Privacy Group Calls on Feds to Investigate Uber

Campaigners at EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a complaint with The Federal Trade Commission against Uber, the taxi app company on Monday, according to a report in the New York Times.

Uber recently revealed a revision of its privacy policies which is geared to gather even more data from its riders. The revised privacy policy, due to come into effect on the 15th of July will effectively allow Uber to gather accurate and precise location data of its riders “even after an app has been terminated by the user”.

In no uncertain terms, the new policy specifically states: “If you permit the Uber app to access the address book on your device through the permission system used by your mobile platform, we may access and store names and contact information from your address book to facilitate social interactions through our Services and for other purposes described in this Statement or at the time of consent or collection.”

Epic’s complaint specifically points to the new changes, noting that: “In less than four weeks, Uber will claim the right to collect personal contact information and detailed location data of American consumers, even when they are not using the service.”

Uber’s need to track and the subsequent cause for concern

The reason for debate arises with Uber’s need to collect location data from its riders even when the GPS has been switched off, along with the application. This is achieved with the means to keep track of the user through the internet address that locates the phone.

Uber argues that “location data is essential to connect drivers to riders” with Katherine Tassi, Uber’s head of privacy adding that Uber features such as ‘split-fare’ wherein riders can share the cost of the journeys only works if Uber has access to a rider’s address book and contact details.

With a recent post on the website and “in the interest of transparency”, Ms. Tassi noted two changes to highlight in particular:

  • The updated policy grants the company to ask the user for location details when the app is running in the background.
  • The company may also ask for access to a user’s contact list to send marketing promotions to their contacts.

“In either case, users will be in control,” Ms. Tassi wrote, while assuring that “They (the users) will be able to choose whether to share the data with Uber.”

Privacy group EPIC dispute this entirely, stating that forcing users to figure and look into opting-out of the new features “places an unreasonable burden on consumers and is not easy to exercise”.

EPIC also added in its complaint that:

  • The new changes ignore FTC’s prior decisions and threaten the privacy and safety of American consumers.
  • The changes also ignore Uber’s own “bad practices…involving misuse of location data.”

Justin Cole, a spokesman for the FTC, declined to comment on whether or not Uber is being investigated by the agency but added that: “We welcome complaints from consumers and consumer groups and review them carefully”.