Media Adviser is a new advice column from journalist and psychotherapist Rebekah Holt that offers insight on recurring media dramas and their related ethical dilemmas.

Q: I’m a journo. Having read about the Stefanovic’s Uber driver issue, should I avoid making calls in the back of an Uber and/or should I attempt to get rideshare drivers to rat out their other customers for stories?

 

Gentle readers, bear with me because I am a bit freaked out. We have all been distracted by the gossip and workplace intrigue on the Stefanovic Uber story and buried the lead — the complete breach of a customer’s privacy.

Perhaps what has surprised me most is that Uber have not seen this for the flaming pile of shit/reputational damage on their doormat that it is, and have failed to convincingly leap out in front of the whole issue. Two weeks after the incident and this massive international company have said the driver will be “blocked from the app” which basically means he can’t work for them. And that is the extent of their response. Seriously?

What’s also surprising is the commentary around this entire episode has mostly missed the massive lack of professional ethics by the Uber driver, barring for comedian Matt Okine and The Project‘s Waleed Aly. 

Let’s step through what’s gone wrong here which has nothing to do with whether the Stefanovics were being arseholes about their workmates. They were, they said they were and that’s their mess to clean up in the Channel Nine makeup room at 4am.

An Uber driver was paid a lot of money by New Idea to “recall” a “personal conversation” that his customer had. 

Early reports were that this driver had recorded the call which was soon denied by everyone involved. Which is what you’d do after you called the in-house lawyer and discovered that in New South Wales it is illegal to record a private conversation to which you are a party.

I have plenty of conversations in Ubers (not on speaker phone) that I wouldn’t expect to a) be recorded or b) reported on by anyone, because I had assumed until now that I enjoyed a degree of privacy when I contracted the services of the driver. 

So was I right in assuming that I had a right to privacy in an Uber? And is there legal recourse here for any of us whose drivers later decide to “recall our conversations” for cash? 

Well you’d better be careful and not treat Uber as a safe space, at least until I can convince the Stefanovics to sue.

Sydney lawyer Michael Bradley says there has been a gross breach of the Stefanovic’s privacy and arguably a confidentiality breach as well.  

“On the latter point, it could be argued that there’s an implied obligation of confidentiality in the contract between an Uber driver and their passenger, which has been breached.  There’s a good argument that an Uber driver selling what they overheard in an obviously private conversation is no different from a paparazzo taking photos with a telephoto lens through your bedroom window.” 

Stay classy, Sydney.

I asked Bradley if this failure by Uber is as commercially reprehensible as I think it is?

“There’s an obvious ethical breach which undermines the Uber business model. Traditionally, taxi drivers have always observed a code of non-disclosure … Uber should be seriously worried by this development.”   

Lawyers, doctors and priests are professionally compelled to observe a code of silence but, as Bradley points out, others do so by tradition, but essentially voluntarily. This includes groups like hairdressers, taxi drivers and sex workers.  

“Their preservation of the things they hear is an implicit and fundamental part of the social bargain they strike with their customers. In their presence, you can relax, secure in the knowledge that they’ll never tell. There’s no law behind this. It arises entirely from the circumstances of the service relationship, which would be rendered unworkable if not for the unspoken promise of sanctity.”

My fantasy is that Uber is scrambling its lawyers and corporate comms teams to insulate its customers from a repeat of this, but there might have been a greater chance of that happening if the Stefanovics had dropped some coin on legal advice. Bradley says this would be a perfect test case for the proposition that you can sue in circumstances where you had a reasonable expectation of privacy and it’s been breached.

Which brings me back to the beginning. How about it Karl and Peter? Sue Uber and give us all some news we can use.

If you’d like to submit your own media-related questions for column consideration, email [email protected] with the subject line “Media Adviser”.

Peter Fray

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