Little over a month since Uber revealed it had been attacked, the ride-sharing company has snatched Facebook's Joe Sullivan to serve as its first Chief Security Officer. He will be joining Uber later this month, after five years in a similar role on Mark Zuckerberg's social network.
Sullivan is undoubtedly a high profile hire for Uber. He's a pioneer in the fight against cybercrime, and has an impressive 8 years at the Department of Justice on his resumé, plus 7 more years with eBay and PayPal. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick shared his enthusiasm about the new CSO on the company's blog, saying he couldn't be more excited to welcome Sullivan into the executive team.
"I'm excited about Uber's mission of revolutionising transportation and, like Travis and the leadership team at Uber, firmly believe building world-class safety and security are critical to that mission," stated Sullivan, stressing the importance of his experience both in eBay and Facebook. "This is a chance to help build the culture of a young and growing organisation, and to continue building upon the safety and security initiatives that are the backbone of Uber's success," he added.
None of it was mentioned, but this is also paramount to the company after a major data breach in 2014, which exposed 50,000 names and driver's license numbers to unidentified attackers. Sullivan says it's not really easy to leave a company like Facebook, which is still growing like crazy, but Uber will allow him to bring the best of Silicon Valley "and apply it to a product that directly impacts people's lives everyday."
Uber is now active in 300 cities in 56 countries, providing millions of trips per day. Its data infrastructure has grown tremendously and the need for digital security is closely tied to the need for physical safety of both drivers and riders. It's not by chance that they have hired a manager of data privacy, Katherine Tasse, and a head of global safety, Phil Cardenas.
"It's easy to see the Uber logo on your phone and think of us as just an app. But in many ways we've become a critical part of the infrastructure of cities," CEO Kalanick boasts. "We are both in cyberspace and on city streets all at once," he writes, "a bridge between bits and atoms."
He goes even further and talks about opportunities using "biometrics and driver monitoring", collaboration with worldwide governments. "Our goal is to redefine what it means to be a world-class, people-centric protector of privacy." It's a bold statement for the six-year-old San Francisco company, which has been repositioning itself in the face of bans in multiple countries and criticism over its security checks.
The problem with Uber is that it sits on this grey area intersecting between cutting-edge technology and a very traditional means of transportation – the taxi, or the ride, as they call it. In countries like Portugal, the more inexpensive service, UberX, is not available due to multiple restrictions (regular people can't just offer a taxi-like service without the proper license and taxes). Which is why so many critics say it is insecure and Uber can't really control the quality of the drivers it puts on the platform. Sullivan, with significant expertise and reputation, will help bridge that gap. #Smartphone