It’s been a pretty good year for Lyft. For years, the company was overshadowed by competitor Uber, always playing second-fiddle to the headline-grabbing ride sharing innovator. Then, after a series of horrendous PR mishaps, Uber fell somewhat out of favor, giving Lyft an opportunity.
The company took full advantage, grabbing market share and making some bold moves to reinforce its position. Now, though, Lyft could be facing the same sort of public relations drubbing that cost Uber its place in the sun. Recent headlines have surfaced accusing Lyft employees of “improperly accessing” the private data of its customers. In other words, some Lyft employees have been accused of spying on customers.
That news, of course, has Lyft officials scrambling to change the narrative. Their initial salvo in that attempt is to announce an internal investigation into the allegations. That may not be nearly enough, depending on how hot this story gets.
People, especially in Lyft’s target market, are extremely wary of online security. They have come of age watching breach after breach, and they have learned to take online security very seriously. Into that environment, the juicy story of Lyft employees misusing customers’ data dropped like a bombshell.
The narrative began with a post on an app called Blind, which allows employees to anonymously gripe and gossip about their employers. The post insisted some Lyft employees used the company software to spy on exes, celebrities, and even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. That was all it took. Forget that the post could have come from anyone, and was nothing close to rigorously vetted… the story was out there, and Lyft had to respond before it caught momentum.
And respond they did. Cofounders Logan Green and John Zimmer sent out a mass email to employees about the story, saying, in part: “Our company’s values are based on creating a healthy environment of trust and accountability. If we find a violation, we will take appropriate action… The specific allegations … would be a violation of Lyft’s policies and a cause for termination… We are conducting an investigation into the matter.”
Perhaps the only saving grace for Lyft in this is that even when burying the competition, reporters took the opportunity to, once again, slam Uber. Many users and commenters said this case reminded them of when Uber employees were accused of using the company’s “God view” mode to track users, including some journalists, in real time. At the time, Uber came down hard on the practice, loudly condemning it.
Now, though, it’s coming up in this story about Lyft employees doing, essentially, the same thing. Will either company get the upper hand as this plays out?
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.