The ride-share company Uber has faced no shortage of controversy over the past few years.
From the earliest days of the company’s launch, there have been more than a few complaints about privacy and safety. For those unfamiliar with Uber, here’s a rundown: customers install the app on their smartphones and register for an account on the site. They simply poke the app and let it find their location, then an Uber driver comes to pick them up to take them where they need to go. On the plus side, it’s a convenient transportation method that lets customers pay through a stored payment method, but the downside is that the drivers are not actually Uber employees.
Early on, Uber came under fire for tracking its customers’ locations via the app, including while they were en route using the service. Another tracking feature was enabled that lets you track your friends and family members, with their permission, as well as allows customers to pay for rides for those in their Family Profile. You might argue that both of these features were for the riders’ safety. But a new policy has left customers and security experts alike scratching their heads, wondering what justification Uber finds for tracking its customers… after they’re dropped off.
According to the company’s new policy, riders will be tracked for five minutes after their rides have ended. Customers will exit the vehicle and continue on their way, while their apps continue to track their locations and report that information back to Uber. Without any logical safety reason for this extended tracking, critics have been left to wonder what its purpose could be.
One of the chief complaints is that this is an all-or-nothing feature. The latest update to the Uber app gives users only two choices: be tracked all the time (even though the company says it only plans to track for those additional five minutes) or be tracked never, which means the app is useless since drivers won’t know your pickup location.
Whether you live in an area serviced by Uber or not, this still affects you. How? Because security advocates see this as another “baby step” towards eroding away personal privacy. If you’re not reading the terms and conditions when you create a new account of any kind, you may be opening yourself up to this kind of business practice. If any company has openly stated their intention to track you or sell your data but you didn’t read the terms, then they’re not actually doing anything “wrong,” at least not from a legal standpoint.
Fortunately, there is a workaround for this kind of tracking, and it’s to disable the apps on your smartphone so that they’re not refreshing in the background, not using your location settings, and not tagging your location. It does make your smartphone a little harder to use—meaning you have to type in your location instead of having it automatically found, for example—but if you’re concerned about your safety and security, it’s a small price to pay.
As always, anyone who believes their identity has been stolen or their personal data has been compromised is invited to connect with the ITRC through our toll-free call center at (888) 400-5530, or on-the-go with the new IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.