Everybody uses Uber these days. It is so much more trendy, efficient and cheap than hailing a regular cab. It’s a modern-day tech phenomenon which many people think has no downsides. But now it appears that if you are the sort of person who values your online privacy, the downsides are significant.
Uber works primarily through its Smartphone App which allows you to hail a cab using the location software in your phone to hail the nearest available car to you.
It has taken off big time for a number of reason. Your cab arrives quicker and usually costs less being two of the big draws.
But it has not been without its controversies, and their new updated app has introduced another. Previously, the app used to only use the GPS location of your phone when it was open. This was usually when you were hailing a cab, so few people complained. But now that has all changed.
The new Uber App also tracks the users GPS signal when it is running in the background. And if you refuse to let it do so, the App will stop working.
Uber says that the App needs this data in order to work properly. The reason they have made the change is that they want to be able to track users for five minutes after they finish using the service.
They say that this is necessary to stop unscrupulous cabbies overcharging as well as to protect customers.
There are a few things to say about this, Firstly, it is not true to say Uber needs location data to function. Such data can be entered manually rather than automatically, and the Uber app does offer this function.
Then there is the debate about whether this additional five minutes is necessary and proportionate, ot whether it is an invasion of privacy. Many users and privacy campaigners have been arguing vociferously that it is the latter.
Uber has also failed to address concerns about what they would do if this data fell into the wrong hands.
If the Uber servers were to be hacked, this data could be accessed by, and such information is likely to reveal details like where you live and work. When combined with other personal information, some of which Uber holds as well, it immediately becomes immensely powerful.
A challenge to the policy has been filed with the Federal Trade Commission in the USA by EPIC (the Electronic Privacy Information Center). But this has yet to be ruled on as the new App goes live.
For users who are very concerned, it is possible to stop Uber from accessing your GPS data by changing the permission on your device manually. This can be done in the settings section of both iOS and Android devices.
But be aware, the Uber app also includes a God View function which lets the company access locations at all times if they so wish. So, in fact, if you really want your data to be kept private, the only way to be sure is to remove the Uber App from your phone altogether and pay through the nose for a black cab. But perhaps this is the lesser of two evils.