Privacy SOS

Uber says it might track your location even when you’re not using the app, but privacy watchdog says no way

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is looking out for you, Uber riders. The civil liberties advocacy organization has filed an FTC complaint against Uber over the company's apparent plan to download users' contacts and track user locations even when they aren't using the company's app. Uber's plans were announced in the form of a new privacy policy set to take effect July 15. Now that EPIC has stepped in, maybe that policy won't take effect after all?

USA Today reports:

Under the upcoming policy, the Uber app could collect precise location data about a customer's smart phone, even when the app is running in the background or they have turned off their GPS location finder.

If the app isn't on, Uber can figure out the user's approximate location from their Internet address.

If the user permits it, the Uber app can access the user's address book and use the names and contact information it finds there.

Uber spokeswoman Jessica Santillo said there was no basis for the complaint.

"We care deeply about the privacy of our riders and driver-partners," she said. "These updated statements don't reflect a shift in our practices, they more clearly lay out the data we collect today and how it is used to provide or improve our services."

In an May 28 statement, Uber said that the changes "would allow Uber to launch new promotional features that use contacts — for example the ability to send special offers to riders' friends or family."

EPIC's complaint says "this collection of user's information far exceeds what customers expect from the transportation service. Users would not expect the company to collect location information when customers are not actively using the app."

Uber says users can opt-out of the data collection, but that's not enough for EPIC, which argues opting out of this kind of invasive surveillance is too much of a burden for most users. If you disagree, walk into a random coffee shop and ask people if they've ever looked at the privacy settings on their cell phones.

The news about EPIC's FTC complaint against Uber comes one week after the company got a lot of horrible press with headlines like this one: "Uber Cracks Down on Chinese Drivers' Right to Protest."

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.