Last month, Uber redesigned its app and aligned several of its features in the interest of making it easier to use than ever. As part of the update, Uber wants its users to give it their permission to collect location data even when they are not using the app. This also affects riders as they will be tracked five minutes after their trip ends, and even when the app is in the background of a customer’s smartphone. Is your privacy at stake?
In explaining why they made such changes, Uber says it needs to be able to track its customers even when they’re not using the app in the interest of being the most precise transportation
service around. Some users wonder with this can’t be fixed by closing the app or restricting background refresh? iPhone users are most affected by these changes due to the way in which the Operating System configures its location based settings. Uber claims that because of the way Apple sets up its permissions, this is only possible with the “always” permission, even though Uber will only be collecting trip-related location with this change. For Android users it gets worse, the only option they get is a message that simply reads “Please enable location services.” We believe that this discrepancy could be fixed by updating the app.
A Threat to privacy
In areas like Uganda where reverse geocoding is inaccurate, the company says it wants this expanded location data to improve pick-ups and drop-offs. This is also important considering Uber wants to let riders share their locations and estimated arrival times with friends and family through the app after the latest refresh.
One comes to wonder who Uber will share this location data with? The taxi hailing company has run into privacy concerns in the past. In the US, it alleged that one of its employees tracked a journalist’s location using an internal tool called “God View,” the company was ordered to settle the case for over $20,000 and also agreed to scrap the feature, and revise its privacy policies.
At the end of the day, Uber will not lose its customers over this change in policy. As the internet and smartphones become more ubiquitous in our lives, people are exhibiting less discomfort with the idea of having their search habits and locations tracked by huge tech companies with little restriction.