Could Uber Be Tracking You Right Now?

Photo: Britta Pedersen/AP Photo.
Is Uber tracking you even after you get out of the car? The company has the capability to collect data from anyone who has the app on their phone, whether or not they're using it, and today, a digital privacy group filed a complaint, saying Uber is about to start collecting way too much personal data from its customers.

At the heart of the Electronic Privacy Information Center's concerns is a part of Uber's privacy policy that allows the app to collect data about your exact location, even if the app is only running in the background. It can also access a phone's contact list, potentially for targeting ads. The EPIC wants the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the company and stop it from misusing private information, the LA Times reported Monday.

Uber told us in a statement, "there is no basis for this complaint," and that the new policy will make things better for riders and drivers." The statement continued, "In our announcement we were also transparent about what new data we might collect going forward — and the fact that users will be in control."

Uber also told us that it doesn't currently collect background location data, but that it might in the future as it develops "new useful features that would require location data when the app is running in the background."

This may sound like convenience, but it was only last year that an Uber executive tracked Buzzfeed journalist Johana Bhuiyan without her permission, a clear violation of its privacy policy. When added to the ever-growing mountain of horror stories from women who were assaulted or stalked by Uber drivers, and reports that tracking user rides sometimes counts as company entertainment, the EPIC's worries don't sound overblown at all.

Uber has said that its revised policy, updated at the end of May and set to go into effect on July 15, is more transparent and easier for consumers to understand. The FTC has not made any comment on how it will handle the case.

Last week, Uber lost a court fight over how it classifies its drivers; a San Francisco court ruled that Uber drivers are employees, not contractors, and that they should be given the rights and benefits –like social security and unemployment benefits — that come with that distinction.
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