Privacy Concerns in the Uber Economy: Reason to Worry
For a transportation system like Uber or Lyft to function properly, it requires you to share a lot of sensitive personal information with the company, whether you’re a passenger or a driver. They need your up-to-date payment and banking information, and they track where you are at any given moment, as well as record a history of all the rides you’ve taken and places you’ve been picked up and dropped off. It’s quite a wealth of data, something you’d hope would be treated with care and discretion.
Instead, in a slew of high-profile incidents, Uber and Lyft have shown a shocking disregard for the privacy of both drivers and customers and a penchant for creepy and reckless behavior with the information to which they have access:
- This summer in Hangzhou, China, Uber drivers received a message from the company warning that Uber planned to use the GPS tracking feature to identify any drivers who got near active protests against the company and quickly fire those drivers, in an effort to “maintain social order.” Many people were quick to note that Uber is happy to encourage activism in favor of Uber in the US, but in China, a spokesperson told media, “We firmly oppose any form of gathering or protest.” A few days later in New York, Uber was offering customers free rides to an anti-regulation protest (igniting a new wave of privacy concerns in the process, since they used customer’s neighborhood-level location data to do so).
- A top-level Uber executive at a private party proposed spending a million dollars to investigate the “personal lives” and “families” of journalists critical of Uber—in particular, one female journalist who had criticized sexist behaviors and advertising by the company.
- Using technology called “God View” that can track a specific customer’s precise location, Uber executives have been caught tracking random customers’ whereabouts to entertain people at a party and tracking a journalist’s location & ride history without permission, breaking their own privacy policies in the process.
- Another journalist received an unexpected text from an ex-boyfriend who worked at an unnamed app-based ride service, saying he’d been able to look up her account and noticed she'd recently taken a ride with the service.
- The personal data of 50,000 Uber drivers was left exposed to hackers in a major data breach last year, resulting in a multi-million-dollar lawsuit.
- And concerns about exactly what kind and amount of private information from your phone is being sent back to these companies continues to grow, as security experts find unexplained data requests from the app and privacy advocates say new updates to the apps’ privacy policies go way too far for consumer comfort.
These platforms require our private information to perform a service—they track the precise locations of drivers and customers so they can dispatch pickups and keep records of all those trips; they have payment and banking info so they can collect fares from customers and pay drivers. But with that power comes a clear responsibility to keep our information private and safe—not abuse their access and violate the trust of drivers and passengers.