On August 8, when Chennai-based freelance content writer Swapnil Midha used an Ola Cab for a long-distance ride, she had no inkling about what was to follow. Over next three weeks, she kept getting cryptic messages from the popular cab service at all hours.
"I received a few garbled texts from 'VM-OLACAB' that I didn't think much of, and ignored. These messages were alpha-numeric with hashtags and made no sense to me whatsoever. I assumed that there was some system error — but I did not anticipate the sleep deprivation that followed," wrote Midha in an irate Facebook post on August 29 that was was widely shared.
— Swapnil Midha (@SwapnilMidha) August 29, 2015
Midha found out that what Ola was sharing with her, throughout the day and night, were the confirmation messages of other customers when they made a booking in Bengaluru. "Hidden within the hashtags, I found mobile numbers, names and addresses of hundreds of people," wrote Midha.
"It's lucky I'm not a psychopath roaming the streets of Bengaluru, waiting to get my hands on people's personal information and knowing when they are home and when they are not, isn't it," added Midha.
Midha tweeted to Ola, wrote to them on Facebook, sent more emails, and "tried to reason with more people at their call centre". She even began calling the customers themselves to tell them that she was receiving their booking and all of their private details. "They were all shocked and promised to complain to Ola. I will never know if they really did," wrote Midha.
Finally, after weeks of trying to get in touch with them, Ola has fixed the problem.
"The thing is, I wasn't looking for the media attention at all! I just wanted Ola to fix the issue," Midha told HuffPost India.
One of the interesting things about the errors, though, is that it is not a technical, but a manual error. "Someone has put in our customer Midha's number instead of a driver's number in the system. Hence, all the messages for picking up customers went to her, instead of the driver," an Ola Cabs spokesperson told HuffPost India.
"We value the privacy of our users and will continue to take utmost care in terms of data security on the Ola platform," he added.