Uber has issued an update allowing the online transportation network company to track passengers’ data after a trip ends.
Hoping to improve passengers’ experience using the service, Uber released the update as a means of broadening its ability to collect “trip-related data.” The company clarifies that point on its website:
“Uber collects your location data from the time of trip request through five minutes after the trip ends, including when the app is in the background.
“We do this to improve pickups, drop-offs, customer service, and to enhance safety.”
Prior to the change of policy, which it hinted at back in June 2015, the transportation service collected information about passengers only when the app was open. That’s why the company requested the “When Using the App” permission of iOS users.
But Uber has now done away with that permission. Instead it gives riders the option of choosing “Always” or “Never” when it comes to sharing information with the app.
Such data collection in absolute terms has infuriated one passenger, who feels that selecting “Never” effectively renders the app useless. As they told The Verge:
“It felt pretty icky having to tap ‘Always’ knowing what I was giving up without any recourse. Why disable ‘While Using the App’? Empower users to decide what and when location data is shared. I simply don’t trust Uber to limit their location tracking to ‘five minutes after the trip ends.’ There’s nothing I can do to enforce this as an end user given Uber’s removal of the ‘While Using the App’ setting.”
That passenger isn’t alone in their frustration.
Uber now demands location data even when you're not using the app. Can't this be fixed by closing the app or restricting background refresh?
— Richard Goldberg Esq (@GoldbergLawDC) November 30, 2016
@Uber after the recent update you are requesting location even when not using app. We will rather prefer not to use uber. Pls revert to old
— Ankur Saxena (@ca_ankursaxena) November 30, 2016
In addition to those passengers’ disapproval, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a complaint (PDF) blasting Uber for its updated business practices:
“These changes ignore the FTC’s prior decisions, threaten the privacy rights and personal safety of American consumers, ignore past bad practices of the company involving the misuse of location data, pose a direct risk of consumer harm, and constitute an unfair and deceptive trade practice subject to investigation by the Federal Trade Commission.”
EPIC’s complaint isn’t wrong. Uber has stumbled to take better care of its riders’ data in the past. Back in January 2016, the company agreed to pay a 20,000 USD fine following its use of a “God View” tool that others could (and did) abuse to track riders’ locations without their permission.
For the time being, Uber is sticking to its new update. That stance leaves passengers concerned about their privacy with little recourse other than to turn off their phones’ location sharing with the transportation service. Here’s how they can do it:
- Android: Settings → Apps → Uber → scroll to “Permission” → toggle “Location”
- Android Lollipop (5.1) and earlier: Settings → Location → toggle Off
- iOS: Settings → Privacy → Location Services → Uber → choose “Never”