Washington state sues Uber over data breach cover-up

By Gene Johnson

The Associated Press

SEATTLE — Washington state sued the ride-hailing company Uber on Tuesday, saying it broke state law when it failed to notify more than 10,000 drivers that their personal information was accessed as part of a major data breach.

Last week, Uber acknowledged that more than a year ago, it paid hackers a $100,000 ransom to destroy personal data they stole concerning more than 57 million of the ride-hailing service’s customers and drivers.

Several states, including Missouri, Massachusetts and New York, have opened investigations, and the city of Chicago sued Uber on Monday for failing to notify affected residents.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said that because the drivers’ information that was accessed included names and license numbers, state law required Uber to notify them and his office within 45 days. Nearly 11,000 drivers in the state were affected.

“Washington law is clear: When a data breach puts people at risk, businesses must inform them,” Ferguson said in a news release. “Uber’s conduct has been truly stunning. There is no excuse for keeping this information from consumers.”

The lawsuit seeks civil penalties in the millions of dollars. Violations carry fines of up to $2,000 apiece, and Ferguson said each day Uber failed to notify each customer constitutes a violation.

It also notes that Uber has run into trouble before for failing to notify users: New York fined the company $20,000 last year over a 2014 data breach.

Ferguson said that based on Uber’s characterization of the information hackers stole about Washington passengers, he does not believe Uber had a legal obligation to notify them.

In a statement Tuesday, Uber said it takes the matter seriously and is cooperating with regulators.

“We are committed to changing the way we do business, putting integrity at the core of every decision we make, and working hard to re-gain the trust of consumers,” the statement said.

Ferguson announced the state’s lawsuit hours after developments in a California court case revealed that federal prosecutors are investigating allegations that Uber deployed an espionage team to plunder trade secrets from its rivals.

That revelation prompted a delay in a high-profile trial over whether Uber stole self-driving car technology from Waymo, a Google spinoff.

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