Uber App spying on users

uber

Uber is one of the undoubted success stories of modern online business in recent times, but it seems the countless people who use the service need to be wary for their personal privacy.

If you haven’t already come across Uber, you must either have had your head buried in the sand, or live somewhere without cars and taxis. It is the revolutionary smartphone app which allows you to hail a cab using the location software in your device to identify the nearest one to you.

The benefits of this service are that it allows you get a cab quicker and more easily than might otherwise be the case, and the service often works out cheaper than a regular cab might be. It is enormously popular and is currently available in around 50 cities around the world.

Controversies

But it has not been without its controversies, and the latest relates to the way their app uses the location software on your smartphone.

The app used to only follow the GPS location of your phone when it was open. As this is likely to be the time when you are hailing a cab, most people seemed happy with that arrangement. But it has all changed in a recent update to the app.

Now the Uber App also tracks the users GPS signal when it is running in the background. And what is more, if you don’t agree to let their app do this, it locks with an onscreen message which states that Uber needs your location to continue.

This is undeniably not true. The only location data Uber needs is the places where you want your cab to pick you up and drop you off. This data can be entered manually rather than automatically, and indeed the Uber app does allow for this function.

Five Minutes

Uber has defended the change saying it is in the best interests of passengers. They claim the app will only track users for five minutes after their journey ends. They argue that this is necessary in order to improve customer service and improve safety.

It is intended to stop drivers being able to charge extra by fraudulently claiming the journey ended later than it did. But the reaction from users has been far from positive, with many taking to social media to complain about the unnecessary intrusion into their privacy.

What they do not address is what might happen if this data fell into the wrong hands. Should the Uber servers be hacked, this data could fall into the hands of anyone, and evidence of all of your Uber journeys can tell someone a great deal about an individual.

Combine it with other personal information, some of which Uber holds as well, and that location data becomes immensely powerful. Uber presumably is confident they will not get hacked, but most companies are and yet plenty still fall victim to hackers.

Uber announced the planned change last year in an update to their privacy policy. This led to a challenge to the policy being filed with the Federal Trade Commission in the USA by EPIC (the Electronic Privacy Information Center).

As Uber rolls out the new function, the FTC has yet to rule on this complaint.

Stop Uber using your GPS:

It is possible to stop Uber from accessing your GPS data by changing the permission on your device manually. This can be done in the settings section of both iOS and Android devices.

But be warned, the Uber app also includes a God View function which allows the company to access locations at all times if they so with, without informing the user in question. Earlier this year they were fined for this function, but that ruling has since been revoked meaning that they are free to spy on you anytime they like.

So, the only real way to stop Uber using your GPS is to remove their app from your smartphone altogether. The choice, of course, is yours.