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Uber Taxi App Now Spies on Users

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

December 5, 2016

When it comes to getting a ride, Uber is considered by many to be the best thing since sliced bread. Now, however, the taxi-hailing app is in the news because of questionable surveillance practices. The latest update for the app forces Uber users to agree to have the firm monitor their locations even after they have been dropped off. In addition, Uber users must agree to have their whereabouts tracked by the app – even when it is closed.

Uber claims that the new policy will help passengers and drivers alike, by putting an end to confusion during pickups and drop-offs. However, many security experts are of the opinion that the new permissions that the app requires are an invasion of users’ privacy.

So what is the truth? The new app permissions on Android and iOS do appear to allow Uber to track passengers all of the time.

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Uber claims that despite the app’s express authorization to track users all of the time, in reality it will only monitor users until five minutes after the drop-off.

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Many people are wondering why exactly Uber needs to track its users for those extra five minutes. Why would Uber need to know where customers go after the taxi has dropped them off? Besides, why does the app require permission to track users all of the time even when the app is closed, if it only plans to follow them from the moment they book the taxi up until five minutes after? Confusing.

On its website, the firm confirms that passengers will now be monitored for five minutes after they are dropped off.

“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.”

It seems logical that the taxi firm would want to know a passenger’s exact location as their cab driver approaches to pick them up. It remains largely a mystery, however, why riders need to be monitored after they are dropped off.

In its statement on the subject, Uber doesn’t address this question:

“We do this to improve pickups, drop-offs, customer service, and to enhance safety. Trip Related Location Data is collected during the following times.”

Change the Settings!

Despite all the hoopla about the new privacy policy, it is, in fact, possible to set the app so that it doesn’t actively monitor your location at all. In the app’s settings, users can select either ‘Always’ or ‘Never’ under the app’s information sharing options. This means that users can revoke Uber’s default – privacy invading – settings.

The only real problem is that by setting the app to ‘Never,’ users lose a lot of functionality. In particular, passengers have to go to the trouble of manually inserting their pickup, and drop-off point, each and every time that they hail a ride.

The result is that most people are highly unlikely to set the Uber app to ‘Never.’ As such, it would appear that the firm has strategically found a way to place most of their users under a form of corporate surveillance that many people find distasteful.

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To Snoop or Not to Snoop

Of course, it is really down to Uber what they do with their app. After all, you aren’t forced to use it. Plus, the fact that the feature can be switched off means that the decision to be snooped on is largely down to individual users.

Ask yourself: do you want the app to know where you are for five minutes after you leave the taxi (or more)? Or do you prefer to keep your data a secret and simply go to the effort of manually inputting your journey data each and every time?

Personally, I will go to the effort of setting it to ‘Never’ and will simply enter the route data each time. This may seem unnecessary, and a little paranoid. However, I find the idea of Uber following me into my grandmother’s, girlfriend’s, or best friend’s house totally unnecessary.

Danger of Hackers

In addition, it is possible that Uber’s servers could one day be penetrated by hackers. In that event, whoever makes off with the data will have in their possession a treasure trove of data about the locations that Uber users frequently visit. It is that outcome that is most troubling and is why I would advise against letting Uber hoover up all of your data. The option, of course, is yours. Don’t forget, however, that Uber has already proven itself to be untrustworthy in the past.

God View

In January of this year, the firm was ordered to pay a $20,000 fine because of the app’s ‘God View’ tool. That setting was allowing Uber to spy on users without their knowledge or consent.

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In 2014, a journalist had her location data intercepted by Uber’s ‘God View’ mode because she was late to a meeting. On that occasion, Josh Mohrer, an employee at Uber, decided to spy on the female journalist to figure out why she was late. His reasoning was that he “wanted to escort her to the meeting location.”

Following the case, Uber agreed to cease all use of ‘God View’ in its application. That decision, however, has now been entirely revoked, because the new privacy policy basically allows ‘God View’ to be used on all users at all times. You have been warned.

Ray Walsh

I am a freelance journalist and blogger from England. I am highly interested in politics and in particular the subject of IR. I am an advocate for freedom of speech, equality, and personal privacy. On a more personal level I like to stay active, love snowboarding, swimming and cycling, enjoy seafood, and love to listen to trap music.

3 responses to “Uber Taxi App Now Spies on Users

  1. Its all about YOUR choice; do you ‘block’ the app from knowing where you are after they dropped you off or do you not care if they know where you are? Personally, I don’t mind. I could block the app – as I do with other apps – but I’m not sure its needed. My decision; my choice. Personally, I think we get too up tight about our ‘privacy’. But that’s my choice.

  2. Ubers excuse for using the tracking app is pure garbage. It is nothing more then “Big Brother” keeping track of your movements that could be used in all types of nefarious ways.

    Personal freedoms are slowly being eroded by apps such as this. The biggest abuser of personal freedom is the government. How do we know that Ubers “spy ware” isn’t being off loaded to some government web-site somewhere?

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