Uber Faces Negative Reactions After Update Introduces Background GPS Tracking

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A recent update to ride-hailing app Uber is generating a negative reaction online, with customers concerned over the company's decision to track their location "from the time of trip request through five minutes after the trip ends," no matter if the app is open or not. The only option now available for users to negate the background tracking of their location is to go into iOS Settings > Privacy > Location Services and opt-in to "Never" allow Uber location access through the iPhone.

With no middle ground option of only tracking when the app is open, privacy advocates at the Electronic Frontier Foundation speaking with BuzzFeed News are now asking Uber to reintroduce such an option in the ride-hailing app. Uber said that tracking users five minutes after they leave their ride provides data that could improve the app's services, including whether or not customers are dropped off on the opposite side of the street of their destination, making them walk through traffic in the minutes after a ride.

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Deputy executive director and general counsel at EFF, Kurt Opsahl, said that some people will "have very legitimate reasons" why they would want to opt out of such tracking services. He also noted that Uber's solution -- turning Location Services off -- harms the usability of the app, which uses GPS to automatically send a user's location to a driver for pick-up. If users want to stay secure and turn off tracking, they have to input their location manually.

“Tracking you five minutes after you have been dropped off — some people might have very legitimate reasons why they don’t want a record about that,” Opsahl said. “They may be concerned about getting into some database about their location and may get dropped off across the street. It’s sad to take that away.”

Opsahl noted that the conversations with Uber are ongoing, but he and the EFF remain hopeful that the app will return to an option where user location will only be tracked when the app is open. Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, is also watching the events surrounding the update, and sees it as a potentially scary first step to even more invasive location gathering updates.

“If Uber wants to make a case to its customers that they stand to benefit from additional uses of data, it should make that case and let customers opt in,” [Stanley] said. “The five-minute thing is disturbing. Obviously that’s not 24/7 tracking, but they are reserving themselves the ability to do that, which is even scarier.”

For Uber, a company spokeswoman told BuzzFeed News that one of the biggest advantages of the five minute tracking update is that it "could also help customer service representatives investigate complaints or safety issues" raised by users following a ride. For now, the company has not indicated that it will roll back the update.

Tag: Uber

Top Rated Comments

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48 months ago

If you don't like it, don't use Uber. Simple enough.

I've never understood this reaction. If someone uses an app, and the app changes, why can't people say they're unhappy? Sometimes companies actually listen to user suggestions and complaints and actually make things better.

It's the same "Love it or leave it pal" mentality that some people have about their country. If you don't like things the way they are, shut up or go somewhere else.

Maybe you can find fault with something but still love it and want it to improve?
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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48 months ago
So why can't Apple make it a requirement that any app that uses location have the three options of off always, on always and on only when using the app? Bam. Problem solved.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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48 months ago
I'm glad people are upset about this. Keep these guys in check. You want to know where I am? Say why and give me a damn good reason.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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48 months ago
I love it when uber agents/employees jump into the discussion to tell paying customers why they are a bunch of crybabies.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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48 months ago
As an uber driver, I appreciate a way to prove that I 1) left the rider in the right spot and 2) can't be held liable for anything that happened after I leave as Uber knows where I am as well with the Driver app.

And if you use any Google service on your iPhone, a lot worse tracking is probably happening than this. Not to mention Apple's own Location-Based alerts and ads setting.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
48 months ago
And no one noticed because every update just says "we are always trying to improve our app". This should be an option!
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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