Uber, the popular mobile ride-finding app, has been at the center of controversy since its launch in 2009. Much of the uproar has been due to the fact that its low-cost ride service poses a direct threat to the livelihood of cab drivers and other professional drivers who claim that the competition is unfair, unethical and downright illegal. In March 2015, Brussels cab drivers went on strike in protest of the Uber service, and since then, there has been increasing pressure on the company regarding its practices.
In June, the debate reached a fever pitch when taxi drivers in France staged anti-Uber demonstrations that turned violent, leading to a raid by police on the Uber headquarters in Paris and the detainment of two Uber executives for questioning.
However, there is another issue with the Uber smartphone app that has raised serious concerns among the public and various privacy groups: Uber tracks and records information regarding the location of passengers who use the service even when the app is not in use.
In the first years of its operations, Uber came under fire over charges that the company had “casually” used the information it gathered with its “God View” technology, which gives the company the capability of monitoring the location of all its drivers as well as users who have flagged its vehicles. The company even reportedly shared some of this data with third parties who did not work for Uber.
Recently, however, it has been revealed that Uber’s updated policy tracks passengers and allows access to their personal information.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., has called for the Federal Trade Commission to conduct an investigation into the company’s invasive practices.
The complaint filed by the EPIC reads:
Uber will claim the right to collect personal information and detailed location data of American consumers, even when they are not using the service.
Among the concerns raised by the EPIC complaint is the fact that Uber employees have admitted to tracking the geo-locations and other info regarding journalists who were questioning the company’s policies. The EPIC also points to the possible threat of hackers gaining access to users’ personal information.
In the EU, regulators have been scrutinizing the company’s privacy policies in an attempt to determine if Uber is in compliance with European privacy laws. Among the EU regulations are requirements that companies that use geo-location tracking must first obtain clear consent from the user.
EU guidelines also require the company to provide users with “comprehensive, easily accessible and understandable notice” regarding their data collection policies and to allow users access to their own collected data so that they can modify or delete particular details.
Finally, the regulations require that the data collected by companies such as Uber must be deleted as soon as the information is no longer needed for the purpose for which it was obtained.
It is unclear at this point whether Uber has revised its policies to reflect the EU regulations or similar privacy laws in the United States. The company has stated that it it amended its privacy policies to address the concerns raised by various legal entities and privacy groups.
Judging from Uber’s past track record, there is plenty to remain concerned about. The company has showed a clear disregard for the privacy rights of its users, not to mention their continued undermining of the rights of cab drivers and other professionals throughout the world whose jobs have been threatened by Uber’s cheap, non-professional ride services.