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.
“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.