Sunday, March 18, 2012

Uber Updates Introduce Background GPS Tracking


Although it’s not something that I spend a lot of time writing about on this blog, the reality is that GPS tracking is a huge part of what makes GPS such a useful and prevalent technology. Through GPS tracking apps and websites, users are able to get directions and location-based information and other services. But, with that functionality comes the potential for a lot of privacy issues and concerns.

Recently, the popular app Uber, which provides cab rides from private drivers for less than the cost of a regular taxi, came under fire after an update requests permission to track users location constantly. While users can opt out of the tracking, reports indicate that the app becomes basically unusable and nonfunctional. With the release, Uber stated that it only had intention to track users for 5 minutes after drop off, but the legal language of the permission allows always-on tracking, even when the app is closed.

After the most recent update, when users open the app, they are greeted with the following prompt:

The update was released pretty recently, and the public outcry was intense and almost immediate. Many people spoke out about the big-brother approach, and some even said they were immediately uninstalling. You can read some of the comments on this article.

Uber, for its part, has responded to the public outcry with a reiteration that it only wants the information for improving the pick-up and drop-off locations.

“We’re always thinking about ways we can improve the rider experience from sharpening our ETA estimates to identifying the best pick up location on any given street,” Uber said in a statement. “Location is at the heart of the Uber experience, and we’re asking riders to provide us with more information to achieve these goals.” The company went on to say that the information could also be used to help with complaints, safety issues, and to make sure that drivers were dropping users off on the correct side of the street.

While Uber has agreed to protect user data with multi-factor authentication and encryption, many users are still unconvinced. And, after all of Uber’s privacy problems, including upper management talking about a smear campaign against a journalist that wrote a bad review, and the abuse of “God View” which allows Uber to track users locations by which cab they hail, the worry may not be unwarranted. This most recent update has left many users wondering if the app company is overstepping its bounds.

Personally, I’m not comfortable with giving anyone access to my location 24/7 and I’d much rather simply drive myself. Now, the conspiracy theorists will tell you that we’re already being tracked 24/7, but dedicated GPS devices don’t actually allow for that as they aren’t even capable of sending signals out. Your phone, however, is a whole other thing.

So what do you think? Have you used Uber? Do you agree with the always-on tracking? Does GPS tracking even bother you? Tell me in the comments below!


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