskill (D-Mo.) raised concerns about officials’ reported ability to easily track users’ location without their knowledge or consent — a feature known as “God View” at Uber.

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“These reports are disturbing because geolocation data can be used to create intimate profiles of customers, such as where they live, work and socialize,” the senators wrote in a just-released letter to Uber head Travis Kalanick. A similar letter was sent to Lyft CEO Logan Green. 

Nelson is slated to be the top Democrat on the Commerce Committee next year, and McCaskill is the current chairwoman of the consumer protection subcommittee.

In their letters, the senators demanded copies of the companies’ documents detailing their data security and privacy protection plans as well as a briefing from top officials about the practices.

They also pointedly raised the specter of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is required to police unfair and deceptive business practices and is under the jurisdiction of the Commerce panel. The FTC never discloses when it is investigating a company, though many watchers have speculated that it could be looking into Uber and Lyft.

“The Commission’s cases have cut a wide swath across industries, including social networking sites, mobile handset manufacturers, application developers, rental car companies, retail and drug stores, check cashing companies, and hotel chains,” the senators noted, without directly threatening the companies.

The companies have been under a microscope in Washington and recently were the target of an inquiry from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who has been a vocal advocate of new privacy protections for information about people’s locations. Last week, Franken said that he was unsatisfied with Uber’s response to a letter that he sent the company.